Norway- land of fjords and brunost. Home to the Blue Peter Christmas tree, Vikings and the mighty herring, it’s a country that would seem to have little or no connection to the world of James Bond. There’s a-ha, of course, and Julie Ege but that’s about it. The cinematic Bond has never been there and only once has a Norwegian location appeared in any of the films; the wintry landscape that cameos in the pre-titles to “You Only Live Twice” was filmed at a military radio station, long since demolished, at Mågerø, Vestfold.
But, as we know, Bond fans are everywhere and Norway boasts a small but particularly dedicated group. In 2014, it seemed that Norway would at last plant its pin firmly on the Bond world map when it was announced that Norwegian actress Synnøve Macody Lund had screen tested for a role in “Spectre” and that several major scenes would be filmed in the country. Sadly, the hopes of local fans were dashed when Ms Lund was not cast and the prospective location shooting was cancelled due to prohibitive production costs.
Perhaps in response to this, Morten Steingrimsen and friends at jamesbondmagasinet.no stifled their disappointment and decided to organise Norway’s first ever Bond event. To mark the 50th anniversary of “Goldfinger” in 2014, a special screening was held in Oslo attended by Sir Ken Adam, accompanied by friend to JBR Norman Wanstall. This was such a success that in 2015 “Bond Girls Are Forever” followed, a charitable bash held in aid of Sir Roger’s favourite cause, UNICEF. 2016 was to see their most prestigious venture yet and it seems fitting that in Norway, the birthplace of skiing, the event would feature the world premiere of a 4K restoration of that most ski-centric of Bond films, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”; George Lazenby would fly in from Los Angeles to attend.
I heard about the event in the “bonus” episode of JBR of the 8th July. In fact, I was still hearing about it out through my iPod’s earphones as I burst into the living room to impart the glad tidings to my wife. Noting a look of world-weary resignation crossing her face, I took pity and threw her a lifeline.
“I can go on my own, if you like”, I said, generously.
After a momentary pause, she reached for her laptop. “You book the tickets”, she said, “while I look for flights and a hotel”. That’s exactly the sort of wife a chap needs.
So it was that at 6 pm on September 1st 2016, she found herself posing on a red carpet outside the Vika Kino in central Oslo, being photographed in front of a giant picture of George Lazenby beside a grinning nitwit in a tuxedo; not owning a posh jacket, I’d decided to purchase this one a couple of days earlier.
At the other end of the red carpet, a commotion erupted as Norwegian personality Marianne Jemtegård sashayed into view
, posing for the eager photographers in a dress that was, perhaps, a tad too short and slightly lacking in the upper body area. Pictures are available on the James Bond Til Oslo Facebook page, should you be interested.
“Jeez, put it away, love” advised my wife, as we made our way past and into the building for the exclusive pre-screening reception.
The basement of the Vika Kino had been transformed into a veritable Cathedral of George. The walls were adorned with screens displaying an ever-changing gallery of stills of Lazenby in his prime. Elsewhere, giant free-standing plasma screens showed high-definition extracts from all of the films. A roulette table dominated the centre of the room: this was to be the setting for the competition at the post-film party. Favourite Bond tunes issued from hidden speakers.
Everybody, and I mean everybody, was sporting a tux. Except for the ladies. I was relieved that I had elected to wear one, pleased to be keeping the British end up. The entire scene reminded me a little of Elliot Carver’s Global Satellite launch party, minus the associated violence. Glamorous, black-clad waitresses moved among the fans, proffering trays of canapés. Any regrets that there was no Royal Beluga from north of the Caspian in evidence were swiftly forgotten as another phalanx of waitresses followed, replenishing our glasses of champagne.
Animated discussions could be discerned among the general hubbub. I won’t go into detail, just think about any conversation that you have ever had with your mates about Bond: they were like that.
Not being a lover of champagne, my wife announced that she would go upstairs to the cinema’s bar to look for something else to drink, leaving me in the company of Hans Backstrom and Jørg Cordes. Both are foreign nationals living and working in Oslo, Jørg being from Germany and Hans from Sweden. I took the opportunity to show off my Spectre octopus cuff links (60s vintage).
“Aha!” said Hans, hitching up the sleeves of his tuxedo to display his “Auric Enterprises” links. “In fact,” he added ruefully, indicating his physique “I’m often told that I look like Goldfinger”.
I’m too polite to offer an opinion.
The wife reappeared brandishing some bottles. “I’ve found some beer”, she declared. “By the way, George is upstairs”. 6.7 seconds later, so were we.
He’d arrived at the Oslo waterside by speedboat, and thence had been driven in an Aston Martin DBS to the Vika Kino. We had been too busy stuffing our faces and quaffing champagne to witness this. Truth be told, the arrival had been staged more for the benefit of the media than for the fans, as the response to the eventual appearance of George on stage may have been slightly less rapturous had we all spotted him earlier.
Looking the business in his Anthony Sinclair tuxedo, George was dutifully posing for photos with a seemingly endless procession of sponsors, local bigwigs and celebrities.
I’m looking quite smart, I thought, he doesn’t know me, I could probably insinuate myself into his photo shoot. So I did.
I asked George, very politely, if he would mind posing for a photo with me. “I’d prefer a tall blond woman”, he said, “but at my age all I seem to get is blokes”.
