Waiting in the Wings During the Roger Moore Years - Billington versus Warbeck

Roger Moore completed his three film Bond contract after production ended on The Spy Who Loved Me. After this Roger's appearances as Bond were negotiated on a film by film basis. Roger and Cubby Broccoli would basically play a game of bluff with one another before each film. Roger felt he wasn't paid enough and Cubby thought he was asking for too much. Despite these divergent positions though the two always remained friends and always seemed to manage to strike a last minute deal for Roger to come back.
There was a curious subplot around the time of The Spy Who Loved Me because now that his ten year embargo on remaking Thunderball was up, Kevin McClory announced plans for his own Bond film - which was to be titled Warhead. In May 1976, Kevin McClory took out an advert in Variety in which he said production on Warhead would begin in February 1977.McClory wrote Warhead with the thriller writer Len Deighton and none other than Sean Connery.
Sean Connery was said to have found it amusing that Ian Fleming - the ultimate English establishment figure - lost his legal case in an English court to an Irish outsider like Kevin McClory. This is presumably one of the reasons why Connery liked McClory and was now knocking about with him writing a rival Bond film. Not only was McClory and Warhead a means for Connery to get back at Cubby Broccoli, Connery also admired McClory's plucky underdog status in the movie world.
In Kevin McClory's aborted 1977 Bond film Warhead, the story had Blofeld stealing nuclear weapons in order to blackmail the United Nations into handing over control of the world's oceans to SPECTRE. The temporary headquarters of SPECTRE in Warhead was going to be inside the Statue of Liberty. There's a curious contradiction with Sean Connery's attitude to Bond in that he always expressed his displeasure with the escalating hardware and gadgets on his own Bond films and yet when he was a story consultant on Kevin McClory's Warhead the resulting story treatment was very fantastical and hardware heavy with robotic sharks and all manner of outlandish mayhem.
There was never any confirmation about who would have played James Bond in Kevin McClory's Warhead film but it seems very unlikely that Sean Connery wouldn't have been tempted in the end. Who else could have done it? It's hard to think of any alternative (and plausible) option in 1977 who would have had the stature of Connery. The only people with the stature of Connery would have been Hollywood stars like Clint Eastwood and Robert Redford and they definitely wouldn't have been interested.
Cubby Broccoli naturally threw every legal obstacle at his disposal at Warhead to block McClory's film. McClory in turn took legal action over EON using SPECTRE in their movies. McClory argued (and not unreasonably too) that SPECTRE was a creation of the movie script he had written with Fleming all those years ago. The resulting legal quagmire not only torpedoed any plans EON had to use Blofeld in The Spy Who Loved Me but also any chances of Warhead going into production. In the end Sean Connery got tired of the legal wrangles and walked away. For now at least, Kevin McClory had been thwarted in his unofficial Bond ambitions.
Though Roger Moore was no spring chicken in the last phase of his tenure as Bond he was popular with audiences (ignore lazy retrospective articles which try and tell you that Roger Moore was hopeless as Bond - he impossibly made the part his own after Connery) and pleasant and professional to work with. For this reason EON were always reluctant to part company with Roger. There were though, given Roger's age and film by film arrangement, plenty of potential Bonds waiting in the wings during his era in case he didn't come back. In fact, Cubby would often openly test actors as a way to put pressure on Roger to make a decision.
The suave English actor Michael York wrote in his autobiography that after the financial success of the 1976 sci-fi film Logan's Run he was approached by Cubby Broccoli and asked if he would be interested in playing James Bond. York said that while he was flattered he didn't think he was right for Bond. It appears that Cubby was sounding out potential Bond candidates from the late seventies onwards in case his film by film arrangement with Roger Moore should run into obstacles. York was in his early thirties and a pretty big star at the time. He had recently played D'Artagnan in Richard Lester's films The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers. York was a reasonable candidate although he might have been a little too posh and heritage for the role.
