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To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the release of Thunderball, 007 MAGAZINE looks back to a time when the only place to see a James Bond film was on the big screen! KEVIN HARPER takes a fascinating look at the release schedules of the James Bond films in London's West End from 1962 to 1984.

“Here Comes The Biggest Bond of All…”
Thunderball had its London premiere on December 29, 1965 with many stars from the film attending the lavish openings at two West End cinemas – the London Pavilion and the smaller 570-seat Rialto. The fourth 007 adventure had already opened in Tokyo on December 9, 1965 – and in selected European cities throughout the month before its US release on December 21 in New York. Meanwhile across London a double-bill of Dr. No and From Russia With Love was showing at the Studio One cinema on Oxford Street. On February 6, 1966 Goldfinger was re-released at the Odeon Haymarket, and for a very brief period in London it was possible to see all four James Bond films in one week. The four films continued their screenings across the country throughout 1966, but depending on where in the UK you lived your choice was very limited – with months, sometimes years, to wait until the next instalment. With the entire series now readily available on Blu-ray and DVD, access to the Bond film of your choice is just a matter of pushing a button and watching in the comfort of your own home; streaming on a portable device, or even, heaven forbid… on your mobile phone.

The James Bond films were kept off UK television until October 1975 (1972 in the USA), and even then only shown sporadically – usually saved for public holidays at Christmas or Easter. In the 2015 Christmas/New Year period no less than six Bond films were shown at least once on UK terrestrial television. It was only in 1982 when the series began appearing on VHS video that fans had access to more Bond films, but even then not all titles were initially available.

What's on In London/Thunderball premiere London Pavilion

ABOVE: (left) What's On IN LONDON magazine January 7, 1966 advertising the release of Thunderball. (right & below left) Thunderball was simultaneously premiered on December 29, 1965 at the London Pavilion cinema [where the film played for 20 weeks and returned in 1968 and 1975] and (below right) 200 yards away in Coventry Street at the Rialto cinema.

Thunderball premieres - London Pavilion/Rialto Coventry Street

During the 1960s and 1970s the only way to see the James Bond films was in a cinema, so it’s hardly surprising that myths were made and memories have become hazy and confused over the last five decades; was On Her Majesty’s Secret Service really such a failure? Did I really see From Russia With Love with Thunderball in 1968? Holidaying with grandparents in Bournemouth sometimes gave the opportunity to stumble upon a double-bill and a chance to catch up with old favourites, or to perhaps see the film missed the first time around. The initial release dates of each new Bond film are widely known but what happened in between has rarely, if ever, been documented – until now! Different cities played different films at different times, and cinema managers were then able to book pretty much what they wanted to create their own double-bills. This makes a definitive list of what played where and when almost impossible to compile; however, as the James Bond films all opened first in London (with very few exceptions) it is possible to chart their history in the capital from 1962 through to 1984, when the last double-bill was released.

What follows is a nostalgic look back to a golden age of cinemagoing before the concept of actually owning the film yourself could be imagined, let alone a reality. So run down to the usherette standing at the front of the cinema and buy a carton of Kia-Ora orange juice; then settle down in your seat with a tub of ice-cream and a small wooden spoon. Look back through the flickering beam in the cigarette smoke and be transported to a time in your childhood when James Bond was back… to back!

Dr. No newspaper advertisement

“The First James Bond Film!”
Dr. No opened at the 1,186-seat London Pavilion, Piccadilly Circus on Friday October 5, 1962 – the same day as The Beatles released their first single ‘Love Me Do’. The event was attended by Sean Connery, accompanied by Zena Marshall (Miss Taro in the film), director Terence Young and producers Harry Saltzman & Albert R. Broccoli. James Bond author Ian Fleming also attended the Dr. No screening and brought as his special guest the noted novelist Somerset Maugham. In reality the event was not a 'premiere' in the sense that we know it today. The film had five showings that day starting at 10.45 a.m. and the stars attended an evening screening of the film. Two days later Dr. No was released in over 100 cinemas in the UK, and within two weeks had spread to 198 venues where it had already almost recouped its production costs. With the world on the brink of nuclear disaster as the Cuban missile crisis unfolded, the seemingly far-fetched plot of Dr. No became frighteningly real.

Dr. No then moved from the London Pavilion on November 29, 1962 to the Berkeley Cinema on Tottenham Court Road, where it remained until January 12, 1963. Dr. No did not have a wide release in the USA until May 1963. Shooting on From Russia With Love began on April 1, 1963 – coincidentally the same day that Ian Fleming’s ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE was published in London by Jonathan Cape. The author was so taken with Ursula Andress after meeting her on location in Jamaica during the shooting of Dr. No that he mentioned her in his latest novel.

Dr. No Premiere London Pavilion 1962

ABOVE: (top left) Sean Connery and Zena Marshall attend the opening of Dr. No at the London Pavilion on the evening of Friday October 5,  1962. (top right) Newspaper advertisement announcing the release of Dr. No across the United Kingdom. (bottom left) James Bond author Ian Fleming attended the Dr. No opening and brought as his special guest the noted novelist Somerset Maugham.  (bottom right) Swedish actress Anita Ekberg (in London to film the Saltzman/Broccoli produced comedy Call Me Bwana), director Terence Young and producer Harry Saltzman at the London Pavilion. The poster for Call Me Bwana features prominently in the next James Bond film From Russia With Love.

