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Throughout the Sixties and into the early Seventies the release of each new James Bond film was a guaranteed money maker for EON Productions and distributor United Artists. Re-issues and double-bills kept the money rolling in before the premiere of the next instalment in the series. The growth in television ownership in the United States in the mid-1950s had prompted film-makers to come up with ever more outlandish methods of getting audiences back into movie theatres. Widescreen, 3-D, stereophonic sound and Roadshow releases all tried to present things that television could not. The growing youth culture ushered in more films aimed at a younger audience, but the decline in cinema attendance continued until it reached an all-time low in 1970.

ABC TV advertising

ABOVE: (left) Slide advertising the US TV premiere of Thunderball on 22 September 1974. (right) Newspaper advertisement announcing the 1976 ABC screening of On Her Majesty's Secret Service. For its US TV premiere  On Her Majesty's Secret Service was re-edited and shown over two nights on 16 & 23 February. The first part was re-sequenced and opened with a flashback narrated by Alexander Scourby as James Bond. Scourby had also narrated the 1965 TV special The Incredible World of James Bond. The ABC screening did little to enhance the reputation of George Lazenby's only outing as 007.

Eventually film-makers had to concede that although television had a hold over the majority of the nation, it was still a secondary market where money was to be made. As early as September 1966 Goldfinger and Thunderball had each attracted bids of $3.5-million for a single television showing, or $7-million for one showing of both!

In June 1967 United Artists offered the first five films in the series (and the then unmade On Her Majesty's Secret Service) to US TV stations for $30-million. The proposed deal would allow two films to be released each year over a three-year period; each film could be shown twice and after the deal expired the rights would revert to the owners. Although there was interest at this stage, the record-setting price of $5-million per film proved too expensive at that time.

United Artists eventually signed a deal with US Television network ABC giving them the rights to screen the first seven films in the series for $2.5-million each. Goldfinger was shown first on September 17, 1972 followed by From Russia With Love on January 14, 1974 and Thunderball on September 22, 1974. ABC then premiered Dr. No on November 10, 1974, Diamonds Are Forever on September 12, 1975 and You Only Live Twice on November 2, 1975. On Her Majesty's Secret Service was controversially screened in two parts on Mondays 16th and 23rd February 1976. The film was re-edited with an opening flashback narrated by Alexander Scourby as James Bond. Scourby had also narrated the 1965 ABC-TV special The Incredible World of James Bond. A repeat screening of On Her Majesty's Secret Service on March 7, 1980 was shown in one part but retained the flashback structure. All future screenings have been the theatrical version.

The 1960s Bond films had been hugely profitable when released in the UK with hardly a month going by when one or more was not screening somewhere in the country. The films were re-released individually and on double-bills with earlier entries in the series, reaching a peak just before the release of Live And Let Die in 1973. Although the Sean Connery films were still being shown around the country it became increasingly harder to see them once Roger Moore was established in the role of James Bond. In January 1974 United Artists announced that they had sold the TV rights to screen the first six James Bond films to ITV in a record £850,000 deal. The initial contract allowed each film to be shown only twice, and not exceed a total of two screenings in any one year. Cinema owners were outraged at the sale, as far as they were concerned the films were still making significant money theatrically. There was a fear that cinemas would be empty on the nights Bond films were on TV. One cinema owner commented that "Selling Bond to television is not only killing the golden goose, but also auctioning off the eggs." Even Bond Producer ‘Cubby’ Broccoli was not convinced and said at the time, "Personally I am against the sale of Bond films to television at this moment. They still have a very long way to go at cinemas."

British press coverage of the sale of Bond films to ITV 1974

Cinema owners got a brief reprieve as Dr. No was originally scheduled for transmission in September 1974, and later revised to September 1975. The delay then led United Artists to show all six Connery films in a season at the London Pavilion cinema in May/June 1975. There was also a great deal of coverage in the British press in the weeks leading up to the TV premiere of Dr. No. Thames Television (and Trident, which handled advertising in the Yorkshire/Tyne Tees regions) tried to increase the advertising fees for a 30-second spot during the commercial breaks from £3,700 to £5,000 in order to capitalise on the anticipated huge viewing figures. The UK Price Commission stepped in and ultimately prevented Thames and other companies from imposing the higher rates during the film. It was estimated that the 1975 UK TV premiere of Dr. No was seen in 10.5 million homes – the biggest ITV audience since 1968.

