I was recently asked at my lecture on 1930s Irish Broadcasting History if I was aware that the first radio broadcast of Leslie Charteris's The Saint was on Radio Eireann in 1939. The Saint is perhaps more famous now through the television incarnations of actors Roger Moore and Ian Ogilvy. I had to be honest that I was not aware of that but it sent me on a little CSI style investigation.
My first port of call was the internet and the always reliable Mr. Google. There it was not 1939 but 1940. I was stunned. I checked a number of 'The Saint' fan sites all all pointed me in the one direction even Old Time Radio sites in the United States refered to Radio Athlone and its historic connection with the suave spy.
My attention was peaked and I continued to research the mighty internet. I began to look at the career of the actor who 'played' the role on Radio Eireann Terence DeMarney and sadly discovered that he died in 1971 when he accidently fell under a train in England. Then I came a cross a very disingenuous remark towards the Irish national station in a book on The Saint
This piece of misinformation and inaccuracy came from the 2002 James Chapman book 'Saints and Avengers, British Adventure Series of the 1960's'
'A short lived' station that is now almost a century old. I next checked the radio guide of the day The Irish Radio News and to my surprise there was no mention of the six part series. It occured to me that perhaps the books reference to 'commercial' may have indicated that the drama's was part of the sponsored programmes that were carried by Radio Eireann in the 1930s and early 1940s but when I looked up the Irish Hospital Sweepstakes archives as they were the main radio sponsors of the day, yet again nothing found on now the elusive Saint.
The research went on and I began to trawl the Irish Newspaper Archives and everything that had been written in articles, magazines and respected books was completely and totally wrong. Inaccuracy in facts has led to a myth that is simply not true. Radio Eireann did NOT broadcast the first radio incarnation of Leslie Charteris's The Saint. In fact the series was broadcast by the BBC.
This from the Irish Independent October 25th 1940
To prove that Radio Eireann/Radio Athlone did not broadcast the show as given in evidence on October 18th 1940 this is the programme schedule for the Irish state broadcaster for that Friday and no mention of The Saint or even a drama being broadcast
The only connection Ireland had with The Saint in October 1940 was the fact that showing in a number of cinema's was the movie 'The Saint Takes Over' starring George Saunders in one of his many 'Simon Templar' roles. But my next question in the investigation was why? Why had this myth grown up and how did it come about. The investigation was a little complicated as was many events during the Second World War.
With the outbreak of the Second World War, the British War Office instructed the BBC to synchronize their transmitters to prevent the German air force from using the signals as beacons for their bombing raids. Most of the BBC’s transmitters for their national and regional services were synchronized on 449m and 391m medium wave. The problem for the War Office was that Radio Athlone’s powerful 100KW transmitter could be used as a directional beacon and despite low level communications between the British and Irish Governments initially their was no co-operation from Radio Athlone to synchronize their transmitter on 531m with those less powerful transmitters in Dublin on 223m and on 242m in Cork.
The BBC was ordered to take three of their transmitters out of service and use them to mask Radio Athlone. The BBC engineers would use a receiver to tune in the Dublin frequency and then relay by landline to three UK transmitters to rebroadcast programmes from Radio Athlone.
The three transmitters used were the five kilowatt transmitter at Redmoss outside Aberdeen in Scotland that originally broadcast on 373m but was moved to the Athlone frequency of 531m. This was similarly done at Penmon outside Angelsey in Wales and at Clevedon near Bristol in Somerset.
The BBC continued with these rebroadcasts from September 1939 until October 1940 when the Irish Government purchased the equipment required to synchronize the three Radio Eireann transmitters. Thus British listeners who had been listening to Radio Eireann's programmes which had been secretly rebroadcast by the BBC assumed once the Irish Government had synchronized the Irish transmitters that it was still Radio Eireann when in fact Redmoss, Clevedon and Penmon begun broadcasting BBC programmes once more to their own audience in October 1940.
This is a slice of espionage that Simon Templar would have been proud of.