The thing about series is that you never really know you've got one until you make the second film. Lots of movies have the vague feel of a series-in-waiting - the recent Nice Guys, say, with Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling - but, for whatever reason, the sequel never happens. Dr No, in that sense, is remarkable: In that very first film, they establish a big chunk of the "formula" that stayed with 007 for the ensuing half-century.
To be sure, a decade earlier Ian Fleming had done the same in the first Bond novel, Casino Royale: The roulette table shows up on page one, M on page three, Moneypenny on page 13, the Double-Os on 14, the CIA's Felix Leiter on 31, the first dry martini, shaken not stirred, on page 32. ("Excellent," pronounces 007 on the matter of the last, "but if you can get a vodka made with grain instead of potatoes, you will find it still better.") But the film of Dr No takes all that and makes it a movie series, starting from the famous gun-barrel opening and the Maurice Binder titles, and continuing through to the Bond villain's monologueing over dinner and a bottle of Dom Pérignon '55. 007 listens patiently to the eponymous doctor's plans, and then sighs, barely stifling a yawn, "World domination. Same old dream." It's his first picture and he's already fighting vainly the old ennui of formulaic villainy.
The same old world domination acquired other accessories in subsequent outings: Q and the gadgets show up in From Russia with Love, and the pre-titles sequence followed by the theme song only becomes set in stone with the third picture, Goldfinger. But eighty-five per cent of the template for the world's most successful movie series is in place on that initial venture in 1962.
Including, of course, the "Bond Girl". The first was played by a lady called Eunice Gayson, who died yesterday, Friday, at the age of ninety. It fell to Miss Gayson to usher in Bond's catchphrase, Bond's theme tune, and Bond himself. Dr No opens in Jamaica, to the strains of a Caribbeanized "Three Blind Mice" and with the assassination of the station chief and his secretary, the theft of files, a loss of radio contact, plot stuff. But then we cross to London, and a luxurious casino where a woman in an updo and an off-one-shoulder red dress is playing chemin de fer. She has lost, but decides to play on. Across the table, the man who has bested her, and whose face we have not yet seen, remarks: "I admire your courage, Miss..?"
"Trench. Sylvia Trench." She looks up from signing the check. "I admire your luck, Mister..?"
"Bond." And there's Sean Connery snapping his lighter shut as the first brooding notes of what would become the movies' longest-lasting theme tune start up underneath. "James Bond."
Thirty-nine years later - 2001 - the namecheck would be voted the greatest movie line of all time in Britain, and, four years after that, the second greatest movie line of all time by the American Film Institute (we'll save the first for another day). "Bond. James Bond" is Fleming's, introduced on page 42 or thereabouts of the first book. Yet on the page it's just something he says; it's not a catchphrase whose every recurrence delights the audience, even if, as in Daniel Craig's debut in 2006, they have to wait to the very end of the picture. But I have always liked the way that this distinctive tic - more suited to a traveling salesman than a secret agent - was introduced to the world as an amused echo of "Trench. Sylvia Trench."
Bond is called away by an urgent message from M, and his chemin de fer opponent also rises from the table. "Tell me, Miss Trench. Do you play any other games?" She offers golf, and, proposing a game the following day, he gives her his number. But Sylvia is impatient. Later that night, when Bond returns from headquarters to his flat, something seems off. He draws his Walther PPK and throws open the door to be confronted by the sight of Miss Trench chipping golf balls across his drawing room carpet and wearing nothing but high heels and a rather short shirt from his wardrobe. "I decided to change into something more comfortable," she says.
He's supposed to leave for Jamaica "immediately" but decides to make it "almost immediately".
And that's it: Between those two scenes, Eunice Gayson is on screen for four minutes, but she establishes the format for all who follow: She's worldly, cool, at ease as the only woman at a Mayfair gaming table; but she's also intrigued and aroused, audacious and confident enough to break into a chap's apartments and slip into "something more comfortable" - and, no matter how urgently MI6 needs him to see off this season's global super-villain, it's never that pressing: "world domination" can wait.
Who is Sylvia? What is she? Eunice Gayson had been in films since the late Forties without ever finding that breakthrough role. For Dr No, the director Terence Young offered Lois Maxwell a choice between playing Sylvia or Miss Moneypenny. Miss Maxwell didn't fancy the underdressed golf game, so she picked Moneypenny. Six years before Dr No, Young (with Bond producer Cubby Broccoli and Bond writer Richard Maibaum) had made a film called Zarak, an Afghan caper with anti-British warlords and one-eyed mullahs (plus ça change and all that) in which Eunice Gayson had had a small role. "You always bring me luck," said Young, and so he cast her as Sylvia.
The world's longest-running, most successful movie franchise didn't start out that way. Dr No was a seriously low-budget film - under a million bucks - which wouldn't have covered that opening tracking shot 54 years later on Spectre. Ken Adam was the production designer, as he would be for so many other Bond adventures. As is often said, it's because of Ken Adam that we think guys bent on world domination live in hollowed-out volcanoes and zip about therein on bumper-car monorails accompanied by bacofoil-suited henchmen. For Dr No, Adam was given a budget of £14,500. He couldn't afford to build the evil doctor his own aquarium, so he decided to make do with some stock footage of fish projected on to a rear screen. When the stock footage arrived, it was of goldfish. So they blew the film up to make the fish look bigger and out-of-focus, and then wrote Sean Connery a line about how Dr No's aquarium had special magnifying windows. You'll recall that, in Austin Powers, Dr Evil demands sharks with lasers but has to make do with ill-tempered sea bass. In 1962, Dr No couldn't afford the sea bass.
