James Bond | The 1967 fan speculation over who was going to replace Sean Connery

You Only Live Twice
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Sean Connery stepped away from playing James Bond 007 for the first time after You Only Live Twice – and fan speculation about his replacement was rife.

Understandably, at the time of writing we’re back in the land of James Bond speculation, and there might just be something to the rumours of Aaron Taylor-Johnson taking on the role. Mind you, since the denouement of 2021’s 007 adventure No Time To Die, there’s been continued confirmation that James Bond will return, but not a fat lot of sign of him, well, returning.

As things stand, the last footage shot for a James Bond movie was captured at the end of 2019, and at the very earliest, it’s going to be a five-year gap from that point to the start of production on the next.

But it didn’t used to be like that. Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, James Bond movies came along like clockwork every two years. In the 1960s, they were an annual event. Dr No debuted the James Bond saga as we know it now in 1962, From Russia With Love followed in 1963, then it was 1964’s Goldfinger.

There as a long break to the fifth movie, You Only Live Twice, which was released in the end in 1967. We’ve written about that film right here.

But by then, the incumbent James Bond had enough. Sean Connery was vocal that – after many disagreements behind the scenes – he was going to quit the role. For the first time came one of the franchise’s key traditions: speculating on who the next James Bond was set to be.

Going to the end of the story, it’d be George Lazenby who would of course assume the role of 007 for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, before Connery was lured back for one more (official) adventure, Diamonds Are Forever. But in 1967, Connery was assumed to be stepping away for good, and a replacement was required.

You Only Live Twice poster

While the world wide web clearly wasn’t a thing all the way back in 1967, fervent fan speculation absolutely was. As such, while the parameters were different, the wide-of-the-mark guesswork was very much the same. Thing is, you actually had to write a letter – by hand! – to join in the public discourse, as witnessed in the October 1967 issue of Showtime magazine.

This was a publication issued by Rank, so wasn’t on the surface the most impartial of magazines. Still, I’ve been sifting through back issues and it’s a really enjoyable magazine. Not least when it invited its readers to write in and speculate on who the next 007 should be.

Its readers did not let it down.

By this stage, legendary Bond producer Albert R ‘Cubby’ Broccoli had said that he was looking for an unknown actor with a hairy chest to take on the tuxedo (and presumably take it off again). Suggestions such as Clint Eastwood, Lee Majors (who apparently “strips well”, according to one unnamed Showtime reader), Frankie Vaughan and James Coburn were bubbling towards the bottom of its mailbag.

But the magazine correlated its choices into a top three, with a tie from the off for third.

Richard Johnson, then, isn’t a particularly familiar name to modern film followers. A man who enjoyed acclaim in the Royal Shakespeare Company, he’d inked a deal with MGM for a long-term film contract in 1959. That got underway with the same year’s Never So Few, opposite Frank Sinatra, and when Terence Young was originally casting Bond for Dr No, he was said to be the director’s top choice.

The MGM contract locked him out of contention though, and Johnson had to turn the job down, paving the way for Sean Connery. Here’s how Never So Few turned out…

Joint third? A television star, but 007 wasn’t quite ready for one of those yet. Patrick McGoohan was about to have his second star-making moment in 1967, having been cast in the lead role of The Prisoner. But even at the point the Bond speculation was the star of another hit TV show: Danger Man. McGoohan was a long shot though, and the gig would not go to him (correction made here btw, thank you for everyone who pointed it out!).

Into second place, and it’s another tie! Some fella called Roger Moore was already on the lips of Bond fans. Moore was a popular choice courtesy of the hit TV show The Saint, but this would not be his turn . Back in 1967 though, Showtime readers listed him alongside Gene Barry, who for a while the magazine revealed, had actually been leading the poll.

Gene Barry’s main film roles by this stage had been in The Atomic City and War Of The Worlds (pictured), a pair of science fiction hits that also sat alongside some welcome genre credits on TV.

It was his starring role as Amos Burke in the popular TV show Burke’s Law that seemed to turn the heads of readers though, with one fan from Leeds quoted as saying that Barry had “good looks, sex-appeal and right sophisticated toughness for the Bond role”.

There’s little evidence that he was a serious contender in the mind of Broccoli though, even though pretty much every postcard received by Showtime magazine “named him and him only”.

The winner though, by distance? That’d be Oliver Reed. At this point in his life in the pomp of his career, his demons not yet fully overtaken him.

Still, Susan from Oldham wanted him to be James Bond because he was “dark, handsome and very masculine”. Elizabeth Partington of Manchester was most taken with his “devastating good looks”. Reed too was rather chuffed, even if he felt there was no chance that he’d get the part.

“Ironical, really, to be considered old enough to play Bond. I was too young before”, he gold the magazine. He revealed that one of the original producers, Harry Saltzman, “had me in mind for some time” before they went with Connery.

Come 1967 though, Oliver Reed accepted that his fame counted him out. “I think they’ll go for a lesser-known actor”, he mused. “And as Sean is so much a part of Bond, the new man will obviously be very Conneryish. Tall. Tough. Cruel-looking”.

This man, in fact.

The poster for On Her Majesty's Secret Service, starring George Lazenby as James Bond 007

The fun in such polls of course is the names towards the bottom of the list, not least to discover who in 1967 it was worth going to the shop for, then buying a postcard and stamp, writing out your choice and popping it in the postbox, without having to invent a pseudonym such as DarthSimon2328.

Middlesex’s June Oliver wrote to the magazine suggesting her 33-year old husband take the part. “Everyone he meets in the business thinks he could play Bond”. June supplied key statistics for her husband too, and assured us at the end that “also, he’s a fine actor”.

Finally, step forward a six foot model by the name of James Faraday, the top choice of Wolverhampton’s Arthur Howell. Hi, Arthur. He didn’t actually know Faraday’s name, but had noticed him in television commercials for Brylcream, and felt that “he has good looks and character, drives a fast car, wears the right watch, gets the girls. Furthermore, he’s good at judo”. And one last thing, as Arthur noted: “his chest his hairy”.

Nailed it.

Finally, I should acknowledge the contribution of Roy Callow of Small Heath in my beloved home city of Birmingham. He suggested that Neil Connery – Sean’s brother – was the obvious choice, and wrote to Showtime to impress this fact. “The public wouldn’t know the difference”, Roy insisted.

To my knowledge, Roy never got a job as casting director at Eon Productions. Neil Connery, though, would go on to star in a James Bond spoof

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