Was Michael Petrovitch a vague Bond candidate in the seventies? Petrovitch was born in 1945 and a suavely sinister looking actor who scrubbed up well in a tux. His first credits were in Department S and Jason King. Petrovitch looked somewhat Bondian in the 1972 film Neither the Sea Nor the Sand and the 1973 compendium horror Tales That Witness Madness. He later appeared in television shows like Poldark and The Professionals. Petrovitch moved to Australia for a time and appeared in an eclectic stew of Aussie projects spanning from the cosy soap A Country Practice to the violent Ozploitation film Turkey Shoot. Petrovitch was someone that EON noticed but he doesn't ever appear to have been a serious candidate. On the evidence of Turkey Shoot, Petrovitch didn't age very well and by the 1980s had already lost the suave looks that won him parts in the early seventies.
Martin Shaw, who played Doyle in the popular action TV show The Professionals, has said he was invited to become a James Bond candidate in the late seventies. Shaw would have been in his early thirties at the time. "They asked me way back to do a screen test for James Bond," said Shaw. "I said no. I just didn't want to play him because it dominates everything you've done or go on to do. I was having dinner with the daughter of Cubby Broccoli. This was about 1978. She'd seen me in The Professionals and begged me to do a screen test. She was astonished when I said no thanks. Although, in retrospect, it might have been a good idea to have had a go at it."
Martin Shaw feels like a less obvious Bond candidate than his Professionals co-star Lewis Collins. While he was a good actor and quite good looking, Shaw was more of a television actor (he has done very few films) and there is no evidence that he had the charisma and presence to carry a movie. At least with Lewis Collins we have Who Dares Wins and those German/Italian action films he made as evidence that he could headline an action flick. Shaw was also one of those people who looked better when they got older. Martin Shaw was very handsome with silver hair when he became mature but he could sometimes still look a little goofy at times when he was younger. Martin Shaw's fate was to be typecast as policemen on television but he's had a great career nonetheless with plenty of impressive stage work too.
Patrick Mower claims that after Roger's third Bond (The Spy Who Loved Me) he was brought in to do an audition because Cubby wasn't sure that Roger would be back. "They thought he was too old to do another three films and he hadn't signed his contract," said Mower. "So they tested me again. But then Roger signed his contract." Around this time Mower was appearing in the cheapjack and largely forgotten police television show Target. He would have loved nothing more than to land James Bond.
Michael Billington was still very much in the loop. Billington had played a small role (as the doomed Soviet agent Sergei) in the PTS of The Spy Who Loved Me. Billington's role as Sergei is the closest we ever got to seeing him as Bond - although he said that he did not play the character in the same way he would have played 007. "I knew that if I did it, it might prevent me from doing Bond in the long run," said Billington, "but I thought “Why not?” A couple of weeks skiing and Bond was only a picture or two from demise anyway, or so I thought, “What did I care?” My choice was should I try and play it like Bond? I decided to go the anti hero route, darker inside." Billington actually looks a lot like George Lazenby in the The Spy Who Loved Me PTS. He had a very Bondian sort of look with the right toupee.
When EON were testing actresses for 1979's Moonraker, Michael Billington was brought in to play Bond in the auditions against prospective leading ladies. Billington said that after the auditions, the director Lewis Gilbert told him he could and should play Bond in the next picture. Billington was invited to dinner with Cubby Broccoli after the auditions and became close to Cubby's young daughter Barbara. It seemed that Michael Billington was still very much in pole position to be the next Bond. He was essentially sitting on the substitute's bench waiting to be called onto the pitch at any moment. Billington's chances though were contingent on Roger Moore standing down sooner rather than later. Billington was nearly forty now and wasn't going to be a Bond candidate forever.
michael billington bond
It was at the end of the seventies when Timothy Dalton got another brush with potential Bondage (if you'll pardon the expression). He was in his early thirties at the time. Dalton now seemed to be very much on the radar of Cubby Broccoli. Broccoli always kept a close eye on the male acting pool in Britain lest he should need a new Bond again. Truth be told though, Cubby was naturally a loyal and conservative man when it came to casting. The Bond films were doing perfectly well at the box-office with Roger so Cubby saw no reason to make a change if he could avoid it. When there was a mild uncertainty over Roger Moore's future participation in the franchise after Moonraker, it appears that Timothy Dalton was someone that Cubby Broccoli had on his list of potential replacements. However, Dalton was apparently not that enthused by the prospect at the time.
