Early Detectives– Forgotten, Remembered, or Made different
Part 3: Simon Templar, Albert Campion,
DI Inspector Alan Grant
by Carol Westron
In Parts 1 and 2 of this exploration of the fate of early detectives, all of which were popular and widely read in the Golden Age, we considered Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Thorndyke, Father Brown, Detective Inspectors Furnival & Stoddard, Hercule Poirot and Lord Peter Wimsey, Inspector French, Roger Sheringham, Miss Marple, and Miss Silver. In this section we will look at three more Golden Age detectives, all well-known in their time and assess whether their fame has endured.
Simon Templar, ‘The Saint’ (1928-1983*) by Leslie Charteris.
* Charteris wrote The Saint stories from 1928 until 1963; he collaborated with them between 1963 and 1983; after this some stories were written by other authors although Charteris had some editorial input and his name appeared on the cover.
Simon Templar, alias the Saint, was the creation of Leslie Charteris, who was not quite twenty-one when he created his iconic hero. In the 1980 introduction to the reprint of Enter the Saint Charteris wrote: 'I was always sure that there was a solid place in escape literature for a rambunctious adventurer such as I dreamed up in my youth, who really believed in the old-fashioned romantic ideals and was prepared to lay everything on the line to bring them to life. A joyous exuberance that could not find its fulfilment in pinball machines and pot. I had what may now seem a mad desire to spread the belief that there were worse, and wickeder, nut cases than Don Quixote.' This exuberance was certainly true of Charteris’ own life. When he was nineteen, in his first year of studying Law at King’s College, Cambridge, his novel X Esquire (1927) was accepted for publication. Charteris left university and proceeded to carve out his own unconventional life. He worked in a tin mine, on a rubber plantation, and as a gold prospector in the jungle; he dived for pearls and was a seaman on a freighter and a barman in an English country pub; he worked at a wood distillation plant and travelled around England as a member of a fair. He was a professional bridge player in a London Club and studied bull fighting in Spain. These experiences may explain why there is such a rich variety of backgrounds in his books and why Simon Templar is so remarkably skilled at a wide range of activities. In 1928, he created the fictional hero Simon Templar, and, after this, nearly all of his literary out-put surrounded adventures of Templar.
Meet the Tiger (1928), which was later reissued under several titles, the most popular of which is The Saint Meets the Tiger. Simon Templar’s nickname is The Saint, which is ostensibly derived from his initials. The Saint is an adventurer, a 'Robin Hood of Crime.' He makes his living by stealing from rich people who have gained their money dishonestly, although not always in ways that the Law can punish, although he usually claims his ‘percentage’ before returning the ill-gotten gains to their original owners or donating them to charity. His 'calling card' is a drawing of a stick-man with a halo.
Templar is handsome, charming, 'a man of twenty-seven, tall, dark, keen-faced, deeply tanned, blue-eyed.' (Meet the Tiger, 1928.) He is a young adventurer who has moved into a North Devon village to recover smuggled gold from a villain known as the Tiger and is proficient with weapons and ruthless enough to use them. Strapped to his forearm he has, a slim blade that could 'take a man's thumb off before the gun was half out of his pocket.’ Even in that first, and in Charteris’ estimation, immature book, the difference between Simon Templar and his Golden Age contemporaries is clear. Although Meet the Tiger can be classified as a detective story because The Saint spends most of the book trying to discover the identity of the villain, Templar is not a detective in the traditional sense of the word. He is an adventurer, a man who does not have doubts, is not bound by the Law or traditional morality, and seldom has regrets.
The Saint has a manservant, Orace, who ‘as a Sergeant of Marines, had received a German bullet in his right hip at Zeebrugge, and had walked with a lopsided strut ever since.' The relationship between The Saint and his servant has much in common with a renowned detective adventurer who was due to arrive a year later, Albert Campion and the peerless Lugg. Both Orace and Lugg take it upon themselves to criticise their masters, often in uncouth terms, tend their wounds, and fight alongside them if it should prove necessary. However, Orace’s relationship with Templar is not as enduring as Campion’s with Lugg and he soon disappears from The Saint stories.