From Russia With Love Newspaper advertisement

“James Bond is Back!”
Six months later the second James Bond film From Russia With Love opened at the Odeon Leicester Square on Thursday October 10, 1963. Built to be the flagship of Oscar Deutsch's Odeon Cinema circuit, with 2,116 seats, it remains the largest single-screen cinema in the UK. Although the seating has been reduced to 1,679 to provide modern leg room, it still retains its circle and stalls. Sean Connery attended (with his parents and wife, actress Diane Cilento) but would not be present at another Bond premiere in the UK until You Only Live Twice in 1967. Once again, the 'premiere' was actually the final screening of the day as the film had already played three times for paying customers. From Russia With Love was also shown at the 1360-seat Odeon Marble Arch from October 27, 1963 before moving across Leicester Square four weeks later to the 430-seat Ritz cinema, where it replaced Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (which had moved there following its opening at the Odeon Leicester Square on August 29). It is no surprise that From Russia With Love became the highest grossing British film of all time on its initial release, and broke the house record at the Odeon Leicester Square taking £14,528 in its first week.

On December 20, 1963 Dr. No was screened at the 420-seat Gala Royal, Marble Arch where it played until February 15, 1964. From Russia With Love was now showing concurrently at the 640-seat Continentale on Tottenham Court Road. Ian Fleming visited the set of Goldfinger at Pinewood Studios in April 1964 and died from a heart-attack on August 12, a month before the film’s release.

From Russia With Love - Odeon Leicester Square 1963
From Russia With Love - Odeon Leicester Square 1963

ABOVE: (top left) From Russia With Love press show invite. New films are usually screened for members of the press shortly before their premiere so that reviews can be printed on the day of release. (top right) Ticket holders begin to gather outside the Odeon Leicester Square on release day. (centre left) Sean Connery attends the premiere with wife Diane Cilento and producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli. (centre right) Outside the Odeon Leicester Square on opening night. (bottom left) A special quad-crown poster was printed for the Leicester Square engagement of which only a handful still exist. (bottom right) Harry Saltzman chats with James Bond creator Ian Fleming at the From Russia With Love opening. (below) Queues form around the block in Leicester Square in the opening week of From Russia With Love in October 1963.

From Russia With Love - Odeon Leicester Square 1963

Goldfinger Newspaper Advertisement

“James Bond Takes Over Leicester Square”
The Odeon Leicester Square once again played home to the world premiere of the third James Bond film Goldfinger on the evening of Thursday September 17, 1964. Huge crowds gathered outside the cinema, which at one point became so unruly a policeman was pushed backwards through a glass door resulting in the film starting 10 minutes late. Honor Blackman attended wearing a specially commissioned 22-carat ‘gold finger’ jewel, along with co-stars Gert Frobe, Nadja Regin and Shirley Eaton. Sean Connery did not attend due to filming commitments in Spain for The Hill. This was the first true James Bond premiere as Goldfinger only played once on September 17, 1964 before opening to the public the following day.

On October 1, 1964 a re-issue of Dr. No opened at the Leicester Square Theatre opposite Goldfinger at the Odeon Leicester Square. Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie starring Sean Connery was also playing at the Ritz in Leicester Square at the same time after moving from the Odeon Leicester Square. Goldfinger replaced Dr. No at the Leicester Square Theatre on November 1, 1964. On December 27, 1964 Goldfinger opened at the Gala Royal Cinema, Marble Arch; whilst Dr. No played concurrently at the Continentale. Goldfinger also played at the same time at the Berkeley on Tottenham Court Road – primarily a 983-seat independent art-house cinema owned by Kenneth Rive (along with the Continentale, Gala Royal, Marble Arch and International Film Theatre, Bayswater). The founder of Gala Film Distributors in 1952, Kenneth Rive (1918-2002) was the biggest distributor of foreign films in the UK. His London cinemas showed continental art-house films but also became second run venues for more popular mainstream films.

Goldfinger premiere Odeon Leicester Square 1964

ABOVE: (top left) Crowds gather outside the Odeon Leicester Square (right) Honor Blackman arrives at the Goldfinger premiere wearing a specially commissioned 22-carat ‘gold finger’ jewel (bottom left) The Odeon Leicester Square hosts the world premiere of Goldfinger on the evening of Thursday September 17, 1964.

Thunderball had been announced as the next film in the series on October 1, 1964, but prints of Goldfinger currently showing in London and across the country still bore the end caption 'But James Bond will be back “On Her Majesty's Secret Service.”' Producers Albert R. Broccoli & Harry Saltzman had recently come to an agreement with Kevin McClory following his acquisition of the screen rights to Thunderball in 1963. Rather than have McClory release a rival Bond film as he had announced, Broccoli and Saltzman reluctantly went into partnership with the Irishman. A new end credit was hastily created for Goldfinger and subsequent prints correctly named Thunderball as the next film in the series. Goldfinger once again broke the house record at the Odeon Leicester Square and took £32,874 in its first fortnight, going on to become the highest grossing film ever released in the UK.

Goldfinger box-office Odeon Leicester Square
James Bond Takes Over Leicester Square
Goldfinger promoted on the cover of What's On In London magazine Goldfinger at the Leicester Square Theatre 1964
Goldfinger premiere ticket Original end credits Goldfinger (1964)
Dr. No on the cover of What's On In London magazine 1964 Dr. No at the Leicester Square Theatre 1964

ABOVE: (top left) What's On IN LONDON magazine announcing the premiere and release of Goldfinger in London's West End, (top right) Goldfinger at the Leicester Square Theatre in November 1964, (centre left) Goldfinger premiere ticket, (centre right) Original prints of Goldfinger showing in London in September/October 1964 announced that On Her Majesty's Secret Service would be the next film in the series, (bottom left) What's On IN LONDON magazine October 2, 1964 - James Bond 007 takes over Leicester Square! (bottom right) Dr. No is re-released at the Leicester Square Theatre on October 1, 1964 whilst Goldfinger plays at the Odeon Leicester Square.