Sir Sean Connery, the man who brought the inimitable character of the slick Secret Service agent, James Bond, 007, to the silver screen in the 1960’s, has died aged 90. Editor, Peter Donnelly tells how the Scotsman of humble beginnings created and would go on to encapsualte the ‘Bond legend.’
Film stardom seemed like a far cry or maybe nothing short of a pipe dream for the Academy and Oscar award winning, Thomas Sean Connery. Born into a working-class Edinburgh family, during the inter-war period, in 1930, Connery enlisted for National Service in the Royal Navy aged 16. Discharged three years later he took up a variety of labourning jobs, from bricklayer, milkman to lorry driver.
They say in the world of entertainment that a break comes if you’re “in the right place at the right time.” For Connery it was no different. It was while working as a backstage theatre assistant, at Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre, where his innermost, acting traits, latent for the first 25 years of his life, ignited.
He took on various roles as a film extra to supplement his income and here he began his networking in the business. Whilst on set for the filming of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, South Pacific in 1954, he met future and fellow film icon Michael Caine, with whom he developed a life-long friendship.
Sean Connery possessed nothing of the grandeur or status that was associated with his RADA-trained peers. He was not intimidated by his so-called ‘high-brow’ contemporaries. This suited him down to the ground. Throughout his career he wore his rigid Celtic stock and pronounced Scottish brogue with immense pride, going onto work and collaborate with giants in the film industry, such as directors Alfred Hitchcock and Brian De Palma, to name but a few.
It was in 1959 that he landed his first leading role, co-starring alongside Janet Munro and Albert Sharpe, in the Walt Disney Irish neo-mythological adventure movie, Darby O’Gill and the Little People, adapted from the stories of Herminie Templeton Kavanagh.
“Bond, James Bond”
Connery encapsulated the essence of the ‘Bond legend.’ He was slick, suave and in the right setting seductive. This came over instantly when he made his screen debut, as Naval Commander 007, with the signature line, “Bond, James Bond.” He was the very first man to bring James Bond to the silver screen and to the world. He perfected the Bond image – the West’s hero who stood between the good, the bad and the ugly, between survival and extinction.
Connery’s portrayal would go on to serve as ‘standard Bond’ for his subsequent successors.
That’s our Bond!Albert R. Broccoli’s wife
Whilst in the United States in 1959, and on mission, searching for a screen Bond, producer Albert Broccoli; his name would become synonymous with the first twenty years of Bond movies, saw Darby O’Gill and the Little People, featuring none other than Sean Connery. Broccoli was instantly impressed with Connery’s unique, on-screen flair. Broccolli’s wife would go on to give the seal of approval, confirming, “That’s our Bond.”
Ian Fleming, the progenitor of the Bond novels, was initially not in favour of Connery’s casting, preferring James Mason or Cary Grant. Fleming himself, modelled Bond on his own image and likeness – English, well-educated and ‘upper-crust.’
Fleming had been a Naval Intelligence Officer himself during the Second World War and was thus familiar with the intricate entailments of the role of a spy. Connery could not have been further removed from Fleming’s image and likeness. Whatever happened, however, it worked and tremendously well, with Connery bringing the superhero, anti-hero and classic hero traits of Bond’s character to life. The latter element would perhaps seem more apt.
So galvenising was Sean Connery’s performance, Fleming would go onto incorporate the Scottish descent of Connery into his James Bond book character.
Eon Productions premiered Dr. No in 1962 and were initially reticient about its reception. The storyline was pure fanatsy with Bond primed to tackle a madman who was coldly plotting to sabotage the US space programme/ The story’s thematic roots were firmly planted in reality, as in 1962 the space race was in full swing. In that year the US lead the space race with Ohioan native John Glenn’s successful orbiting of Earth.
The apprehension of the producers proved misplaced. Dr. No‘s box office revenue peaked at almost $60 million, triumphantly becoming one of the most successful Bond movies of all time. Ursula Andress made the first appearance as the ultra-attractive Bond girl; one in a long line of Bond ‘associates.’ Andrews and Connery proved to be a superior on-screen combination.
Dr. No’s producers Hary Saltzman and Albert Broccoli had signed Connery up for a multi-picture contract in October 1961, remaining confident that his ‘rougher edges’ could be polished over.
British Director, Terence Young, took Connery under his wing during his early Bond years and from there, all the hallmarks of the ‘typical Bond’ were born – sense of dress, in the form of a tuxedo, was first on the list. Actress Lois Maxwell, recounted how Young “took Sean to dinner, to his tailor, showed him how to walk, how to talk, even how to eat.” A comment slightly condescending in retrospect.
