Ask anyone about their favourite James Bond and the chances are a large percentage will say Sean Connery.
In a recent poll of 2,000 fans by the Hollywood Reporter, a massive 76% of respondents named the veteran Scottish actor as the best 007 of all time – although my own personal favourite is, without question, Roger Moore.
The surprising thing is that when James Bond’s creator Ian Fleming met Sean Connery, he didn’t want him to play the British super-spy! In a recent interview, Connery claimed Fleming wasn’t happy with a “working-class Scot” playing the smooth and suave spy.
He said Fleming had shortlisted seven actors, including Cary Grant as the number one choice – Connery didn’t even make the shortlist! Connery said Fleming’s first choice had been Grant, but he was “too expensive”.
Connery described Fleming as a “snob”, claiming he got the role almost by default, because everyone the author wanted was ruled out for one reason or another! Thankfully for the viewing public, Fleming couldn’t have been more wrong and Connery has gone down in history as the most famous and best-loved Bond of all time.
Born in London in 1908, Fleming was brought up in wealthy Mayfair. His father was the MP for Henley, Valentine Fleming. After attending Eton College, he went on to a small private school, Tennerhof, in Kitzbühel, Austria, run by former British spy, Ernan Forbes Dennis.
He went on to work as a journalist for Reuters News Agency and spent time in Moscow covering news stories in the early 1930s. In May 1939, he became personal assistant to Rear Admiral John Godfrey, the Royal Navy’s director of naval intelligence.
In 1942, Fleming formed the No 30 Commando unit (also known as the 30 Assault Unit), composed of specialist intelligence troops. Their task was to seize documents from enemy headquarters near the frontline of an advance. In December 1944, he was posted on an intelligence trip to the Far East, before being demobilised in May 1945.
The idea of writing a spy novel had begun to form during the war. He began writing Casino Royale in 1952, based on his own experiences, coupled with his imagination. It detailed the exploits of James Bond, an officer in MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service.
This was to be the first of 39 Bond books that he wrote, before his untimely death, at the age of 56, from heart disease in August 1964. To date, there have been 26 James Bond movies.
Connery’s upbringing couldn’t have been more different from Fleming’s privileged childhood. He was born in Fountainbridge, Scotland, in 1930, the son of factory worker and lorry driver Joseph and cleaner Euphemia Connery.
On leaving school, his first job was as a milkman for St Cuthbert’s Co-operative Society in Edinburgh. 60 years later, on a taxi ride through Edinburgh, he could still recall the names of all the streets on his former milk round!
At 18, he was 6ft 2ins tall and was nicknamed “Big Tam”, based on his first name, Thomas, as Sean was his middle name. He joined the Royal Navy and was set for a career at sea. Unfortunately, he succumbed to a duodenal ulcer, a medical condition that had afflicted many male members of his family, so he was discharged on medical grounds.
He began bodybuilding and entered the Mr Universe contest in 1953. He was also a keen footballer and was offered a trial with East Fife, but at the age of 23, turned his attention to the theatre to earn some extra money. He took a job backstage at the King’s Theatre in Edinburgh. He then auditioned for South Pacific and won a small role in the chorus.
Developing a serious interest in acting from this moment onwards, he won roles in numerous theatrical productions. While a member of the Oxford Theatre, Connery won his first TV role as a boxer in TV series The Square Ring. His first film role was playing a gangster, Spike, in the 1957 movie, No Road Back. A year later, he starred in the melodrama, Another Time Another Place, opposite the top Hollywood actress Lana Turner.
By the time auditions for the role of James Bond in the first 007 movie, Dr No, were held in 1961, Connery was a well-established and highly regarded serious actor, but Fleming reportedly didn’t think he was right for the part of 007.
Connery said that Patrick McGoohan, James Mason, Rex Harrison, Stewart Granger and Richard Burton (all approved by Fleming as being suitable for the role) were ruled out, for various reasons. The casting wasn’t going well and had even been advertised in stage magazines.
Eventually, Connery was taken in to see the casting directors and he got the part. However, Fleming wasn’t happy with their choice, reportedly saying privately he was nothing but an “over-developed stunt man”, describing him as “unrefined”. Connery reciprocated the feelings, calling Fleming “a real snob”, but admitting he was “interesting”.
Connery was surprised to get the part, because he had heard how Fleming felt about him. Apparently, Dana Broccoli, wife of producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, was instrumental in getting Connery the part, as she was convinced he was the right man. Fleming’s girlfriend, Blanche Blackwell, also said he had the right “charisma” for the role.
The two didn’t meet until filming was underway. Connery’s performance won the writer over immediately. In fact, Fleming liked Connery so much that he later gave the spy a Scots heritage to mirror the actor’s own. In his novel, You Only Live Twice, published in March 1964, Fleming wrote that Bond’s father was from Glencoe.
Connery made his final outing as James Bond in Never Say Never Again in 1983. He played 007 in a total of seven films, all of which were big box office hits. He believes the franchise can continue for years, as the ingredients are all there for the type of movie that people want to see in terms of entertainment value.
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