SIR SEAN CONNERY
by Anura Gunasekera
As a teen my introduction to James Bond was “Casino Royale”, a tattered paperback copy bought second-hand, for a few rupees, from the Bethel Book shop in Dehiwala. The cover image depicted the full figure of a curvy female in distress, overshadowed by the head and shoulders of a cruelly handsome, steely-eyed male, hair artfully disheveled, forelock falling across the forehead, and the Walther PPK ready for action. With an uncanny prescience, the cover designer had captured the key ingredients that subsequently built the film franchise.
Many years later, by when I had read all the Bond novels published up to that time, viewing the film “Dr. No” as soon as it hit our local cinemas, I immediately juxtaposed my mental image of the Casino Royale cover page with the James Bond of Sean Connery. That is the picture I have retained of him, till today, Connery the reality and Bond the fiction, seamlessly becoming one.
No actor of any generation personified, as Connery did, the complex combination of cruel good looks, a hairy –chested male animalism and the sophistication and the exquisitely groomed exterior, just a veneer for the menace about to be unleashed. It was the studied understatement which lent profile and clarity to the attributes. It was the ultimate cinema, male cool, shaken but not stirred. For women, a man to fall in love with but, perhaps, not to marry. For star-struck teenage males like the writer was then, a super-male icon, who erased the baddie with clinical precision accompanied by a wintry smile and, occasionally, a quip, made the world safe for democracy and drove away with the beautiful girl, in a souped-up Aston Martin, custom tailored.
All the others who inherited the mantle, relentlessly compared with the original, have been discounted for one reason or another. When finally Connery abandoned Bond, years of searching for a replacement unearthed a plethora of good actors, but Connery the First will forever be the perfect Bond. Though others will continue to play it, the role belongs to Connery because he made it his own.
Connery played Bond in six films, after the first ” Dr. No” had both set the standard and created the 007 icon, launching one of the most successful movie franchises in the history of the cinema. It was followed by ” From Russia With Love”, “Goldfinger”, “Thunderball”, “You Only Live Twice”, “Diamonds are Forever”, and after a decade long absence, ” Never Say Never Again”, all starring Connery who, from all accounts, ,was struggling escape the role by that time, for fear of becoming typecast and permanently shackled to the image he created.
He was followed by Roger Moore, who, tongue-in-cheek most of the time, spoofed his way through a few of the films, never hiding the fact that he was Simon Templar pretending to be Sean Connery. George Lazenby was forgotten after just one role; pretty Pierce Brosnan, a relatively limp-wristed 007, who repeated the immortal lines, ” The name is Bond, James Bond”, with the hint of a lisp and more recently, Daniel Craig, a tightly muscled bruiser with a battered face, more the Mafia hitman than the urbane civil servant, On Her Majesty’s Service, but with the license to kill.
Not many actors had the charisma and presence that was Connery. Whether it was playing Bond, or a medieval Franciscan friar, the captain of a Russian nuclear submarine, or as the white-bearded father of Harrison Ford on a desert expedition, a sergeant in a British military prison, a Berber brigand, an over-the -hill Irish cop, or the mythical English king cuckolded by his first knight, Connery commanded the screen in a way which had as much to do with persona as with acting ability. It was a combination of purely personal attributes, first show-cased in Dr.NO and refined over the years, which enabled him to effortlessly steal both the screen and the scene, away from colleagues with greater acting skills.
He always seemed taller and broader than the others on the screen with him; his deep voice delivering perfectly articulated lines, the Scottish burr smoothened over by voice lessons but the rough, native grain still very much in evidence, irrespective of the role, the piercing eyes below beetling eyebrows and a hardness of expression which age did not diminish; voted by “People” magazine in 1989 as the Sexiest Man Alive- at age 59, irrespective of the role, he remained a man’s man.
James Bond was born Thomas Sean Connery, in August 1930, to Joe Connery, a rubber mill worker and his wife, Euphamia, in a tenement in Fountainbridge, Edinburgh. It was a cold water flat, not far from the “Royal Mile” but still a million miles away. The mother cleaned grand houses of the rich and titled in Edinburgh. The family lived on the fifth floor and shared a bathroom located four floors down. His paternal grandfather, Thomas, worked as a bookie’s runner and used to be occasionally arrested for plying an illegal trade. His maternal grandfather was Neil Maclean, a stonemason who eventually became a foreman and, therefore, slightly better positioned socially and economically. Apparently, the Macleans looked down upon and were a bit embarrassed by the Connery’s, rag-and-bone people who went around the streets with a horse and cart.
