Then & Now
George Lazenby, former spy
AT 50, THE Bond franchise is alive and well and giving the box-office a good kicking. In Skyfall, his third outing as the iconic secret agent, Daniel Craig is laying his claim to be the best Bond. Since Sean Connery passed on the Walther PPK after five Bond films, several actors have made a good fist of playing 007 – Roger Moore was efficient if completely lacking in depth, and Pierce Brosnan was superb – if also lacking in depth.
But spare a thought for the forgotten Bond – George Lazenby, who starred as Bond in just one movie, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The 1969 film had nearly all the ingredients for a classic Bond film: a cracking Ian Fleming story, great action sequences (including some breathtaking ski chases), a bevy of Bond girls (including Diana Rigg) and a timeless theme tune (We Have All the Time in the World by Louis Armstrong). The only thing it didn’t have was Sean Connery in the title role.
Replacing Connery in the Aston Martin driving seat was a former car salesman from Australia who had little or no acting experience, but knew how to sell himself to the producers. For his screen test, Lazenby, who at the time was working as a model, wore a Saville Row suit ordered but never collected by Connery, and sported a flashy Rolex watch. The producers were sufficiently dazzled and gave Lazenby the mission. Up to that, his biggest role had been in an ad for Big Fry bars – now he was about to step into the biggest shoes in cinema. Connery would have been a hard act for anyone to follow, but Lazenby’s camp performance and terrible acting made him the joker in the Bond pack, and his name became the weak link in the 007 franchise. Amazingly, Lazenby was offered the chance to don the Bond tux again, but turned it down, believing the spy’s days were numbered, and that cinemagoers would prefer to see hip, counter-culture movies in the vein of Easy Rider. So Roger Moore was recruited, and the future of the Bond brand was secured. Lazenby did find film work after Bond, including 1977’s Kentucky Fried Movie, 1983’s The Return of the Man from UNCLE and a handful of made-for-late-night-TV Emmannuelle movies. He’s also reprised his one-off Bond role for a number of TV and film spoofs.
Although he will never go down as the best-ever Bond, his camp 1960s style of ruffled shirt and crushed velvet was most definitely a huge influence on another iconic secret agent – Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery.
And just as Bond is celebrating his 50th anniversary, guess what – Lazenby is publishing his autobiography, The Other Fella. The title refers to a knowing remark Bond makes at the beginning of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: “This never happened to the other fella.”