Leslie Charles Bowyer Yin was born in Singapore on 12 May 1907, the son of a Chinese surgeon. He later adopted his English mother's surname of Charteris. He learned to speak Chinese and Malay before he learned English.
His first novel, Meet the Tiger!, was published in 1928, when Charteris was in his first year studying law at Cambridge University. The novel introduced The Saint, a gentleman-burglar named Simon Templar. When the novel was a success in Britain, Charteris decided to quit University to pursue a writing career.
At first, he supplemented his income with a a variety of jobs in England, France and Malaya working as a bartender, a professional bridge player, a gold prospector and on a tin mine and in a rubber plantation. In 1935, The Saint in New York, became a worldwide best seller and was followed by a film adaptation in 1938.
The Saint became the subject of many novels (by Charteris and others), movies, television series, magazines and comic strips. When The Saint became a popular subject for Hollywood movies, Charteris moved to America where he became a successful Hollywood scriptwriter. He married actress Audrey Long and became an American citizen in 1942.
In 1941, Charteris bought back the movie rights to The Saint from RKO who proceeded to make a series of movies about The Falcon, a very similar character, played by George Sanders who had starred in the five previous Saint movies.
Charteris continued to write Saint stories but they were less stylish and also less violent than his pre-war stories. From 1947 to 1948, he edited Suspense magazine.
The popularity of The Saint peaked from about 1953 to 1967, particularly with the television series starring Roger Moore, which began in 1963. During this period, Charteris edited The Saint Mystery Magazine. From 1968 to 1968, he wrote for Gourmet Magazine. He published books on Spanish grammar and the Paleneo sign language.
Charteris spent most of his life travelling, settling for periods in Hollywood, Florida, France and, finally, in Surrey. He married four times.
Leslie Charteris died in April 1993. After his death, his estate authorised Burl Barer to write new Saint stories.