Robert S. Baker (1916-2009)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Robert S. Baker (1916-2009)

Robert S. Baker passed away today at age 93. He was the man who brought The Saint to TV.

Guardian News has his obituary:
A defining moment in the career of the film producer Robert S Baker, who has died aged 93, was the day he met Leslie Charteris, the author of a series of novels featuring the gentleman thief Simon Templar, alias the Saint. It was 1961 and Baker, in conjuction with the producer Monty Berman, had already made dozens of British B-movies of varying quality, including several films in the Hammer horror tradition, the most commercially successful being Jack the Ripper (1959), which the pair also directed.

Charteris had been seeking a tele-vision deal for the Saint for some time, but nobody had managed to persuade him that they would do the stories justice. As Baker acknowledged: "He protected the Saint like a bulldog – and many offers had fallen flat on their face." But thanks to a recommendation from John Paddy Carstairs, who had struck up a friendship with Charteris when he directed The Saint in London (1939) for RKO Pictures, the writer agreed in principle to give Baker and Berman the rights for a series.

The deal was clinched after Lew Grade of Associated Television agreed to allow a healthy budget of £30,000 an episode and to shoot the series on film rather than the cheaper teleciné, which would make it easier to sell to the US. In fact the series was eventually sold to 63 countries and reaped a profit in excess of £350m.

For the lead role, Grade suggested Patrick McGoohan, who had been a great success as the secret agent John Drake in Danger Man (1960-61). But Baker and Berman felt McGoohan lacked the lightness of touch that the character of Templar needed, and opted for 34-year-old Roger Moore, who had taken the title roles in the TV series Ivanhoe (1958-59) and Maverick (1959-61).

Moore starred in 118 episodes of The Saint (1962-69). Return of the Saint (1978-79) revived the suave and witty character, this time embodied by Ian Ogilvy, and was reprised in a few different guises over the years, with Baker profiting from holding the rights.

Baker was born in London and became interested in photography from an early age, winning several competitions. When the second world war broke out, he joined the Royal Artillery in north Africa during the El Alamein campaign. He then got himself transferred to the Army Film and Photographic Unit, becoming a combat cameraman in Italy, Belgium and Germany. During that time he met Berman, who was also filming battles.

After the war, the pair set up Tempean Films, their first production being A Date with a Dream (1948), a modest comedy about a wartime concert party's reunion. It starred Terry-Thomas and Jeannie Carson, with Norman Wisdom making his screen debut in a small role.

The company was soon turning out second features at a rate of about four a year to fill up programmes during the 1950s, most of them directed briskly by John Gilling or Henry Cass, and starring what seemed like a Who's Who of washed-up American actors, including Forrest Tucker, Mark Stevens, Alex Nicol, Scott Brady, Arthur Kennedy, Rory Calhoun, Rod Cameron, Dale Robertson and Larry Parks.

Then, from 1958, the duo moved into slightly more mainstream territory with Sea of Sand, a familiar north African war adventure, directed by Guy Green and starring Richard Attenborough; The Siege of Sidney Street (1960), which vividly recreated the London of 1911; and The Treasure of Monte Cristo (1961). The latter two were directed by Baker and Berman, along with the period swashbuckling adventure The Hellfire Club (1961), which was written by Jimmy Sangster and featured Peter Cushing, both regular Hammer habitués.

In fact, Baker and Berman, inspired by the success of Hammer, made their own gothic horror movies. However, these were released in two versions, one for the UK and US markets with their strict censorship and ratings systems, and another for the more liberal, continental European and Japanese markets, where audiences enjoyed extra blood and sex.

They had that aplenty in Blood of the Vampire (1958), with Donald Wolfit hamming it up as Dr Callistratus, who has returned to life to run a lunatic asylum after being executed, and Jack the Ripper, both films written by Sangster. The poverty and filth of 19th-century Edinburgh is well evoked in the atmospheric The Flesh and The Fiends (1960), with Cushing as Doctor Knox, and Donald Pleasence and George Rose as the grave-robbers Burke and Hare. After Gideon's Way (1964-66), a workmanlike police drama series based on the John Creasy books, with John Gregson as the Scotland Yard detective, Berman branched off to produce and write several of his own television series.

Baker and Moore then formed Bamore, a company that produced The Persuaders (1971-72), starring Moore and Tony Curtis as wealthy playboy adventurers, and the film Crossplot (1969), a swingin' London thriller with Moore finding himself in a psychedelic disco, a vintage car race and a helicopter chase. Baker and Moore had a long association, with the actor describing his friend as "one of the kindest men I have ever had the privilege of working with".

Baker is survived by his two daughters.

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1 comments for Robert S. Baker (1916-2009)


Blogger hudson hawk said...

overall not a bad body of work to leave behind....RIP.

Thursday, October 15, 2009  

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