Modesty Blaise creator Peter O’Donnell checks out

Once upon a time British newspapers had style, or tried to, and Peter O’Donnell’s cartoon Modesty Blaise in the London Evening Standard, which ran for over 40 years, certainly did.

O’Donnell died recently, as did another legendary Fleet Street stylist who made his name in the 1960s, political columnist Alan Watkins.

Both rose to fame on Lord Beaverbrook-owned newspapers (Watkins at the Sunday Express). Whatever you said about him (and most of wasn’t complimentary) the Beaver paid for a bit of glitz and style. The Standard’s long-serving Paris correspondent Sam White (an Australian) spent more or less his whole like propping up the bar, productively it should be said, at the posh Hotel Crillon.

Watkins, Alan Watneys to Private Eye, a bit of an insult as he imbibed fine vintages as opposed to gassy pints, was a fine writer who could also detect a story through the alcoholic haze that used to be journalism.

O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise, with her loyal sidekick Willie Garvin, enlivened the journey home for countless commuters as did another immortal Standard cartoon, Frank Dickens’ rather more down to earth Bristow.

Once, when asked how she withstood being ravished by a platoon of villains, she observed calmly that she thought about something else.

Modesty made it into the movies once, portrayed by Monica Vitti in a rather dire Joseph Losey production in 1966. This was probably the most camp movie ever made (Dirk Bogarde played the villain, Terence Stamp her Willie). The trailer’s pretty good though:

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.