The Making Of On Her Majesty's Secret Service

The Making of On Her Majesty's Secret Service was written by Charles Helfenstein and first published in 2009. The book takes a fascinating and comprehensive look back at what many fans believe to be the greatest James Bond film ever made. On Her Majesty's Secret Service was the first film in the series to be made without Sean Connery and he was generally regarded to be irreplaceable. After an extensive casting process though, it was decided that an unknown 29-year-old Australian model called George Lazenby (with no acting experience save for a 'Big Fry' chocolate advert) would be the new James Bond. The film did reasonably well at the box-office but critics and audiences were, for the most part, already missing Connery and grumbled accordingly. When Lazenby declined an invitation to return in Diamonds are Forever (his agent had told him Bond was finished and wouldn't last much longer!) he quickly faded from view and both On Her Majesty's Secret Service and his performance never seemed to get much credit.

Over time though the strengths of the film have become more and more apparent. The spectacular Alpine locations, the supporting cast of Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas, the fantastic action sequences, and the decision to stick closely to Ian Fleming's original novel. Lazenby too has been praised in retrospect for making Bond more human and vulnerable while looking the part and throwing himself into the action. The Making of On Her Majesty's Secret Service is a must for Bond fans and draws on the archives of Ian Fleming, screenwriter Richard Maibaum and director Peter Hunt. You get storyboards, interviews, marketing material, art, hundreds of rare and often lavish behind-the-scenes photographs of the cast and crew, the casting process, titbits about life on the set and the rumours that Lazenby was difficult to work with, and much, much more.

One of the most fascinating parts of the book for me was the insight into the casting of the new Bond. Lazenby impressed everyone with his look (the young Lazenby probably looks more like James Bond than any other actor to play the role) and blagged a screentest by wearing Connery style suits and acting like a playboy. He was up against John Richardson, Hans de Vries, Robert Campbell and Anthony Rogers. John Richardson, the star of One Million Years B.C, was close to getting the role but Lazenby swung things in his favour when he accidently broke the nose of stuntman/wrestler Yuri Borienko with a stray punch during the fight scene part his audition. Lazenby was great in fight sequences and director Peter Hunt was excited by the challenge of taking a young, physical, inexperienced actor and turning him into James Bond. For the pivotal role of Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo, Bond's love interest and only wife, it was decided to cast an experienced and capable actress to counter Lazenby's inexperience. Step forward Diana Rigg, already an icon herself through The Avengers and eager at the time the book tells us to do a big epic film.
The famous story about Rigg disliking Lazenby so much she ate garlic before love scenes is of course apocryphal the book tells us but there are some interesting bits and pieces about Lazenby irritating the Bond producers by acting like a star (Cubby Broccoli's view was that audiences decide when someone is a star not actors) and also not finding out that George Baker had dubbed him in the scenes where Bond poses as geneologist Sir Hilary Bray to investigate Blofeld's Alpine lair until he saw the finished film in the cinema! One thing the book does an excellent job of is conveying the challenging nature of the production. Peter Hunt had decided that the film would eschew gadgets and present a more human Bond. It would also be more romantic than other Bonds with Bond deciding to marry Rigg's Contessa Teresa in the story. However, a location had to be found for 'Piz Gloria', Blofelds's Alpine mountain base. The producers thought that Piz Gloria (described as being like Hitler's 'Eagle's Nest') must have been based on a real place by Fleming but couldn't find anything suitable. They finally found the perfect Piz Gloria in a restaurant being built high on a mountain near Interlaken.

A deal was struck for the Bond team to take over the site as long as they built permanent interiors. However, they had to get 500 tons of concrete to the location to build Blofeld's helicopter pad and the unit spent 10 weeks in Switzerland in often challenging conditions. These making of books can be rather bland (and I avoid many of them for this reason) but this one is really great stuff and doesn't feel like a dry authorised volume. The book begins with the original Fleming novel and looks at how two or three attempts to adapt it for the screen were made before it did finally occur, the most interesting thing here of course being the changes and additions to each script. The 'legacy' of OHMSS is great too and has details of Irma Brunt returning for Diamonds Are Forever (though sadly it never happened) and stills of Pierce Brosnan auditioning for Bond in 1986, acting a scene from On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Among many revelations for Bond fans here is the news that Bond's Scottish ancestry wasn't done by Fleming - as is widely believed - for Sean Connery.

It goes without saying that a big part of the book's appeal lies with the many and varied images, stills and pieces of art that grace the 290 pages. Many of these are amazing, especially some of the pictures of Diana Rigg, who must surely have been one of the coolest women in Britain around this time. There are many great stills of Lazenby too, looking more like James Bond than Daniel Craig could ever dream of. The Making of On Her Majesty's Secret Service is a superb and fascinating book that any Bond fan worth his salt would be more than happy to get hold of (hopefully you can get a good deal on it too). It's a great glossy and information packed tribute to what is arguably the best Bond film ever made.

- Jake  


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