Bond. James Bond. This year’s No Time to Die will mark both the 25th official James Bond film and the final outing of Daniel Craig in the role of the super-suave MI6 secret agent. With Craig’s imminent exit from the role, rumours and whispers of who will be next in line to hold Bond’s Walther PPK and license to kill have already begun circulating.
But there was a time when it seemed only one man could possibly fill those shoes: a smooth-talking Scotsman named Sean Connery, who kicked things off with 1962’s Dr. No. After a truly golden run that seemed blessed by the Midas touch, it was during the filming of 1967’s You Only Live Twice that Connery announced, much like Craig has now, that he was done with the role and moving on to other things.
Whilst this would later prove to be untrue, as Connery would actually return play Bond again in 1971’s Diamond’s Are Forever and also for the unofficial 1983 Never Say Never Again (which was produced by a different studio and is not included in official Bond canon), back in the ‘60s Bond producers were scrambling to find a replacement.
With several names in the running, including that of Roger Moore, the Bond producers surprised everyone by choosing an unknown Australian actor and model, Supa-Star George Lazenby, after spotting him in a commercial for a chocolate bar of all things! Lazenby would attend his official audition for the role after visiting Connery’s own barber, and even wearing a suit which had been tailor-made for Connery himself but had never collected. Though it was the result of Lazenby accidentally punching the film’s stunt coordinator squarely in the face which finally cinched him the role.
In addition to changing the face of the lead actor, 1969’s One Her Majesty’s Secret Service, would also introduce a key feature which begins to appear with each successive iteration of the character. Rather than simply replacing the actor and expecting audiences to believe them to be the same person, the decision was made to give Lazenby’s time in the role a distinct flavour rather than have him try to emulate his predecessor.
Long before Daniel Craig’s Bond films would ever abandon the reliance on techno-gadgetry in favour of old-fashioned action and spy work, Lazenby’s Bond was chosen to become a very different and less technologically dependent version of the secret agent. The film even included several inside jokes and had Lazenby himself crack the line, “This never happened to the other fellow,” during the film’s opening sequence.
It was this decision which would eventually allow each successive Bond actor to put their own unique stamp on the role. Without it, we probably never would have seen Moore’s humour, Dalton’s intensity, Brosnan’s charm or Craig’s single-mindedness. Each James Bond has always been very different from the last, and it was Lazenby who was the one to set up the ever-changing, ever-evolving face of the franchise.
Lazenby’s own stamp on the Bond legacy was still firmly cemented after his film topped the North American box office when it first opened, and eventually went on to become one of the top-earning films of 1969. Whilst critics of the time were divided in their opinions of Bond’s recasting, many critics now retrospectively consider One Her Majesty’s Secret Service one of the best Bond stories told on film, and modern-day filmmakers like The Dark Knight trilogy’s director Christopher Nolan still refer to it as their favourite film in the franchise.
Connery may have been the first on-screen Bond, but had it not been for Lazenby’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the long-running legacy of Britain’s most famous secret agent surely would have died only a few short years after it began. All the other actors who would go on to follow in Lazenby’s footsteps, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pearce Brosnan and Daniel Craig, owe Lazenby an incredible debt, for without him they never would have their own chance to jump behind the wheel of Bond’s Aston Martin and serve in Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Catch George Lazenby at Supanova Melbourne (March 7-8) and Gold Coast (March 13-14).