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Robert S. Baker interview

How did you become involved in the film and TV world?

From school days I always wanted to be involved in someway in the film industry. Then just before the war I won a competition in photography and a little while later as an amateur filmmaker. Then the war came along and I joined the Royal Artillery in the desert and throughout the El Alamain campaign. So I went out to the Middle East got myself transferred to armed film and graphic unit. I was a sergeant at the time and I got to become a combat cameraman at the landings at in Sicily and Italy going through to Belgium and Germany.

Was a combat cameraman a dangerous job?

Well it was photographing battles. So during this time I met another sergeant who was also a cameraman Monty Berman and we decided when the war was over we would make our own films. After the war I borrowed money and made our first film “ A Date with A Dawn” it starred Terry Thomas and Norman Wisdom. We got a contract with a company called Eros and I think I have made not counting Television 48 films in total. Later on I managed to secure the rights from the author Leslie Charteris for "The Saint".

Did you have any difficulty securing the rights, for "The Saint"? 

No normally this kind of thing is hard, but on this occasion I did not it was surprisingly easy, but normally this is not the case, I guess the timing was just right. We then took the ideas to various television programmes. Firstly I took it to Associated Rediffusion but when I said it would cost maybe 16000 for an episode they turned it down so I next went to Sir Lew Grade who jumped at it. Lesley Charteris was then living in Florida, so I went over to tidy up all the loose ends and make the actual deal and that’s how the thing started.

We understand Roger Moore had tried to secure the right to "The Saint"; he must have liked the role?

Yes it was taylor made for Roger.

How did you find Sir Lew Grade, to deal with?

I already knew Sir Lew Grade, he was big in the business, he was firstly an agent and very well known and there was also his brother Leslie. So now I had the rights to "The Saint" and Lew had Associated Television and was manger of the company he was the best person to approach and with in five minutes of meeting him he wanted to do the project of "The Persuaders".

How did you find Roger to work with, I have heard he was very professional?

Totally, he is about the easiest guy in the world to work with, he has a great sense of humour and wit a total joy to work with him, it was not like working when you were in Roger's Company.

What was a working day on "The Saint" like? Was it a five-day week?

Well we often had to work a Saturday or a Sunday because we had to turn the show in on time, and supposedly we had a ten day schedule but we often had to make it a ten and a quarter or a half day run per episode, so it was working all the week. If we had exterior shots in London we often chose Sunday Morning because it was quiet.

Was it quite pressurized then?

Well there is always pressure in this kind of work, but you know what you have to do and you pace yourself and act accordingly.

Did you find then at certain times the episodes were behind and you would have to catch up production?

No you had to keep scheduling, as they were releasing them as they were almost made they were shown on air a week or two in front of us.

Our favourite programme you produced was "The Persuaders" what do you feel about the programme?

Yes "The Persuaders" were my favourite project. It was a programme I had wanted to do for a long time. We did a trial for The Persuaders with an episode of The Saint called “The Ex-King of Diamonds”. The idea being an American and a British Guy being in competition with each other, it’s a well-known format of a buddy movie, but I had wanted to do it with an English Lord and an American wiz kid and I think it gelled very well. Originally it was going to be an English man and a Texan but fortunately it was changed to a guy from Brooklyn, and the combination of the New Yorker and the Londoner was a better combination, and also improved a great deal by having someone like Tony Curtis who was a marvelous comedian. Had it been a Texan the tempo would have been much slower, but by virtue it was a guy from the Bronx so we had to jazz it up a bit, and that was rather a fortunate bit of casting, and that helped us a great deal.

We understand you had others in mind for the role of Danny Wilde taken by Tony Curtis?

Well originally w had Rock Hudson in mind, then Glenn Ford, and what happened was we could not get either of them, so I had a meeting with the New York network. We had a deal with ABC network for the series, and they came up with list of people they would like for the role of the American, and Tony Curtis was on the list. I spoke to Lew Grade who was a friend of Tony Curtis’s agent, who made arrangements, and he came out to Hollywood straight away and I met Tony there and Lew managed to talk Tony into doing the programme.

We thought the onscreen pairing of Tony and Roger was an extremely good combination do you feel this also?

Yes they worked very extremely well together; they were quite simply perfect on screen. Roger is a great wit and so is Tony, it was just chemistry, it does not always work so well, but on that show it was perfect, it could easily have gone the other way and not worked well.

Have you seen the programme recently?

