The James Bond Files ~
– Robert Sellers Talks about Bond and Other Brits
By Wesley Britton
For Bond fans, the publishing event of 2007 was Robert
Sellers’ The Battle for Bond: The Genesis of
Cinema’s Greatest Hero (Tomahawk Press). The
year before, his Cult TV: The Golden Age of ITC
(Plexus Publishing) was the first comprehensive exploration of
the most influential decade in British TV spies.
During the months before and after Battle for Bond
debuted, I read a number of interviews with Robert and noticed most,
naturally, dealt with the book’s revelations about the film
creation of 007 and the legal duels between EON and Kevin McClory.
I wondered – what did Sellers think about the literary James
Bond, the work of author Len Deighton, the Roger Moore outings,
and the influence of Sean Connery on British TV? I wondered what
he thought makes the Bond series special and his thoughts about
the future of 007.
Below are Robert’s answers to my questions with fresh,
informed insights into the James Bond mythos. Expect some
surprises from a Bond fan who doesn’t like Ian Fleming.
Q – I understand your interest in Bond is
the movies, not the books. Have you read any of the novels and
what do you think of those you’ve looked at?
I must confess to not being a literary Bond fan. My first exposure
to Bond as a kid, like most people, were the films, and when I went
to have a look at the books and tried diligently to read them aged
something like 10 was slightly put off. They are, let’s face
it, a bit slow and terribly old-fashioned.
I see them more as cultural history rather than thrillers, opening
up an aperture on a lost golden age, of playboys driving Bentleys
along the seafront at Nice and grand meals in the best restaurants
in 1950s New York. I always loved Fleming’s descriptive
passages about food and wine and enjoyed his sadistic turn of
phrase, but the lack of humour in his prose was death for me,
particularly since the films scored so highly in self-deprecating
comedy. I just found Fleming took himself too seriously.
Actually during my research for my book Battle for
Bond, I found Fleming to be far more humorous in his private
letters than he ever afforded his Bond character.
Q – You got to know author Len
Deighton while working on Battle for Bond. Have
you read anything by him? Any thoughts on the Michael Caine
“Harry Palmer” films?
Along with The Spy Who Came in from the Cold,
The Ipcress File is the best serious spy film ever
made. No, I haven’t read any of Deighton’s
work, and thank God he didn’t ask me any questions
about them when we met. You see, I don’t actually
read fiction; I’m much more likely to want to read a
biography on Deighton himself. My reading material is film
books, biographies and history. I just don’t read fiction.
Q – I’m with you putting
Thunderball at the top of your favourites list. I admit
being surprised to see You Only Live Twice as your
Number Two. What about that film do you like? I’ve always
thought it the weakest Connery outing with so many plot holes.
I agree; Connery walks through that film as if in a coma. It’s
without doubt his poorest performance as Bond, and the plot makes
no sense whatsoever – but who cares, You Only Live
Twice isn’t about Sean Connery – this is Ken
Adam’s Bond film. That volcano is the greatest film set ever;
I could sit and marvel at every inch of it, every piece of stainless
steel or lava outcrop, for hours. It’s just breathtaking. And
the battle climax is the Lawrence of Arabia of action
sequences. The shot of the ninjas careering down those ropes is
iconic. If Bergman had shot that scene, it would now be regarded as
a piece of art.
Q – I’m also with you ranking
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service so highly.
What about it makes it one of the best for you?
For me, just like Thunderball, OHMSS
mixes the best elements of Fleming’s writing with the best
elements of the film series, great supporting actors, luscious
location filming and lashings of 60s style. That whole period, from
Thunderball running through You Only Live
Twice and ending with OHMSS was
Bond’s artistic peak. It can’t be touched.
Q – The only Roger Moore in your top
five is The Spy Who Loved Me, one of Moore’s
favourites as well. Someone once said Sir Roger’s 007
was simply The Saint with an expense account. Is that a fair
summation of the Moore era?
I think that’s very unfair. I used to have a downer on
Roger because I was such a Connery fan, but when you look at
the candidates in the early 70s to take over the Bond role, really
there wasn’t anybody else to touch Roger, and I think
he did a great job. He’ll always be my second favourite
Bond after Connery.
Q – You don’t think there were
any bad Bond films. Well, which would rate at the bottom end of
the spectrum? Why?
The thing with the Bonds, I can stick any of them on and be
entertained. But if you must put a gun against my head, I’d
offer A View to a Kill as the worst of the lot. Its
cardinal sin being that it’s a tad boring at times. Walken
and Grace Jones are great villains, there’s some good
action and stunts, the fire in City Hall is terrific, but Tanya
Roberts’ character is very weak and dear old Roger is
really looking his age in this one.
Q – Many think director Terence Young
was the most important figure shaping the screen James Bond.
Any merit to this claim?
Absolutely, most people I’ve spoken to who worked
on the Bond films point to Young as perhaps the overall influence
on the eventual style of the films.
It was great good fortune that Broccoli and Saltzman hired
him; after all he wasn’t their first choice. Young was very
much from the same kind of background as Fleming, a bit of a
snob, a bon vivant, and like Fleming, wanted to be
James Bond himself, I’ve been told. So just like Fleming
used Bond on the written page to live out a voyeuristic fantasy, I
think Young projected his personal image, through Sean’s
performance, onto the screen.
