I met Bob Baker in 1993, where we appeared together at Action '93, a Celebration of ITC Television Programs such as The Saint and The Persuaders. We kept in touch over the years, and he provided the basic concept behind my forthcoming novel, The Saint in Las Vegas.
He lived a full and rewarding life, passing away at age 93. He is mourned by many, including Sir Roger Moore whose tribute to Baker is found, along with others, in the following post courtesy of my good friend Ian Dickerson.
My friend Bob was one of the kindest men I have ever had the privilege of knowing and working with. I little realized when Bob and I first met back in 1961 how our lives were destined to become a long and happy association. That of course was when I arrived back in England to shoot what I then thought would be just twenty six episodes of The Saint. It became over a hundred episodes, in the course of which Bob and I became partners in the production company which went on to produce The Persuaders and also a feature film for UA, Crossplot. In those ten years or so our families became very close, Bob was Godfather to my daughter Deborah. Together with his wife, Alma we holidayed together, in Spain, France and Italy. Bob was an exceedingly handsome man, always immaculate and most polite. On holiday together in Majorca, a guest at the same hotel, who had only seen Bob on the beach in bathing shorts, asked me one morning before Bob and Alma had joined us on the beach, where my ‘dapper ‘ friend was. That was Bob in or out of a suit, always dapper. I shall miss my dapper friend and business partner tremendously. I am sure that he is now reunited with his beloved wife, Alma, who died many years ago from cancer, the same dreaded disease that has finally taken Bob.
His daughters, Marilyn, Geraldine and their children have my deepest condolences.
– Sir Roger Moore
Strange the friendships you strike up.
I had the privilege of knowing Robert S Baker for almost 20 years. Roughly half my life, less than a quarter of his. His friends called him Bob but there was no way I could do that. Not a chance that a teenager who grew up watching TV and films produced by Robert S. Baker could ever call him Bob. Nope, to me he was always Mr Baker.
A mutual friend passed on his phone number and I was quickly invited to the offices of his production company, Tribune Productions, at Elstree Studios. There he generously answered my questions and kindly put up with the inquiries of a naïve teenager.
In the following weeks he was kind enough to keep in correspondence and even open his address book to me, helping me get in touch with many of the crew who worked on The Saint andReturn of the Saint. And when he invited me to help him move out of his office at Elstree Studios I was as close to heaven as a teenage TV geek can be.
Robert Sidney Baker was born in 1916. He went into the film industry almost straight from school, finding work as an assistant director in 1937, but the outbreak of World War II put paid to his immediate plans to conquer the film industry. He served as a combat cameraman in the Army Film and Photographic Unit where he found himself working alongside Monty Berman, filming the landings at Sicily and eventually moving on to Belgium and Germany. The two men hit it off and decided that once the War was over they’d go into partnership making films.
They called their company Tempean Films, and in 1948 made their first film together. A Date With a Dream starring Terry Thomas (“I think we paid Terry Thomas £50” said Bob Baker), Jeannie Carson and in a small role (as a shadow boxer), a then little-known comic called Norman Wisdom. The company was initially financed by “friends and relatives” but the distribution company Eros Films was so impressed with their work that they offered to finance future productions.
Throughout the 1950s they made over 30 ‘B’ movies usually photographed by Monty Berman and often directed by Bob Baker. They hit on the idea of ‘stunt casting’—using faded Hollywood stars to appeal to English audiences and the market for B movies in America. “The films were good value,” said Berman. “We used to shoot in natural locations. The fact was that with our budget we couldn’t afford to build the sets that the films required. This has now become the norm but we made a hell of a lot of films on location back then.”
