Simon Templar has a reporter friend called Tony who’s arranged to meet him in Rome. Tony tells him he’s found the biggest story of his life, and discovered the man who likes lions. No sooner has he imparted this cryptic information than he is lying dead with a knife in his back. A knife carved with a lion head. The knife thrower disappears in the crowd and the police arrive seconds later, claiming they’ve been following Tony for his own protection because they suspected he was in trouble. “Protection”, yes I thought that too. And Templar is understandably a bit miffed at their rubbish timing. It’s rare to see Templar lose his cool. To make matters worse the police are suspicious and take his passport from him. “So you are the famous Simon Templar” says the inspector, clearly hoping the opening titles will act as the perfect distraction for him to slope off before things get really awkward.
No lady friend this week, instead Templar teams up with his taxi driver Franco. They visit Tony’s apartment just as it’s being ransacked by a couple of intruders who are searching for something. The intruders hide but as Templar starts to investigate they appear behind the door and a fight ensues. A comedy “Mama Mia” from the comedy taxi driver who accidentally koshes Simon around the head with a vase, knocking him out and allowing the burglars to escape. I do like these Italian taxi driver characters – Warren Mitchell played a similar character in a couple of episodes in the first two series. Templar comes round and finds an invitation to an art exhibition.
The art in question is by a lady called Claudia who is hosting the exhibition with her mentor /sponsor Tiberio Magadino, played by Peter Wyngarde (sixties clean shaven version). Templar arrives pretending to be Tony but Magadino is not fooled, actually recognising the Famous Simon Templar (FINALLY!) Templar heads over to Claudia, and like the proverbial bull in the proverbial china shop asks if she was in love with Tony before blurting out that he’s just been murdered. Claudia runs off in tears. I suppose that answers his question.
It’s Claudia’s turn to go rummaging around in Tony’s apartment. Again, Templar bursts in. He grabs the item that Claudia has found: a “little black book”. Apparently Tony had asked her to recover it if something happened to him. There’s an entry about a man who likes lions. Claudia warns Simon to keep out of it.
She returns home. Creepy Magadino is waiting in a chair, startling her. He’s cross that she walked out of the gallery with no explanation and interrogates her about her movements. She tells him she just wanted to retrieve her love letters from Tony’s apartment. “Love letters?”, Magadino asks, “How medieval.”
Templar and Franco drive around following up appointments listed in Tony’s diary. I’ve watched so many of these episodes now that I’m starting to recognise the studio ‘streets’ which get redressed to represent a multitude of different locations, not just in The Saint but in other ITC series such as the Baron. Templar learns that there have been a number of ‘accidents’ and ‘suicides’ recently, and Claudia seems have a connection with all of them. One of the people they visit is a jittery boozy chap – as Simon and Franco arrive the frightened man leaps from a window to get away. When they catch up with him he claims to have been threatened by a couple of men who then offered him money to help discredit someone. He mentions an organisation called…The Organisation.
Next scene, Templar is at the zoo looking at a lion. Magadino absolutely loves surprising people by going on ahead and posing enigmatically in a chair because there he is again, behind Templar at the lion enclosure! Magadino has a pocket watch with a familiar looking lion head sculpture attached. So Magadino is the liker of lions. And he wants that little black book.
Now Magadino is having his back massaged by an enormous black guy in a green nappy. He stands up and as the man starts to massage his wrists, Magadino grabs his wrists in return and forces him to his knees. Um yes…point taken.
Templar pays Claudia another visit and gets her to admit she is involved with Magadino the lion man. He believes the Organisation were responsible for the unexplained deaths and suggests she is part of it. He threatens to smack her bottom if she doesn’t behave. He means it too, he’s got form: I remember someone getting a serious bottom spanking in the first series. He’s not the boss of her though so she pulls a gun on him, but Templar calls her bluff and takes it from her.
Franco drives them all to lion man’s house. It’s Magadino’s birthday so everyone has to dress up as a Roman. The Saint gets a costume too: and he looks great in that toga…nah, I’m messing with you, he’s a centurion obviously. There’s lots of wild sixties jazz and squealing women, and a couple more big fighting men in green nappies…reminds me a bit of the Hellfire Club scenes in the Avengers episode A Touch Of Brimstone from earlier in the year, particularly as Wyngarde played a similar character in that. Except this character, the lion liker, is grumpier. He hates modern life and long haired teenagers and wants to bring back the Romans. Everything was better with the Romans.
Simon confronts Magadino about the mysterious accidental deaths…the lion liker was in the area each time. Meanwhile Claudia sneaks off to call the police but is spotted and grabbed.
Templar is secretly recording his conversation with Magadino, so he gets a confession on tape, the pulls out a gun, advising him to come quietly. However…silly Simon has accepted drinks from strangers and been drugged so he collapses. He wakes up locked up with Claudia. They hatch a plan: he feigns unconsciousness and when the guard comes in he knocks him out. They don’t get far though and are captured again. They are taken to Magadino who it turns out really does like lions a lot. So much so he keeps one in a pit – Romans, lions…it all makes sense now. After trying to throw Templar in with the lion for a laugh, it all ends with a big swordfight. “Mama Mia” exclaims Franco. I’ll leave you to guess who falls into the lion pit…