"There was a time in the late 1970s," Dalton later confessed in the book The Incredible World of 007, "when Roger may not have done another one, for whatever reason. They were looking around then, and I went to see Mr Broccoli in Los Angeles. At that time, they didn't have a script finished and also, the way the Bond movies had gone - although they were fun and entertaining - wasn’t my idea of Bond movies. They had become a completely different entity. I know Roger, and think he does a fantastic job. He was brilliant. Roger is one of the only people in the world who can be fun in the midst of all that gadgetry. But the movies had gone a long way from their roots; they had drifted in a way that was chalk and cheese to Sean. But in truth my favorite Bond movies were always the first three."
Timothy Dalton had spent the seventies working on the stage and modestly carving out a career in film and television. Strangely though, despite his dashing good looks and acting chops, Dalton never really threatened to become a star in the seventies. He appeared in Play For today, a Dirk Bogarde espionage caper called Permission To Kill, and an obscure Spanish film called The Man Who Knew Love. By the end of the decade, Timothy Dalton's screen career seemed to be going nowhere in particular. He infamously appeared in the eccentric Mae West megabomb musical comedy Sexette. His other roles included the TV miniseries Centennial and Dalton also appeared in the popular TV show Charlie's Angels as the dashing Damien Roth. The one bright spot was Agatha - a decently reviewed 1979 drama about Agatha Christie's famous 11-day disappearance in 1926. Dalton played Archie Christie in a cast that included Dustin Hoffman and Vanessa Redgrave.
After the release of Moonraker in 1979, there was a lot of doubt in the entertainment world that Roger Moore would be back for a fifth film. Roger himself seemed to cast doubt on his participation in the next Bond adventure. Roger was in his fifties now and although Moonraker was a big financial success there was a sense that the franchise could do with a slight course correction and come back down to earth somewhat. The most logical way to do this was cast a new actor and begin a new era. This is essentially what EON planned to do at the time. In 1980, EON brought David Warbeck back for a three day screen test. Warbeck was 39 years-old and at the start of his Italian horror and 'Macaroni Combat' phase. Warbeck would become something of a cult B-movie horror and action star in Italy. In the Billington v Warbeck battle of the reserve Bonds it appears there was a very brief window in time here where Warbeck edged his nose in front.
According to David Warbeck, he was selected to play Bond in the next film and John Hough (director of films such as The Legend of Hell House and Escape to Witch Mountain) was to direct. "I can't recall what titles they were," said Hough. "What happened was that Roger Moore had entered into dispute with Cubby Broccoli over salary and this was something that was documented in Variety and the trade papers and Roger was looking for a hike in pay, and so, had decided that he wouldn't play Bond again unless he was paid an increase in salary. At this point the Bond company had decided they wouldn't do that and they would go with a new James Bond and a new director. They choose an actor called David Warbeck who was secretly tested. I had directed David Warbeck in a film called Wolfshead (aka Wolfshead: The Legend of Robin Hood), which is a very highly regarded little film.
"Cubby Broccoli had seen this and had decided that if David Warbeck got to play James Bond then I would get to direct Bonds. In fact, they did a two picture deal with me because they were going to do two James Bonds, back-to-back. The idea was, at that particular point, they wouldn't do just one James Bond at time but we were going to do two at a time. And so, two directors would both alternate and do a Bond each and the whole thing was pretty much set up. But before David Warbeck got the chance to sign the contract, Roger Moore had decided that he would go ahead and take the deal that was on the table. I knew that he and I would never work together because we had a dispute on the Saint TV series and we weren't compatible. * The chance never arose past that point."
The Hough/Warbeck concept is sort of confusing in that Warbeck's test was directed by John Glen - who ended up directing the next film. Were Hough and Glen supposed to alternate on directing Bond films? David Warbeck said his proposed Bond film was nixed by a financial crash. This could be a reference to the failure of Heaven's Gate proving to be a box-office disaster for United Artists in 1980. In his memoir, Cubby Broccoli said that United Artists were very pro-Roger moore when it came to the James Bond franchise in the early 80s. They felt that Roger was popular and established in the role and saw no need to make a change for the time being.
