Treasuring Every Rejection, Threat, and Backlot Bond

Opening Title from 1962’s Dr. No with stuntman Bob Simmons standing in as James Bond
Opening Title from 1962’s Dr. No with stuntman Bob Simmons standing in as James Bond
As much as I love the Fleming books, I was introduced to the world of secret agent James Bond 007 in the movies.

The house lights dim.  The screen goes dark.  A line of white circles marches across the blackness, accompanied by a familiar staccato beat.  One circle grows to become the rifling of a gun barrel that follows a walking man.  The man turns and fires.  A curtain of blood runs down the screen.  The gun barrel wavers, then drifts downwards, becoming a plain white circle once again.  Right there you’ve got my childhood, encapsulated in a single cut scene that never failed to raise goose bumps whenever I saw it. Ian Fleming must’ve wished he’d put it in his books, because it’s certainly the most recognisable opening ever.

Click for a YouTube video montage of the iconic opening titles (with informative captions) from all 22 Bond films.

Movie Poster from Bond film double-bill
Movie Poster from Bond film double-bill
I remember sitting in a darkened cinema waiting for the latest James Bond adventure to unfold.  Watching Goldfinger at the Cottage Road Picture House then catching the double-bill re-run of Dr. No and From Russia With Love before going on to the first run opening of Thunderball at the much bigger ODEON cinema in Leeds. 

From there, I gravitated to the books, too young to understand why the Goldfinger novel differed so dramatically from the film.  In the former, the gold is to be stolen from Fort Knox while in the latter an atomic device is to be exploded there, contaminating the entire gold supply of the United States.  Watching the latest Bond film became an annual event.  Picking up the books was dictated by pocket money, and was, therefore, a slower process.  James Bond ushered me from childhood through my teenage years then to manhood.  Little did I know that I would eventually meet the man himself.

In 1984, I visited the Amberley Chalk Pit Museum and Mine, the location for Roger Moore’s final outing as 007, A View To A Kill.  The entrance and railway had been transformed into the Silicone Valley mine being prepared for destruction by Max Zorin.  Moore spent most of the time between takes playing backgammon with producer Michael G. Wilson, while Christopher Walken and Grace Jones posed for my camera.  An enormous crane held a full-size mock-up of the airship gondola that would feature in later scenes.

James Bond (Roger Moore) relaxing during A View to a Kill
James Bond Roger Moore relaxing on backlot of A View to a Kill
I also met Bond legend Bob Simmons, the stuntman who often doubled for Sean Connery, and who was the first man ever to appear inside the gun barrel in 1962’s Dr. No.  He also choreographed the famous elevator fight for Diamonds Are Forever.  Bob took me under his wing, introducing me to famed Bond director John Glen and making sure I was fed and watered.  Sadly, Bob died the following year.  This wasn’t to be my only meeting with 007 though.  As they announce at the end of each film, James Bond Will Return…

Bond Director John Glen on set of The Living Daylights
Nadim Sawalha (seated) plays a Chief of Security, but famed Bond director John Glen (standing) is the real boss here.
In 1986, I met 007 again, this time in the guise of Timothy Dalton.  Interiors for The Living Daylights were being shot at Elvedon Hall, near Thetford.  John Rhys-Davies and Nadim Sawalha posed for photos this time.  I watched 007 shoot General Pushkin from the balcony then joined the crew at the local pub for lunch.  Timothy Dalton bought everyone a drink, beer not Martinis for himself, Coca Cola for me.

John Rhys-Davies as General Leonid Pushkin in The Living Daylights
General Leonid Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies) still looks pretty healthy here. Must be all the fruit.
There was a six-year gap between Dalton’s second Bond film, Licence To Kill, and Goldeneye due to an extensive legal battle.  So in 1994, as a joke, I wrote to EON Productions offering myself for the role of James Bond.  How could they refuse?

They did.  I received a letter saying, “Unfortunately, there does not appear to be a role for you in this production.”  A treasured possession.  Not only my first rejection letter, but one from the office of Universal Exports!

