Wednesday 5 May 2010

RIP Peter O’Donnell (April 11th 1920 – May 3rd 2010)

Peter O’Donnell the author of the iconic Modesty Blaise series has died at the age of 90. He was apparently suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. He died over the Bank Holiday Weekend and is survived by his wife and two daughters.

The Modesty Blaise series was first published in 1963 in comic strip form and was published in that form until 2001. In 1965 O’Donnell wrote the first of the Modesty Blaise books as a result of the novelisation of his screenplay. Sadly when the film was released in 1966 very little of what O’Donnell had written was used. It is not considered to be the best portrayal of Modesty Blaise along with her side-kick and faithful lieutenant Willie Garvin. The book however was extremely well received and O’Donnell went on to write 13 books featuring Modesty Blaise in total (including two collections of short stories). O’Donnell stopped writing the Modesty Blaise comic strip in 2001 but in 2003 he wrote the introductions for Titan Books who reprinted volumes of the Modesty Blaise series. Quentin Tarantino also interviewed
O’Donnell for a special feature that was included on the DVD release of his 2002 film My Name is Modesty Blaise. Tarantino has been a longstanding fan of the series and in the movie Pulp Fiction John Travolta's character can be seen reading a copy of one of the Doubleday editions of the books. The Modesty Blaise series was syndicated in over forty-two countries.

As well as the Modesty Blaise comic strip O’Donnell wrote the Daily Express adaptation of the James Bond novel Dr No, Garth and Romeo Brown. O’Donnell also wrote for television and screen and early in his career for a number of women's magazines and children's papers as well. His play Mr Fothergill’s Murder was widely performed in the 1980’s.

The official Modesty Blaise website can be found here. Due to the huge popularity of the series a number of websites can be found celebrating the work of Modesty Blaise. These include the complete Modesty Blaise Dossier, The Modesty Blaise Book site and a three part appreciation of Modesty Blaise series by Kirsty Valenti can be found in Comixology. Part one, part two and part three. The Crimetime article with Peter O’Donnell can be found here whilst a short article by myself on Modesty Blaise can be found in Crimetime 53. The Modesty Blaise News Blogspot can also be found here.

Whilst O’Donnell was best known for the Modesty Blaise series he also wrote historical romance novels under the pseudonym Madeleine Brent. Unlike the Modesty Blaise books the books he wrote under the pseudonym Madeleine Brent were not a series but still featured (like Modesty Blaise) strong female characters. O’Donnell wrote nine books as Brent the first being Tregaron's Daughter in 1971 and the final one being Golden Urchin in 1986.

O’Donnell is said to have stated that he does not wish for anyone else to write any more Modesty Blaise stories.

The Times
obituary can be found here.


Jan Burke said...

Ayo, thank you so much for posting this.

There is so much that is so remarkable about Peter and his creations. I was honored to have known him, and will long remember him as a man with a wonderful imagination, insight, and integrity, and a fabulous sense of humor.

Peter said...

Thank you Ayo for a well researched and written obit.

Having known my namesake all of my life I can confirm that privately he was an incredible person. Fascinating, kind, modest and always thinking of others first. I never failed to have a 'good laugh' with him. I will continue to have a great affection for him.

With regards to Peter's work, what can I say! I can remember reading Garth in his Fleet Street office as a boy and from then on I was hooked. Objectively speaking I find his writing compelling and his storytelling ingenious.

I can't confirm that Peter didn't want anyone to write any further stories about Willie and Modesty. Actually he mentioned to me that there was a significant gap between Cobra Trap and the preceding novel that was begging to be filled.

I do know that he said he was adamant that no further movies should ever be made because he sincerely felt that they couldn't be done without "mucking things up"

Jan: Thank you for your kind words. I know your books had pride of place in his bookcase. He always spoke very fondly of you m'lady.