So, when Eunice Gayson arrived at Pinewood to shoot the casino scene, she was - like M and Moneypenny and almost everyone else - wearing not a costume but her own clothes. The exceptions were Sean Connery, whom Terence Young took to his own tailor as part of his crash course in teaching a Scots milkman how to appear "sophisticated" (it worked), and Joseph Wiseman, who I assume doesn't wear Nehru jackets except when he's Dr No discoursing on world domination. Unfortunately, Miss Gayson's gown was brown-and-yellow, and so were the walls of the casino. On camera you could hardly see her. So Terence Young thumbed through the phone book and sent his actress off to the only nearby ladies' wear shop. She arrived to find that it had changed into a knitting-supplies outlet. The little old lady behind the counter suggested Eunice buy the wool and make a nice dress herself. And so the very first Bond girl had to explain that she needed it in rather a hurry. She was about to leave when she saw a lone red gown hanging at the back of the shop, presumably left over from the store's previous incarnation. Eunice was a size eight and this was a size twenty (UK), but she took it and, back at Pinewood, with Sean kicking his heels, the wardrobe mistress cut a huge chunk out of the dress and held it together with clothes pegs down the left side.
Which is why, as Sylvia Trench accompanies Bond to the casino door, she's only filmed from her right. It's amazing what you can do without a blockbuster budget - if you've got natural style and wit and inventiveness.
I met Eunice Gayson in a BBC green room years ago, and she looked fabulous but didn't sound quite as I was expecting: She didn't have the same slightly remote, affectless accent as Sylvia Trench. I found out afterwards that Terence Young had had her lines re-voiced by Nikki van der Zyl. If you think that's humiliating, relax: Miss van der Zyl, a German voice artiste, also re-voiced Ursula Andress (as Honey Ryder) and virtually every other actress in Dr No. The all but lone exception was Lois Maxwell, who dialed back her Ontario accent just enough to meet with Young's approval. I'm not generally a fan of re-voicing, but the synchronicity between Miss Gayson's looks and Miss van der Zyl's voice is not one I'd want to mess with.
She - they - returned in From Russia with Love, Matt Monro's record of Lionel Bart's theme tune playing from a transistor radio while Bond and a bikini-clad Sylvia renew their acquaintance in a punt and the wine chills at the end of a string in the water below. But Moneypenny calls (on 007's impressively cumbersome car telephone) and, despite his protestations that he's "reviewing an old case", his presence is required. It was supposed to be a running joke at the start of every adventure: Sylvia would be Bond's girlfriend and, just as things would be heating up, he'd have to jet off to Jamaica, or Turkey, or America or Japan or France or the Bahamas... But Terence Young wasn't around for Goldfinger, and the new director, Guy Hamilton, decided to drop the gag. For those whose perennial complaint is of the exhausted 007 formula, Eunice Gayson can claim a rare distinction: She was the first part of the formula to be discarded. Which led to another distinction: She remains the only Bond girl to return in the following film.
She went to television, and pretty much all the shows you'd expect: Danger Man, The Saint, The Avengers... For the record, her last screen appearance was on an episode of MasterChef in 2013. But those six minutes in two Bond films are as memorable as the oeuvres of many stars who've stacked up far more screen time. Pop culture seems utterly worn out these days, with Hollywood expending ever more absurd ten-figure sums to flog into semi-life some or other character created fifty, sixty, eighty years ago. But we can't seem to do it with the nimble improvisational brio that helped Eunice Gayson in an oversized red dress held together by a bunch of clothes pegs launch a six-decade movie tradition.
007 certainly appreciated her. "I'll be there in an hour," he tells HQ from his protean car phone.
"Your 'old case' sounds interesting, James," says an amused Moneypenny.
"Make that an hour and a half."
~There's more 007 in Steyn's audio salute to MI6's music man, John Barry, Bond's in-house composer for a quarter-century and the inventor of what we now think of as "spy music". Mark talks to David Arnold, Barry's principal successor as 007 composer, for every film from Tomorrow Never Dies to A Quantum of Solace, and the man who's written more James Bond lyrics than anybody else (from Thunderball to The World is Not Enough) Don Black, plus a more fitful John Barry collaborator, Tim Rice (Octopussy). It's two hours of great music from Bond and beyond.
In this anniversary season of The Mark Steyn Club, we would like to thank all those first-month Founding Members who've decided to sign up for another year - and hope our second-month members will feel inclined to do likewise as June proceeds. Club membership isn't for everybody, but it helps keep all our content out there for everybody, in print, audio, video, on everything from civilizational collapse to our Saturday movie dates. And we're proud to say that this site now offers more free content than ever before.
What is The Mark Steyn Club? Well, it's a discussion group of lively people on the great questions of our time; it's also an audio Book of the Month Club, and a live music club, and a video poetry circle. We don't (yet) have a clubhouse, but we do have many other benefits, and an upcoming cruise. And, if you've got some kith or kin who might like the sound of all that and more, we do have a special Gift Membership that makes a great birthday present. More details here.