Britain’s favourite film critic and 007 fan, Barry Norman, has revealed how he could have replaced Sean Connery as James Bond in the Ian Fleming spy film franchise.
The revelation was made by Norman, 79, in an article he wrote for this week’s Radio Times, which forms part of the listing magazine’s celebration of 50 years the James Bond film series.
As Radio Times points out, “No [film] critic knows James Bond better than Barry Norman.” However, his knowledge of the fictional British spy is just part of it.
Norman’s father, Leslie Norman, was short-listed to direct the first-ever Bond movie, Dr. No (1962). In the end, however, Sean Connery’s first outing as 007 was overseen by one-time screenwriter Terence Young.
Then, shortly after Connery announced that 1967’s You Only Live Twice was to be his last film as Bond, Norman put himself forward as the Scotsman’s replacement.
At the time, Norman was interviewing Bond co-producer Harry Saltzman – during which he asked whether they’d cast a replacement for the next film.
Saltzman replied, “We haven’t decided yet. Got any ideas?”
“The name’s Bond, Barry Bond”
Norman – who rather fancied the idea of transferring from journalism to acting – replied straight off: “Well, I’m available. Look no further.” However, to his obvious dismay, Saltzman just laughed at the suggestion.
“I thought [he] was very rude,” Norman writes in his article. “And who did he end up with? George Lazenby. Serves him right. I still reckon I could have done a better job.”
Prior to being cast as James Bond, Lazenby’s only acting experience had been in a TV ad for Big Fry chocolate. Cubby R. Broccoli – Bond’s film creator and long-time producer – first met the Australian-born professional model at the barber’s where the two men were having haircuts. On the strength of that meeting, Lazenby was invited for a screen test.
However, Lazenby had a difficult time filming what became his one and only Bond movie – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (OHMSS). Some of his dialogue was dubbed over using the vocal talents of one of his co-stars, the British actor George Baker (I, Claudius), and Lazenby later claimed to Bondage magazine that the director, Peter Hunt, refused to talk directly to him during filming.
In 1969, shortly before OHMSS was released, Lazenby announced his intention not to make a second Bond movie. “[The producers] made me feel like I was mindless. They disregarded everything I suggested simply because I hadn't been in the film business like them for about a thousand years,” he claimed at the time.
In 2010, former star of The Professionals, Martin Shaw (Inspector George Gently) revealed that he'd turned down the iconic role in the late 1970s, while, in April this year, Welsh singer Sir Tom Jones (The Voice UK) revealed that he was once short-listed for the role.
Barry Norman, meanwhile, went on to become the UK’s best-known movie critic, presenting the BBC’s flagship film-review series from 1972 to 1998. As well as writing about films and filmmaking for Radio Times for many years, Norman has also penned a number of non-fiction movie books and several novels, including the thriller, The Birddog Tape.