His Word Was His Bond

If he is to be remembered for nothing other than playing James Bond, actor-producer Sean Connery, who has died at the age of 90 after a long illness, will have still made his mark on the world film industry. However, he was very much more than just 007. Michael Darvell pays tribute to a global star....  

 
 

The Scottish actor and producer Sean Connery will forever be associated with creating the first big-screen portrayal of Ian Fleming’s indomitable Secret Service agent James Bond, known as 007 to his taskmasters. He was not Fleming’s choice, as he thought Connery too plebeian and would have preferred Cary Grant or David Niven. However, Fleming eventually came round to admitting how good Connery was in the role.

 

He played the part in seven films starting with Dr No (1960) and ending with Never Say Never Again. But, of course, it might never have happened if producer Albert (Cubby) Broccoli

Sean Connery I

had not seen Sean in Walt Disney’s Darby O’Gill and the Little People (in 1959) when Cubby’s wife convinced her husband that Connery was sexy enough for the part of Bond. Such is the way that screen legends are born.

 

Thomas Sean Connery (Tommy or Big Tam to his relatives) was born in the Fountainbridge district of Edinburgh to a working class family. His father, Joseph, was a factory worker and lorry driver, and his mother, Euphemia, a cleaning lady. Sean joined the Royal Navy at age 16 but was discharged three years later on health grounds. He then began his working life in various jobs including milkman, labourer, lifeguard, gravedigger, coffin polisher, bodybuilder and, on account of his naturally muscular physique, an artists’ model at the local art college, and he also modelled gents’ swimwear.

 

Given the choice of being a professional footballer – Matt Busby once offered him a contract with Manchester United – or actor, he chose the theatre, working backstage at the King’s Theatre in Edinburgh which subsequently got him an audition for a tour of the musical South Pacific which eventually hit the West End of London. He also secured small parts in films and, to supplement his income, he became a babysitter for the film journalist Peter Noble and his actress wife Marianne Stone.

 

After stage work at the Oxford Playhouse and elsewhere he had an uncredited role as a crowd scene extra in Lilacs in the Spring (1954) with Errol Flynn and Anna Neagle. On television he was in Dixon of Dock Green with Jack Warner, Sailor of Fortune with Lorne Greene, The Condemned with André Morell, a couple of Rod Serling boxing dramas, playing Mountain McClintock in Blood Money (with Michael Caine, no less) and Requiem for a Heavyweight. He also played a porter in an episode of The Jack Benny Programme (1957). In the same year Connery had his first feature film part, playing Spike in No Road Back, Montgomery Tully’s crime melodrama with Skip Homeier and Margaret Rawlings but which, without Sean Connery, the B-picture would otherwise, as Derek Winnert has said, “be condemned to be forgotten”.

 

His first films of note were Hell Drivers (1957), Cy Enfield’s exciting tale of truckers’ lives, and Action of the Tiger, MGM’s political drama with Van Johnson, Martine Carol and Herbert Lom, directed by Terence Young who later directed Connery in Dr No, From Russia With Love and Thunderball. Following an ITV television version of Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie with his future wife Diane Cilento, the first major film in which he was officially “introduced” was Another Time, Another Place, a romantic drama with Lana Turner, Barry Sullivan and Glynis Johns.

 

After that there was more television, including a Disneyland episode playing the character Michael McBride which Connery repeated in the Disney film Darby O’Gill and the Little People. Cue for Mr Broccoli to enter the scene, although before 007 came about there was a Tarzan film (but not as the jungle hero), more TV including the BBC’s Shakespeare series An Age of Kings in which Connery was Harry Hotspur, Giles Cooper’s Without the Grail, the title role in Macbeth with Zoe Caldwell for the Canadian CBC channel, and Vronsky in Anna Karenina with Claire Bloom, as well as playing a Soho villain in John Lemont’s film The Frightened City, a petty thief in On the Fiddle, and a soldier in the epic war film The Longest Day.

 

By the time Dr No, the first Bond movie, came along in 1962 Sean Connery was into his thirties.

