Credit: PA

Film

Sir Sean Connery, Manchester United And The Royal Navy

The fascinating life of Able Seaman Connery

Credit: PA

Sir Sean Connery gave a face to one of the most iconic characters in both literature and cinema. He is credited as starring as the original James Bond, a performance he repeated seven times.

To many, he remains the original Bond and best. 

The role is, of course, heavily associated with the Royal Navy. As he is frequently referred to as across the film franchise, Commander Bond is in the onscreen representation of that partnership. However, the original Bond actor shared more in common with the senior service than merely playing a character in a Commander's uniform.

Before becoming a Hollywood star, Sir Sean Connery served in the Royal Navy. But what did he do?

Sir Sean, who was awarded an Oscar in 1988 for his supporting role in the film The Untouchables, passed away in October last year. 

The Scotsman stamped his name on the role of British secret agent James Bond, so much so that commentators always compared those who took on the part after him to his iconic performances as 007.

Sir Sean turned his hands to various jobs in his younger years before breaking out as an actor. As a teenager, he worked at his local dairy.

But at the age of 16, Sir Sean joined the Armed Forces.

Upon joining the Royal Navy in 1946, the future star was stationed at Portsmouth while training to become an anti-aircraft gunner. After leaving gunnery school, Sir Sean, who went by his birth name Thomas, was posted to the aircraft carrier HMS Formidable. 

Sir Sean Connery was an Able Seaman.

When the actor's debut as James Bond premiered in 1962, it was not just critics and fans who were impressed by his sinister yet sexy performance as the man with the licence to kill. In the book, The Man with the Golden Touch: How Bond Films Conquered the World, Sinclair McKay detailed a little known fact concerning Bond author Ian Fleming's response to that first outing in Dr. No.

Sinclair said:

But of course for the final proof of what Fleming really thought, we only have to turn to the Bond novels that he wrote after Connery took the role; Bond is belatedly given a (dead) Scottish father in his 1963 novel On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Prior to this, we had heard nothing of Bond's childhood. 

Indeed, Fleming admitted that he had continued writing the books with Connery in mind. 

Just three years into his Royal Navy service, the 19-year-old Able Seaman's personal circumstances brought an abrupt end to his naval career. Sir Sean suffered a duodenal ulcer, a condition that had affected several males across his family's generations.

Speaking years later, Sir Sean said:

"Strangely, I have never had ulcers since. Looking back, it was probably my inability to take orders from the officers, especially from those I found had reached their position largely through privilege, that gave me ulcers."

Princess Anne presented Sir Sean Connery a special BAFTA award in 1990. Credit: PA

Sir Sean maintained his short turn of phrase to describe things plainly as he saw them for the rest of his life.

On the subject of Bond's author, he was quoted as saying Ian Fleming was "a terrific snob but very good company." Of women, he said, "I like women. I don't understand them, but I like them."

After being medically discharged from the Royal Navy in 1949, the young man returned home to Edinburgh and found work as a lifeguard. Shortly after, he began to pose as a model at the Edinburgh College of Art, which eventually led to him entering bodybuilding competitions.

Sir Sean was a talented footballer and even attracted Sir Matt Busby's scouting eyes in the early 1950s, who reportedly offered the 23-year-old scot a contract to play for Manchester United.

But Sir Sean said no. He later remarked:

"I really wanted to accept because I loved football. But I realised that a top-class footballer could be over the hill by the age of 30, and I was already 23. I decided to become an actor and it turned out to be one of my more intelligent moves."

In 1962, Sir Sean secured his breakthrough role as the fictional British secret agent, James Bond.

He had been chosen by Bond producer Cubby Broccoli, who received the blessing of the character's original creator Ian Fleming. Perhaps it could be said that Sir Sean was James Bond. Fleming, who died in 1964, would apparently agree. 

Sir Sean Connery died on October 31, 2020, at the age of 90. He lived out his days in the Bahamas. 

 

The Man With The Golden Touch: How the Bond Films Conquered the World by Sinclair McKay was published in 2008 by Aurum Press.