Why the late great Connery remains our premium Bond

Licensed to thrill

Madame Tussauds wax figures of all James Bond actors ( Above from left) Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Daniel Craig, Sean Connery, George Lazenby and Pierce Brosnan (Photo: STEFFI LOOS/AFP via Getty Images)

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When Sean Connery died, peacefully in his sleep recently, tributes hailed him as the greatest Bond of all time.

Steve Cain looks back on the legacy left by Connery and the other actors who have donned the black tuxedo and jumped into the Aston Martin to become “Bond, James Bond”.

Voted the all time best Bond

Sean Connery voted the best Bond of all (Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Tall, handsome, masculine, with a roguish charm, Sean Connery made the role of James Bond his own in seven sensational spy thrillers, beginning with Dr No in 1962 and culminating in 1983’s Never Say Never Again.

His embodiment of the suave but ruthless secret agent, OO7, spent the 1960s saving the world from evil megalomaniacs, seducing some of the sexiest leading ladies in the history of cinema and holding not only a licence to kill, but also to thrill.

The Bond by which the rest were measured

Such was the popularity and power of his performance that his portrayal of Bond became the one to which all others would have to be measured. Indeed, in August, Connery’s Bond was voted the original and best in a Radio Times survey which ranked the actors who have played OO7.

Yet, Connery won the role against the odds and it may never have happened if Bond creator and author Ian Fleming had been given the choice. He disapprovingly announced: “I’m looking for Commander Bond, not an overgrown stuntman”.

However, producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli’s wife, Dana, preferred Connery’s physical prowess and magnetic sex appeal over acting legends including Cary Grant, Richard Burton, Rex Harrison and Trevor Howard, who were also in the running for the role.

Although, after seeing Dr No, Fleming admitted he had been wrong, there were still doubts as to whether the film would be successful or not.

“Everyone who said that the first film was going to be a success is a liar because they didn’t know,” said Connery in an interview about his role as Bond.

"The film cost less than a million dollars and they didn’t make another immediately after because they still weren’t sure.”

Box office success

The box office success of Dr No led to six more Bond films starring Connery as the martini-drinking secret agent – From Russia with Love (1963); Goldfinger (1964); Thunderball (1965); You Only Live Twice (1967); Diamonds are Forever (1971) and Never Say Never Again (1983).

Initially, Connery enjoyed the girls, guns and gadgets but eventually he became bored and frustrated with what he felt were repetitive scripts and formulaic plots.

“The first two or three were fun,” said Connery. “Bond’s been good to me, so I shouldn’t knock him. But I’m fed up to here with the whole Bond bit.”

He quit the role after completing You Only Live Twice, in 1967, in an attempt to avoid becoming typecast.

Connery quits

After the departure of Connery, Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and director Peter R Hunt chose the relatively unknown Australian actor George Lazenby as their new Bond.

Contract negotiations dragged on during production of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) and Lazenby never actually signed an agreement.

Convinced to quit

He was subsequently convinced by his agent that the heavy-drinking, smoking, gambling womaniser was out of step with the mood of the liberated 1970s and quit the role before the film was even released.

The critics were split in their opinion of Lazenby’s performance as Bond with some reviews branding him as “annoying and smug” while others described his performance as “superb”.

Brief comeback

Following Lazenby’s brief one-movie tenure as Bond, Connery was enticed back to reprise the role by a huge fee and share of the gross profits of Diamonds are Forever.

Although Albert Broccoli tried to persuade him to star in further films, Connery declined and the hunt for a new Bond was on for the second time in five years.

After considering actors such as Julian Glover, Michael Billington and Jeremy Brett, the producer returned his attention to an actor who had previously been considered to play Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service but was unavailable at the time.

Smooth comedy turn for Bond

Known for his television performances in The Saint and The Persuaders, Roger Moore had garnered himself a reputation for playing charming and debonair international playboys.

Roger Moore played a different kind of Bond (Photo: Keystone/Getty Images)

He accepted the offer and, in a conscious effort not to imitate Connery’s interpretation of the character, a number of Moore’s personal preferences were incorporated into his version.

Roger Moore’s bond debuted in Live and Let Die (1973) and was, perhaps, the most light-hearted Bond of all.

Moore appeared in six further Bond films – The Man with the Golden Gun (1974); The Spy Who Loved Me (1977); Moonraker (1979); For Your Eyes Only (1981); Octopussy (1983) and A View to a Kill (1985) – over a 12-year period and by the end of his tenure, at 57 years old, he was the oldest actor to have played OO7.

Critics focused on Moore’s age in relation to that of his leading lady, former Charlie’s Angels star Tanya Roberts, who was 30.

The dozen Bond films in which Moore starred had grossed an impressive $1 billion at the box office.

Brief Bond stint

Cast as Bond in the summer of 1986, Timothy Dalton had a “desire to play a darker Bond, tougher and closer to the character Ian Fleming wrote about.” Unfortunately, after just two films – The Living Daylights (1987) and Licence to Kill (1989) – his contract expired and was not renewed.

Second time lucky

Dalton’s departure afforded Pierce Brosnan the opportunity that he had previously been denied and his first film, Goldeneye (1995) was well-received. He completed a further three films – Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), The World Is Not Enough (1999) and Die Another Day (2002) – before leaving the franchise.

Suave Pierce Brosnan as James Bond (Photo: Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images)

Soon to be retired super-spy

At a press conference in October 2005, Daniel Craig, the sixth actor to play Bond, said: “I’m a big Bond fan, and I love what he represents.”

Significant controversy followed the casting decision, with critics expressing their dissatisfaction that Craig’s blond-haired, blue-eyed rugged look did not fit the tall, dark and handsome image of Bond.

Daniel Craig to step down as Bond (Photo: Vincenzo Pinto, Tiziana Fabi/AFP via Getty Images)

Yet, Craig earned praise from critics, fans and former Bonds, upon the release of Casino Royale in 2006, who saw him as “the perfect 21st-century Bond.”

He’s since appeared in three more Bond movies – Quantum of Solace (2008), Skyfall (2012) and Spectre (2015). However, the forthcoming No Time To Die – which has had its release delayed until April 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic – will be Craig’s final Bond movie.

While the identity of the next Bond remains a mystery, one thing is certain: the enduring appeal of the iconic and dashing superspy.

So, grab a martini – shaken, not stirred – and raise your glass to the legend that is “Bond, James Bond”.