Tam, as he was known to family and friends, qualified at age twelve for a place in Boroughmuir High School but, instead, opted for Darroch Secondary, for the simple reason that the latter prominently featured Soccer, Connery’s passion in to adulthood, till affluence replaced it with Golf. He was introduced to work early, delivering milk for Kennedy’s dairy from the age of nine. At fourteen he had dropped out of school, to become a barrow worker at the Corstorphine Dairy, for twenty one shillings a week. An early promotion resulted in Connery being given his own horse and cart at age fifteen.
At age seventeen Connery signed up with the Royal Navy for a twelve year stint but was discharged quickly on medical grounds. Thereafter he took on a bewildering series of odd-jobs, commencing with polishing coffins, going on to semi-nude modelling, as a life-guard at an outdoor swimming pool, a music hall bouncer and as a professional soccer player, in the Scottish Junior League. As a body-building enthusiast, he also entered the Mr. Universe Contest in London, possibly in 1953, being completely marginalized in the Tall Man Class by the eventual winner, Bill Pearl, a genuine professional in the sport.
It was during this period that Connery was introduced to acting, securing a part in the ” South Pacific” ensemble on a two year national tour. Robert Henderson, a leading actor in the production, encouraged Connery to make a career of acting with the assurance of personal help, on the understanding that Connery would take lessons to soften his near impenetrable Scottish burr, and also improve his literacy by some serious reading. Connery did both and the rest is cinematic history.
In his semi-autobiographical book, ” Being a Scott”, which is also Connery’s tribute to “Scottishness”, co-authored with Murray Grigor, Connery describes how important this phase was in his development, as he ploughed his way through both classics and contemporary writing, ranging from plays by Ibsen, novels by James Joyce, Hemingway, Turgenev and Tolstoy and the works of Shakespeare, Dickens and Proust.
After playing bit parts in several films, Connery played the lead role in the play, “Requiem for a Heavyweight” , an immediate hit in which, according to “The Times”, Connery displayed a “shambling and inarticulate charm”. Macbeth, Anna Christie and many other vehicles followed, a diverse range of plays, films, TV series, flops interspersed with hits, with Connery playing a bafflingly varied range of roles, the only common thread being the “heavy burr”, deliberately retained by the stubborn Scotsman. To quote Connery (in “Being a Scott”),…. ” I never wanted to imitate that staccato precision of perfection achieved by such masters of the articulated vowel as the incomparable John Gielgud……or proclaim like Dylan Thomas’s men from the BBC, who speak as though they had the Elgin Marbles in their mouths.”
Then came the Broccoli and Saltzman duo, having purchased the first Bond vehicle, looking for the best driver. A star-studded candidate list, ranging from Roger Moore, Richard Johnson, Richard Burton, Peter Finch, David Niven, James Stewart, Michael Redgrave, Trevor Howard, James Mason, Patrick McGoogan, Cary Grant, and stuntman Bob Simmons, were all considered and discarded for one reason or another.
Around this time, Broccoli and his wife Diana, saw Connery in the Walt Disney film, ” Darby O’Gill and the Little People”. Diana, identifying with a woman’s unerring instinct, the combination of male charisma and sex appeal which spelled star quality, said, “that is your Bond”. Subsequently, the relatively unknown Ursula Andress trumped already famous Julie Christie, simply because the latter’s bust did not meet Broccoli’s demanding expectations for Honeychile Rider. A deeply tanned Andress, a Nereid emerging from the Jamaican sea foam, wearing a skimpy white bikini and a hunting knife, set the bench mark for the Bond girls that followed.
Saltzmann describes Connery’s attitude in his first interview with Connery, in his office, along with Broccoli..” Take me whole or forget the deal…we had never seen a surer guy or a more arrogant s.o.b”( Sean Connery by Andrew Yule).
During the filming of Dr. NO, on location in Kingston Jamaica, Connery met Fleming for the first time and the two had connected well, though, reportedly, Fleming had once said that ” Connery was a labourer playing Commander Bond”. The common-born, working class Scot with no formal education and the upper class Englishman, son of a Conservative Member of Parliament, educated at Eton, the universities of Munich and Geneva and trained at Sandhurst, subsequently a banker and a stockbroker and a member of British Naval Intelligence, had also established a tenuous connection; Connery had delivered milk at the exclusive Edinburgh Fettes College, from which the young Fleming had been expelled.
The endless stream of messages following Sir Sean Connery’s passing, moving, complimentary and expressing regret, from co-stars, peers in his profession, and countless others from different walks of life and different disciplines, underline the measure of both the actor and the man. The stature was well earned. Despite his reputation for an in-your-face honesty, a fondness for litigation, and a not infrequent irascibility, the common thread was love and respect.