Q – What would you say Kevin
McClory’s influence was on the first three Bond films
– if any? Does he get credit, in your mind, for Blofeld and
Well, McClory was responsible for the first ever Bond screenplay,
Thunderball, back in 1959. He hired Jack Whittingham
to come in and re-write Fleming’s miserable early efforts.
Plus there’s speculation that when Richard Maibaum
began writing Dr. No, he saw that script, so just how
much of McClory/Whittingham’s ideas and concepts of
Bond as a screen character influenced him, who knows. SPECTRE
was also invented for that first Bond script.
Q – Do you think new Bond films would
benefit from having an ongoing adversary like Connery had battling
Blofeld and his SPECTRE operatives for virtually every film in his
Absolutely, I think that’s what makes the Connery films
special. That he’s up against the same bunch of lunatics
each time and in that way we get those immortal lines such as,
‘we meet again Mr Bond.’ The Moore films lose
out on that, there’s no continuity to them in that way.
I’d also like the Daniel Craig films to go more way
out fantasy-wise. I loved what they did with Casino Royale,
but I know I’d get a real kick out of seeing Craig as
Bond underwater dodging sharks or skiing off mountains.
That’s the beauty of Bond, you can do a Graham Greene
type spy movie, a la From Russia With Love and that
works or go way out with Moonraker and it still works.
That’s what makes Bond as a character totally unique.
Q – To me, one of the things that gave
Thunderball its depth was that we were able to see
the size of the organization Bond was up against – and
we got this as well in From Russia With Love. Was
this something you saw in the two movies?
Absolutely, again it’s that continuity we have in the
Connery films. Each time he faces SPECTRE we know
he’s up against a mighty force, whereas in the Moore
films, it’s a new villain each time and one doesn’t
get that same sense of foreboding. The Man With The
Golden Gun, for example, Scaramanga’s got a
midget and a janitor making up his army. My granny could
have finished off that lot.
Q – You clearly have considerable
respect for how EON shaped the early 007 films. Over the years,
what were their best choices, what were there least successful
Writing The Battle for Bond, one thing was
obvious to me, thank God Kevin McClory never got his hands
on the Bond films. I really believe that only the combined talents
of Broccoli and Saltzman could have made the Bond films into the
success they were.
I think, however, that later on in the series they missed a trick
not hiring any American directors. I don’t know why they
have this policy of not using Americans. If they get a non-Brit
he’s usually from New Zealand or something. I don’t
understand it. Spielberg wanted to direct a Bond film and they
turned him down. Why!!! Although to be fair to Eon, Irvin
Kershner’s American and look what he did with Never
Say Never Again.
Q – It’s been reported that
when EON was looking for their first Bonds, Patrick McGoohan
was in the list of contenders. Did you run across this in your
research? Considering his dislike for guns and onscreen romances,
it’s difficult to see him make the transition from Drake to
007. I gather Saint producers dropped him as a possible Simon
Templar because of this.
This is quite right; McGoohan apparently turned the Bond role
down twice, on moral grounds. In my ITC book, people told me that
McGoohan influenced the Danger Man scripts, in that
his character rarely if ever carried a gun and never indulged in
romance with his leading lady. It was this almost puritanical policy
that was also behind his reasons for turning down The Saint;
he was Lew Grade’s first choice for Simon Templar. Amazing,
isn’t it, here is a man who could have been both James Bond
and The Saint. But then, had he done them, there would have been
Q – Speaking of McGoohan, you say in
your book on Sir Lew Grade’s ITC British series that one
theory behind The Prisoner’s creation is that
the actor was responding to the demands of Danger Man
– that he was a prisoner of his series. Any merit to this
theory in your opinion?
It’s a story that Peter Graham Scott, who directed a
Prisoner episode, told me so I guess because he was
there and maybe probed McGoohan’s mind a bit during
shooting, he should know. It makes sense, too. It must have been
like working in a factory churning out episode after episode of
Danger Man. According to Scott, McGoohan would
sometimes spend all night at the studio, away from his family.
Maybe he felt imprisoned by the sheer daily grind of producing
that series, and that’s one of the things he wanted to
express with The Prisoner.
Q – What non-Bond spy films and/or
TV spy series do you think are nuggets worth more attention and
viewing? For example, I gather you are a fan of The
Persuaders, The Champions, and shows
barely known in the States like The Baron and
I’m a huge ITC fan, I just love all those shows, but
perhaps my all-time favourite TV series (spy and non-spy) is
The Avengers, god that’s brilliant. It was so
smart, so cool, and Diana Rigg was gorgeous. I remember many
years ago I was in Harrods and I looked round and there she was.
Alas I was too timid back then to say anything – I bloody
Q – You have two books currently in
the pipeline – what do you want readers to know about
Both are Bond related but I don’t want to spill the
beans on them, although I can reveal that they are on subjects
hitherto not written about before. I’ve also been working
with Vic Armstrong on his official film memoirs. My latest book
comes out in May (June in the US)  and is called
Hellraisers and is about the drunken exploits of
Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole and
Robert Sellers’ many books, including The Battle
for Bond: The Genesis of Cinema’s Greatest Hero,
Cult TV, and Hellraisers, are available in
bookstores everywhere, as well as these on-line merchants ~