Dr No

At the time it was just another action picture and, if the critics were less than enthusiastic about its mix of sex and violence, the cinema-going public lapped it up. It cost less than one million dollars to make but, with its exotic locations, Ken Adam’s stylish interiors, the use of stunning Bond girls, the over-the-top villains and the instantly catchy theme music, the audiences were braying for more. From the beginning, 007 started his now familiar way of introducing himself. So that, whenever anybody asks who he is, it’s always “Bond, James Bond.”

 

After Dr No there was no stopping Connery, or Bond, so next up was From Russia With Love, a better film than the first and, allegedly, Connery’s favourite, to be followed eventually by Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever and, after a twelve-year break, Connery’s last outing as Bond, Never Say Never Again. In between the 007 adventures Connery made many films on several different subjects, so that he could no longer be accused of being typecast as a secret agent.

 

He worked for Basil Dearden on Woman of Straw with Gina Lollobrigida, for Alfred Hitchcock on Marnie with Tippi Hedren, and made his first outing with Sidney Lumet in Ray Rigby’s brutal prison drama The Hill. He played an assortment of parts such as the crazy poet in A Fine Madness with Joanne Woodward, an ex-cavalryman in Edward Dmytryk’s Shalako with Brigitte Bardot, Arctic explorer Roald Amundsen in The Red Tent with Peter Finch, and an Irish coalworker in Martin Ritt’s The Molly Maguires with Richard Harris.

 

With his name on any film cast list, Connery could now work anywhere and for anyone. With Lumet again he made The Anderson Tapes, The Offence and Murder on the Orient Express, with John Boorman he made the futuristic Zardoz, with Caspar Wrede he was in the Scandinavian thriller Ransom, and for John Milius he made The Wind and the Lion. He teamed up with his friend Michael Caine for John Huston’s pet project, The Man Who Would Be King, from a story by Rudyard Kipling. He was an aging Robin Hood in Richard Lester’s Robin and Marian with Audrey Hepburn, and a Major General in Richard Attenborough’s A Bridge Too Far.

 

Connery’s career went on and on, with him often making several films in a single year including The First Great Train Robbery,Time Bandits, Highlander, The Name of the Rose and Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables for which he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Sean Connery II

He up-screened Harrison Ford by playing the hero’s father in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and enjoyed success with The Hunt for Red October, The Rock, Entrapment and Fred Schepisi’s The Russia House, an adaptation of John Le Carrḗ’s book.

 

After 1990 his films became less interesting, although Connery kept on working until he played Allan Quartermain in the poorly received The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in 2003, after which he decided he had had enough and quit acting. Apart from a few TV and video pieces, his last work was a voice-over on the animated feature Sir Billi in 2012.

 

Although from 1973 to 2012 Connery was executive producer on some of his own work, he directed just one film, a sixty-minute documentary in 1967, The Bowler and the Bunnet which showed how one Scottish shipyard was breaking down the gap between the management and the workers. It had the honour of being shown on the opening night of the Rome Film Festival in 2006.

 

As well as his Oscar for The Untouchables, which also won him a Golden Globe, Connery won a best actor Bafta for The Name of the Rose, and was awarded a Bafta Fellowship in 1998. He was made Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters in France, and received Lifetime Achievement Awards from the European Film Awards and the American Film Institute. In 2000 he received a Knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II.

 

Sean Connery was a member of the Scottish National Party, working to achieve Scottish Independence. Although he latterly lived mainly in Barbados, he supported the SNP financially until independence was declared. From 1962 to 1973 he was married to the actress Diane Cilento with whom he has a son, the actor Jason Connery. After they divorced, he married the Moroccan-French painter Micheline Roquebrune. He is survived by his second wife, his son Jason and his brother Neil. Diane Cilento died in 2011.

 

And so, what of his lasting legacy? Well, it’s back to 007 because he was the first James Bond on film and he is still, with no bones about it, simply the best. Someone once said that James Bond made Sean Connery... but that’s not right at all, because it was Connery who made James Bond.

 

 

Sir Sean Connery: born 25 August 1930; died 31 October 2020. R.I.P.