Tuesday, October 06, 2009

A Saintly Baker

Maybe its age catching up to me, but I seem to be more aware of people who dominated my younger life passing away. One such figure is Robert S. Baker, who died on September 30. Baker’s name became familiar to me in the late 1960s and early ’70s during the heyday of British TV crime on Lew Grade’s ATV/ITC network. Baker was an accomplished cameraman, director, producer, and writer, probably best remembered for his partnership with the late Monty Berman. Those two specialized in injecting an American “feel” into crime thrillers such as The Saint, The Persuaders!, and The Baron. I loved the shows that Baker and Berman produced, especially Steve Forrest’s The Baron, which lives on only in my memory.

The London Times featured a Baker obituary this last weekend:
With Monty Berman, Robert S. Baker was a prolific producer of cheaply made British B-films that enlivened the first half of many a double bill during the 1950s, before turning to television with shows including The Saint and The Persuaders!

The adventures of Simon Templar, alias the Saint, had successfully featured on radio and in the cinema but not on the small screen, and it was a notable coup for Baker and Berman to acquire the TV rights to “the Robin Hood of crime” from his creator, Leslie Charteris. Baker and Berman first offered the project to Associated Rediffusion, which turned it down as too expensive, but it was taken up and generously financed by Lew Grade’s ITC.

Although Grade preferred Patrick McGoohan, and Charteris favoured David Niven, the leading role went to Roger Moore, whose easygoing charm proved to be perfect casting. The Saint was a huge popular success in Britain, where it ran between 1962 and 1969, and was sold to more than 60 countries.

The son of a furrier, Baker was born in the East End of London in 1916. He was given the name Sidney but adopted Robert when he was in the Army and found himself surrounded by Sidneys. After leaving school he won prizes as a photographer, made amateur films and went travelling before joining up at the start of the Second World War.

He became a member of the Army Film Unit and met Berman while they were both serving as sergeants in the Eighth Army. At the end of the war he was one of the first British soldiers to enter the ruined Reich Chancellery in Berlin, a moment captured in a photograph held in the Imperial War Museum.

In 1948 he and Berman formed their own production company, Tempean. Relying initially on finance from friends and relatives, including Berman’s father, their first film was Date with a Dream, an evocation of the wartime concert party, which starred Terry-Thomas and Jean (later Jeannie) Carson and gave Norman Wisdom his first film role.

Baker and Berman went on to produce more than 40 films, often two or three a year, with Baker also on occasions acting as writer, director and cameraman. They were made on small budgets, rarely more than £20,000, and locations were used instead of more expensive studio sets. To avoid hotel bills the locations were usually near London.

A Tempean speciality was pacy, unpretentious thrillers for which Baker and Berman imported American actors on the wane, including Mark Stevens, Forrest Tucker, Arthur Kennedy and the blacklisted star of The Jolson Story, Larry Parks. Baker and Berman admired the moody style of the American film noir and tried to adopt it in their own work.
Meanwhile, The Guardian’s report can be found here.

As sad as I am to hear about Robert S. Baker’s passing, I like to think that it will reunite him with his former partner, Monty Berman. And maybe in Heaven they can find the financing necessary to bring this character back to life.

2 comments:

Hoppy Uniatz said...

A 2 hour pilot for a new series of The Saint is due to start production in a couple of weeks...

More here: http://www.broadcastnow.co.uk/news/international/the-saint-set-to-be-resurrected-by-major-canadian-producer/5005459.article

RJR said...

I've been working my way through the box set of The Baron. Not what John Creasey had in mind, but I still enjoy this Steve Forrest series.

RJR