Connery would star as Bond in seven movies, six of which were produced by Albert Broccoli, defining the golden age of 1960’s cinema. His Bond credits were Dr. No (1962), From Russia With Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), You Only Live Twice (1967), Diamonds are Forever (1971) and his final solo-run, which saw the 58-year-old emerge from retirement in, Never Say Never Again (1983).
Sean Connery continually brought a refreshing touch to each of his Bond appearances. For those who thought that it could not get any more pulse-pounding than Dr. No or From Russia With Love, 1964 saw Goldfinger take to the screens. Sean Connery had crazed, maniacal villian Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe) in his sights hell bent on obliterating the world’s gold reserves and economy. He loved “Only gold.” And who could forget the henchman with the knife-edged tophat who could decapitate a stone statue in seconds and Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman).
This was the classic, unrivalled era of Bond.
Connery had left the Bond role in 1967, being reluctant to extend his contract. He would, however, reprise his Bond character at Broccoli’s urging in 1971 with Diamonds Are Forever, starring alongside Jill St. John.
Roger Moore would lift the Bond baton for the next twelve years, beginning with Live and Let Die in 1973. Moore, who died in 2018, exuded his own prototypical brand of elegance. Unlike Connery, he did have an RP accent and had the requisite ‘undercover’ credentials from his depiction of the spy-detective character Simon Templar in the 1960’s ITV series, The Saint.
Scotsman By Name, Scotsman By Nature
Connery was one of the Scottish National Party’s most high-profile supporters. As honoured guest at one of the party’s events in April 1999 Connery was vocal in his nationalism, “Scotland should be nothing less than equal with all the other nations of the world.”
He was a prominent atendee at the official opening of the Scottish Parliament, upon devolution, in July 1999, saying “Today is a momentous day for Scotland. We’ve waited 300 years for this, and it can’t be more momentous than that.”
At the time of the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014, Connery supported Scotland breaking the 300-year-old constiutional tie with England.
In paying tribute to Sir Sean Connery former Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, credited his support for Scottish Independence as being “unshakeable.”
Current First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon said that the Scottish nation was in mourning on Saturday 31st following the loss of one of Scotland’s most remarkable and revered sons.
Sir Sean’s son, Jason, told the BBC his father died peacefully in Nassau, The Bahamas having been “unwell for some time.” It was somewhat ironic that Connery had first travelled to Nassau, under the guise of Bond, for the 1965 picture, Thunderball, which saw him dive into a rivetting aquatic-action quest to terminate the nuclear ambitions of archetypal villain, Emilio Largo.
Current Bond, Daniel Craig, added to the scores of Connery tributes. Of his peerless predecessor he said, “It is with such sadness that I heard of the passing of one of the true greats of cinema. Sir Sean will be remembered as Bond and so much more. He defined an era and a style….he helped create the modern blockbuster.”
Dame Shirley Bassey, who, along with the Bond theme composer John Barry, lended vocals to the film soundtracks of Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever, expressed how she was “incredibly saddened to hear of Sean’s passing. He was a wonderful person.”
Bassey’s baritone voice and Sean Connery’s tenure as Bond are for many indistinguishable. They conjure up the essence of 1960’s fast, frontline and on-the-edge living with Bond whizzing and skirting cliff precipces, ducking and diving bullets from above, with unrivalled dexterity and a charming ‘Bond girl’ by his side.
That image was craved by Connery and later Bonds. It cannot be denied that Fleming’s Bond, as captured so accurately by Connery, dressed and presented to impress. He is one of film’s greatest show-offs but, a likeable and bearable one.
The Hollywood Reporter has referred to him as “the first and ultimate Bond”; a description to which the present writer can only but concur (with Roger Moore finishing a close second). Such an outstanding accolade is not lightly bestowed, but it became official with popular endorsement no later than August of this year in a RadioTimes poll. 14,000 Bond accolytes weighed in and crowned Sir Sean Connery as the finest superspy on-screen Bond.
Erryn Killiner, Queen’s Film Society President remarked that Connery had “been a staple in the cinematic world for decades and his work has touched every single one of us on the Film Society committee. We love you and you will be greatly missed.”
James Bond was only one character of numerous on which Sean Connery left an indellible mark. He starred in Indiana Jones, The Untouchables with Kevin Costner, The Rock and The Man Who Would Be King.
Sir Sean Connery’s unrivalled portrayal of Bond will remain forever eternal in the popular mind.
A BBC documentary charting the life and career of Sean Connery is available on the BBC iPlayer.
RIP Sean Connery (1930 – 2020)