In the second half of the vast number of Saint stories, Simon Templar has numerous affairs with the women whom he encounters, often when he is saving them from peril, although sometimes they are rival law-breakers. However, in Meet the Tiger he first encounters Patricia Holm, the woman with whom he shares the most meaningful of his ‘romantic’ relationships. '“I've met the most wonderful girl in the world,” said Simon impenitently. “By all the laws of adventure, I'm bound to have to save her life two or three times during the next ten days. I shall kiss her very passionately in the last chapter. We shall be married-”' Two out of three correct predictions isn't bad, but the last one missed the mark. Simon Templar and Pat never married, although he did offer marriage in the novella The Melancholy Journey of Mr Teal (one of the adventures in The Holy Terror, later called The Saint v. Scotland Yard, 1932) however Pat turned him down.
Patricia Holm became his lover and partner in adventure at a time when such liaisons were deeply disapproved of. Dorothy L. Sayers' Harriet Vane continues to be racked with guilt about her decision to live with her lover, Philip Boyes, and is very aware of the condemnation of society (Strong Poison, 1930; Gaudy Night, 1935). Despite her ‘romantic indiscretion’, Harriet Vane’s conventional attitude contrasts vividly with that of Patricia Holm, as illustrated in her response when The Saint asks:
‘“Why are you so beautiful Pat?”She flung him a dazzling smile.“Probably,” she said, “Because I find I'm still in love with you – after a whole year. And you're still in love with me. The combination's enough to make anyone beautiful.”’ (Enter the Saint, 1930.)
Salvage For The Saint in 1983. For many readers this was disappointing, as Pat and the relationship she shared with Simon Templar often raised the story to new heights. ‘The Saint regarded her for a moment. He saw the tall slim lines of reposeful strength in her body, the fine moulding of the chin, the eyes as blue and level as his own. And slowly he screwed the cap on his fountain pen; and he stood up and came round the table.
“I'll tell you as much more as you want to know,” he said.“Just like in the mad old days?”
“They had their moments, hadn't they?”
She nodded. “Sometimes I wish we were back in them,” she said wistfully.’ (The Saint v. Scotland Yard, 1932.)
The Last Hero (1930) (better known by its 1950 title, The Saint Closes the Case), Simon Templar, Pat Holm and his friends, notably Roger Conway and Norman Kent, enter the world of the political thriller, as they fight the evil power of the ruthless tycoon, Rayt Marius and his master, Crown Prince Rudolph, ruler of an unnamed European country. This book and the one following it, The Avenging Saint (1931) (originally published in 1930 as Knight Templar), are darker in tone than most other Saint books, mainly because of the death of Norman Kent, who sacrifices himself for his friends and for his country.
Eustace Teal is particularly interesting. Teal first appears in the second book, Enter the Saint (1930), as the long-suffering, gum-chewing detective who spends much of his time in trying to put the Saint behind bars. Teal is doomed to always be out-witted by the Saint, who often mocks him, and yet Teal is an excellent detective and a competent and valuable police officer. ‘Teal was reputed to have the longest memory of any man at the Yard. It was said, perhaps with some exaggeration, that if the Records Office happened to be totally destroyed by fire, Teal could personally have rewritten the dossier of every criminal therein recorded, methods, habits, haunts, and notable idiosyncrasies completely included – and added thereto a rough but reliable sketch of every set of fingerprints therewith connected. Certainly, he had a long memory.’ (Enter the Saint. 1930)
The Inland Revenue, when Teal offers to overlook any profit the Saint makes if he will hand over a homicidal blackmailer to official justice. '“Save the Scorpion for me, and I won't ask how you paid your income tax.”' (The Saint v. Scotland Yard, original title The Holy Terror]; 1932.)
A lot of the books in the 1930s were the ‘Modern Robin Hood’ style stories but during the Second World War, Simon Templar is portrayed working for the American government to defeat the Nazis. The Saint is very versatile, and the range of his hobbies extended with each book but one of his earliest mentioned hobbies was writing comic poetry and songs.