Of his 1980 Bond audition, Warbeck said - "It's ironic that I was actually contracted to be the new Bond and my director was going to be Johnny Hough, because I had chats with Broccolli and said no, I didn't want to work with John Glen, because I have this problem with directors. John Glen and Martin Campbell, well the younger Martin Campbell were sort of similar in that they just didn't share my sense of humour and my sense of humour is based on experience and it's based on visual gags. For example, when I did the Bond bits with John Glen, there was a sequence where somebody sticks a gun in my back while I'm on the telephone and I thought it would be a great visual gag if when he says “put your hands up” you've still got the telephone in your hand with the cord attached. And so you whack him with the telephone and then you try to strangle him with the cord while the person on the other end is still talking! You see what I mean? It would have been a good visual as well as well as plot gag, but John Glen wouldn't see that."
David Warbeck said that his extensive screen test was at Pinewood with elaborate security. It was all very hush hush. The odd thing about Warbeck becoming the new Bond at that time is that his career was floundering somewhat and he still wasn't very well known - although of course Bond actors tend not to be tremendously famous when they are cast. EON have never cast an A'list star as Bond and probably never will. It actually tends to help if the new Bond actor isn't that well known because then it's easier for the audience to simply accept them as Bond. This is why, to give an example, many believe that Henry Cavill's future Bond hopes became more remote when he was cast as Superman.
Around the time of his Bond screen test for John Glen, Warbeck had just appeared in a film called The Last Hunter (L'ultimo cacciatore). The Last Hunter is a sort of bargain basement Italian blend of The Deer Hunter and Rambo (though it of course pre-dates the Rambo films) and has Warbeck as Captain Henry Morris - a soldier who goes on a deadly mission behind enemy lines during the Vietnam War. Warbeck is actually quite a commanding and macho presence in this blood drenched nonsense though he does seem to be losing his hair so one suspects that a Connery style toupee might have been put on order had he got the 007 gig. Warbeck is also very thin and looks like he could do with a bit of gym time and a few square meals.
Warbeck was in the cult horror film The Beyond in 1981 and then made Hunters of the Golden Cobra. Hunters of the Golden Cobra is a cheapjack Italian version of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Warbeck is actually quite James Bondish in this. His acting style is a sort of likeable mix of Roger Moore and Lewis Collins and Warbeck does look the part of 007 - especially when he is clad in an all black outfit of the type that Roger Moore had on near the end of Live and Let Die. Warbeck was also rather James Bondish in the 1982 Italian action film Tiger Joe and 1984's The Ark of the Sun God (another low-budget Italian riff on Indiana Jones).
In 1984, Warbeck was in an episode of the popular British comedy drama show Minder and played a snooty man who crosses swords with George Cole's Arthur Daley over some antique furniture. This episode of Minder showed that Warbeck was certainly refined and suave enough to be Bond - although by 1984 his 007 dream was fading fast. Warbeck usually imbued his characters with a tongue-in-cheek sort of humour and no doubt would have done this had he played Bond. You could maybe argue then that Warbeck perhaps wouldn't have been a big enough departure from Roger Moore. Warbeck's Bond definitely would have been funny but was this really what the series needed at the time? To be fair to Warbeck though he was capable too of bringing a certain world weariness to his characters.
The next Bond film was of course settled as For Your Eyes Only with John Glen in the director's chair for the first time. Glen said that they tested numerous actors because they presumed Roger wasn't coming back. "To be honest I did want to make another film," said Roger Moore of this uncertain period. "This was all part of the bargaining ploy on EON’s side - let it be known they were testing others so I’d take the deal on the table for fear of losing the part. Fair enough, we all enjoy a game of poker. I’m quite principled about not undervaluing my worth. If someone wants me for a job then I believe they should pay me a fair fee. My agent usually haggles it up a bit, the producer usually haggles it down a bit and a happy middle ground is found. If someone undervalues me, I simply walk away. I have no qualms about it."
One actor who EON cast their eye over during this period is Nicholas Clay. His most notable role was around this time was as Lancelot in John Boorman's Excalibur. It could be that Clay was looked at after this film came out - which would mean he was considered for Octopussy rather than For Your Eyes Only. Clay was very handsome and very posh. He looked the part but you wouldn't say he was the most natural actor in the world. I shall forever remember Nicholas Clay for a fascinatingly bizarre episode of Hammer House of Mystery & Suspense where he plays a man who finds himself trapped in his house with his family when a mysterious and impenetrable wall suddenly encloses their home! Around this time Clay also made the enjoyable Agatha Christie adaptation Evil Under the Sun for director Guy Hamilton.
