Mr. O'Donnell had been in failing health for some time, but happily, he was able to receive birthday greetings from around the world in time for his 90th birthday in April.
Peter O'Donnell began writing the Modesty Blaise comic strip in for The Evening Standard in 1963. The strip was a success, and the following year, Peter was asked to write a screenplay. The film went into production, but with many rewrites (not by Peter O'Donnell!) to the screenplay. To tie in with the release of the film, Peter was asked to write a book version of the screenplay. Thus in 1965, the first book in the Modesty Blaise series was born.
Work on the comic strip continued, and at the same time, Peter penned more books in the series. Peter O'Donnell continued to pen the book series through the 1970s and 1980s, with the last novel, Dead Man's Handle, published in 1985. There was then a rather long hiatus until Cobra Trap, a collection of Modesty Blaise short stories, was published in 1996. The comic strip continued until April 2001. To coincide with the final strip, the Evening Standard ran an article, 'Farewell My Lovely', which you can read here.
Modesty Blaise was a worldwide phenomenon; here you can see a collection of some of the countries the books and comics were published in. Modesty also inspired music, artwork, film, television, and other book authors.
What seems to have made the deepest impression on Modesty fans was not the storylines or adventures themselves, but the depth of Peter O'Donnell's characters. Not just Modesty, but Willie Garvin, Tarrant, Fraser, Steve and Dinah... to name just a few.
And writer Manjula Padmanabhan sums up perfectly the impression that Modesty made on women, as a role model:
"She was only a tiny, black-clad figure in a comic strip, but she imparted to me - and no doubt to millions of other confused youngsters like me around the world - important lessons about self-empowerment and self-reliance.
She was no steely-eyed vigilante, spy or detective. When she drew her sights upon wrong-doers it was because they had crossed paths with her and caused her to notice their moral deviance. She had strong loyalties and even stronger friendships. And though it may have been tempting to regard her as a standard-bearer for a certain kind of sixties' era feminism, in truth she was too much of an original to fit within the boundaries of any '-isms'."
Peter O'Donnell, you will be missed; but your stories, characters, and inspiration will live on.
Titan books continues to reprint the comic strips, and Souvenir Press has reprinted all of the books.
You can read a story on the origins of the character of Modesty Blaise here.