But by the early 1960s it became clear that television was killing the market for B movies so Baker and Berman turned their thoughts to what they could do for television. One day film director John Paddy Carstairs dropped by their offices. As Mr Baker later told me,
““I had read the Saint stories as a kid and always admired them. I thought that they were a wonderful subject for television. I happened to mention that we were looking to do a television series and The Saint would be great. He said it’s very funny you should say that I had lunch with Leslie Charteris yesterday—he’s over here now.” Carstairs arranged a lunch at which the two producers could meet Charteris. Baker and Berman came away happy, “how I managed it I don’t know because Leslie was rather a mercurial figure. I persuaded him to give me a three month option, free of charge, on The Saint”
This wasn’t Baker and Berman’s first attempt at something Saintly. The producers’ 1953 movie The Steel Key was originally intended as a Saint adventure but when the initial financing fell through, it got hastily rewritten. In the film, directed by Robert S. Baker and written by Baker & Berman stalwart John Gilling, Terence Morgan plays an attractive rogue dedicated to bringing real criminals to justice, regardless of what the police might think.
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He took their pitch to put the Saint on TV to Associated Rediffusion, the London weekday franchise holder for the ITV television network. A-R’s Managing Director, Brian Tesler, balked at the proposed budget of £15 000 per episode.
Shortly after, he was at a charity event, “I found myself at a table with Lew Grade [the boss of ATV]. I went over to see him and said “Lew I’ve got the rights to The Saint. How about a television series based on the Saint? He said “The Saint is a great idea. I’ve always read the books as a kid. I’d love to do it, come and see me Monday morning”3
So at 7am the following Monday Robert S. Baker was in Lew Grade’s office. Grade quickly saw the potential and told him to do a deal with Leslie Charteris. The next day, he was on a plane to Florida:
“I was in Florida motoring up the coast road towards the junction with Lantana where I was met by Leslie. He sat in his car waiting and he was not in the best of moods despite the rapidly approaching festive season; I was disturbing his creative output and he had a deadline to meet. Furthermore, he’d had many approaches for the TV rights to the Saint in the past, the last only a short time before, which like the others, fell flat on its face. So here I was another producer on a wing and a prayer hoping to fly off with a deal.
He led me to a hotel in Palm Beach where he had made a reservation for me and set up a meeting for the next day. That day stretched into a week until Leslie got what he wanted. I phoned Lord Grade head of the ATV television network. He gave it his blessing, so at long last – much to Leslie’s surprise – the Saint was launched on television. I arrived home just in time for Christmas.”
The show was launched in 1962 and went on to be a worldwide hit running for 7 years and selling to over 70 countries around the world and helping ATV win a Queen’s Award for Export in 1967.
“Robert Baker and Roger Moore gave me my big break. I first met Robert when I was performing stunts on his television series The Saint. Very soon after this I became a second unit director, thanks to Brian Clemens and The Avengers. Some weeks later I went to Robert Baker and asked him for the chance to direct The Saint. He said he would have to talk to Roger, as it was his name up there on the screen. Well, what can I tell you. Roger said yes, backed by Robert’s recommendation and I got to direct my first show” - Raymond Austin, stunt arranger, director
When the show had finished he went on to produce The Persuaders! with Roger Moore and Tony Curtis before deciding, in the mid-1970s, that the time was right for the return of the Saint. The idea was kick started by seeing an episode of classic drama Upstairs, Downstairs, where Ian Ogilvy had a role. Shortly afterwards he took him to lunch and explained his thoughts. When he asked if the actor would be interested he was met with a resounding “Sure!”
“Bob was the kind of producer that actors dream about. Charming and friendly, he was supportive when you needed help, and discreet when you didn't. He trusted you to do what he was paying you to do and rarely interfered. Once he asked me to be "Not too, English, Ian." – which I didn't understand, until I did a bad imitation of Cary Grant. "That's it!" he cried, and then left me alone. He cast me as Simon Templar without demanding that I audition for the role, an action which endeared him to me for life. A kind and lovely man, whom I shall miss.” – Ian Ogilvy, actor and writer
With Lew Grade’s backing the show went into production and like its predecessor was sold around the world but a potential second season didn’t come to fruition, usurped by Lew Grade’s ambitions to conquer the film industry.