He was probably fed up with the photo call by now, and a long night stretched ahead of him. He’s been asked every conceivable question a million times over, and he’d have to answer most of them again during the course of the evening; what should I say, if anything? Noticing his bow-tie, and having spent almost the entire preceding weekend in front of the bathroom mirror trying to teach myself how to tie one, I complimented him on the professional appearance that he’d managed to achieve; I may have wittered on a bit, as we posed, about the trials and tribulations that I had endured with mine in preparation for this gala occasion. I was not convinced that he was overly impressed, so I sidled off, thanking him for his patience.
“You got it”, he smiled.
The wife, a sympathetic soul, approached George as he was about to be whisked away for the screening. “I’m a short brunette lady, will I do?”. Much to the annoyance of George’s usher, he paused for one last, quite nice photograph with my wife.
Once the audience had settled comfortably in the cinema, Morten Steingrimsen took to the stage to introduce the star guests. Serena Scott Thomas took being introduced as Kristin Scott Thomas with good grace. At least Caroline Munro, Martine Beswick and Maryam D’Abo seemed to be who Morten said they were. Finally, George was introduced with David Mason. Who’s he? The person who measured George and supervised the creation of his tuxedo, that’s who.
George was presented with a special painting, created by a local artist. I may not know much about art, but I know what I don’t like. This was a simplistic line drawing of George’s face, a rose between his teeth à la Tracy in the film’s closing scene. “This is how I see you”, said the artist. Maybe George should have given him the name of Draco’s oculist. Let’s just say that if I saw this image on a t-shirt, I wouldn’t buy it.
“Just what I always wanted”, deadpanned George. Displaying it to the audience, he asked:
“Do you think this’ll get me laid?”, before depositing the thing at the back of the stage.
The rumoured debut presentation of the mythical documentary “This Never Happened To The Other Fella” did not materialise, as I had suspected, so it was on to the interview of George by Maryam D’Abo. George was as affable as ever. Very little new was revealed, so if you have ever attended a Q&A with him, or have seen his interviews on the DVD extras of OHMSS or in “Everything Or Nothing” you can guess what was discussed. George is still writing his autobiography, it seems. But, there were a few revelations that I hadn’t heard before. Following the presentation of a protracted fight scene from “The Man From Hong Kong”, during which George’s jacket was set ablaze Hinx-style ( as the fists flew, our audience yelled as one “Go, George!”), he explained that real fire had been used and that as a result he’d had to be given morphine and skin grafts. “How dumb was I to do that?”, he reflected. “I needed the money”.
As an interviewer, Maryam offered an unusual perspective, also having had her life changed forever by appearing in a Bond film.
“We Bond girls are always asked this”, she said, “so I’m going to ask you. Was being in a James Bond film a blessing or a curse?”
George tried to sidestep the question but Maryam, to her credit, persisted:
“You haven’t answered my question”.
George responded in all seriousness:
“It sounds a little forward. Look, it was life. When I was broke, I wished I was still Bond”.
It was a poignant moment.
The interview over, George was about to take his seat for the screening when he remembered his painting. Striding to the back of the stage to collect it, he quipped:
“I could have had an Alzheimer’s thing there, and forgot it”. I wonder if he took it back to L.A. as hand luggage or crammed it into his suitcase.
The lights dimmed, and the Vika Kino proceeded to show the Greatest Film of All Time. I’d had a few concerns beforehand; would the film be in Norwegian? Would George have appeared at another premiere only to discover (again) that his performance had been dubbed? If it had been, would a different Norwegian actor be supplying the vocals for the Sir Hilary Bray scenes? No. The restoration boasted a stereophied version of the original soundtrack but was otherwise unmolested.
Having seated ourselves 3 rows back from the stage to be closer to the interview, perhaps we weren’t far enough away from the screen. But, the 4K version was not a noticeable improvement on either the HD download available on the iTunes Store or the digitally restored “Ultimate Edition” DVD. The picture looked a bit blocky. However, unlike in the “Ultimate Edition” where the music had been mixed way too low for my liking, John Barry’s score was finally showcased in all its magnificence. Similarly, the sound quality was exceptional. The seat-rattling cacophony of the avalanche sequence, together with amazing visuals, created a visceral experience to rival that of any contemporary blockbuster. Oddly, the back-projection throughout the film seemed less noticeable on the big screen, so presented less of a problem than on a TV.
It’s OHMSS and so it was, of course, utterly brilliant.
The crowd retired to the basement for the post-screening party. George mingled for a while. Martine and Caroline appeared and were immediately pounced upon.
Music was to be provided by the aforementioned Marianne Jemtegård. “She’s a TV personality, essentially” explained Jørg. “It could be interesting to find out if she has any talent as a DJ”. It wasn’t, and she didn’t.
The party did what parties do, kept going until the wee small hours before sending its guests staggering off into the night, perfectly happy. None of us won anything at the roulette wheel.
Later on, in the rooftop bar of our hotel, I was sitting nursing a Vesper and gazing out across a starlit Oslo when the wife said:
“You know, I was really worried that I was going to be bored this evening but I wasn’t. We’ve met some fantastic people”.
That may be my abiding memory of James Bond in Oslo. People from all over the world were there, from as far away as Brazil, Canada and New York but all united in the International Brotherhood (and Sisterhood) of Bond. That’s the great thing about being a Bond fan, you will always meet people at these gatherings with whom you will become instant friends. Some of them will be at Pinewood in a couple of weeks, and I’m looking forward to seeing them again. So, if you’ve never been to an event like this, give it a go. And take the wife…or husband.
article by Nicholas Knight