The title of the first Modesty Blaise novel was exactly that, Modesty Blaise, published by Souvenir Press in 1965. The author was Peter O’Donnell. Modesty, of course, had appeared even earlier, as her adventures in book form were preceded by those in the daily comic strips, debuting in the London Evening Standard in 1963. The first artist for the strip was Jim Holdaway, then Romero and a small number of others, with Romero returning before O’Donnell decided to end it in 2001.

Modesty 1

   The comic strip was not widely distributed in the US, in part because adventure strips find very little acceptance in this country in general, but also because of the nude scenes which had to be censored. A favorite tactic that Modesty used against her foes was called the “Nailer,” whereby she would strip above the waist and Willlie Garvin, her companion in crime-fighting, would take advantage of the distraction she caused. Not a technique that could be shown in the US!

   There were movies, too, not always very successful, and perhaps I’ll discuss them someday. A pilot was made and aired for proposed TV series starring Ann Turkel, but nothing further developed.

   Taken from wikipedia, here are portions of a couple of paragraphs that will help explain some of the background for Modesty Blaise, the character.

    “In 1945 a nameless girl escaped from a displaced person (DP) camp in Karylos, Greece. She did not remember anything from her short past. She wandered through post-WW2 Mediterranean and Arabia. During these years she learned to survive the hard way. She befriended another wandering refugee, a Hungarian scholar named Lob who gave her an education and a name: Modesty Blaise. Eventually she took control of a criminal gang in Tangier and expanded it to international status as “The Network.”

    “During these years she met Willie Garvin. Despite the desperate life he was living, she saw his potential and offered him a job. Inspired by her belief in him, he pulled through as her right-hand man in The Network and became Modesty Blaise’s most trusted friend. Theirs is a strictly platonic relationship and is based on mutual respect and shared interests. They have never gone to bed with each other, fearing that would ruin their special bond.

    “When she felt she’d made enough money, she retired and moved to England; Willie Garvin followed suit. Bored by their new lives among the idle rich, they accepted a request for assistance from Sir Gerald Tarrant, a high-ranking official of the British secret service — and this is where the story really begins.”

   Now go, if you will, to the Crime Time website , and an interview with Mr. O’Donnell, where he explains for the first time who it was — the real person — upon whom Modesty Blaise was based.

   Here I’ll quote only the last paragraph, in which Mr. O’Donnell says:

    “I am in debt to the child I saw that day in 1942, both for the privilege of having met her, however briefly, and for her providing the role model for a character I have now written about for close on 40 years. I still think of her from time to time, and wonder what became of her. If alive today, she would have just turned 70. Whatever the length of her days, I can only hope that she was granted some measure of the reward she deserved for her courage and spirit. I salute her.”

M & Willie

      –Thanks to Peter Rozovsky of Detectives Without Borders for the tipoff to the interview.