I am reliving my childhood.
I´ve spent the last couple of days re-reading a couple of the Modesty Blaise books written by Peter O’Donnell. Oh. My. God! The nostalgia! Actually, they hold up surprisingly well. A few technology issues (short wave radio anyone?) and I wish there wasn’t the silly stuff with characters with ESP, but that´s like wishing that the villain in a James Bond movie would just shoot Bond in the head…
For those that don´t know, Modesty Blaise started out as a cartoon strip in The Standard in 1964. It then became a series of 13 books that I devoured rapidly and repeatedly as a child. I didn’t care that it was nonsense or pulp fiction. I just loved them!
Modesty Blaise is a heroine with no super-powers other than her intelligence and an extremely well-trained body. Her side-kick and assistant is Willie Garvin (who is saved by her more than he does the saving). It is an incredibly feminist set of stories even characters even now. In the 1960s it must have been revolutionary.
There was an appalling film made in the 1960s that I try not to think about, mainly because Modesty was just a helpless little sex-bomb saved all the time by Terence Stamp. The last part of that premise is OK, but the first is too insulting. Tarantino scripted an amazingly low-budget film for Harvey Weinstein´s company about a decade ago so that Weinstein could retain the movie rights (there was a use it or lose it clause in the contract) that was better, but there´s a limit to what you can do with five actors, two weeks and about 20 grand. Tarantino keeps saying he plans to make a Modesty Blaise film. That could be interesting…
Modesty is described as tall and brunette, slim but with curves. Willie Garvin is just over 6 foot, blonde and very well built. Basically Brad and Angelina. Annoyingly, now that I am re-reading the books that is what they look like in my head.
They set up and ran a criminal organisation based in the Mediterranean called The Network. Once she had made enough money they both retired and passed the franchises on to her management. And that´s where the books begin as she is recruited to do a job for the bowler hatted head of British Intelligence. So 1960s! So perfect!
When I was growing up I so wanted to be Modesty that it was almost painful. Or failing that, Willie Garvin with his twin throwing knives, cool attitude and loyalty.
They get themselves into exciting capers and laugh their way through them, no matter what the dangers or the odds. Modesty and Willie are always prepared, always one step ahead because of their brains and planning. It doesn’t matter what gets thrown at them, they know they will get through it as long as they stick together and use their skills.
Karate, knife-throwing, scuba diving, kayaking, fencing, shooting with pistols and handguns (she with the former he with the latter) it was so exciting and unknown for a girl growing up in the North of England. And the locations! They didn’t just do the obvious James Bond ones. They might be diving for pearls in Panama or digging up semi-precious stones in Bolivia!
It wasn’t Bruce Lee that got me interested in martial arts, it was Modesty Blaise. And what made me want to excel at school wasn’t going to university; it was being able to know the things she did and to be able to talk like her. I had forgotten all this until I started re-reading the trashy little books that have now been re-published (but not for Kindle, sadly!)
Modesty Blaise was my inspiration as a kid. Her intelligence, independence, skills and lifestyle were everything I ever wanted but could see no way to ever achieve. I wanted to be her, to do those things, have those friends and go to those places.
But things move on and life gets in the way. I hadn’t even thought about the books for years until I happened across them in a second hand bookshop near my place in the hills. I grew up and forgot about what a once wanted to be and do.
And so here I am, a slim brunette with curves running what people regard as a criminal organisation based in the Mediterranean with my loyal and highly capable male sidekick permanently by my side.
Funny old world.