Dr. No  eventually premiered on British television on Tuesday October 28, 1975, followed by From Russia With Love (May 2, 1976), Goldfinger (November 3, 1976), Thunderball (February 26, 1977), You Only Live Twice (November 20, 1977), and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service on September 4, 1978. The first four films of the series all made the front cover of the TV Times - a weekly listings magazine, which in those days only gave details of programmes shown on the ITV network; BBC programmes were listed in the Radio Times.

James Bond premieres on TV Times covers

The May 1-7, 1976 edition of the TV Times featured a cover illustration by Mike Francis depicting the main characters in From Russia With Love, and a page 5 feature on the gadgets by the same artist. The February 26-March 4, 1977 edition advertising Thunderball used a photo of Sean Connery from Diamonds Are Forever.

From Russia With Love TV Times illustrations Mike Francis

Subsequent films not part of the original deal then premiered on ITV in their correct order with Diamonds Are Forever the big film for Christmas Day 1978, Live And Let Die on January 20, 1980 and The Man With The Golden Gun on Christmas Day 1980. Live And Let Die still holds the record as the most viewed film on UK television with a staggering 23.50 million viewers. The Spy Who Loved Me (shown March 28, 1982) had 22.9m viewers and Diamonds Are Forever (its second showing on March 15, 1980) with 22.15m viewers. Out of the Top 10 all-time highest viewing figures on UK television, Bond films hold 3rd, 5th and 9th place.

Roger Moore TV Times covers

ABOVE: Roger Moore would also make the cover of the TV Times on several occasions (L-R) The premiere of Moonraker was televised in June 1979 and the actor presented a special programme with pre-filmed sequences and clips from earlier films. The TV premieres of The Spy Who Loved Me in 1982 and For Your Eyes Only in 1984 were both advertised with a front cover featuring a publicity photograph from the film. The 21st anniversary of James Bond in the cinema was celebrated by a TV special entitled James Bond: The first 21 years in which various celebrities and politicians (including US President Ronald Reagan) paid tribute to the character as if he was a real person!

The screenings of the James Bond films on ITV were always big news and advertisers were keen capitalise on the huge audiences they commanded in the days when there were only a handful of TV channels in the UK. London Weekend Television (ITV franchise holder for London and the Home Counties) often used the screenings of James Bond films to poke fun at the establishment during the 1980's and tied in the screenings with topical news stories of the day. Moles in the secret service and gay spy revelations were cleverly disguised as advertisements for the screening of the Bond film. Huge posters were displayed in the London Underground and on billboards across London during the week the film was shown.

LWT James Bond underground posters

ITV has retained the rights to screen the Bond series on UK terrestrial television since 1975, although other cable and satellite channels have also shown the series in the intervening years. With the exception of Casino Royale (1967) which had its UK TV premiere on BBC1 on Boxing Day evening 1973, the only other Bond film to be shown by the BBC is From Russia With Love. BBC2 screened the second James Bond film on Sunday 29th July 2007 as part of a season of films celebrating the Summer of British Film. The season was complemented by a major new seven-part documentary series British Film Forever and the re-release of selected British films in UK cinemas including the 1964 James Bond classic Goldfinger. The version of From Russia With Love screened by the BBC was the Lowry Digital Images restoration, which was also then available on DVD in the UK as part of the two-disc Ultimate Edition series. Unlike the majority of ITV screenings of the films, the BBC showing was uncut and in the correct aspect ratio. The Bond series remains a major part of ITV's scheduling, with hardly a week going by without one or more of the films being shown or repeated on one their channels.

ABOVE: (top centre) The 1978 premiere of Diamonds Are Forever was promoted on the cover of the Christmas double-issue of the TV Times as part of a special photoshoot by popular comedians Morecambe & Wise (whose Christmas shows commanded huge audiences in the 1970's and 1980's). The magazine often published unusual photos or graphical representations of Bond each time the films were screened. The artwork accompanying a 1986 screening of Live And Let Die (bottom left) was an unused concept poster artwork by Robert McGinnis.


LONDON CALLING! - JAMES BOND IN THE CINEMA

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