The Scottish nation will now have to look elsewhere to bestow the title of ” The Greatest Living Scott”, a search that may, actually, be easier than finding the second best Bond.
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Islamophobia and the threat to democratic development
There’s an ill more dangerous and pervasive than the Coronavirus that’s currently sweeping Sri Lanka. That is the fear to express one’s convictions. Across the public sector of the country in particular many persons holding high office are stringently regulating and controlling the voices of their consciences and this bodes ill for all and the country.
The corrupting impact of fear was discussed in this column a couple of weeks ago when dealing with the military coup in Myanmar. It stands to the enduring credit of ousted Myanmarese Head of Government Aung San Suu Kyi that she, perhaps for the first time in the history of modern political thought, singled out fear, and not power, as the principal cause of corruption within the individual; powerful or otherwise.
To be sure, power corrupts but the corrupting impact of fear is graver and more devastating. For instance, the fear in a person holding ministerial office or in a senior public sector official, that he would lose position and power as a result of speaking out his convictions and sincere beliefs on matters of the first importance, would lead to a country’s ills going unaddressed and uncorrected.
Besides, the individual concerned would be devaluing himself in the eyes of all irrevocably and revealing himself to be a person who would be willing to compromise his moral integrity for petty worldly gain or a ‘mess of pottage’. This happens all the while in Lankan public life. Some of those who have wielded and are wielding immense power in Sri Lanka leave very much to be desired from these standards.
It could be said that fear has prevented Sri Lanka from growing in every vital respect over the decades and has earned for itself the notoriety of being a directionless country.
All these ills and more are contained in the current controversy in Sri Lanka over the disposal of the bodies of Covid victims, for example. The Sri Lankan polity has no choice but to abide by scientific advice on this question. Since authorities of the standing of even the WHO have declared that the burial of the bodies of those dying of Covid could not prove to be injurious to the wider public, the Sri Lankan health authorities could go ahead and sanction the burying of the bodies concerned. What’s preventing the local authorities from taking this course since they claim to be on the side of science? Who or what are they fearing? This is the issue that’s crying out to be probed and answered.
Considering the need for absolute truthfulness and honesty on the part of all relevant persons and quarters in matters such as these, the latter have no choice but to resign from their positions if they are prevented from following the dictates of their consciences. If they are firmly convinced that burials could bring no harm, they are obliged to take up the position that burials should be allowed.
If any ‘higher authority’ is preventing them from allowing burials, our ministers and officials are conscience-bound to renounce their positions in protest, rather than behave compromisingly and engage in ‘double think’ and ‘double talk’. By adopting the latter course they are helping none but keeping the country in a state of chronic uncertainty, which is a handy recipe for social instabiliy and division.
In the Sri Lankan context, the failure on the part of the quarters that matter to follow scientific advice on the burials question could result in the aggravation of Islamophobia, or hatred of the practitioners of Islam, in the country. Sri Lanka could do without this latter phobia and hatred on account of its implications for national stability and development. The 30 year war against separatist forces was all about the prevention by military means of ‘nation-breaking’. The disastrous results for Sri Lanka from this war are continuing to weigh it down and are part of the international offensive against Sri Lanka in the UNHCR.
However, Islamophobia is an almost world wide phenomenon. It was greatly strengthened during Donald Trump’s presidential tenure in the US. While in office Trump resorted to the divisive ruling strategy of quite a few populist authoritarian rulers of the South. Essentially, the manoeuvre is to divide and rule by pandering to the racial prejudices of majority communities.
It has happened continually in Sri Lanka. In the initial post-independence years and for several decades after, it was a case of some populist politicians of the South whipping-up anti-Tamil sentiments. Some Tamil politicians did likewise in respect of the majority community. No doubt, both such quarters have done Sri Lanka immeasurable harm. By failing to follow scientific advice on the burial question and by not doing what is right, Sri Lanka’s current authorities are opening themselves to the charge that they are pandering to religious extremists among the majority community.
The murderous, destructive course of action adopted by some extremist sections among Muslim communities world wide, including of course Sri Lanka, has not earned the condemnation it deserves from moderate Muslims who make-up the preponderant majority in the Muslim community. It is up to moderate opinion in the latter collectivity to come out more strongly and persuasively against religious extremists in their midst. It will prove to have a cementing and unifying impact among communities.
It is not sufficiently appreciated by governments in the global South in particular that by voicing for religious and racial unity and by working consistently towards it, they would be strengthening democratic development, which is an essential condition for a country’s growth in all senses.
