Growing up in Edinburgh in the 1960s, Sir Sean Connery was as much part of the landscape of the city as the castle.
A favourite son of the capital, he entered its folklore – so much so that Big Tam was one of the reasons I went into journalism as an eager school leaver.
You see, my mum was a huge fan of the 007 star and even had her own story to tell, to add to the plethora of claims from folk who had their milk delivered by Connery or had him polish their granny’s coffin.
Connery was working as a printer’s assistant in the Evening News at the same time she was working as a copy typist (that was someone a reporter dictated their story to when they were filing on deadline from a job, back in the days before laptops).
Led by the hand
One day, mum was late back from lunch and tried to take a short cut to the editorial floor. She opened the wrong door and was confronted by a gaggle of half-dressed printers – including a topless Connery.
Aghast, she made to hurry away when Sean said “closhe you eyesh” and led her by the hand to the door on the other side of the room, past the scantily-clad inkies, so she could scuttle up to her typewriter with her blushes intact and avoid a bollocking for being late.
It was a story we heard many a time as kids – and on one of Connery’s returns to Edinburgh years later, mum was able to catch a glimpse of his then balding head from her office window and raved about it for days.
It was around this time I decided the art of being a hack was for me – and one of my idle ambitions was to interview Sean Connery and arrange for my mum to come along and meet him, to relive that glorious moment from her copy typist days. Although with his shirt on. It would be a bit weird otherwise.
He’s one of us
But even before he helped guide me into journalism – without his knowing it, of course – Sean Connery was part of my childhood.
He was always cited, with great pride, as the sort of talent Edinburgh produced.
He was held up as an example of how you can outgrow your ordinary background on the streets of the city. Music to the ears of kids, like me, growing up in the capital’s council schemes. See that guy up there on the screen with the fancy cars and brilliant lifestyle? He’s one of us. So anything’s possible.
One of my earliest memories is going to the cinema to watch You Only Live Twice and getting so thoroughly lost in the action I was bouncing up and down in my seat shouting “good shot, James”.
I devoured every Bond film after that. Let’s face it. He is 007. If you think otherwise, you need to have a wee word with yourself. No one else has come close to playing Fleming’s character with that edge of hard man menace, with the thinnest skein of British gentleman. No one else can say: “The name’s Bond. James Bond” like Connery. Actually no one can say anything like Connery. He could read out the Argos catalogue and make it sound compelling.
Brilliantly daft Highlander
And as an actor, Connery has been in some of my favourite films of all time. Okay, maybe not Zardoz, what with his ponytail and bright red nappy thing going on. But John Boorman’s psychedelic sci-fi dog’s breakfast was made memorable by Sean’s presence.
He was one of the best Robin Hood’s ever, playing the aging merry man in Robin and Marian.
His stint in The Time Bandits as Agamemnon made an underrated gem of a film truly shine. Same with Outland.
And then there’s Highlander. Ah, the brilliantly daft Highlander, a film that should never have worked on so many levels. You have a Frenchman, Christopher Lambert, playing a Scotsman, while the definitive Scotsman is playing a Spaniard who is really an Egyptian. But that’s okay, because Connery still played him as a Scotsman.
In fact, he played every role as a Scotsman, be it a Russian submarine captain in The Hunt For Red October or an Irish cop in Boston in The Untouchables – the latter rightly winning him an Oscar.
No one to replace him
As an aside, I was living in Canada when that came out and dined out for months on my impression of Connery’s “he pulls a knife… you pull a gun” speech about getting Capone. Not much of a stretch really, seeing as we’re both from Edinburgh and we’re both bald.
He even made Indian Jones’ dad Scottish… along with some of the best lines and deliveries in the film… “I should have mailed it to the Marx Brothers”.
But to be honest, when you went to see Sean Connery in a film, you didn’t want him to be essaying a character role. You wanted him to be Sean Connery. You wanted him to be what he was. The last of the Hollywood legends.
Connery’s lasting legacy isn’t just on film though. He was the man behind the Scottish International Educational Trust, that supports Scots men and women who need a cash injection to continue their studies.
It was a reflection of his own working class upbringing and scant education in the tough Fountainbridge area of Edinburgh.
It is a measure of the man that he donated his entire fee for making Diamonds Are Forever to the trust that has helped hundreds of people over the years and continues that work today.
He was also a proud and patriotic Scotsman through and through, a towering presence at the opening of the Scottish Parliament and fiercely vocal about what he thought was best for the future of his country.
As a global presence and an ambassador for Scotland – and as one of the true heroes and inspirations of my childhood and beyond – there truly is no one to replace him.