Wednesday, July 19, 2017



British crime writer John Creasey wrote more than six hundred novels using twenty-eight different pseudonyms. As Anthony Morton, he created the character of John Mannering, better known as The Baron, a not quite reformed jewel thief turned antiques dealer and adventurer. Between 1937 and 1961, Creasey wrote more than thirty novels featuring The Baron, making him—along with The Toff—one of Creasey’s most popular characters.

 In the mid-sixties, British television production and distribution company ITC produced a number of European based action shows starring Americans in the lead role. This practice helped ITC sell their shows in America and other syndicated markets demanding American actors. Robert Vaughn (The Protectors), Gene Barry (The Adventurer), Richard Bradford (Man In A Suitcase) and other recognizably American actors were happy to extend their reach to international audiences while also playing to those back home—including Steve Forrest as The Baron

In 1965, under ITC’s guidance, the originally British John Mannering became an American. Steve Forrest (best known for his later American role as Lt. Hondo Harrelson in S.W.A.T.) was cast as The Baron, going on to film thirty episodes of the show. One of the first color series on British television, The Baron made Forrest an internationally well-known figure.

In his television incarnation, The Baron not only became an American antiques dealer, but all mention of his days as a cat burglar-reformed or not—disappeared with his British passport. Instead, he occasionally finds himself acting as an informal undercover agent for Templeton-Green, head of British Diplomatic Intelligence. Mannering was assisted in his antiques business by David Marlowe. However, under pressure from ABC, the American broadcast network carrying the show, Marlowe was replaced by the much more winsome Cordelia Winfield.

The American network also required more changes. British vernacular, such as petrol, car boot, car bonnet, and more, had to be dubbed over with the appropriate American terms. And due to the cigarette company sponsorship of many American network shows, a mandate was established insisting characters were allowed to light up only in moments of leisure, never when they were frightened or under duress.

There were more changes. Having cast Texan Steve Forrest in the role of John Mannering, the producers claimed he was nicknamed The Baron for the 200,000 acre Lone Star State cattle ranch owned by his grandfather. In an early episode of the show Mannering is established as having been a US Army Captain in World War II, serving in the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program, where he recovered art works from the Nazis.

In the early books of the original series, Mannering gets married and remains so for the rest of his adventures. For TV, however, it wouldn’t do for a charter member of the jet set to be in the midst of domestic bliss. As a result, the character was returned to bachelorhood, much to the delight of the female character populating the show. Much of this set-up was to make The Baron as much like The Saint as possible in an effort to tag onto the success of Simon Templar’s coattails. 

Like The Saint, The Baron even had his own trademark car, a silver Jensen CV-8 Mk II with the registration BAR 1. However, unlike The Saint’s less outlandish Volvo, The Baron’s elitist Jensen didn’t provide the same sales boost for dealerships.  

Most episodes of The Baron were written by ITC stalwarts Dennis Spooner and Terry Nation (the man behind the creation of the Daleks). Other scripts were written by Brian Clemens (The Avengers) under the pseudonym Tony O’Grady. The show also shared production crew members and guest stars with many other ongoing ITC shows. 

While The Baron had his reputation as a jet-setter to uphold, filming of the show never left England. Along with sharing stand-in foreign locations with other ITC shows of the era, the backlot of Elstree Studios was alternately transformed into Mannering's antiques shop, a Mexican town, a Parisian nightclub, an East European police station, and many more exotic locations.

Like many of the shows from the spy crazy era of the sixties (such as The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Saint, Man In A Suitcase, The Champions, and Danger Man), feature films for European release were produced by re-editing and combining two part episodes from the shows. All part of ITC generating as much money as possible from its expanding collection of spy and adventure shows.

The Baron holds up well when viewing episodes on DVD, but remains an underrated show from the time period. Steve Forrest was a strong lead as John Mannering, American antique dealer living in London. The conceit of The Baron using his antique art expertise to freelance for British Intelligence was a viable concept. Ultimately, however, The Baron tried too hard to be a clone of The Saint and, in the process, failed to be distinct enough to have a longer run.

1 comment:

  1. THE BARON has a great theme song/opening credits sequence. I've read maybe a dozen of the books and liked them all, but the early ones where Mannering is a bit edgier character are the best ones as far as I'm concerned.


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