My hero has gone. I was eight years of age when I first saw him on screen, and I remember the moment as if it was yesterday. It was during a family holiday on the Isle of Man – an island that sits in the Irish Sea between England and Ireland. It was the first time my feet had left English soil. My inaugural “overseas” trip. I boarded the ferry from Liverpool to Douglas, the island’s capital, with eager anticipation, and on landing, we took a bus to Peel – a small seaside town on the west coast.
My favourite uncle was accompanying us. He was, at the time, the only person on any branch of our family tree who’d studied at university. He’d been a pilot in the Royal Air Force and had travelled the world. I loved spending time with him and listening to his stories of great exploits and adventure. I was looking forward to our week together.
There wasn’t much to do in Peel when it rained… and it poured the whole week. There was a cinema in the town, and my uncle offered to take me to see a film that had just been released – “Diamonds Are Forever” starring Sean Connery as secret agent 007. It is rarely lauded as EON’s finest production, but it certainly had a dramatic effect on an eight-year-old boy, and I instantly became a committed James Bond fan.
The next day it rained (again). My parents asked me what I would like to do, and I told them that I wanted to go back to the cinema. These were the days before multiplex, and a single feature would run for a week or two before being replaced by another release. It was explained to me that I would be watching the film that I had just seen the night before. “Yes”, I said, “I know”. My uncle volunteered to accompany me for the repeat performance, and I’ve often thought how kind it was of him to do so… then perhaps he was enjoying it as much as I was.
Today’s instant access to media means that the entire catalogue of Sean Connery’s Bond films could be viewed in a single sitting at a moment’s notice, but in the UK during the 1970s, the opportunity to see the old movies would be limited to the occasional broadcast on one of the three television channels that existed at the time. It therefore took years to get to see all of the performances of the original 007. Throughout this time, Roger Moore was always present to entertain and delight us in his various guises, but for a generation of boys it was Connery who became our role model. It was Connery who taught us how to be a man.
Sean Connery as Bond was suave and sophisticated, intelligent and witty, tough and courageous, loyal and patriotic, charming and seductive. Character traits that defined the 20th century alpha male. Women wanted him, and men wanted to be him. Several actors followed Connery in the role of 007, but none could replace him. In 1995, James Bond found himself under the direction of a new boss. A woman, for whom he had the highest respect, who nonetheless described him as, “a sexist, misogynist dinosaur”. The world was beginning to change, as in turn was the definition of what it is to be a man. Sean Connery was the diamond that we thought would last forever, but his peaceful demise undoubtedly (and understandably) marks the end of an era.
In 2012, I had the honour of taking the reins at Anthony Sinclair, the tailoring house that dressed Connery in all of his appearances as James Bond. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to meet our most famous customer in person, but on one occasion he tried to contact me on my mobile phone and left a message:
“This is Sean Connery calling from the Bahamas. I’m trying to contact David Mason as I’d like to arrange for my son to have a suit made like the one I wore in Goldfinger, when I was rolling in the hay with Pussy Galore”.
I quickly returned the call and made the necessary arrangements. I didn’t really want the conversation to end, so I told him that his friend Roger Moore had been in to see me to order some new clothes, as all of his old suits appeared to have shrunk. He laughed, saying it was a strange coincidence as his own clothes had also shrunk and that he promised to come and see me the next time he was in London to refresh his wardrobe. Sadly, he was never to return.
Many of us like to keep mementos, but of all the keepsakes and souvenirs that remind me of the past, the strangest, and amongst the most precious, is the voicemail that was recorded by my hero on his quest to replicate the Goldfinger suit. I played it before writing this personal tribute to him. I found it quite moving; but, you know, grown men don’t cry… Sean taught me that.