A ‘divided house’ is doomed to fall; this is the lesson of history. ‘National security’ cannot be had without human security and peaceful living among communities is central to the latter. There cannot be any ‘double talk’ or ‘politically correct’ opinions on this question. Truth and falsehood are the only valid categories of thought and speech.
Those in authority everywhere claiming to be democratic need to adopt a scientific outlook on this issue as well. Studies conducted on plural societies in South Asia, for example, reveal that the promotion of friendly, cordial ties among communities invariably brings about healing among estranged groups and produces social peace. This is the truth that is waiting to be acted upon.
Pakistan’s love of Sri Lanka
By Sanjeewa Jayaweera
It was on 3rd January 1972 that our family arrived in Karachi from Moscow. Our departure from Moscow had been delayed for a few weeks due to the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It ended on 16th December 1971. After that, international flights were not permitted for some time.
The contrast between Moscow and Karachi was unbelievable. First and foremost, Moscow’s temperature was near minus 40 degrees centigrade, while in Karachi, it was sunny and a warm 28 degrees centigrade. However, what struck us most was the extreme warmth with which the airport authorities greeted our family. As my father was a diplomat, we were quickly ushered to the airport’s VIP Lounge. We were in transit on our way to Rawalpindi, the airport serving the capital of Islamabad.
We quickly realized that the word “we are from Sri Lanka” opened all doors just as saying “open sesame” gained entry to Aladdin’s cave! The broad smile, extreme courtesy, and genuine warmth we received from the Pakistani people were unbelievable.
This was all to do with Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike’s decision to allow Pakistani aircraft to land in Colombo to refuel on the way to Dhaka in East Pakistan during the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It was a brave decision by Mrs Bandaranaike (Mrs B), and the successive governments and Sri Lanka people are still enjoying the fruits of it. Pakistan has been a steadfast and loyal supporter of our country. They have come to our assistance time and again in times of great need when many have turned their back on us. They have indeed been an “all-weather” friend of our country.
Getting back to 1972, I was an early beneficiary of Pakistani people’s love for Sri Lankans. I failed the entrance exam to gain entry to the only English medium school in Islamabad! However, when I met the Principal, along with my father, he said, “Sanjeewa, although you failed the entrance exam, I will this time make an exception as Sri Lankans are our dear friends.” After that, the joke around the family dinner table was that I owed my education in Pakistan to Mrs B!
At school, my brother and I were extended a warm welcome and always greeted “our good friends from Sri Lanka.” I felt when playing cricket for our college; our runs were cheered more loudly than of others.
One particular incident that I remember well was when the Embassy received a telex from the Foreign inistry. It requested that our High Commissioner seek an immediate meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Zulifikar Ali Bhutto (ZB), and convey a message from Mrs B. The message requested that an urgent shipment of rice be dispatched to Sri Lanka as there would be an imminent rice shortage. As the Ambassador was not in the station, the responsibility devolved on my father.
It usually takes about a week or more to get an audience with the Prime Minister (PM) of a foreign country due to their busy schedule. However, given the urgency, my father spoke to the Foreign Ministry’s Permanent Sectary, who fortunately was our neighbour and sought an urgent appointment. My father received a call from the PM’s secretary around 10 P.M asking him to come over to the PM’s residence. My father met ZB around midnight. ZB was about to retire to bed and, as such, was in his pyjamas and gown enjoying a cigar! He had greeted my father and had asked, “Mr Jayaweera, what can we do for great friend Madam Bandaranaike?. My father conveyed the message from Colombo and quietly mentioned that there would be riots in the country if there is no rice!
ZB had immediately got the Food Commissioner of Pakistan on the line and said, “I want a shipload of rice to be in Colombo within the next 72 hours!” The Food Commissioner reverted within a few minutes, saying that nothing was available and the last export shipment had left the port only a few hours ago to another country. ZB had instructed to turn the ship around and send it to Colombo. This despite protests from the Food Commissioner about terms and conditions of the Letter of Credit prohibiting non-delivery. Sri Lanka got its delivery of rice!
The next was the visit of Mrs B to Pakistan. On arrival in Rawalpindi airport, she was given a hero’s welcome, which Pakistan had previously only offered to President Gaddafi of Libya, who financially backed Pakistan with his oil money. That day, I missed school and accompanied my parents to the airport. On our way, we witnessed thousands of people had gathered by the roadside to welcome Mrs B.
When we walked to the airport’s tarmac, thousands of people were standing in temporary stands waving Sri Lanka and Pakistan flags and chanting “Sri Lanka Pakistan Zindabad.” The noise emanating from the crowd was as loud and passionate as the cheering that the Pakistani cricket team received during a test match. It was electric!