In The Saint v. Scotland Yard (1932) it is revealed that he had also written an adventure book, The Pirate, with a hero very similar to the Saint himself. The Saint has different pseudonyms for use when he does not wish to be
immediately identified; although his favourite nom de guerre, Sebastian Tombs, becomes almost as well known as Simon Templar.
Many authors mistime the starting age of their protagonists, which means they have to continue into old age, but the remarkable thing about the Saint is that he never seems to grow older. He is the Peter Pan of Golden Age protagonists. His friends marry and settle down, but he carries on, as fit and attractive as he was in the first books, although his language and manners alter to suit different decades. It is quite revealing that Charteris approved of the choice of Roger Moore to play the Saint on television but liked him more in the role in the early years than later, when Moore, being only human, had aged.
During his lifetime, Charteris unflaggingly promoted The Saint, even starting The Saint Detective Magazine in 1953 and collaborating and editing Saint books in his later years. The Saint was portrayed in numerous films but is best remembered for the television series starring Roger Moore, called simply The Saint, which ran between 1962 and 1969. In 1977 to 1979 a new television series, The Return of The Saint, starred Ian Ogilvy. After this, other attempts to produce pilots for Saint series failed, although the pilot directed by Roger Moore and starring Adam Sandler (which for the first time in a television series featured Patricia Holm) did make it to the screen as a television film in July 2017. Roger Moore is still regarded by most people as the consummate Simon Templar and it seems probable that the television series starring him, which is still shown regularly on some Freeview channels, is remembered better than the Simon Templar books.
Albert Campion (1929-1970) by Margery Allingham & Philip Youngman Carter*
*After Margery Allingham’s death, her husband, Philip Youngman Carter completed the Campion novel that she had started and then wrote two more. After Carter’s death, Mike Ripley completed the novel he had left unfinished and, with the blessing of the Margery Allingham Society, has continued writing Campion novels until the present time.
Albert Campion is almost certainly the most glorious accidental hero to grace the pages of Golden Age crime fiction. In 1929 in The Crime at Black Dudley, when Albert Campion makes his first appearance, Allingham had intended Campion to be a minor villain. She said, she had meant him to be 'a mere muddying of the waters,' but she (and her editor) discovered he was a character they wished to develop. In The Crime at Black Dudley Allingham introduces him in this way: 'His name is Albert Campion… he's quite inoffensive, just a silly ass.'
In Mystery Mile (1930) Campion borrows a car from his elder brother, who is apparently the current holder of the family title, but in Coroner’s Pidgin (1945) there are indications that Campion’s brother has died, and that Campion has inherited the title. In Tiger in the Smoke (1952) we encounter Campion’s uncle, Canon Avril, so it seems clear that not all of Campion’s family had disowned him.. The early Albert Campion novels, Mystery Mile (1930), Look to the Lady (1931) and Sweet Danger (1933) are all fast-moving adventure stories, peopled by extraordinary characters and fantastic incidents. Later in her life, Allingham was critical of their lack of construction, but they are eminently readable.
is the first book in which Campion emerges as the central character. Despite his protective shield of vacuous amiability, his intelligence cannot be concealed, and he is an eccentrically quixotic, knight-errant figure. In Mystery Mile Campion is revealed to be in love with Biddy Paget and is deeply saddened when, at the end of the book, she marries somebody else. His love for Biddy is mentioned in subsequent books. It is in this book that we are introduced to two of Campion's long-term companions in adventure: the dependable, hard-working police detective, Stanislaus Oates, and Campion's manservant, the ex-burglar, Magersfontein Lugg. Allingham was a writer of extraordinary and humorous imagination and Lugg must surely be her most remarkable creation. Described as 'a hillock of a man with a big pallid face,' his basic Cockney speech is ornamented by extraordinary flourishes and his manner to his employer is totally lacking in respect. The dialogue between Lugg and Campion is lively, funny and full of Lugg's complaints about their present circumstances and gloomy predictions about future disasters. It has been suggested that Albert Campion started out as a humorous ‘spoof’ version of Lord Peter Wimsey; this may be so but Lugg shows none of the deference that Bunter offers Wimsey and his skills as a gentleman’s gentleman are of a very different order. it is amusing to note that when Allingham wrote a series of Campion stories for Strand Magazine, Lugg was replaced by an anonymous and more seemly manservant. Despite his dire predictions, Lugg is totally loyal to Campion and their verbal banter shows the depth of affection that lies between them.
