How do you like your Bond viewings – on the big or small screen? The James Bond franchise has epitomized all the larger-than-life thrills and visual glamour we often associate with big-screen cinema, but it is important to remember that generations of 007 fans were raised on 007 through catching ‘Bond on the Box’.
Once upon a time (believe it or not!), British TV viewers were faced with just a choice of three main TV channels: BBC-1, BBC-2 and ITV.
While the latter had some regional variations in its programming, all the ITV regions usually shared the main scheduling, especially when it came to movies, and if you were a film fan the screening of a James Bond adventure created genuine excitement and a real sense of special anticipation.
Catching the current summer season of classic James Bond films on the UK’s main ITV network is a nice way to spend the weekends (if you ignore the occasional cuts made by the network’s over-enthusiastic censors). But it is also a reminder that the Bond films have now been around on British TV for an astonishing 45 years. Indeed, many of today’s Bond aficionados were introduced to the franchise by avidly following 007 on the small screen, which in turn often created a thirst to see Bond in action on the big cinema screen.
It is also worth reflecting that, a decade or so ago, the premiere of a Bond film on the small screen was treated as a major occasion, with wide media coverage, preview adverts and even special posters put up in major shopping and retail areas. That kind of excitement has also been milked over the years by British TV when the latest entry in the 007 franchise has been due for release: ITV has ensured that this has coincided with some TV screenings of 007 in order to wet one’s appetite. In one sense, ITV’s current season is designed to meet that kind of desire: we can go on a nostalgia trip while we patiently wait for No Time To Die.
When it was Time To View ‘No’
The rights to the early James Bond films were sold to ITV in the mid-1970s, after a furious bidding war; in 1974, ITV paid the then eye-watering sum of £850,000 for the first six Bond films. When news of this broke, a number of critics predicted in a doom-laden way that this would be the end of James Bond. How wrong they were!
The first James Bond film to be premiered on British TV was Dr. No on Tuesday, October 28th, 1975, and this was certainly treated as a major event by the UK media. The weekly Look-in magazine, to give just one example, proclaimed to its readers that the ‘very first Bond film is being shown on television… Dr. No is both tense and exciting – a sure-fire success that inevitably paved the way for further action-oozing 007 movies’. The magazine added enthusiastically: ‘Make sure that you don’t miss out on the action when James Bond hits the television screens for the first time in his first film – this Tuesday at 8 o’clock’.
As well as various other magazine and newspaper articles previewing Dr. No‘s premiere on British TV, the ITV network’s own weekly listings magazine, TVTimes, offered a real bonus for dedicated James Bond fans: a three-part magazine series on the history of the Bond franchise up to that point. This included some very ‘seventies’ artwork, with images of all the Bond actors, plus a representation of the ‘fictional’ Fleming version of Bond. An issue of the magazine also made available a double-page photo of Ursula Andress. To both young and older Bond fans alike in the mid-1970s, that was double-0 heaven.
‘No’ in Retrospect
Perhaps one of the best insights on Dr. No was provided by Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli, as he was preparing to go solo on the production of The Spy Who Loved Me. In media interviews given in 1976, a year after James Bond had been premiered on ITV, Cubby – looking back on the ingredients of 007’s general cinematic success – said: ‘It all came together with Dr. No‘. He also dismissed the idea that Bond on the small screen had damaged the franchise.
It was also clear over the years that he remained incredibly proud of the first EON Bond film. Tellingly, in his autobiography, When the Snow Melts, published in 1998, Cubby noted the ‘huge impact’ Dr. No had originally exerted and commented: ‘James Bond was away and running. The world had got a new screen hero’. The rest, as they say, was history.
Does James Bond still work on the small screen? Dr. No, in its restored version, certainly does – the brilliantly vibrant circles on display in the main credits transfer to the small screen surprisingly well, the strong plot-line stands up very well, while the Jamaican locations still seem glamorous and full of promise all these years later. Back in 1975, especially if you were watching on a black-and-white TV set, perhaps some of this was indeed lost, but today – particularly on a wide-screen TV with a near-cinematic experience – Bond ‘on the box’ can still be an enjoyable experience.
Sean Connery’s debut performance as 007 in Dr. No was strong, gritty and witty, while Joseph Wiseman as the ‘machine-like’ main villain managed to capture the controlled madness of the character envisaged by Ian Fleming’s novel in a highly memorable way. And, of course, who can forget that iconic beach scene, where Ursula Andress emerged from her shell-hunting to capture many thousands of hearts? Pure gold.
If you ignore the adverts, and can tolerate the cuts or the irritating TV voice-overs that often appear over the end-credits, the answer to whether Dr. No still works on the small screen can only be… yes!
A rare photo of Ursula Andress, Sean Connery and Ian Fleming