Exclussive interview with PETER O'DONNELL


Interview with Mr. PETER O'DONNELL by KENT HEDLUNDH, in August 2002.
It was done by correspondence, since I was unable to travel to England.

Note: eventual typos is my own.

Dear Kent,
Thank you for the questions from Modesty and Willie fans, and here are the best answers I can come up with.

2. Vidar Nakling asks if there is some reason for my using disabled characters like Dinah Collier, Lady Janet, Lucifer, etc. The answer is no, I don't deliberately introduces such characters. To be honest I don't deliberately include any particular ingredients into the stories. I have no formula. I just tell the stories as they come into my head, and the charactes come with the stories. There may be subconscous reasons for various elements in what I write, but if so I don't want to know about them. I don't want to try analysing what I do because I'm afraid that would lead me into some kind of formula. I think formulas squeeze the juice out of stories.

3. Bill Wottlin asks if the scripts I provided for he strips that Enric (Romero) draws could be adapted as short stories, and is there any plan for other authors to write them. Well the answer is that they could be adapted, but Cobra Trap was my swansong, and there are no plans for other authors to adapt the strip stories. I don't want this to happen. I'm afraid this may seem arrogant, but over the years I have read screenplay adaptions for film and tv by eleven different highly-paid professional writers and they have caused me nothing but pain. They are probably superb writers in their own fields, but in every case when they come to Modesty and Willie the indefinable essence of the characters simply disappears. It's not really surprising when you discover that all dialogue has been written and what I think of as the goddamer touches of the relationship between Modesty and Willie either disappear or are cringe-makingly overdone. H.G. Wells once said "There is no passion in the world that equals the passion to alter someone else's draft." Happily I'm immune to this as I only do my own work, In a nutshell, I just want to leave Modesty and Willie as they are presented in all that I have written of them. I know they are only fictitious characters, but I've been living with them for forty years now, and have a great affection for them.

4. Alan Holzl asks about the movie situation. Well, at the moment of writing this (19 August) the situation is as follows. The option was sold in April 1994 and since then I have seen a number of draft adaptions of different Modesty novels by several writers. I express no personal opinion here, but clearly the results was unsatisfactory for the financing the movie. I must confess to becomming disenchanted with the whole idea of a movie, and I was looking forward to regaining the rights in April this year, when they were due to expire. My intentions then was simply to make clear that the movie rights were not on offer and that I had no wish to pursue any inquiries. In October 2001 Miramax asked for a six month extension and I declined. Since then, however, Miramax have made a movie which was shot in Bucharest last April, which automatically allowed them to retain the rights for a further period. The movie is regarded as a prequel, introducing the backstory of Modesty Blaise. It begins with her childhood wanderings in the Middle East and her meeting with Lob, who becomes her companion, and it ends some years later when she comes out of the desert, gets a job in a Tangier casino run by the Louche Gang, defeats an attack on the gang by a rival mob, and takes over herself. The movie was to be called "My Name is Modesty" but is not to be called "Modesty Blaise -- The Beginning". Modesty is played by a British actress, Alexandra Staden. Producer -- Michael Berrow. Director -- Scott Spiegel. The proposed next film will be "Presented by Quentin Tarantino" but he will not produce. I don't know wheter this movie will be released or will go straight to video and DVD.

5. Brian Macdonald asks about a tv serial (not series, Brian) I wrote for BBC back in the sixties. It was called "Take a Pair of Private Eyes" and was shown in six half-hour episodes. Brian asks if any copies exists and if I've used any plots from this in MB stories. I don't doubt that BBC have a recording in their archives, but I doubt if any other copies exists. And I can't imagine it ever being shown again. It came out in the Olden days of black-and-white tv. Yes, Brian, I did enjoy working for Hammer on Vengance of She. It's great to get away from the desk now and again, and mix with the acting profession. They have the best anecdotes. As for your last question -- Why did I change MB eyes from brown to blue? Oh, God. They were always blue, Brian. It must have been somebody impersonating me when they got into the manuscript, and I expect he did it in the early pages of the first novel, the dog! Wait while I check. Ah, yes -- "The face was smooth and calm, with high cheekbones under dark, contemplative eyes." Ah, that should have been dark BLUE contemplative eyes. This impersonator must have deleted the "blue". Phew! I hope you have no other examples!

6. Julie Berk asks "Why did Modesty choose Britain -- she could have retired to any country she wanted. And why doesn't Britain apprciate her as regards reprints of strips and availability of novels?" Well, I like to think that she chose Britain because she wanted to be near me. But most likely she felt that if she was stuck with me for telling her stories she'd better make it England because that's the only language I can write in, poor sap. As for appreciation, Modesty is certainly more popular in Scandinavia than anywhere else including Britain. I don't know why, Julie. But thanks.

7. Guy Lawley asks if Al Williamson did some sample artwork for a Sunday newspaper Modesty strip. This rings a very faint bell for somewhere back in the Sixties or early Seventies, Guy, I never met Al Williamson or saw any artwork. I do remember devising a weekly strip for Sunday Express of which Neville Colvin drew the first nine frames, but this came to nothing as the time. The story was called "The Scarlet Maiden", and years later, when Neville took over the daily strip, he asked me to complete that story because he liked the idea so much. I was glad to do so, and it ran as a daily strip starting in the summer of 1982.

