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.
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.
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.
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.