Sweet Danger (1933), definitely comes into this category, as Campion leads a band of adventurous young friends in a glorified, and at times terrifying, treasure hunt. It is in Sweet Danger that Campion first meets Amanda Fitton, the girl who, some years later, becomes his wife. 'Amanda Fitton, eighteen next month, was at a stage of physical perfection seldom achieved at any age. She was not very tall, slender almost to skinniness, with big honey-brown eyes, and an extraordinary mop of hair so red that it was remarkable in itself. This was not auburn hair, nor yet carroty, but a blazing, flaming, and yet subtle colour that is as rare as it is beautiful.' Amanda is the younger daughter of an aristocratic but, at that time, impoverished family who need to prove their legitimacy to receive their inheritance. Despite her birth and beauty Amanda has no interest in entering Society; she is a mechanic who later becomes an engineer. In their first adventure together she appoints herself as Campion's lieutenant but their relationship does not turn into a romance for several years and their path to the altar is strewn with booby traps. Once they are married, Amanda is a stabilising influence, a yardstick of good sense, and an equal partner.
Traitor's Purse (1941) is a turning point for Albert Campion. Britain is at war, very much alone and beleaguered, public opinion is divided and there is a fear of traitors within the very fabric of the country.
Campion alone holds the key to save his country from invasion, but he has suffered a head injury and cannot remember anything. Traitor's Purse is a terrifyingly intense novel in which only Lugg remains a pillar of good sense and solid comfort. Campion emerges from it older and much less frivolous. It is at the end of Traitor’s Purse that Amanda agrees to be his wife. They have one son, Rupert.
Campion has a good relationship with the police, initially with Stanislaus Oates, who begins as a detective inspector in Look to the Lady (1931), (which is also known as The Gyrth Chalice Mystery), but he moves steadily up the ranks and by More Work for the Undertaker (1948) he is Head of Scotland Yard. Campion has a similarly warm relationship with Oates’ protege, the ebullient Cockney, Charlie Luke, a young man with ‘a pile-driver personality’ who first appears in More Work for the Undertaker (1948). The spymaster L.C. (Elsie) Corkran first appears in Traitor's Purse (1941) but is used less by Allingham than by her husband, Philip Youngman Carter, in the two novels which he wrote after Allingham's death.
There have been several radio adaptations of the Campion stories and some television adaptations, the most successful of which was the 1989-90 dramatisation of the first eight stories featuring Campion, which starred Peter Davison. However, much of the continued awareness of Albert Campion is due to the dedicated work of the Margery Allingham Society and the fact that Mike Ripley has successfully taken over the task of writing Campion novels and continues to do so until the current time.
Detective Inspector Alan Grant (1929-1952) by Josephine Tey
Simon Templar and Albert Campion both started their careers as adventurers/detectives. In contrast, Detective Inspector Alan Grant is a police detective at Scotland Yard, which meant that he works as part of a team, taking and giving orders and investigating the cases that are assigned to him. However, he frequently tests his superior’s patience by relying on his intuition and experience and not accepting that a case is closed until he is sure he has got it right.
Unlike the flamboyant adventurers that preceded him in 1928 and 1929, Grant is aquiet, intelligent man, with his roots in Scotland. He is well educated and well-dressed and if he has ‘an asset beyond the usual ones of devotion to duty and a good supply of brains and courage, it was that the last thing he looked like was a police officer. He was of medium height and slight in build...’ (The Man In the Queue, 1929). Grant believes it is possible to tell certain sorts of criminal tendencies from a person's face, although he would deny that he relied on instinct, explaining his ‘face-reading’ skills in practical terms. Nevertheless, this belief appears in several of the novels featuring him and becomes pivotal to the plot in the penultimate Grant novel, The Daughter of Time (1951).