Prop Tank from James Bond Movie Goldeneye
PropTank from Goldeneye: Plenty deadly-looking from this angle.
1995 saw another new Bond in Pierce Brosnan for Goldeneye.  This time, I visited the location at Nene Valley Railway, near Peterborough, where a small bridge over the railway had been transformed into the mouth of a concrete tunnel, adorned with the red star of Russia.  A mock-up tank fired on an armoured Soviet train that would later crash into the tunnel.  Finally, Bond and Izabella Scorupco dashed from the burning carriage just in time as the train exploded in a huge fireball.  Lots of photos.  The last I would be allowed to take because this was my final location visit.  From then on, I’d meet Bond in the secure environment of the studio.

I met Pierce Brosnan three more times.  At Frogmore Studios, near London, in 1997 for Tomorrow Never Dies and at Pinewood Studios in 1999 for The World Is Not Enough.  The third would be the most memorable, but not before I courted controversy and possible exile.

Sometime around 1999, I wrote to Barbara Broccoli at EON Productions.  This letter wasn’t a joke, but a reminder of parts of the Ian Fleming novels that hadn’t been used yet.  I thought a good starting point would be Bond getting captured/tortured at the end of the pre-title sequence, just as he disappears at the conclusion of You Only Live Twice, the novel.  Then, I thought he should return to MI6 after the titles, having been brainwashed, and attempt to kill M, as in the opening of The Man With The Golden Gun.  A short time later I received a letter from Los Angeles.  Not from EON Productions, but from an expensive law firm.  In essence, it was a disclaimer stating that none of my suggestions had been read by Barbara Broccoli or anyone at EON Productions and that I should not write to them again.  Another proud moment for me.  Being threatened by James Bond’s attorneys.

Pierce Brosnan as James Bond with Izabella Scorupco as Natalya Simonova from Goldeneye
Pierce Brosnan on set of Goldeneye: He’s right. James Bond always gets the best seat in the house.
Thankfully, I wasn’t barred from Pinewood Studios in 2002 for Die Another Day, Pierce Brosnan’s final outing as 007.  My two-day visit was mainly spent on the backlot, where the exterior of the ice hotel and greenhouse complex had been built.  Now in his fourth production, Brosnan knew most of the crew, but was perplexed by the stranger skulking around the camera position during his scenes.  Eventually, towards the end of the second day, he decided to find out who it was.  During a break in filming he came up to me and asked, “Who are you?” with a smile.  The smile diffused the situation for me, and I explained.  “Oh, so you’re a fan?”  I admitted to being a Bond fan since seeing Goldfinger.  He brushed my embarrassment aside and said he’d been a fan since Goldfinger himself and still was.  Just lucky enough to have the best seat in the house. After a brief chat, Brosnan excused himself and went back to work.  Another exciting moment in my Bond career.  Confronted by the man himself.  And I lived to tell the tale.

That was my last brush with world of Bond movies, apart from attending the regional premiere of the excellent Casino Royale.  But what about the literary Bond?

“Long Tail On A Ghost”is a chapter from Goldfinger, the novel.  It is also the title of a short story that I submitted for a James Bond competition.  I created my first fiction in longhand and took the premise (previously used by Fleming’s former assistant, author John Pearson in James Bond – The Authorised Biography of 007) that Bond was a real person, and that the publicity surrounding Fleming’s novels and the subsequent films made it impossible for him to continue in the field.  In mine, James Bond visits Fleming’s grave and bemoans the loss of his identity.  Giving a false name to the old lady who runs the cemetery, he struggles with the guilty knowledge that his celebrity has caused Felix Leiter’s death.  While standing at the graveside, a pair of vicious criminals breaks into the office and terrorises the registrar, forcing Bond to embrace his past and defeat the villains.  When the old lady wants to know who has saved her he utters the immortal line, “The name’s Bond.  James Bond.”  At the end, not the beginning, just like Daniel Craig in Casino Royale.  Only Craig did it better.

The short story competition was later deemed to be illegal, and the entries destroyed, but the experience set me on the road towards writing full-time.  So I suppose in the end, I owe it all to James Bond.  And just like him, I will return.

For all James Bond-related posts, see The Bond Hotline feature area.

Bond movie-set images via Colin Campbell.  See more at his Facebook album!

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Colin Campbell is a retired UK police officer and full-time crime novelist.

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