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The Search For Bond The final part of an exclusive 3-part article


The Search for Bond - How the 007 role was won and lost!


Only six men can lay claim to wearing the famous Savile Row tuxedo but hundreds more came within an inch of the 007 role. In this new exclusive three-part series, ROBERT SELLERS (author of the controversial book The Battle For Bond) tells the extraordinary story of how cinema’s most famous role was cast, featuring ‘exclusive’ contributions from Michael Billington, Michael Craig, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Julian Glover, Michael Jayston, Sam Neill, Ian Ogilvy, Adrian Paul, Peter Snow, Oliver Tobias, Rikki Lee Travolta, and many others.


With Live And Let Die a sizeable hit the producers moved quickly and raced the next Bond into production while the image of the new 007 was still fresh in the mind of audiences. But there was one man who wanted to rain on EON’s parade. That man was Archer, Jeffrey Archer. In 1975 Archer had just resigned as an MP over financial problems and turned instead to writing, producing his first novel, Not A Penny More, Not A Penny Less, that would become an international best seller. “But when Jeffrey burst into my office like a tornado with a proof copy of his first book, that wasn’t the point of the visit,” top London agent Michael Whitehall revealed in his memoirs. “He wanted to play James Bond and he wanted me to sort it out. I asked him what acting experience he had and while he admitted he had none, he was convinced he could do it and even when I suggested he may have left an acting career a bit late in the day, he replied, ‘I don’t want an acting career, I just want to play James Bond.’ Fortunately, when his book was published he put his acting aspirations on hold.” So the nation was saved the too dreadful to contemplate spectacle of Jeffrey Archer as 007.

Jeffrey Archer

Moore’s Bond reached a peak with 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me but when it came time to film 1981’s For Your Eyes Only the Bond team faced a problem – no James Bond! Moore had by now fulfilled his contractual obligations to EON and was undecided about returning. Whether this was a high risk game of bluff or not producer Cubby Broccoli began seriously considering other alternatives.

High on that list was Michael Jayston, who had starred as a 007-type spy in the BBC’s 13-part series Quiller in 1975. “I think it was me, Patrick Mower, and a couple of other chaps. I met the director John Glen at EON’s office in South Audley Street and talked to Cubby Broccoli, but only for about five or ten minutes. Cubby was quite a jolly man, I liked him a lot. The whole interview lasted for about half an hour. It was just a general chat, we didn’t really talk about Bond all that much. We mentioned one or two of the stunts in the film, but we didn’t go to any depth at all. But how far it would have gone down the line I don’t know. I think it was just a tentative step and then Roger decided to do some more – and more – and more.”

Michael Jayston

By 1981 Jayston was already an established actor having performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company and later The National Theatre, under the auspices of Laurence Olivier. Despite a welter of experience Jayston gave himself little chance of landing Bond. “I never particularly thought that I’d get a toe hold into that thing; there were so many people up for it. I thought it would have been a great idea playing Bond, but it was too vast an idea to think about at the time. It would have been a life changing thing. It still is now.”

How much of a different kind of Bond would Jayston have made? “I guess I would have tried to play Bond with some sort of intelligence, really. The one-liners would have been a bit difficult, but you’ve got to play them and believe in them. If the jokes are there, you’ve got to play them and play them for all they are worth.” Interestingly Jayston did eventually get to play James Bond, in a BBC radio adaptation of YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE in 1990. “They were going to do a lot of the Fleming novels, but it wasn’t viable because Bond doesn’t work on radio, it’s about action really.” And how did Jayston go about playing Bond on radio. “I just played it sort of butch.”

Nicholas Clay, Patrick Mower and David Robb
1. Nicholas Clay  2. Patrick Mower  3. David Robb

Nicholas Clay (1946-2000) was also considered, a British actor then rising in prominence with appearances in two high-profile movies released in 1981, as Lancelot in John Boorman’s Excalibur and as the gamekeeper Mellors opposite Emmanuelle actress Sylvia Kristel in Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Patrick Mower was interviewed, as he’d been twice before. Again ushered into EON’s board room, he sat opposite Broccoli, plus Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli. Mower thought the vibes were good and afterwards decided to have a celebratory glass of champagne with his girlfriend at the nearby White Elephant restaurant, a hang-out for all the top actors. By an amazing coincidence as he crossed the street Sean Connery himself came out of the club. They’d never met before but passed pleasantries and Mower watched the star walk away down Curzon Street. ‘Out with the old, in with the new,’ said Mower’s girlfriend. Alas, for Mower, it wasn’t to be.

David Robb in The Deceivers (1988) with future James Bond Pierce Brosnan
ABOVE: David Robb in The Deceivers (1988) with future James Bond Pierce Brosnan. The film was directed by Nicholas Meyer.

David Robb’s name also began appearing in the media linked to the Bond role. Born in London in 1947, but raised in Edinburgh, Robb had enjoyed roles in I, Claudius and television adaptations of Romeo and Juliet and Wuthering Heights, but being linked to 007 came as a complete surprise. “I had never tested for it, interviewed for it, I never met Cubby Broccoli and yet suddenly from nowhere this extraordinary explosion of publicity kicked in that I was the next Bond.” Robb had just joined the William Morris agency, amongst the biggest in the world, and his agent rang him up and said, ‘Darling, is there something you haven’t told us?’ Robb said, ‘No I honestly don’t know what this is.’ It was indeed a mystery, the curious side-effect of which was that Robb was inundated with phone calls. “And not only from friends you haven’t met for 20 years, but tailors saying, would you like a couple of Savile Row suits for nothing.”

In the end Robb sussed out what may have happened: “I think Roger Moore’s people were arguing about money and holding out. Now, I don’t look that much like Roger Moore, but loosely speaking we’re the same colouring and I’ve got an aquiline face, and I think the powers that be simply flicked through Spotlight and thought ‘HIM,’ and they dropped the story to wake Roger Moore’s agent up.”

Seven years later Robb was making a film in India called The Deceivers with Pierce Brosnan, just after Brosnan’s missed opportunity to play Bond due to his contractual obligations to Remington Steele. “And he was pretty miffed,” says Robb. “And we were lolling around the hotel pool one day and I said, ‘You know what, it’s probably the best thing that ever happened to you, Bond’s a dead duck. It’s like The Who still being together, it’s an exhausted franchise.’ But of course he did eventually get it so I sent him a card saying, ‘Congratulations Pierce, well deserved. If you need any future career advice please don’t hesitate to contact me.’”