Oddly enough I have seen "The Persuaders" recently, I watched it, and it surprised me that it had not dated very much, the only thing that dated it was the women’s hair styles and the men’s flared trousers.

Is it true Tony Curtis did a lot of his own stunts in "The Persuaders"?

Yes he actually did a lot himself jumping off lorries onto scaffolds he was very athletic and Roger also did some including doing most of his fight scenes himself, but of course if it was too dangerous we would not let them do it.

How did Tony and Roger seem to get on off set?

The point is Roger gets on with every one, Tony Curtis was a little edgy just at first he was a big film star and not used to TV and I think he did not want to be out played by Roger, and he was not, they were not bosom friends but they were friends off screen also.

We believe on "The Persuaders" was well received in Europe but was it a disappointment in America?

Strangely enough it did not do well in America on release, it did later on it became a cult programme. There were two major reasons it did not take of firstly it was scheduled against their top rated programme “Mission Impossible”, and secondly was the tongue in cheek atmosphere of the programme, it was a bit too early for America. Later on about five years later there were other programmes “Moonlighting” about a couple of detectives in the same vein that were successful, so I just think we were a little bit too early for that kind of show The Persuaders was ahead of its time.

We read they programme was scheduled for five series was that true?

No what happened was at the end of that first series I had a meeting With Sir Lew grade who wanted to do another series even though it had not been a big hit in American it was still overall very financially successful, but at that moment Roger was offered James Bond, so I had another meeting with Sir Lew Grade and we talked about replacing Roger with Noel Harrison but we decided it was just great chemistry between Roger and Tony and so to shoot it with someone else it would not be the same, so we said lets quit while we are ahead, so there was no more unfortunately. Roger expressed a comment in our recent interview with him that he would like to bring "The Persuaders" out for one more outing, maybe he was joking, do you see any possibility of this? I think it would be nice but they are too old now, there have been various suggestions they might do a remake of "The Persuaders" but nothing has come to fruition, and also you have to remember it’s a fairly expensive type of programme or film to make.

We think at the time it was the most expensive programme to make to date?

It was indeed both Roger and Tony got a hell of a lot of money, your two stars payments was enough o make a television programme. Also having two highly paid and profiled stars in the show you had to have a highly glossy show to accommodate them, but it was good fun while it lasted, and I personally enjoyed it greatly and it was good fun while it lasted.

Even though it was not a big hit in the USA, was it a financial success?

Yes a great success.

So in fact is it true it was a success with the exception of the USA?

Yes this is true, but we were very surprised at the time because it was played in Australia first, where it was a big hit getting to number one and usually Australia is a testing ground for America e.g. if it works in Australia it will work in America, but it failed much to our surprise.

Was this lack of success in the USA anything to do with influencing Roger decision to do Bond?

No Roger was going to Bond anyway, we would not have stopped him because Bond made a very big difference to his career, and we were friends, so there was no way I would have tried to keep Roger.

Was the series shot solely at Pinewood? Or did you use Elstree as well?

No it was all at Pinewood studios.

Was that because Pinewood was the better studio?

No, it was because it was more convenient, with Black Park adjacent to the studio and lot of the material was shot there.

How long did it take to shoot the series?

A year with the first location in the south of France where we stayed for about 5/6 weeks and then there were some shots in Italy, it was certainly an expensive show

Have you seen Roger or Tony recently?

I have not seen Tony recently, but I do see Roger from time to time, but most of his time is spent working for UNICEF, for whom he does a tremendous amount of work. He is always going of to various places for them but I do think UNICEF does great good for very good cause.

Have you heard they are bringing the series out on DVD?

Yes I have heard that.

Jaz Wiseman of The Morning After, who now works for Carlton, has recently discovered some material in the vaults that are out-takes from "The Persuaders". Have you heard about this?

No, but its quite possible but I have not seen them.

Did you get involved in the recent Saint film?

Vaguely in as much as I hold the rights to the saint, they gave me a title as executive producer, but I did not produce anything AHAHAH.

There seemed to be a lot of people that were disappointed with the film, did this include you?

As a film it was ok, but it was not "The Saint", in a way it was a waste of money them asking to buy the rights to use the saint because there was nothing about the saint in the film, with the exception it is a good name to use.

Thank you for a very interesting interview, Bob Baker

My pleasure, I wish luck with the Roger Moore website!


This is an exclusive by Bob Baker, and  MUST NOT  be reproduced in any form without written permission from Alan Davidson and Marie-France Vienne (Brett)   copyright.

Kind regards and many thanks to Bob Baker

 

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