BOND'S BATTLE WITH THE BEATLES
Posted on February 12 2016
October 5th, 1962 is arguably the most important date in the history of British popular culture. It marks the birth of two extraordinary phenomena... Beatles records and Bond films.
In a most bizarre coincidence, the exact same day was chosen for the release of “Love Me Do” (the first Beatles single) and the premiere of “Dr No” (the original Bond movie).
The connection between the Beatles and Bond continued beyond their debut, and became the subject of controversy during a scene in Goldfinger (1964) where 007, played by Sean Connery, is entertaining a glamorous blonde in his bedroom and suddenly realises that their Champagne had “lost it’s chill”. He voices his concern:
"My dear girl, there are some things that just aren't done; such as drinking Dom Perignon '53 above the temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit. That's as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs”.
This remarkable statement was celebrated by those who considered the sophisticated character more likely to enjoy opera than popular music, but derided by others who thought he was out of touch. It certainly didn’t appear to damage the Beatles who had embarked upon their own film career with “A Hard Day’s Night” just two months before the release of Goldfinger.
Although the original Beatles film had avoided antagonism with the Bond franchise, there was clear, if unintended, association between the two. There is a gambling scene in which Paul McCartney’s fictional grandfather (played by Wilfred Brambell) appears in a London casino. The location was Le Cercle, the gaming room of the exclusive Les Ambassadeurs club in Hamilton Place where Sean Connery had famously appeared for the first time as James Bond in Dr No.
Accompanying grandfather in the scene was glamour model, turned actress, Margaret Nolan, who was soon to appear as Bond’s poolside masseuse, Dink, in Goldfinger (as well as the gold-covered girl in the opening title sequence).
Also appearing in both A Hard Day’s Night and Goldfinger is distinguished English actor Richard Vernon. Playing the role of a city gent in the Beatles film, he suffers the indignity of taunts from the Fab Four as they travel together in the same train carriage.
In Goldfinger, as banker Colonel Smithers, he has dinner with Bond and his superior, M. On this occasion it is M who is mildly humiliated, as 007 again illustrates his superior knowledge of the finer things in life:
Smithers: “Have a little more of this rather disappointing brandy”
M: “Why, what’s the matter with it?”
Bond: “I’d say it was a 30-year old finé, indifferently blended, Sir… with an overdose of bon bois.”
M: “Colonel Smithers is giving the lecture 007”
The following year, the Beatles released their second film “Help”, which employs James Bond-inspired satirical spy text as it’s central theme: Ringo comes into the possession of an exotic diamond ring and is subsequently pursued by various people including hit men, Eastern mystics and mad scientists, necessitating the need for rescue by his fellow bandmates.
A soundtrack album was released to coincide with the film’s distribution, and for some unknown reason, a James Bond style intro appears on the title track of the US album, but not on the British version or the single released in either country. The English musician Vic Flick played the famous guitar riff on the original James Bond Theme for Dr No. Coincidentally, he also contributed to the Beatles “A Hard Days Night” soundtrack album, but it is unclear who played the riff on the Help intro.
Whilst music had originally divided Bond and the Beatles, it became the instrument that connected them. Few have been credited more for the success of the Beatles than English record producer Sir George Martin, who was extensively involved in each of the band’s original albums. Martin was also directly, and indirectly, involved in the production of the main themes for a number of Bond films.
Although Martin did not produce the theme for the second James Bond film, From Russia With Love (1963), he was personally responsible for the signing of Matt Munro to EMI shortly before he recorded the song of the same title. The first 007 soundtrack that he actually produced was, with some irony, “Goldfinger” sung by Shirley Bassey and considered by many to be the quintessential Bond theme.
The game-changer in the Beatles/Bond relationship arrived in 1973 with Live and Let Die. George Martin composed and produced the film’s score, and the title track was written and recorded by ex-Beatle Paul McCartney’s new band, Wings. It was the first James Bond theme song to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song and sold over a million copies.
Although Bond producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli had invited McCartney to write the song, Saltzman wanted Shirley Bassey or Thelma Houston to perform it. McCartney refused to allow this, insisting that Wings should play the number, and so Saltzman, who had rejected the opportunity to produce A Hard Days Night in 1964, decided not to make the same mistake again.
In addition to soundtracks, there was another link between Bond and the Beatles… their cars. No matter what Bond’s remarks concerning the Beatles revealed about his taste in music, there was no questioning his level of discernment when it came to four wheels. The Aston Martin became the vehicle of choice not only for James Bond, but also for Beatles members Paul McCartney and George Harrison. Whilst Bond’s extras included revolving number plates, browning machine guns and an ejector seat, McCartney settled for a Motorola radio and an unusual Philips Auto-Mignon record player.
The extraordinary connections continue from movies, music and motors into marriage. Two months after the premiere of Dr No, Sean Connery married his first wife Diane Cliento in Gibraltar. On March 20th, 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono travelled to the same location to tie the knot. Sadly, Connery's first marriage didn't last, but he returned to Gibraltar in 1975 to marry his present wife, Micheline Roquebrune.
The real harmonious union of these cultural curiosities was cemented on April 27, 1981, when Beatles drummer Ringo Starr married American model and actress Barbara Bach who had played Bond girl Anya Amasova alongside Roger Moore in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).
Bach has accompanied Starr on tour, appeared in his music videos and played on his songs. This conveniently completes the circle of a Beatles star performing for a Bond film, and a Bond star performing for a Beatles record… all done without a pair of earmuffs in sight.