I’m sure QueensOfVintage.com readers enjoyed our interview with the living burlesque goddess that is Immodesty Blaize. To some of you her name might sound familiar, others may be intrigued to know Ms Blaize has taken some inspiration of her own from a Sixties cartoon strip, all about a female action hero, Modesty Blaise. Liz Kenny reports.

The strip first appeared in the London Evening Standard newspaper in 1963. It was created by Peter O’Donnell (writer) and Jim Holdaway (artwork) . The comic centered around our heroine, Modesty, a former leader of a criminal gang who knew nothing of her parents, having escaped as a child from a displaced person’s camp in Greece.

After years of fending for herself, she rose to the top rank in an international crime organisation ‘The Network’ . Here she met her loyal sidekick, Willie Garvin. After earning their fortune, the two decided to retire to England and enjoy their ill-gotten gains, but a life of idle luxury soon became boring and the pair yearned for a fresh challenge.

Bang on cue, Sir Gerald Tarrant, head of the British Secret Service sent them a request for their assistance in solving a case and so Modesty Blaise, the action heroine, was born.

Their cases generally involved battling with eccentric villains or helping out mysterious strangers, usually with a good old-fashioned fight to solve it once and for all. A trademark of theirs was a reliance on unusual weaponry, such as Modesty’s impalement of choice, a “Kongo” or yawara stick. At the start of each case she and Willie would decide if the mission would be for “sleeps” or “keeps”. Their own slang for whether to accept it or not.

The comic strip ran in the Evening Standard until 2001. There were also 13 novels and short stories published from 1965 onwards. The strip’s popularity meant it was soon syndicated internationally, from India to Australia and the United States.

However in the USA, it was subject to censorship. A panel obscured the topless Modesty, as she carried out her signature move the “nailer”, a tactic designed to stun the enemy, leaving him helpless for just long enough to be apprehended.

modesty-blaiseModesty Blaise was also adapted into several films, in 1966, 1982 and 2003. The most well-known, probably being the first. It was directed by Joseph Losey and starred Italian actress Monica Vitti in the title role, alongside Dirk Bogarde and Terrence Stamp.

It was Vitti’s first English language film and her thickly accented heroine adds to the overall camp tone of the movie. It was also planned to be adapted into a TV series, though was never completed.

Alongside the Avenger’s Emma Peel, Modesty Blaise was part of the new wave of Sixties female action heroines and worth seeking out if you like your style icons of the high-kicking variety.

modestyblaise

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