Sunday, 1 May 2011

The journalist, the model, and the search for James Bond

The months before Daniel Craig was offered the role of James Bond saw intense media speculation about who would succeed Pierce Brosnan. Little had changed since 1961 when the producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli announced that they were about to film the first James Bond film, Dr No. Before Sean Connery had been cast, there was much anticipation in the press even at this early stage in the film series.

One of the journalists who joined the speculation, and indeed cultivated much of it, was Patricia Lewis, the show-business editor with the Daily Express. In June 1961, for example, Lewis reported that Saltzman was planning to screen-test Patrick Allen, but was ‘also thinking about Michael Craig and Patrick McGoohan’. In another article, she claimed that the producers were having trouble finding their man. This was enough for her to launch a competition to find the perfect actor, and of course gain massive publicity for the Daily Express. In an article entitled, ‘In search of a he-man’, she invited ‘every tough-talking type... a crack at landing this plum role.’ Lewis added that proof of acting ability was also required. Applicants were invited to submit their acting resumées and vital statistics to a film production company in Soho Square. Six finalists were to invited to a judging panel, which Lewis boasted would comprise Harry Saltzman, Cubby Broccoli, Ian Fleming, and Ken Hughes, as well as Lewis herself.

The winner was Peter Anthony, a professional model from London. Lewis quoted Broccoli as saying that Anthony had ‘a Greg Peck quality’ that was ‘instantly arresting’. This is not difficult to see from the image that Anthony had exploited during his earlier modelling career. His career had developed with Man About Town, a 1950s/60s lifestyle magazine for men, covering sport, drink, food, cars, and clothes, especially suits. One of its photographers was Terence Donovan, a pioneer of the ‘blow-up’ school of photography, who brought a sophisticated, masculine, film-style look to the magazine. His shots were about action and story. Set in real places far removed from the artificial creation of the studio, the photographs had a narrative drive that turned fashion shoots into stills from a film. And the movie was film-noir or spy thriller. Peter Anthony was one of Donovan’s stars.

In one image from 1960, ‘Starting Over’, Anthony is behind the wheel of a sports car. He is focused on the road ahead and drives with confidence. Another photograph, from 1961, shows Peter Anthony in the foreground. He wears a sharp suit and a shoulder holster for an automatic. The man is waiting for a contact, perhaps, but so too is the man in the shadows, hidden behind Le Figaro. And the title of this intriguing scene? ‘The secrets of an agent.’ The image could be lifted from Fleming; the hero could be Bond.

Anthony took these images to Broccoli and Saltzman. Pat Lewis reported that the producers were impressed and proclaimed that he was an ‘exciting find’. Anthony looked great in a suit; sophisticated with just the right hint of menace to have the edge over his enemies and the hold on the women. But image was not everything; the part demanded an acting ability that Anthony did not have. The producers agreed that he had potential, but was too risky to try out in their first film.

What of the other five finalists? According to Pat Lewis’ article in September 1961, the finalists were Gordon Cooper, a sales rep from Warrington, Anthony Clements, another salesman, this time from Bolton, Frank Ellement, a former teacher turned actor from London, Michael Ricketts, an aerial ropeways engineer from Hadleigh in Essex, and Bob Simmons, a stuntman.

Peter Anthony’s photographs certainly exist, but curiously, Bob Simmons makes no mention of this episode in his autobiography, while Cubby Broccoli excludes Peter Anthony from his. Reading Pat Lewis’ articles, I can’t help feeling that the competition results and the involvement of the Bond producers was to a large extent journalistic invention. If so, then that is another aspect of the media interest in the search for Bond that has seen little change in over 40 years.

Update: Click here for more further information on Peter Anthony's screentests.

3 comments:

  1. Edward,
    A lovely piece with much more detail than I have ever seen before, particularly about the involvement of Patricia Lewis. Thank you.
    I found your 'meme' because I have been with Peter for much of this week and although this is the first time we have met I had heard the story about the screen test competition from his family members - my wife's mother is his cousin. His recollection certainly matches your story, although he couldn't remember the journalist's name. He still has the letter from Eon arranging the test and also the script he had to learn (it's a meeting with M telling him that his gun has to go).
    Peter never met Fleming, but was taken seriously enough by Brocolli to get considered again when Diamonds Are Forever was being cast and was asked to test again. He has the script from this too plus a picture of all of the finalists together from the 1961 competition.
    He is a fascinating man who has led a fascinating life and whilst being in his late seventies, is still extremely good looking. He was of course a successful model and is now pretty much a dead ringer for Howard Keel.
    Both he and his wife were enthralled by your piece.
    One other thing - I have access to the Daily Express archive and have thus far totally failed to find anything published in 1961. Can I ask where you have seen the cuttings.

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  2. Dear Andy
    Thank you for your comment. It's really made my day. I never quite know who's reading my blog, or whether I'm just posting random thoughts into empty cyberspace, but it's reasuring that it does reach people, and, even more amazing, the people I've written about.
    I was particularly pleased with my piece on Peter, as it originated in some research for a book that I was doing some years ago on the actors who were considered for the role of Bond, but the never got the part. Peter's story was especially fascinating. I knew of the competition from various histories of the Bond series, but thought I'd better chase up the original Express articles for more detail. I went to the newspaper library at Colindale and went through quite a number of editions (look for 23rd June, 20th July, and 21st September 1961). This was followed up by some reading at the Bodleian about Peter's modelling career. In the end the book was never written (although I did manage to interview another 'Man Who Would Be Bond' - Mark Greenstreet), but so as not to waste all that research, I have been posting some of the information on my blog.
    You've added some interesting details to Peter's story. I didn't know what scene he was required to test, and I had no idea that he was considered again for Diamonds Are Forever (in fact, I don't think that information has entered Bondian lore at all).
    I'm glad Peter's doing well (and I'll have to tell my wife that he looks like Howard Keel (one of her favourite actors)).
    With best wishes,Edward (sorry to reply via the blog - I got your comment as an email, but I can't seem to reply to you direct)

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  3. Edward,
    How can I email you direct? If you go to the URL I left as my profile you should be able to send me an email via the feedback button on the site.
    The DAF test included visiting Brocolli's home with no Express involvement. But Peter hasn't a clue as to the date, it is only the photocopied (more likely roneoed - if that's how you spell it) two pages of the script. I believe it is the actual scene that was eventually used when Bond, as Peter Franks, is in Tiffany's room and lays out the thug who knocks on the door.

    Andy

    ps Earlier I managed to find the 21 Sep 1961 article naming Peter as winner of the competition and shall be showing it to him tomorrow night when we see him again- we are staying in the town where he now lives. Thanks for the other dates.

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