Like all good fictional police detectives, Grant is supported by his faithful and admiring sergeant, Sergeant Williams. ‘He liked Williams and liked working with him. Williams was his opposite and his complement. He was large and pink and slow-moving, and he rarely read anything but an evening paper; but he had terrier qualities that were invaluable in the hunt. No terrier at the rat hole ever displayed more patience or more pertinacity than Williams did when introduced to a quarry. “I would hate to have you on my tail,” Grant had said to him more than once in their years of working together.”’ (To Love and Be Wise,1950)
The Man In the Queue (1929), in which a man standing in the queue outside a theatre is stabbed to death. Grant and his colleagues identify the man that they believe is guilty of the murder but tracking him down involves Grant in a wild chase across the Scottish countryside. Despite the burden of proof that the man is guilty, when Grant captures him, he instinctively feels that all is not as simple as it seems:
‘“Look here,” said Barker out of the silence, “all joshing apart - do you believe the man didn’t do it?”
“I don’t see how he could not have,” Grant said. “There’s the evidence. I can’t say why I’m uneasy about the thing, but that doesn’t alter the fact that I am.”’
Fortunately, Grant has the respect and trust of his superior officer, Superintendent Barker, and is permitted to continue to investigate.
A Shilling For Candles (1936) has certain similarities to its predecessor: when a beautiful young actress is murdered, Grant has to follow the evidence, especially when there is a clear motive for the chief suspect to have committed the crime. However, when the suspect escapes from police custody and goes into hiding, fresh evidence appears that causes Grant to reassess his investigation. A Shilling For Candles was the basis for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1937 film Young and Innocent.The Franchise Affair (1949) Grant only has two short ‘walk on’ parts as the police officer who escorts a teenage girl who has accused two women living in an isolated house of abducting her and imprisoning her to persuade her to act as their servant, and later when he returns to arrest them. In this book Grant appears in a rather different and more official light, accepting his role as part of a larger and more complex legal machine. When Robert Blair, the small-town solicitor who is representing the two women asks a local police detective if Grant was so eager to take his clients into custody because of pressure from the press, the police officer replies:
‘“Oh no,” Hallam said, “Grant’s as nearly indifferent to that sort of thing as a human being can be.”
“Well, it’s my belief - strictly between ourselves - that he can’t forgive them for fooling him. The Sharpes, I mean. He’s famous at the Yard for his good judgement of people, you see; and, again between ourselves, he didn’t much care for the Kane girl or her story; and he had liked them even less when he had seen the Franchise people, in spite of all the evidence. Now he thinks the wool was pulled over his eyes and he’s not taking it lightly.”’
By failing to trust his own instincts, Grant forfeits his chance to play an important part in The Franchise Affair and the central protagonist is Robert Blair who turns amateur detective in his determination to save his clients from disgrace and imprisonment.
(1950) is a strange, atmospheric tale of love, obsession and revenge. When a young, American photographer disappears under suspicious circumstances, Grant finds himself in the unusual position of having met the young man at a crowded, noisy, social event not long before.
‘“In difficulties?” Grant said, catching his eye.“I’ve forgotten my megaphone,” the young man said.He said it in a gentle drawl, not bothering to compete with the crowd. The mere difference in pitch made the words more audible than if he had shouted. Grant glanced at him again,approvingly. He was a very good-looking young man indeed, now that he took notice. Too blond to be entirely English. Norwegian, perhaps?
Or American. There was something in the way he said forgotten that was transatlantic.’
After Tey’s death in 1952, the manuscript of The Singing Sands was found amongst her papers and published in 1953. It is the final Grant novel, in which the detective is suffering from panic attacks and claustrophobia brought on by overwork. Grant is heading to Scotland for a much-needed rest but on the journey he is embroiled in an unexpected death.
