To briefly escape from the US election mayhem, an appreciation of actor Sean Connery who died last week aged 90, seems to be in order. I had somehow thought Connery would go on forever, just like the Bond films. It is an intriguing tale of an Edinburgh milkman who became the most famous fictional spy in the world.
Roger Moore’s family once stated that Connery was “the best Bond ever” and most fans would agree. He looked the part with his sharp delivery and quick wit. He also happened to be quite handsome which always helps. Then there was his pleasing Edinburgh burr, voted in a BBC poll as the most pleasant celebrity voice in Britain.
I was particularly impressed by the way 007 tossed his trilby perfectly onto the hat stand, watched by the ever adoring Miss Moneypenny. That takes considerable skill.
Connery’s death sparked memories of a cold, wet November night in my home town of Reading, an alarming 58 years ago. I was standing in a long queue that snaked around the Odeon cinema for the opening of the first James Bond film, Dr. No. Nobody knew then, but It launched what became the most successful film character of all time.
It is hard to explain the impact of that initial Bond film to anyone who didn’t experience the 1960s. It was so different to anything else that had come before. Fast-paced, slick and humorous and with an exotic Caribbean location, it transported us into a fantasy world of international espionage, featuring outrageous villains and pretty girls with equally outrageous names, and dialogue laced with double-entendres. Then there was the distinctive theme music by John Barry with those wonderful guitar riffs.
It was also the first time I heard the simple but effective catchphrase, “The name’s Bond… James Bond”. Anyone who had the surname Bond lived on that little phrase at dinner parties for years to come.
A taste of Honey
Although Connery was the star, I can’t say he was the main attraction among us schoolboys. Word had got around of the iconic scene in which Ursula Andress, as Honey Ryder, emerges from the sea in a white bikini, observed by an understandably impressed Connery. That scene became a topic at school for months to come. Any pupil who had not seen Dr. No was a social outcast.
What is often forgotten is that bikinis were not a common sight in those days — well, not in my part of England anyway. I can safely say I had never seen any of my neighbours wearing a bikini, thank goodness. In 1962 bikinis were still regarded as a bit naughty. But after Dr. No, bikini sales soared, although regrettably not everyone wearing them looked like Ms Andress.
To think that the first Bond girl is now 84 years old. Because of her strong accent, in Dr. No the Swiss star’s lines were dubbed, as was her singing on the beach. But that didn’t bother us spotty teenagers. The original “Bond girl” had made her mark.
After her Bond experience, in 1965 Ms Andress posed in a “state of undress” for Playboy magazine. When asked why she did it, the actress replied indignantly, “because I am beautiful.” You can’t get a straighter answer than that.
The anonymous passenger
Connery came from a very poor family and leaving school at an early age his first job was as a milkman with a horse-drawn cart. That’s what you would call a humble start.
The actor used to relate a lovely tale from one visit to his home city at the height of his fame. He took a taxi and the driver was impressed by his knowledge of the names of Edinburgh roads including the side streets. “How come you know all these places?” the cabbie asked. Connery explained he used to do a milk round in that area. The cabbie replied, “So what do you do now?”
Despite appreciating the early Bond films, I gave up on them after a while because they had become rather silly. Okay, they had always been silly. I recall queuing at a cinema in Kingston-upon-Thames in November 1964 to see the newly-released Goldfinger. It was a bitterly cold night and we were wrapped up in our college scarfs. The cinema doorman sneered at us and said: “I thought students were supposed to be intelligent. This film is a load of rubbish.” He was quite right, but I still enjoyed it.
My favourite Connery film was The Man Who Would Be King in which he co-starred with Michael Caine. Based on a Rudyard Kipling novella, it is a wonderful old-fashioned adventure.
About the time Dr. No was released I was watching BBC television with my mother when Bond author Ian Fleming was being interviewed. Mum was always concerned that I did not read enough books, so I seized on this opportunity to impress her.
“I’ve read a lot of his books Mum,” I said enthusiastically. “They are really interesting.”
Right on cue, the interviewer then asked Fleming: “There’s always a lot of graphic sex in your books. How do you justify that?”
Following the withering look from my mother, I retreated to my bedroom to hide any 007 books I had lying around.