Move aside Sher Sean, George Lazenby takes up 007’s mantle for the first and only time in the latest for our countdown to Spectre. Bond journeys to the Swiss Alps to uncover another of Blofeld’s sinister plots, and along the way falls in love with Diana Rigg’s Contessa Teresa, who will change his life forever. Sort of.
Something of an anomaly in the franchise – not least because its Lazenby’s sole entry – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has an enduring appeal unlike any other Bond film. A firm favourite of many Bond fans, it marks a maturity in the series which was never quite matched again until Daniel Craig donned the tux many decades later. It also remains a personal favourite, with fond memories of watching it on video every Christmas with my step-Dad, who instilled my love of Bond at a young age. Not that I had much choice in the matter: Bond was a permanent fixture in our household. Christopher Nolan is also a big fan, and traces of it can be felt in several of his movies, not the least in the final snowy siege in Inception.
Lazenby is still the least celebrated of the Bond actors, and it’s not hard to to see why here. Aside from the action sequences, his dramatic acting leaves a lot to be desired. Not a patch on Connery, he’s still much more handsome and a lot less loathsome than the incredibly crass Roger Moore. Yet this is an entry that often gets overlooked by those who aren’t die-hard Bond fans, with it getting dismissed as a temporary blip. Even the Broccolis thought as much, who immediately thrust a tonne of money at Connery for him to return for the next instalment, Diamonds are Forever.
Revisiting On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a bittersweet experience. You can’t help but feel like this would have been the ultimate Bond, if only Connery had been convinced to stay on board. Most of the preposterous elements of Connery’s previous efforts Thunderball and You Only Live Twice have mercifully been stripped away. Sure, you’ve still get the silliness of Blofeld’s ‘allergy research lab’, full of gorgeous women and groovy mind control, and Bond going undercover as the feckless ‘Ser Hilary’ is pretty cringeworthy. But at its heart is a much more human and heartfelt story than we’ve come to expect from the cold and vulgar 007, with a genuinely touching romance which gives us a greater insight into Bond the man, as opposed to Bond the secret agent.
Granted, he’s still a bit of an arse, but he’s arguably more likeable than he’s ever been here. The perennially wonderful Diana Rigg delivers her role with all the class you would expect from such a fine actress, and is arguably the best Bond girl of the entire series. Sharp, forthright and drop-dead gorgeous; it’s little wonder that Bond fell head over heels for her. Telly Savalas also has fun with Blofeld, giving him a thoroughly campy Euro-villain feel. You’re not sure if at any moment he would kill you, or if he would seduce you with his dulcet tones whilst plying you with brandy and cigars by a roaring fire.
The cinematography is wonderful, with the majestic Swiss alps providing the perfect backdrop for Bond’s escapades. The action is great fun too, particularly Bond’s first ski chase, which turns into a game of cat and mouse in a nearby village and then again into car chase which sees them causing havoc at a local car rally. Finally, the heart-breaking finale is a punch to the gut which you won’t soon forget, and remains the most ballsy ending to any Bond film. It would have been the perfect Bond if only Connery had stayed on, but considering how this could have been handled (Roger Moore, anyone?), we should be thankful it’s as accomplished as it is.
Bond theme: The only theme to be completely instrumental outside of Dr. No, John Barry thought it would be too much of a mouthful to incorporate the film’s title into any kind of lyrics. With its moog synthesiser bassline and moody brass, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service remains one of the best pieces of music the franchise has ever delivered. Über-cool and perfectly suited to Bond, it’s almost a shame it hasn’t been utilised in further entries. However, more memorable perhaps is Louis Armstrong’s bittersweet ‘We Have All the Time in the World’ his last ever recording and a song which Barry wrote for the film.
Best one liner: This being a fairly toned down Bond film, and the fact that Lazenby didn’t exactly have oodles of charisma to spare, there aren’t many one-liners to choose from. Judging by Connery’s later output though, this is probably a blessing. However when Lazenby breaks the fourth wall by indignantly exclaiming ‘this never happened to the other fellow!’ after Tracy deserts him on the beach, you can’t help but smile.
Glamorous Locations: After opening in Portugal, Bond spends most of his time in Switzerland, which provides as picturesque and spectacular a location as you could hope for. Blofeld’s hideout the Piz Gloria was actually a revolving restaurant which was unfinished at the time of filming. The crew were granted permission to film there as long as they footed bill for some of its construction, and it’s still there today.
Girls: Aside form the gaggle of beautiful women living at the Piz Gloria – two of whom he sleeps with (one for ‘research’ and one because why not) – it’s Diana Rigg’s Tracy that dominates. Not only is she the most gorgeous Bond girl yet to grace the screen, she is also the most human, and brings out Bond’s best side. What’s not to like? On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is also notable for an early appearance by Joanna Lumley as one of the girls at Piz Gloria, but for better or worse she manages to stay clear of Bond’s charms.
Gadgets: None. Genuinely. Q talks to M about some ‘radioactive lint’ early on, but it’s never given to Bond. Shame, because it sounds really, really useful.
Classic moment: Rubbish back projection aside, Bond’s triumphant escape from Piz Gloria remains a series highlight as he skis down the mountain at break-neck speed to the accompaniment of the super cool theme music. At one point he loses a ski, but he continues undeterred because he’s just that kinda guy. Ski chases will be revisited again in the likes of The Spy Who Loved Me, A View to a Kill and The World is Not Enough, but this remains the best of them all.
Lowpoint: A lovely moment of casual racism: the only black woman at Piz Gloria is very fond of bananas. Nice one, guys.
TELSTAR’S BIG BOND COUNTDOWN WILL RETURN WITH… ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE