Thunderball at 50: an appreciation

1965 was a turning point for James Bond. As well as seeing the publication of Ian Fleming’s last full-length novel, it also saw the self proclaimed “biggest Bond of all” hit the big screen.


And in between the publication of The Man With The Golden Gun in April and the release of Thunderball in December, as Bondmania was reaching its dizzying heights, something else happened. On 15th September 1965, Battle of Britain Day, I was born.

You might also like to read more about Thunderball here.

Obviously I have no memory of the release of Thunderball, but distinctly recall reading the novel at primary school. I was aged 10 at the time when during one of our reading sessions my teacher, Mr Bullard, called me to his desk to read aloud to him.

The reason the memory has persisted all these years is because I had to skip at least one “bastard” during my reading. Once I’d finished he simply told me he only read James Bond on holiday.

By this time I owned the Corgi DB5 and had read a few of the novels. I had my first big screen Bond experience with The Man With The Golden Gun and avidly watched Dr No when it made its debut on British television in 1975. But Thunderball really caught my imagination because of the underwater sequences.

I had long been fascinated by scuba diving and as a family would watch The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau on TV. And I distinctly remember getting a scuba outfit for my Action Man on my sixth birthday. I can place the the date precisely because the family departed for a holiday in Switzerland. Stopping at a hotel in Germany overnight, I received my present, with which I was thrilled. Little wonder that myself and my two siblings eventually qualified as scuba divers.

Two years after reading the novel, and by now having seen From Russia With Love and Goldfinger on television, I finally got to see Thunderball on 26th February 1977.

Photo: publicity still of Claudine Auger in Thunderball.

Photo: publicity still of Claudine Auger in Thunderball.

As one of my favourite Bond novels, it was almost inevitable that it would also become one of my favourite Bond films. In fact, although it is almost impossible for me to rank the Bond series in its entirety, I am at least sure of my favourite.

There are many who think the subaquatic scenes are too slow and sometimes difficult to follow, but I always loved Fleming’s descriptions of the underwater world and I love experiencing that world in Thunderball.

While From Russia With Love is probably a better film, Thunderball has remained at the top of my list for years, something reinforced when I attended a 2005 screening in London to commemorate its 40th anniversary. Seeing a restored print on the big screen in all its glory and with several cast members present was a fantastic experience.

While the pre-titles sequence is topped by Goldfinger and Casino Royale, it still remains one of the best. There are some great quips from Sean Connery (“I think he got the point”) who is absolutely at his best as 007.

It has a fiendish SPECTRE plot with Blofeld in the shadows. There are the Ken Adam sets, John Barry’s score and the Bahamas locations. It’s also pretty faithful to the book, the gadgets don’t get in the way of story or action, and has some iconic Bond moments such as the shark pool at Palmyra.

By the time of Thunderball’s release the spy craze was already underway thanks to the previous three Bond adventures. The Man From Uncle, on which Ian Fleming also worked, had already debuted on US television a year earlier and the Matt Helm movies were to arrive early the following year.

Following the release of Thunderball it is little wonder that Bondmania was soon to reach its peak. And this was the point when literary 007 was eclipsed by his cinematic interpretation.


David Leigh founded The James Bond Dossier in 2002. A fan of 007 since the age of 8, he is also author of The Complete Guide to the Drinks of James Bond. You can order a copy here if you don't own it already.

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2 Responses to “Thunderball at 50: an appreciation”

  • Drew Cook

    I saw “Thunderball” at the Center Theater on Main Street in downtown Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where my family was living at the time – a very memorable experience. I was 12 years old, caught up in the James Bond phenomenon, and chafing at not having been allowed to see “Goldfinger” the previous year. I had the LIFE magazine issue with Sean Connery on the cover reviewing the film, watched the preview commercials advertising the film on TV, and listened to Tom Jones sing the title song on the radio. My very conservative father was still dubious about letting me see the film, so he asked a visiting tourist, a Stateside family man like himself who had taken a ride on our harbor tour boat, about the film. “Its for the whole family!” the man told Dad. He went on to say “Its got James Bond for Mom, the girls for Dad, and the gadgets for the kiddies!” So, Dad reluctantly let the lady who sold tickets for our tour boat, who also wanted to see the film, take myself and my little sister to see “Thunderball.” The Center was packed to capacity, and as hard as it is to imagine now, they kept letting people in, selling standing and sitting room in the aisles and along the walls after all the seats were sold out! We all loved the film, and both my sister and I still remember, with great fondness, the experience of seeing “The Biggest Bond Of All!” in the theater back in 1965.

  • Rich Connell

    I often think of that wonderful scene where Sean Connery and Claudine Auger are in a boat getting ready to dock at what appears to be a fantastic party location with lots of party minded people. Leave it to John Barry who changed the tempo of his music in that scene to match the mood he wanted just perfectly. With John Barry at the controls, the story lines of all the Bond films he participated in just worked !! RIP John Barry and all the others involved in the greatest film franchise ever.