IT is 60 years since the first James Bond film, Dr No.
It is now thought of as the movie that changed British cinema for ever, yet behind the scenes there was chaos, cost-cutting and catastrophic rows.
The budget was small and the American film company financing the movie, United Artists, sent a simple message to producer Cubby Broccoli when they saw Connery’s test footage: “SEE IF YOU CAN DO BETTER.”
There were five different scripts — all of them bad — and director Terence Young had to take a room in London’s Dorchester Hotel to re-write the entire film in a frantic ten days.
By the time the star and crew moved to Pinewood Studios in Slough in February 1962, set designer Ken Adam had a budget of just £14,000 to make the interior scenes look good.
It included the casino in which Bond makes his movie debut, with his first words on film: “Bond . . . James Bond.”
The problems mounted.
Novelist Ian Fleming, on whose Bond books the first movies were based, was also not happy with Scottish-born Connery and said to director Young: “So they’ve chosen you to f*** up my work?”
The first Bond girl, Swiss actress Ursula Andress — chosen over British star Julie Christie — had an accent so strong she would have to be dubbed from start to finish by German actress Nikki van der Zyl.
Owned the street.
Most read in Film
Even her memorable song Underneath The Mango Tree, as she emerged from the sea in a white bikini, had to be sung by Yorkshire-born singer and actress Diana Coupland.
Meanwhile Connery, aged 30 when he started filming as Bond, was annoyed at being fitted into smart suits and told how to eat, dress and look.
There was much confusion and apprehension about turning Fleming’s super-spy books into movies from the start.
The project had been inspired by American Broccoli, then 52, who was a big fan of the novels.
He was convinced film fans in the early 1960s were ready for glamour, girls, fast cars and adventure.
When United Artists finally agreed to film Dr No, it handed over a miserly $800,000, just £285,000 at the time.
A succession of directors turned down the film, including Bryan Forbes and Guy Hamilton, who was later to direct third Bond film, Goldfinger.
Irish-born Young, 47, finally agreed to take it on, in the wake of several film flops.
But the film company was nervous about his record.
The producers were forced to sign a “completion bond”, which meant that if the film went over budget, they would meet the costs themselves.
Then there was confusion over who should take the lead role.
Fleming wanted Michael Redgrave, then 54. Other contenders included Patrick McGoohan, who played the lead in hit TV series Danger Man.
But Broccoli was interested in 6ft 2in Connery, a bodybuilder turned actor who’d had a succession of jobs, including milkman, lorry driver and labourer.
When he wore a brown shirt, jeans and suede shoes to the audition, Broccoli asked him about his dress sense. Connery fired back: “Take me as I am or not at all.
On one of my many visits to Bond film sets over the years Broccoli, who passed away in 1996, confided: “He knew what he wanted and I knew I wanted him.
“I saw him walking away from our office afterwards and he looked like he owned the street.”
He was signed for an up-front fee of £25,000. The rest of the cast received far more modest sums.
Ursula, for example, was given £300 a week for the six weeks of filming as Honey Ryder.
Director Young, educated at Harrow and Cambridge, was taken aback by Connery’s lack of style.
“I sent him to my tailor,” he recalled. “I used to make sure he dressed well, because Sean’s idea of a night out was to wear a lumber jacket.”
They also had to reshoot a couple of the scenes because the actor failed to disguise his deep Scottish accent.
When executives from United Artists saw the final version ahead of release they were disappointed.
Take me as I am or not at all.
The decision was made that they would not spend a single dollar promoting the film in America.
The only man who seemed upbeat about the result was Connery himself.
“I thought it was great,” he told me, reflecting on his debut as 007.
“But I never assumed it was going to be a success.”
Connery went on: “The schedule with Terence Young was very strict. They gave him so little time to make the film on very little money.
“Everyone had to be prepared to accept the deadline. I remember Cubby in Jamaica digging sand at the edge of the sea so we could get in a last shot of the day. I don’t think he dug much sand after that.
“He could open his own bank with the money he’s made from Bond films. There are endless world sales.”
His own financial deal rankled with Connery, who played Bond seven times, for the rest of his life.
“I only got part of the financial action from the second film From Russia With Love,” he said.
“But it was nothing compared to what I should have received. I had a great lawyer and agent in Hollywood later on in my career.
“If I’d had them in those days it would have been a different story with Bond.”
So did he actually like 007? “I liked him right from the start,” he said.
“He thrives on conflict and loves wine, food, women and fast cars.
“There were moments in Dr No when I was loving it and loving life. The sun was shining when we were filming in Jamaica, the sea was warm and the colours everywhere were fantastic.
“I was aware of the worries and the tension and the last-minute re-writes of the script but didn’t give it a second thought.
“I just concentrated on doing my job and felt, all along, it was going to be great.”
Connery’s faith was rewarded when the film opened to rave reviews and audience reaction.
A reviewer in the showbusiness magazine Variety accurately predicted: “As a screen hero, James Bond is here to stay.”
The 25 Bond films in 60 years have grossed £6.4billion and James Bond has officially become the most recognisable British name after our late Queen.
As for Ursula Andress, at 86 one of the few survivors of Dr No, she once told me: “Despite a long career, I am still best known as the first Bond girl. I am most proud of that.”
- Garth Pearce is described as “one of the few journalists the Connerys trust” in Sean Connery’s biography, The Untouchable Hero, by Michael Feeney Callan. He has interviewed every Bond star and is the author of books on GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies.
DR. NO, 110 mins
LITTLE did audiences know when they sat down 60 years ago to watch Dr No, they were witnessing the start of one of the biggest franchises in the world.
Even now, the moment Connery utters his immortal first words “Bond . . . James Bond”, you know you’re on to something special.
There are some painfully bad stunts (in one, 6ft 2in Connery turns into a 5ft 6in blonde jumping off a pier), terrible jump cut edits and ropey dubbing but Dr No still shines as a mighty fine piece of work.
The film opens in Jamaica, where Bond is sent to investigate the disappearance of two British agents.
After many attempts on his life (one with a non-poisonous tarantula) by the Three Blind Mice assassins, he learns about Dr No – a strange, handless recluse living on a secretive island.
While this kickstarts the blueprint for many Bonds to follow – unhinged villains, exotic worlds, high death counts, casual sex and one-liners – and allows Connery to become a screen legend, it is not a classic of the franchise that was soon to become cinema gold.