The posters and bill-boards said it all: ‘Look up! Look down! Look out! Here comes the biggest Bond of all!’ Half a century ago, in December 1965, the James Bond movie Thunderball (1965), starring Sean Connery as Ian Fleming’s secret agent 007, opened to lots of wildly enthusiastic ticket sales and immediately began to break box-office records around the globe during 1966.
In many ways, it pushed Bond-mania to new heights. Moreover, the film saw a huge increase in both publicity and tie-in marketing when it stormed on to our cinema screens, including in the UK.
Indeed, the James Bond publicity and marketing campaign for Thunderball – carefully planned and targeted – arguably pioneered and anticipated some of the mass movie tie-in strategies which were to become an essential part of film production in future decades.
One intriguing and highly imaginative example of this approach in mid-1960s Britain was the so-called ‘Thunderball letter’, supposedly written by the main heroine of the Fleming book and EON’s film version, Domino.
In the last of our 2016 tribute articles on Sean Connery’s fourth smash-hit 007 movie, which has deservedly been celebrating its birthday this year, the JBIFC looks back on the mysterious and rare letter.
When members of the public purchased the 14th edition of the Pan Books Thunderball paperback in the UK in 1965, they sometimes found to their surprise what appeared to be a private letter, the kind of handwritten note that one might occasionally find quickly tucked away in an old book and long forgotten about.
Inserted loosely in the middle pages inside some copies of the Thunderball film tie-in from Pan was a (now very rare) promotional advert for Players cigarettes. But it was not just an advert, but something a bit more sophisticated. This nice souvenir took the form of 2-sided handwritten note or brief letter to James Bond, penned by Domino (in the film she was named Domino Derval, while in Fleming’s original novel she was named Domino Vitali). The handwritten letter, written to ‘Darling’ James from Nassau in the Bahamas, had been penned some time after the events associated with Operation Thunderball and the death of Emilio Largo, and appeared to be from a newly-married Domino, who now also had children. She clearly remained very fond of Bond, and the letter briefly recalled their time together and her memories. She referred to the Casino and the Champagne meal they had enjoyed together, and also to her own ‘hero’ – the sailor on the front of packets of Players (‘I believe you were jealous!’). This was a reference to the conversation they had shared over dinner.
The letter also revealed that Domino and her family were coming to London for Christmas, and wondered whether Bond could find a spare evening ‘when we could meet and talk and laugh about old times? Do please say yes’. The letter also mentioned Bond’s boss ‘M’, urging Bond not to let his boss give him an assignment over the holiday period. Signed ‘Ciao, Domino’, the letter added a clever P.S. – ‘Came across this book in Nassau yesterday. You must read pages 152-155′.
On Her Majesty’s Stationary Service
The original copies of the Domino ‘Thunderball letter’ were printed on thin air-mail type blue paper, in dark blue writing, and bore a distinctive ‘mail’ watermark. They were also folded twice horizontally, so as to fit neatly into the Pan paperback. Anybody quickly flicking through the paperback could easily have missed it, and those who did discover it (especially if they were not a direct Bond fan) could naturally have thought they had ‘discovered’ a secret and private letter. It is easy to see why some people would have been initially fooled by the authentic-looking note on first glance, before realising it was a publicity stunt for the movie.
Interestingly, not all the Pan 14th edition film tie-ins contained the letter, and so the letter in its original form has become highly sought-after by serious Bond book collectors and general 007 aficionados in recent years. As a number of commentators and Bond historians have observed, Thunderball was the Star Wars of its day, and the Domino Players letter was just one small element of the mass marketing campaign for the movie, a campaign that ultimately helped push the fourth 007 movie into becoming one of the top grossing films in both the EON Bond franchise and in wider cinema history.