8. Bruce (Melrose?) has three questions. Q1. Have I thought of reproducing the strips in a series of books, in the same way that the novels are reprinted. No, Bruce, I'm not a publisher and I've had no inquiries from publishers on this score. Q2. A MB movie based on computer generated images? I'm afraid not. It would be a new medium for me, and at my age I'm no longer doing anything in the old media. Q3. Is there any plan to do graphic novels based on the Modesty short stories? Again I have to say no, and for much the same reasons I've given earlier, namely that I've sung my swansong, and hope you will understand that I can now do no more.

9. Vesa Lehtinen asks about my servies in Persia during the Second World War. There's not a lot to tell, Vesa. I was there from August to November 1942, serving in a unit called 3 Corps Signals in 9th Army under General Quillan. 9th Army was no more than a cadre -- that's a nucleus of an army, in site to provide communications and servives in the event that sudden expansion were needed -- i.e. if the German forces broke through the Russian defences to seize the oilfields of Persia and Iraq. The Allies had occupied the whole area to prevent this. I remember we had extremes of heat and cold. In Basra we had 128 F and in the winter in Kermanshah we were under canvas with our tents dug in to a depth of about two feet. Overnight the petrol in the carburettir of our trucks would freeze if you didn't run the engines for five minutes in every hour. After Stalingrad there was no way the German armies could break through, and we were moved to other areas -- Syria, Egypt and the Western Desert, Italy, and finally the liberation of Greece in October 1944.

10. Anne Terwisscha asks if a number of introductions that I wrote for MB strip stories that appeared in book forms in Holland are my copyright. And have I written others that haven't been published? Yes, they'r my copyright, Anne, I wasn't paid for writing them. I haven't written others for that publisher, but I have written a number for albums published by Egmont in Norway.

11. Michael Hawthorne notes the strange coincidence that in Sabre-Tooth I set the date for the invasion of Kuwait for 11th September. Strange indeed. Also strange that a genuine invasion of Kuwait took place 25 years after Sabre- Tooth was first published. I also understand that after 9/11 immediate precautions were taken to protect the Golden Gate Bridge. This was saved from destruction at peak rush hour by Modesty in The Night of Morningstar.

As to your questions. Michael, yes I suppose my infantry training had an occasional effect in the MB stories, but no I've never been formally trained in fencing or the martial arts. I had some brief practical experience of Judo when I was doing a photo-session with Christine Gallie and Brian Jacks for the strip. During a break they had a bit of fun throwing me about. They made sure the crash-pad was laid on the dojo floor for me to land on, so I was unscathed. This was years ago, but I remember them telling me to keep my feet apart when I landed, because even on the crash-pad you could easily break your ankles together.

My recollection of Jim Holdaway that you ask for is of a brilliant artist, a quiet and modest man who was my good friend. He loved Modesty Blaise more than any other work that he'd ever done. We were family friends outside the professional connections, and I'm still in regular touch with his wife who lives less than an hour's drive away. Finally, no it wasn't my suggestion to use his painting of Modesty (which hangs in my study) for the cover of Cobra Trap. It was my wife's suggestion. Clever girl.

12. petlarw@mindspring.com recalls that when MB's adventures first appeared women was not generally considered credible action heroines. She (I'm guessing here) or he asks how the English public first reacted and when did they eventually accept her. I believe the immediate reaction was warm welcome to the character and acceptance was immediate. I was taken to lunch by the Editor of Evening Standard a few weeks after the launch, and he was in great glee because of reader response and also because he had taken the strip after a rival paper had turned it down. Also, there were immediate sales to syndication, approaches from publishers and ... the film (of unhappy memory).

13. Annie Freeman asks for a bit about the Romeo Brown strip. This was a strip running in the tabloid Daily Mirror, for which I was writing "Garth". The editor was dissatisfied so he engaged Jim Holdaway to take over the drawing and asked me to write the scripts. That's how Jim and I first met, and we ran the strip for seven years, Romeo Brown was a comic private detective, and my brief was that every story was to revolve around a girl or girls, and the more clothes I could safely get off them the better. Of course, I only took the job with the virtuous aim of making sure than nobody worse than me would get it, and in the following years I devised some remarkable ways of meeting the brief. I have the full collection of strips in my guard book, but apart from that I don't think any record has survived, except for a couple of albums that were published in France, where Jim Holdaway's work was hugely admired. I'lll send Kent copies of the first six strips of the first story I scripted, so you can get the general flavour and see Jim's work in a different style.

14. Dennis Taylor asks who I have liked to play MB and WG in a movie. When I wrote the screenplay for the original film in 1964/5 I hand in mind Julie Christie and Michael Caine. Julie Christie looked good, moved beautifully, and was a fine actress. And I still think that Michael Caine, in his day, would have made the ideal Willie Garvin. Today, I just don't know -- probably because I'm out of touch now. I've been told that Catherine Zeta Jones and Russel Crowe are favoorites, but I've never seen either on screen. Sorry, I can't answer that one.

Well, that's it, friends. I think I'll go and have a lie-down now. Very best wishes to you all.

P.S. I've just checked through what I've written, and I find I ommitted an answer to one of the questions from petlarw@mindspring, who asked -- if I were to create MB and WG from scratch now, in 2002, what facets of their backgrounds and personalities would I change or improve on from the '60s original.A

I wouldn't change their personalities at all. The only background to change would be historical factor I.e I couldn't begin in the aftermatch of World War 2. I did in fact devise a new beginning for Modesty a few years ago and put this out on the website for anyone who might be interested. I would also have to change the timing of Willie's spell in the Foreign Legion.

Kent Hedlundh (kenth@cs.umu.se)