“I am not the only young, (as I was then) man that wanted so much to enter and learn the industry and got help from Robert. Thanks to him and his understanding I got an even bigger break years later. Robert contracted me to direct the two hour pilot of “The Return Of The Saint,” staring Ian Ogilvy. This done I had another commitment to direct more episodes of the show. At the same time I was offered a very lucrative contract in America, to direct TV shows over there.
After a restless night, I went to Robert and told him what had been offered me. He smiled and told me go do it. He said chances like that don’t come along very often. I said what about our contract? He said don’t worry about that, take the offer. Within a week I was shooting in Hollywood. That is the sort of man Robert S. Baker was, a gentleman, and always a man of his word, to many a man and woman in life. .He was an asset and inspiration to the entertainment industry, and all of us in it.”
– Raymond Austin, director and stunt arranger
He went into semi-retirement, but couldn’t resist taking a pet project from his old friend, the late actor Ivor Dean, and turning it into the mini-series Return to Treasure Island. And with continued interest in the adventures of the Saint throughout the 80s and 90s, Robert S.Baker was the man producers needed to speak to. Indeed he was key in bringing together Geoffrey Moore and William J. MacDonald and helping them secure the rights so that they could make their forthcoming pilot.
Developing a story then a script with a writer was the aspect of the business that Bob most enjoyed. He told me so more than once. He was absolutely brilliant at it. With The Saint, in its various incarnations, he was well-nigh infallible. He knew the character inside out, knew what situations would work and what wouldn’t and was absolutely masterly in devising sub-plots, surprises, twists and turns. I guess our most fruitful collaboration was RETURN TO TREASURE ISLAND, a show that’s enjoying a whole new life on DVD. I certainly regard it as one of my best efforts and I don’t think I ever enjoyed anything as much in my professional life as working day after day at Elstree with Bob. HTV and Disney had virtually no notes! Bob had already winkled out the flaws. He was a great man and one can only reach for the usual cliché – in this case absolutely true: we will not see his like again.
As we Anglicans say: Rest eternal grant unto him O lord: And let light perpetual shine upon him.
I have no doubt that it will.
John Goldsmith, screenwriter
I kept in touch with him over the years. After the death of the Saint’s creator Leslie Charteris we discussed and planned, at considerable length, the story for a new Saint novel that would follow Leslie’s wishes and tell of how the Saint would meet his son. Those conversations are engraved on my brain, for I learnt so much about story-telling just by listening to him.
And a few years after that, and after Paramount Studios had nearly killed the Saint, he was kind enough to come and help me out making some documentaries about the first two TV series to in DVD box sets as extras.
“Robert has been a mentor to many a young film maker, actor and technician through the years. He was one of the most genuinely helpful producers in the industry. – Raymond Austin, director and stunt arranger
I hadn’t seen him for a good few years—phone calls having to do instead of face to face chats—but he hadn’t changed. He still looked a good 20 or 30 years younger than he actually was. And his memory was something else. I treasure the memory of him sitting alongside Ian Ogilvy in a recording studio discussing the details of a show they made 30 years ago as if it were yesterday.
We kept in touch. And I kept sending him copies of my work on the Saint’s TV career and Leslie Charteris’ life. And he was nothing but encouraging and helpful. And boy did I love our conversations about the current state of the TV industry (he deplored it, in case you were wondering).
No one has a bad word to say about Mr Baker. He was a kind, generous and intelligent man, a true gentleman the like of whom British TV is now sadly lacking.
A while back I nominated Mr Baker for an award, a CBE, MBE or whatever—simply something to recognise his services to film and television, or more to the point, British film and television. The letters of support the nomination process requires were easy to get—people were only too pleased to help. But sadly cancer works quicker than the machinations of government and it’s not to be.
With his passing it is truly the end of an era and we shall not see his like again, and for that British film and TV will be so much the poorer.
Thanks for everything Bob.