The Spy Who Loved Me was Dodger’s, as we affectionately called Roger Moore, third outing as James Bond 007 and without a doubt his best. You can judge for yourself this Friday Sept 29th. I’m very excited to be showing the newly restored digital print at my cinema. We can even discuss its place in the James Bond pantheon over a drink afterwards if you like.
Growing up in a cinema James Bond films were very important to us, they weren’t simply a nice opportunity for the family to go to the pictures, in fact a nice family outing to the pictures was not something we ever did, coals and Newcastle obviously spring to mind, that and Dad always working at the pictures put paid to that.
No, James Bond films were something you cleared the decks for, something that meant more shows, more staff and a chance to make lots of money. In our house the films didn’t didn’t have actual titles, they were just “The Bond”. Dad’s going to be busy this week because it’s The Bond. We booked The Bond, not The Spy Who Loved Me, you get the idea.
A new Bond was also something special because we had spent the last two or three years playing all the old ones. In those days you could do that, often in a double feature. Thunderball and You Only Live Twice was always my favourite. Not only was it a double dose of Sean Connery, always a good thing, it went on forever. The Bond is rarely under two hours, often more, so two of them and ads and trailers, you were in the cinema for what seemed like an eternity. From Russia with Love and Godfinger was also cinematic bliss
In later years The Bond double bill became a thing of the past like all double bills, but I still mourn their passing. Bigger, Better, Bond and Beyond!
All this means that a new James Bond was a big part of my growing up, not just because they always put a smile on my Dad’s face, but because The Bond was one of those times when we, the cinema, became the focus of everyone’s attention. It happens from time to time, when a film becomes a cultural phenomenon. It happened with Grease, it happened with Mama Mia, it happened, of course, with Skyfall.
The Bond is always a cultural phenomenon, even the less successful ones. The fortunes of The Bond go up down over the decades but in Uckfield he is always popular. Maybe it’s where we are, maybe his simple brutal patriotism appeals to the with us or against us sensibility in such an obviously Conservative borough.
However, when The Spy Who Loved Me came out none of this mattered to me a jot. I was approaching my 15th birthday and very excited. It had also been four years since The Man with The Golden Gun, which I remembered, but was truly too young to appreciate. This was the first new Bond that I would take real ownership of and as I was already working front of house on Saturday afternoons, be part of.
I’d had to wait far too long for us to play it, the reason being the release pattern of The Bond at that time. In those days United Artists had very specific ideas about how The Bond should be released across the UK. The world premiere took place in early July 1977 and then it would have played in the West End at the Odeon Leicester Square for a few weeks and then it had what UA called a coastal only release in time for the summer holidays. Because obviously everyone was going to boarding houses in Bournemouth or Blackpool for their holidays. Nonsense of course, but the UK cinema industry at that time wasn’t blessed with particularly imaginative or forward-thinking executives. It was still an industry set up to protect the circuit dominated duopoly.
Although hilariously some very low status halls suddenly won the movie lottery because of their geographical location when it came to the release of The Bond. It used to drive my dad nuts, to paraphrase, any old shit hole could come in on The Bond as long as it had the bloody sea lapping at its front doors.
So being an annoying 25 miles inland we had to wait. There was what they used to call a London release late August and then we were allowed in two weeks later. So, a full two months after its UK premier and after multiple weeks in Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings, we finally started our two week booking of The Spy Who Loved Me on September 18th 1977.
I went every day. I loved everything about it, not just the film but the artwork, the soundtrack album, which I still have, and again that feeling of being part of something special. It’s a privilege to be in our business a lot of the time and this film was the first time I understood that. Audiences loved it, they loved Dodger’s raised eyebrow, his keeping the British end up and particularly his union jack parachute just before Carly Simon’s iconic title song.
In many ways The Spy Who Loved Me was my Star Wars. By the time we got round to that film I was already a sullen, grumpy 16 year old determined to be more impressed with Annie Hall.
The more forgiving 15 year old me though, was ready to take all the action and camp sophistication Bond could give me. The film also gave me Barbara Bach in that black evening dress, something for which I shall be forever grateful.