In the five books in which he plays a central role, Grant does not have any romantic interests, but he does have a long-term friendship with an elegant, successful actress, Marta Hallard. She is happy to have a personable man to escort her and he enjoys her company and the opportunities this offers to move in theatrical and literary society. Their relationship reveals a lot about Grant’s essentially aloof character, although he greatly admires and respects Marta. ‘What a woman! he thought as he put back the receiver. He had always thought that the first requisite in a wife was intelligence, and now he was sure of it. There was no room in his life for Marta, and none in her life for him; but it was a pity, all the same. A woman who could announce a surprising development in a homicide case without babbling on the telephone was a prize, but one who could in the same breath ask if he had had breakfast and arrange to supply him with the one he had not had was above rubies.’ (To Love and Be Wise,1950)
The Daughter of Time (1951), the penultimate Grant novel, Grant is injured and flat on his back in hospital and Marta is one of his first visitors. ‘Only one person of his acquaintance used L’Enclos Number Five. Marta Hallard. He opened an eye and squinted up at her’ ... ‘In one arm she was carrying two new books, and in the other a great sheaf of white lilac. He wondered whether she had chosen white lilac because it was her idea of the proper floral offering for winter (it adorned her dressing-room at the theatre from December to March), or whether she had taken it because it would not detract from her black-and-white chic. She was wearing a new hat and her usual pearls; the pearls which he had once been the means of recovering. She looked very
handsome, very Parisian, and blessedly unhospital-like.’
Grant is horribly bored until Marta presents him with a selection of portraits of historical figures, all of whom had a mystery attached to their stories. The portrait Grant found most compelling was of: ‘A man dressed in the velvet cap and slashed doublet of the late fifteenth century. A man about thirty-five of thirty-six years old, lean and cleanshaven. He wore a rich jewelled collar and was in the act of putting a ring on the little finger of his right hand. But he was not looking at the ring. He was looking off into space. Of all the portraits Grant had seen this afternoon this was the most individual.’ ... ‘Grant paused in the act of turning the thing over, to consider the face a moment longer. A judge? A soldier? A prince? Someone used to great responsibility, and responsible in his authority. Someone too-conscientious. A worrier; perhaps a perfectionist.’
When Grant discovers that the portrait is that of Richard III, ‘Crouchback. The monster of nursery stories. The destroyer of innocence. The synonym for villainy,’ he is annoyed with himself. He has always prided himself on his ability to read character in faces and ‘it piqued him to have mistaken one of the most notorious murderers of all time for a judge; to have transferred a subject from the dock to the bench was a shocking piece of ineptitude.’ This irritates him so much that he continues to investigate the story of Richard III, in an increasingly competent manner. By the end of the book he concludes that the winners write history and in this case it was written by Richard’s Tudor successors. He is also convinced that there is not enough evidence that Richard III killed his nephews to bring him to trial, much less to secure a conviction.
The Daughter of Time is an important book in many ways. It is an outstanding contribution to crime fiction and in 1990 the Crime Writers' Association voted it 'the greatest mystery novel of all time.' It has also added both power and accessibility to the on-going debate regarding the guilt of Richard III, which became topical again in 2012, when Richard’s body was discovered in a Leicester car park and there was a lot of controversy regarding where he should be buried and whether he should be given a State funeral.
Josephine Tey is a fine author, whose crime fiction books are still well worth reading. She was also used by author Nicola Upson as a fictional protagonist in a series of mysteries, with her fictional friend, Archie Penrose, depicted as the role model for Alan Grant. It is impossible to judge how much attention the Upson novels brought to the original Grant stories. However, it seems probable that Detective Inspector Grant’s greatest claim to lasting fame will be as Senior Investigating Officer in the cold case examining the disappearance of Richard III’s nephews.
Many Simon Templar stories are available on Kindle.
The Albert Campion and D.I. Grant novels are available in paperback and on Kindle
To read a review of Carol latest book This Game of Ghosts click on the title.