I’ve had this thought in the back of my head for a while. In light of Roger Moore’s passing, it seems like as good a time as any to write it down.
In his eponymous tv series, despite being almost invariably described as “the famous Simon Templar” it’s never explained how or why The Saint is so well known. Indeed, much about him goes mysteriously and conveniently unexplained: how does he afford his jet-setting lifestyle when he doesn’t appear to have any source of income? where did he learn his skills? and why does he have such a fractious relationship with the authorities wherever he goes?
One might suppose, given that the series was begun after the bulk of the printed works were published, that the Templar of the small screen has adopted much of the history of his written counterpart. However, the books kept pace with the times, and were originally published from 1928 to 1963, a period of over thirty years. The television version picks up in 1962, at which point Simon is far too young to have much in common with book-Templar, even if we take it as read that he is the same age as actor Roger Moore, then a very youthful 35 (this also fits with Templar’s claims to have worked with the French Resistance, if we assume he joined the army while underage, close to the end of WWII). We must therefore accept that he is a different person, with a separate history – although, given that The Saint’s history before the books is pretty much unknown, that should not take much effort.
We know that book-Templar, despite the vagueness, has a well-known and -established history as a thief. It’s openly implied, if not outright stated, that the television version has a similar history, which would certainly explain his skillset (lockpicking, safecracking, how to handle himself in a brawl etc), familiarity with the criminal element, and the generally hostile attitude of the police, but it seems likely that he’s no longer an active criminal. Templar’s interactions with the police generally have a comfortable air of “I’ve done nothing wrong this time”, and he is never shown stealing other than with altruistic intent, which he certainly doesn’t profit from except in extraordinary cases. We must therefore look elsewhere for his current source of income.
An important clue may be found in the many disparate details previously mentioned. The Saint is famous (or sometimes infamous) the world over, his name, face, and former profession well-known to the general public. The police, with very few exceptions, openly resent Templar: they are very much aware of his past, as well as his vigilante habits, and act as though they would love nothing better than to arrest him on sight, but are unable to do so (unless they can plausibly claim suspicion of some freshly-committed crime). It is clear that at some point, his criminal activities became public knowledge, and in such a way that the police can’t touch him for it.
The most likely answer is that he somehow obtained amnesty for his past crimes. Taken together with his propensity for “Robin Hood” crimes, where his victims are those The Saint has deemed “ungodly” and are generally guilty of crimes that the police can’t act on, it can be theorised that in the course of committing justice, Templar broke a huge scandal, which made the front page of every newspaper. The publicity would have doomed his criminal career, which by its nature often relies on being ignored, but the ever-charming Templar was able to parlay his new-found fame into an amnesty, earning the enmity of nearly every police officer he had ever met, and a book deal, which was wildly popular and solved the problem of his income.
In a final detail, the comments Templar addresses to the camera at the beginnings of episodes (or, in later seasons, the voiced-over narration) could be directed to an in-universe interviewer. Alternatively, given that shots filmed from other angles clearly show that there’s nobody there, it may instead be an older Templar, commenting on past events as he recounts them to a biographer, or even writes the next volume himself. After all, a follow-up to his first book would be in much demand, and the airline tickets don’t pay for themselves.
With thanks to a little bird who helped me thrash out the basic idea behind this.