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Peter O’Donnell creator of Modesty Blaise, Dr No comic strip adaptation, has died

05-May-2010 • Literary

Modesty Blaise was, perhaps, not notably modest. Indeed, one of her favourite ploys, when the villains came to her apartment or hotel room to “get” her, as they always did, was to answer the door completely naked and use the precious moment granted to her by their involuntary open-mouthed admiration of her undraped splendours to knock them all cold, reports The Times.

Yet there was an old-world camaraderie existing between her and her sidekick, the famously demotic Willie Garvin, to whom she was always simply “Princess” — or occasionally “ ’Ere, Princess”. Willie never took liberties, and there was never any suggestion that he might be tempted into impropriety, no matter how seductive Modesty’s state of deshabille, as she lounged sipping cocktails while preparing for the fray.

A wholesome, slightly stiff-upper-lip professional gulf was maintained between the pair in their unceasing battle — generally against great odds — with society’s enemies. The pair had some close calls between them, but they always came out on top in the end. But this never happened before Modesty somehow fell into the clutches of the enemy, from whom she then engineered some ingenious escape.

Peter O’Donnell was a prolific novelist, and he produced a wide variety of other comic strips and graphic stories. But none of his protagonists ever matched the popularity of Blaise, who reigned in comic strip form in daily newspaper instalments and in graphic novels from her first appearance in 1963 until the last strip in 2001. After he stopped writing the strip O’Donnell requested to would-be sequel writers that there should be no more tales about Modesty.

Peter O’Donnell was born in Lewisham, South London, in 1920. Leaving school in the late 1930s he had already begun to try to make a living as a writer before the Second World War. But the outbreak of this in September 1939 put this ambition on hold for the five-and-a-half years of its duration.

O’Donnell was called up into the Army and served in the Royal Signals as a non-commissioned officer in a mobile radio detachment in Persia in 1942, deployed to give early warning of any attempt by the German forces to swing southwards into the country and seize its oil supplies.

Later O’Donnell’s unit was moved to Syria and he served with the British 8th Army in its battles against Rommel in the Western Desert. When the campaign moved to Italy he served there too, and also spent some time in Greece in October 1944.

After the war he began to write comic strips which he sold to various newspapers, notably the Daily Mirror and the Daily Sketch for whom he created Garth, Romeo Brown and Tug Transom. Among these was a comic strip adaptation of the James Bond novel Dr No, which he sold to The Daily Express in the early 1960s (MI6 Note: O’Donnell stood in once for regular 007 comic strip writer Henry Gammidge. Artwork for the strip was by John McLusky).

His most famous creation, Modesty Blaise was also offered to the Express, which turned it down. As a result it first appeared in the London Evening Standard of which it was to be a popular feature for the next 40 years.

For the first seven years of its life it was illustrated by Holdaway. After his death it was taken over by Enrique Badia Romero, who drew the strip until its demise in 2001, except for a seven- year period, 1979-86, when other hands contributed. O’Donnell wrote a screenplay for a motion-picture version of his idea, which, however, used almost none of his submitted material, and also he wrote a Modesty Blaise novel. This was a commercial success, as were its successors, and yet many Modesty fans liked the daily format with its slow burn as our hero and heroine gradually got themselves into what seemed to be insurmountable difficulties, only to triumph over evil at the end.

Under the nom de plume Madeleine Brent, O’Donnell also wrote a series of Gothic romance and adventure novels, set in the Victorian era and also featuring a series of strong heroines.

Peter O’Donnell is survived by his wife and their two daughters, who were the dedicatees of his book Sabre-tooth (1966).

Peter O’Donnell, novelist, short-story writer and creator of the comic strip heroine Modesty Blaise, was born on April 11, 1920. He died on May 3, 2010, aged 90

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