Bore da! The other day I caught an episode of The Saint on ITV4. It was one from a later season, The House at Dragon’s Rock, directed by none other than Roger Moore. The screenplay was inevitably by Harry W Junkin and adapted from an original story by Leslie Charteris (called The Man Who Liked Ants). The original broadcast was in November 1968.
Guest stars include Annette Andre, the future Mrs Hopkirk, and sometime Kim Philby Anthony Bate. It starts with Simon Templer driving though stock footage of Wales, including some girls in traditional dress and musing on his surroundings as a land of sorcery, mountains and mystery, dark clouds, the home of Merlin and also of long unpronounceable names. This last comment comes as he passes a sign saying welcome to Llanfairtraws Sychnant. I think somebody might be having a little joke there. It’s a bit of a Frankenstein-name cobbled together from odd parts and might be “Church at Gulch Pass” or “Lantern crossing gulch pass”. The church is dedicated to a Saint though.
Templer pulls up at a pub on an Elstree lot and glances round at second unit footage of Tremadog, a planned community. The original Village if you like. The cut isn’t a comfortable fit, but just about gets away with it. My first guess was that he was staying at the Union Inn or maybe the Spar shop. Except he is on the other side of the road, so the Prince of Wales pub is either a restaurant, the hairdressers or the Post Office (since closed). Or would be if it was actually there.
It’s not a friendly reception for our hero, because Owen the Shepherd (played by “professional Welshman” Talfyn Thomas) has gone missing. It’s the latest in a run of mysterious events that has included mutilated cattle and upturned tractors. The unfriendly landlord dials it down a bit when he learns Templar is an old friend of the local doctor.
They go and join the search party, just in time for Owen to surface at Devil’s Gorge, battered and scared witless by some horrible apparition. He can’t speak what it was and an attempt to write it down reveals “A BIG” but a big what we will have to wait and see.
Suspicion falls on scientists at a local manor house. Annette Andre is working for her uncle there. Dr Seldon is dismissive of Welsh bumpkins who think of him as Dr Frankenstein. Suddenly I’m wondering how deliberate the choice of Tremadog is as a location?
Mapped into the real world, Templar’s pub is next to the homes of a notable environmentalist (whose name escapes me at present, but I know her house is there) and opera singer Rhys Meirion. It’s also short hop from the birthplace of Lawrence of Arabia. It is also opposite an apothecary that marked a turning point in the way pharmaceuticals were stored. More significantly, it is near Plas Tan Yr Alt where Percy Bysshe Shelley once stayed. Rent free apparently. Mary came too. It was the home of William Maddocks, who built the village on reclaimed land, and had been promised financial support by the poet. Shelley completed Queen Maab while resident but also ran up large debts. Then he narrowly escaped an attempt on his life. A farmer objected to the poet sleeping with his wife and tried to kill him. Apparently you can still look for the bullet holes in the wainscoting. Shelley ran away to Dublin and suddenly a spell in Geneva with Byron and other pals seemed a great idea. Some suggest that these events had an influence on his wife Mary concocting a certain cracking yarn.
Did Moore, Junkin or Charteris know about Tremadog’s link with the Shelleys? I don’t know. I believe the hotel was abandoned and derelict during the time The Saint was in production. It has since been restored though. Strange coincidence seems most likely?
As it happens, the mad Doctor in this tale has more in tune with The Island of Dr Moreau or Food of the Gods. Templar isn’t facing a resurrected cadaver. It’s a big ant with the potential to rule the world. It’s beaten by fire and a collapsing cave roof. Frank-ant-stein lives.
The episode is entirely by the numbers, but remains pleasing. Apparently Charteris praised Junkin for his script on this occasion. Moore remembered the filming as an enjoyable experience at a Q&A session.