THE SAINT IN TENERIFE
Roger Moore, the world-famous actor best known for his role as James Bond, died earlier this year. Not many people know him as anything else but of course he didn’t step straight into the part, his career had begun a long time before.
If you come across any old knitting patterns from the 1950’s you might see him looking very content to be wearing woollen waistcoats and cardigans. Then he came to the wider public as the knight ‘Ivanhoe’ on children’s television. This was followed by a character that made him perfect for the role of Bond, how many people used to watch glued to their two-channel TV sets in the early 1960’s to watch Simon Templar, alias ‘The Saint’?
‘The Saint’ was a character created in the 1930’s by novelist Leslie Charteris. As a sort of Robin Hood, ‘The Saint’ was a hero/anti-hero, a mischievous, chivalrous, lovable rogue. Charteris wrote thirty-five ‘Saint’ stories in all, many of which were made into television programmes, all starring Roger Moore. I dimly remember ‘The Saint’ on television with his halo but it was only recently that I read this story about him, with some dirty dealings in diamonds and a lottery ticket in Santa Cruz de Tenerife.
‘The Saint in Tenerife’ is a book that has the odd, perhaps unique distinction of having three different titles, or even four if you include its translation into Spanish. It was published in May 1937 as ‘The Saint Bids Diamonds,’ it also became ‘The Thieves’ Picnic,’ and when it was published in Spanish it was ‘El Santo en Tenerife’ or ‘The Saint in Tenerife’.
Even thoug ‘The Saint’ was popular in his day and made it later to television, his activities were never a rival to the enduring intellectual subtlety of Agatha Christie’s detectives, Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot, nor did he have the glamour of Ian Fleming’s James Bond for mass appeal. ‘The Saint’ was not subtle, the books are all-action, often quite violent action, ripping-yarn stuff with Templar and his unbelievably thick ‘assistant’, an American thug called ‘Hoppy.’
Leslie Charteris spent a winter holiday in Santa Cruz in December 1935 with his second wife-to-be, the daughter of a diamond cutter. The association of diamonds, the national Christmas lottery and Santa Cruz in Tenerife inspired the plot for the book; he even set it in December. In the story
‘The Saint’ poses as a diamond cutter in order to rescue an old man and his beautiful daughter, and their winning Christmas national lottery ticket worth millions, from the clutches of a gang of diamond smugglers, but I’ll let you read the rest.
As a bonus, what is interesting is that some of the locations for the story can still be recognised today, and when the reader knows the layout of Santa Cruz, he or she can follow the action. A lot centres around the Plaza de Candelaria, the main square of Santa Cruz with its statue of the Virgin of Candelaria. In 1935 it was called the Plaza de Republica, then renamed after the civil war. City street characters such as a knife-grinder and a braying donkey are no more, likewise the real-life Hotel Orotava (where Charteris stayed) opposite the Casino that has been replaced by a more modern edifice.
The Saint speaks Castillian fluently, which helps the plot move along, he is not impressed by Tenerife, he calls it “this God-forsaken place;” he comments that the island newspapers are concerned with interminable political intrigues and the defence of the Canary Islands, which the islanders believe every other nation wants to seize for themselves. Remember that this was written only a matter of months before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in July 1936.
A local activity at the time was the construction of the harbour. Charteris describes “… the ear-piercing shriek of the locomotive that runs through Santa Cruz between the quarries and the mole, dragging rocks to a breakwater that never gets any nearer to completion.” The noise might have been made by the very steam engine which is preserved on a plinth between Paso Alto and Bufadero on the road to San Andres.
Although Charteris chang-es the identity of some loca-tions for the benefit of the story, for instance ‘Camacho’s tourist office’ in the square and the ‘Zanzibar’ cafe in the Casino block were real places, and ‘the German bar’ on the other side of the square to the Hotel Orotava, was the Oasis Bar, better known as the English Bar, he shows his familiarity with the area by including real street names and places. For example he drives up the Calle Castillo (now pedestrianised), and up the old road from Santa Cruz to La Laguna, to the villains’ house, ‘Las Mariposas’ with a walled courtyard. (Was there really such a house?)
Other local features mentio-ned are Calle de Libertad, Calle Ortega, the Casino building, the newspaper ‘Prensa,’ el Teide of course, and the town of Orotava. He also notes the curious fact that in Santa Cruz the streets have two names, the official one and the one by which it is popularly known, for example the Calle San Francisco was officially Calle Doctor Comenge, and Calle Doctor Allart was otherwise Calle Sol. Confusingly to the outsider the same still holds true today, which must be fun for trainee taxi drivers. The story ends with Simon Templar being offered something very tempting, but being an honourable man he declines the offer.
The setting of Santa Cruz for the story was the inspiration its translation into Spanish by Don Emilio Abad Ripol; ‘El Santo en Tenerife’ was published by Idea in 2001. In English ‘The Saint Bids Diamonds’ is available in a modern reprint published in 2013 by Mulholland Books.