By Thomas Myler
When Ian Fleming sat down at his typewriter one afternoon in February 1952 in the study of his Jamaican home, known as Goldeneye, and started on his first James Bond novel ‘Casino Royale’, he had not even the faintest idea of the phenomenal success his creation would become – particularly on cinema screens worldwide.
The Bond movies, produced by Eon Productions with financial backing by United Artists, comprise 23 productions with a combined gross of over $600,000 million, the highest of any film series with the exception of the Harry Potter movies, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe films.
The secret agent, who works for MI6, and known as 007, has been portrayed by, in turn, Sean Connery, David Niven, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, our own Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig.
Craig starred in the last three Bond films, a re-make of the 1967 spoof Casino Royale, followed by Quantum of Solace and Skyfall. He is now back again in Spectre, currently showing in Irish cinemas.
When Fleming showed the manuscript of his first novel Casino Royale to a friend, William Plomer, who later became his editor, he liked it. “William submitted it to the publishers Jonathan Cape but they didn’t like it very much,” said Fleming in an interview. “Then, a year later, on the advice of my elder brother, Peter, an established travel writer, they accepted it.”
Between 1953 and 1966, two years after his death, Fleming had completed 12 novels and two short story collections, with the last three Bond books The Man With The Golden Gun, Octopussy and The Living Daylights, published posthumously.
Once asked how he came upon the name James Bond, he explained: “It was the name of an American ornithologist, a keen birdwatcher like myself. He was a real expert in his field and the author of the definitive field guide ‘Birds of the West Indies’.
‘It struck me that my friend had a short, unromantic Anglo-Saxon yet very masculine name, and it was just what I needed for my character. So a second James Bond was born, the fictional one and the real one.
“You see, I wanted Bond to be an agent that exotic things would happen to, but he would always be a neutral figure, an anonymous, blunt instrument wielded by a government department. I based Bond on a number of individuals I came across during my time in the Royal Navy Intelligence Division during World War 2.
“Bond was a compound of all those secret agents I met, among them my brother Peter, who had been involved in operations behind the scenes in Norway and Greece.
“I also used the experiences of my espionage career and other aspects of my life as inspiration when writing, including using names of school friends, acquaintances and relatives though my books.”
Fleming recalled that when he wrote Casino Royale in 1953, he wanted Bond to be an extremely dull, uninteresting man to whom things happened. “I wanted him to be a blunt instrument but a bit like me too,” he said. “I loved gambling and so did Bond. I loved golf. So did Bond. How did the 007 arise? I played around with a few digits and 007 came up.”
In 1959, Albert R ‘Cubby’ Broccoli and Harry Salzman formed Econ Productions with the intention of making the first Bond movie. They planned to cast a young macho Scottish actor, Sean Connery, as Bond. Fleming rejected him as ‘unsuitable’ because he was not a big name.
Patrick McGoohan also got the thumbs down because Fleming felt he was “mainly a TV actor”. Cary Grant’s name came up but when the suave and debonair star was approached, he said he would only do one Bond film, as he was considering retirement.
Fleming was said to have favoured the Dublin-born actor Richard Todd, but Broccoli said no. Richard Johnson, an established movie star, turned down the Bond role and thoughts turned to a young Roger Moore but Broccoli said he was “too young and a shade too pretty”. As it happened, Moore would step into the Bond role in 1973 for Live and Let Die, and would star as the secret agent in six more films.
Meanwhile, after all the false starts in selecting the actor to play the first Bond, it was back to Connery. When first invited to meet Fleming, Broccoli and Salzman, Connery arrived in scruffy clothes and gave the impression of an arrogant, devil-may-care actor.
Broccoli and Salzman were impressed, but not so Fleming. “I’m looking for Commander Bond, not some overgrown stuntman who looks like he has just walked off the set,” the author said.
Connery had played small roles in films, including the Disney fantasy Darby O’Gill and the Little People, which starred Jimmy O’Dea. He was also in a Tarzan picture. A former bricklayer, he has represented Scotland in a Mr Universe competition, and was also a bodyguard as well as a coffin polisher, and a model for swimming trunks.
It took Fleming some time to go along with the views of Broccoli and Salzman who felt Connery would make an ideal Bond but he eventually agreed, if reluctantly.
Filming on Dr No got underway in Jamaica in January 1962, before moving on to Pinewood studios in England in late February.
Fleming would later agree that Connery had been a good choice, especially after the worldwide success of Dr No. In many people’s eyes, he was the best Bond. Connery played 007 seven times – becoming one of the screen’s most enduring stars and winning a Hollywood Oscar in 1987 for The Untouchables.
Sadly, Fleming would only live to see Connery star in two more Bond movies, from Russia With Love in 1963 and Goldfinger a year later. He died suddenly in 1965.
Pierce Brosnan came into the Bond role by accident. “An intended brief visit to the US in 1982 turned into a long stay when I was offered the TV series, Remington Steele,” the Navan-born actor said. “I played the role for four years before it was cancelled. I was announced as the screen’s next James Bond but the next thing it was decided to revive Remington Steele and as I was still under contract, I had to give up the Bond part – until it came around again in 1996 with Goldeneye.’
Brosnan would play 007 in three further films, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day. “I think there is a physicality in playing Bond which has to be there and I don’t think I carry that in real life,” said Brosnan in an interview in 1999. “James is a naval commander and he has a commanding presence when he enters a room or is dealing with people.
“When I arrived at the studio in the morning, you became Bond. You come in, you put on the suit and you’re there. I’m usually in my own time zone and there’s a certain attitude and energy and formality to the body that comes into being without you even knowing. In the morning I was James Bond. In the evening it was back to Pierce Brosnan.”
When the producers decided in 2006 to give Bond both a more cutting edge and a new look, Daniel Craig got the part. In his fourth outing as 007 in the current film, Spectre, Craig’s co-stars include Ralph Fiennes who plays the new ‘M’ following the untimely death of Judy Dench’s character in the last Bond movie.