With Sean Connery having already announced that he was leaving his role as James Bond, and with a new director, Peter Hunt, on board, it was clear that the sixth film in the Bond franchise was going to differ markedly from the previous efforts.
John Barry, who had by this time won an Oscar for his work on Born Free and The Lion In Winter, returned for his fifth consecutive Bond soundtrack but it was clear that this film, and the series, were moving in a new direction. Eschewing gadgetry and pyrotechnics in favour of a film that is extremely faithful to Fleming’s novel, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service needed Barry to come up with a different type of thrilling, action score.
The main problem that Barry encountered, as he had done on Thunderball, was how to include the awkward title of the film in the lyrics to the theme tune. Peter Hunt, director of OHMSS recalls, “There was a lot of discussion about the title song. As I said, quite rightly in a way, the title song should have the title of the film – that’s the benefit of it. But you can hardly have an OHMSS song – it would have to be some sort of march, I think. I wasn’t really keen on that idea.”
Barry agreed. “I finally went and said “Look, we can’t use On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, you know, as a song title, unless we are doing it like Gilbert and Sullivan. We’ve really got a problem”. So I said “Let me write an instrumental for the opening.”” Hunt agreed and despite Leslie Bricusse writing lyrics for OHMSS, Barry came up with the stunning instrumental piece which plays over the opening credits.
For On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, out went the heavy brass that had features so heavily in the previous films and in came a more dramatic, synthesised sound, particularly for the snowy action sequences (Ski Chase and Escape From Piz Gloria). OHMSS is actually credited as being the first film soundtrack to feature a Moog synthesiser.
The powerful opening of the song works tremendously, coming as it does immediately after George Lazenby’s one nod to the fact that there is a ‘new’ Bond – the famous line “This never happened to the other feller…” The opening sequence to OHMSS also includes references to the previous five films to help the audience with the transition to a new Bond. Small touches such as Draco’s janitor whistling the theme to Goldfinger, and snippets of Underneath the Mango Tree (from Dr No) and From Russia With Love playing when Bond packs up his personal effects after his ‘resignation’, help maintain the smooth transition from Connery to Lazenby’s Bond.
A nine minute version of the instrumental theme, remixed by the Propellerheads, was also the highlight of David Arnold’s 1997 Bond collection Shaken And Stirred.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
1. We Have All the Time In The World
2. This Never Happened To The Other Feller
4. Ski Chase5. Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown?
6. Main Theme – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
7. Journey To Blofeld’s Hideaway
8. We Have All The Time In The World
9. Over And Out
10. Battle At Piz Gloria
11. We Have All The Time In The World – James Bond Theme
12. Journey To Draco’s Hideaway13. Bond And Draco
14. Gumbold’s Safe
15. Bond Settles In16. Bond Meets The Girls
17. Dusk At Piz Gloria
18. Sir Hillary’s Night Out (Who Will Buy My Yesterdays?)
19. Blofeld’s Plot
20. Escape From Piz Gloria
21. Bobsled Chase
The soundtrack also features some terrific, dramatic pieces which underline OHMSS’ status as a more serious, ‘spy adventure’ movie. OHMSS is much more cat-and-mouse than Connery’s previous two or three films and great suspenseful pieces such as Gumbold’s Safe and Journey To Blofeld’s Hideaway underscore the tension perfectly.
As well as the stunning instrumental opening, Barry did write two other songs for the film. Collaborating with renowned American lyricist Hal David, the song Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown? was recorded by the Danish singer Nina and features during the ice rink sequences towards the end of the film.
Barry and David also composed We Have All The Time In The World as the ‘love theme’ for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The ‘all the time in the world’ motif repeats throughout the film and makes Barry and David’s composition superbly poignant. Taken from the title of the last chapter in Fleming’s novel, the song makes its first instrumental appearance (when Bond meets Tracey’s father Marc-Ange Draco) and is beautifully used both during the scenes where Bond and Tracey’s romance develops and at the very end of the film where Bond holds Tracey’s lifeless body, telling the motorcycle policeman that “It’s OK – we have all the time in the world.”
After discussion with Cubby Broccoli, Barry didn’t want an ‘out and out pop person’ to record We Have All The Time In The World, preferring someone who could bring ‘irony’ to the role. Louis Armstrong, who had been ill for over a year ,agreed to record the song and it became the legendary jazz singer’s final ever studio recording.
Allmusic.com rates On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as John Barry’s best score for any James Bond movie and We Have All The Time In The World as the best song. Barry himself has admitted that it is probably his favourite of all his Bond themes. Despite not being a chart success in 1969, the track has subsequently become hugely popular, reaching number Three in the UK charts in 1994. In 2005 a BBC survey also showed that it was the third most played song at weddings.
Whether it’s the best of Barry’s soundtracks is open to debate. However, the stunning instrumental theme that plays over the opening credits and the heartbreaking love song that accompanies the downbeat ending to OHMSS are as perfect a bookend to a film as you could hope for.