When the producers of the James Bond movies were looking to refresh the franchise in 2005 they wanted a grittier, more realistic portrayal of the secret agent. "We very much thought it was time for a no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is Bond," said Chief Executive Associate Chief Producer Godfrey Cabbage. "That's very much what we wanted. And after considering a number of options, we very much decided that he should be a Yorkshireman."
Of course, Ian Fleming didn't make Bond a Yorkshireman in his original novels, but then he didn't give him an invisible car and fire him into space either, so there is a precedent for the film series taking liberties with the character. In fact, the decision was very much a reaction to some of the comic-book excesses of earlier movies, as Head Chief Top Associate Managing Executive Producer Godfrey Cabbage explains.
"It was the case, we very much thought, that modern audiences did not want to see the hero infiltrating an enemy stronghold disguised as a crocodile or spazzing around Venice in a hovercraft gondola. A Yorkshire Bond, we very much felt, would not allow himself to get involved in anything so absurd. Ask him to escape down a snow-capped mountain on a cello case and he'd waste no time in telling you where to get off."
However, there were clearly problems with the initial versions of the screenplay. Although the characterisation of Bond's new persona was certainly authentic, there were concerns that it was a little rough around the edges, as this early draft shows.
In the hope of developing a more sophisticated version of Bond, producers turned to Alan Bennett. Hailing from Yorkshire himself, it was felt that Bennett's mastery of idiom and dialogue would provide the franchise with a fully-rounded and believable character.
However, some of Bennett's ideas were questionable. For example, he was keen on creating a new villain, more rooted in real life. Bond's nemesis was to have been called Trevor Hardcastle and would have been the senior revenues officer for Calderdale Borough Council. The following excerpt is from the film's epic denouement, in which Bond finally stands face to face with his archenemy.
Bennett was confident that Mr Hardcastle could have been a recurring character, and even thought there was potential for him to have a spin off movie of his own. But although there were many things that producers liked about Bennett's take on the franchise, they ultimately decided that something was missing. "We very much agreed that the lack of car chases, stunt sequences and explosions left too great a vacuum," said Associate Head Executive Overlord Chief Executive Producer Executive Godfrey Cabbage. "We thought that the sequence where Bond gets off the bus at the wrong stop was wonderfully tense, very much so, but it wasn't enough to sustain audience interest for the duration of the movie."
What the film needed was a script that delivered blistering, fast-moving action sequences, and it became clear that there was only one man for the job. For thirty years the BBC sitcom Last of the Summer Wine had delighted audiences with high-octane thrills and spills as it followed the adventures of three senile old men wandering around the hills and valleys of Yorkshire. Who can forget the classic 'Compo Careers Down a Hill on Tea Tray' episode, the thrilling 'Compo Careers Down a Hill in a Wheelbarrow', or the harrowing 'Nora Batty Gets Shot While Trying to Infiltrate a Secret Underground Missile Installation'.
Writer Roy Clarke was an obvious choice for the job, and he didn't disappoint. He turned in a script in which James Bond and his fellow spies, Foggy and Clegg, convert an old ice cream van into a submarine in order to penetrate a secret SPECTRE base at the bottom of Ogden Reservoir. They destroy it using plastic explosive hidden in Bond's wellies, then escape by surfing to the shore on bits of the wreckage.
Not only was the script replete with action sequences, it also managed the very difficult balancing act of grounding the film in day-to-day life. Take for example this scene, in which several of the spies' wives gather in Mrs Bond's kitchen for a coffee and a natter.
With the major obstacles overcome, the film was set to go into production. The movie had a working title, There's Nowt So Dead as Folk, Sean Bean had been cast as the new Bond and the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band were going to do the theme tune. Why the project didn't go ahead is not entirely clear, although it's thought that producers got cold feet.
"We very much feared that the whole movie might turn out to be a bit crap," intimated Top Whack Chief Executive Head Honcho Producer Godfrey Cabbage. So, There's Nowt So Dead as Folk, was shelved and we ended up with Casino Royale instead, although we can at least be grateful that the studio retained the scene where Daniel Craig escapes from Le Chiffre by careering down a hill in a bathtub.
Taken from The University of the Bleeding Obvious Annual 2021
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