I believe she was only the second head of state given the privilege of addressing both assemblies of Parliament. The other being Gaddafi. There was genuine affection from Mrs B amongst the people of Pakistan.
I always remember the indefatigable efforts of Mr Abdul Haffez Kardar, a cabinet minister and the President of the Pakistan Cricket Board. From around 1973 onwards, he passionately championed Sri Lanka’s cause to be admitted as a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and granted test status. Every year, he would propose at the ICC’s annual meeting, but England and Australia’s veto kept us out until 1981.
I always felt that our Cricket Board made a mistake by not inviting Pakistan to play our inaugural test match. We should have appreciated Mr Kardar and Pakistan’s efforts. In 1974 the Pakistan board invited our team for a tour involving three test matches and a few first-class games. Most of those who played in our first test match was part of that tour, and no doubt gained significant exposure playing against a highly talented Pakistani team.
Several Pakistani greats were part of the Pakistan and India team that played a match soon after the Central Bank bomb in Colombo to prove that it was safe to play cricket in Colombo. It was a magnificent gesture by both Pakistan and India. Our greatest cricket triumph was in Pakistan when we won the World Cup in 1996. I am sure the players and those who watched the match on TV will remember the passionate support our team received that night from the Pakistani crowd. It was like playing at home!
I also recall reading about how the Pakistani government air freighted several Multi Barrell artillery guns and ammunition to Sri Lanka when the A rmy camp in Jaffna was under severe threat from the LTTE. This was even more important than the shipload of rice that ZB sent. This was crucial as most other countries refused to sell arms to our country during the war.
Time and again, Pakistan has steadfastly supported our country’s cause at the UNHCR. No doubt this year, too, their diplomats will work tirelessly to assist our country.
We extend a warm welcome to Mr Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He is a truly inspirational individual who was undoubtedly an excellent cricketer. Since retirement from cricket, he has decided to get involved in politics, and after several years of patiently building up his support base, he won the last parliamentary elections. I hope that just as much as he galvanized Sri Lankan cricketers, his political journey would act as a catalyst for people like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to get involved in politics. Cricket has been called a “gentleman’s game.” Whilst politics is far from it!.
Covid-19 health rules disregarded at entertainment venues?
Believe me, seeing certain videos, on social media, depicting action, on the dance floor, at some of these entertainment venues, got me wondering whether this Coronavirus pandemic is REAL!
To those having a good time, at these particular venues, and, I guess, the management, as well, what the world is experiencing now doesn’t seem to be their concerned.
Obviously, such irresponsible behaviour could create more problems for those who are battling to halt the spread of Covid-19, and the new viriant of Covid, in our part of the world.
The videos, on display, on social media, show certain venues, packed to capacity – with hardly anyone wearing a mask, and social distancing…only a dream..
How can one think of social distancing while gyrating, on a dance floor, that is over crowded!
If this trend continues, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Coronavirus makes its presence felt…at such venues.
And, then, what happens to the entertainment scene, and those involved in this field, especially the musicians? No work, whatsoever!
Lots of countries have closed nightclubs, and venues, where people gather, in order to curtail the spread of this deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of thousands.
Thailand did it and the country is still having lots of restrictions, where entertainment is concerned, and that is probably the reason why Thailand has been able to control the spread of the Coronavirus.
With a population of over 69 million, they have had (so far), a little over 25,000 cases, and 83 deaths, while we, with a population of around 21 million, have over 80,000 cases, and more than 450 deaths.
I’m not saying we should do away with entertainment – totally – but we need to follow a format, connected with the ‘new normal,’ where masks and social distancing are mandatory requirements at these venues. And, dancing, I believe, should be banned, at least temporarily, as one can’t maintain the required social distance, while on the dance floor, especially after drinks.
Police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana keeps emphasising, on TV, radio, and in the newspapers, the need to adhere to the health regulations, now in force, and that those who fail to do so would be penalised.
He has also stated that plainclothes officers would move around to apprehend such offenders.
Perhaps, he should instruct his officers to pay surprise visits to some of these entertainment venues.
He would certainly have more than a bus load of offenders to be whisked off for PCR/Rapid Antigen tests!
I need to quote what Dr. H.T. Wickremasinghe said in his article, published in The Island of Tuesday, February 16th, 2021:
“…let me conclude, while emphasising the need to continue our general public health measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowded gatherings, to reduce the risk of contact with an infected person.
“There is no science to beat common sense.”
But…do some of our folks have this thing called COMMON SENSE!