Anthony Andrews is often cited as someone who EON looked at for Bond in the eighties. This is hard to verify as Andrews has never mentioned it himself. Besides, Andrews was someone who tended to prefer the stage to films or commercial projects. Andrews turned down the lead role in the 1982-1987 TV show Remington Steele because he didn't want to move his family to Hollywood. He was replaced by a young unknown actor called Pierce Brosnan. One other notable thing about Andrews is that he was originally cast as Bodie in the TV show The Professionals but fired after four days because he wasn't tough enough and too similar to Martin Shaw (who played Doyle). Andrews was of course replaced by Lewis Collins. Though he is a very good actor, Andrews feels too light to have been Bond. You can't really see him beating people up with cinematic verisimilitude.
Michael Jayston has claimed that he was one of the actors who was lined up to replace Roger Moore in For Your Eyes Only. Jayston had recently appeared in the TV miniseries Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. His film roles included Cromwell, Tales That Witness Madness, and Zulu Dawn. Jayston was 45 though so rather knocking on a bit to be making his Bond debut. Though a crisp and polished actor, Jayston wasn't the most screamingly Bondian actor in terms of looks. Jayston would have been a more credible 007 candidate in the early seventies rather than the early eighties. Interestingly, Jayston claimed that one of the actors he was competing with for the part of Bond in For Your Eyes Only was Patrick Mower. If true, this would surely rank Mower up there with Warbeck and Billington when it came to enduring and perenial Bond candidates. Mower was now in his early forties and about to shoot a part in the detective series Bergerac.
When they began pre-production on For Your Eyes Only, stuntmen with black hair were hired because they assumed they were getting a new Bond actor. When Roger came back at the last minute they had to let the black-haired stuntmen go and replace them with fair-haired ones! Because it was not known if Roger Moore was coming back, For Your Eyes Only was written in a rather generic way when it came to James Bond in the film. The opening scene where Bond places flowers on his wife's grave was written to connect a new Bond actor to the history of the franchise. Although the game of bluff over Roger's salary became a familiar preamble to each new Bond film it does appear as if went down to the wire on For Your Eyes Only. We could very nearly have had a new Bond actor on that film.
The actor who came the closest to becoming the new Bond in For Your Eyes Only was (no great surprise here) Michael Billington. Billington was still very much in the loop and still close to the Broccoli family. Michael Billington was flown to Corfu lest Roger should not return. He was put in a tux (and later a black polo neck) and given a Bondian photo shoot. Billington still looked good and would have made a credible and competent Bond had they needed a fresh last minute 007.
"Time passed and For Your Eyes Only was on the horizon," said Billington. "By this time the ‘usual suspects’ were gone. John Glen was at the helm; script by Richard Maibaum, close to retirement and Michael G. Wilson, a lawyer by profession. The sharp and witty Christopher Woods dialogue was sadly no more. The troops were gathering to go to Corfu to begin filming but Roger was being coy. I think the money was an issue. Cubby had me fitted out with wardrobe and flew me to Corfu. We had a picture shoot." Once again, Roger Moore decided to come back and Billington wasn't required in the end. Billington's enthusiasm for Bond - if his website (where he shared his memories of his acting career and brush with Bond fame) is anything to go by - seemed to be on the wane by this point. He said he didn't like For Your Eyes Only very much when he watched it.
One of the cast members of For Your Eyes Only was the Australian actress Cassandra Harris as Countess Lisl von Schlaf. Harris had recently got married to a young Irish actor named Pierce Brosnan. At the time, Brosnan's credits only amounted to small roles in The Long Good Friday and The Mirror Crack'd. During the production of the film, Cassandra Harris introduced Brosnan to Cubby Broccoli and Broccoli immediately made a mental note of Brosnan as a potential future Bond. Brosnan was dark haired, tall, very handsome, and very charming. Cubby thought that if Brosnan could polish up his acting skills he'd make a perfect James Bond in the not too distant future.
* The above article is an excerpt from the book The Actors Who Could Have Been James Bond.

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