MARK O'CONNELL, (PICTURED LEFT WITH OCTOPUSSY'S LEADING LADIES KRISTINA WAYBORN AND MAUD ADAMS), IS THE AUTHOR OF CATCHING BULLETS, A BOOK THAT LOOKS AT GROWING UP AS A BOND FAN IN THE 80'S FROM A UNIQUE PERSPECTIVE.
HERE WE GET TO INTERROGATE HIM ABOUT THE BOOK AND THAT MAN BOND IN THE QUESTION ROOM.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR GRANDFATHER AND HIS LINK TO THE JAMES BOND FILM MAKERS - AND HOW YOU BECAME A FAN OF 007 - FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN'T YET READ YOUR BOOK?
My grandfather Jimmy O’Connell was Cubby Broccoli’s driver (though he did a lot more than that) for nearly thirty years. He worked with Cubby pre-Eon Productions, was there at the beginning of Bond, stayed on for another three decades and remained very fond of the family and 007 until the day he died. I was taken to Bond films because of my grandfather’s link to the films and almost immediately, I became a Bond fan, starting with 1983’s Octopussy – which was the starting pistol to my Bond fandom, film fandom and now career.
Via the Eon office I would get fed production news, teaser posters, memorabilia insight and a general enthusiasm for what was coming. The pre-release period of a Bond movie, its production and early stills and clips, are still the most exciting part of being a 007 fan. It is a careful process Eon particularly still guide as they have always done (a press conference, teaser posters, title reveals). I despise this obsession with knowing everything about a film (Bond or otherwise) before it comes out. It boils down the experience of a film and its release to a fan one-upmanship based only on trivia.
There was some personal poetry to me seeing Octopussy at the Guildford Odeon in June 1983. A few months back I finally met Roger Moore (we had been in the same room a few times before but had never spoken). By luck or fate it was about two hundred metres from where I had first seen him in my first Bond movie thirty years before. The irony was not lost on me.
HOW DID CATCHING BULLETS TURN FROM AN IDEA INTO A BOOK?
A keyboard (!) and a belief a different take on Bond, pop culture of the time and how cinema shapes people’s lives and maybe vice versa. I wanted to properly reassess the films (and not from the widely held beliefs, sometimes hatred and over-love of some facets of Bond on screen) whilst running that personal story of my grandfather, the Broccolis and the red letter moments of being a 007 fan. I had contributed some review thoughts on an online forum or two and the reaction suggested there was – if I was prepared to stick to that keyboard – there was a book was somewhere. A good and guiding force on the book also kept pushing me, steering me to do it and more importantly to finish it.
THE BOOK IS FORWARDED BY MARK GATISS WHO IS RIDING HIGH AT THE MOMENT ON THE SHERLOCK AND DOCTOR WHO WAVE. HOW DO YOU KNOW MARK AND WHAT DO YOU THINK OF SHERLOCK AND DR WHO AND HOW DID HE COME TO WRITE THE FOREWORD?
Mark and I have a lovely mutual mate and it went from there. Mark is also a BIG Bond fan, more so than I realised. We saw Skyfall for the first time together and it was doubly fun to see his reactions to the capers involved. The thing I get from Mark is that he enjoys what he does – whether it is SHERLOCK or an M.R. James adaptation or an episode of Game of Thrones. As it's turned out Sherlock and Doctor Who are fantastic returns to event television, carefully crafted and rewarding the audience’s time. Those two shows have also taken TV out of that red button / SkyBox/Watch Again culture – where the experience of a nation (and even the globe) is once again united a shared and live experience.
DO YOU THINK IT'S SAD THAT LOCAL CINEMAS HAVE BEEN REPLACED WITH FACELESS,SOULLESS MULTIPLEXES?
Initially I would say yes, of course. But some of those local cinemas of old were hardly glittering examples of exhibition perfection. I was never against multiplexes. What I am forever against as an audience member is the poor way in which these multiplexes are “run” –filthy screens, overpriced ticketing, barely staffed by unkempt students and with a programming policy that seems to have been pulled from a Happy Meal paper bag. The multiplex mentality seems to overlook that – unlike providing a meal or a haircut or a new pair of trousers – the customer is paying their money for an experience. That experience does not end when the customer sits down.
YOUR BOOK PAINTS A VIVID PICTURE OF GROWING UP IN THE 80'S. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE 80'S - AND WHAT SUMS UP THE 80'S FOR YOU
Well I spanned the ages of five to fifteen in the 1980's so properly grew up with it. Like all decades however, it is equally shaped by the immediate ones before. So the first few years of the 1980's were very much the tail end of the 1970s. I used to say that the 80's were a very American decade. But that is to do Britain a disservice. It was certainly a time when American entertainment, political grandstanding and consumerism took a grip on what I could see (the soap operas, the Space Shuttles, Reagan, Spielberg, Michael Jackson, Indiana Jones, Marty McFly, the embers of the Cold War, Madonna etc). Catching Bullets explores this, where I think the 1990's was the flip of the 1980's and became a very British decade (which facilitated the return of Bond in Goldeneye).
However, I refuse to be rose-tinted. When it comes to cinema and movies, there were indeed less options to see the films and franchises we were obsessing over so when we were treated to them carefully and royally (via Bank Holiday screenings of Bond or maybe the first release on home video of Return Of The Jedi). In turn – as Catching Bullets proudly details – they became “events”, moments to savour. That is gone now. But maybe there is no difference to my ten year old Bond fan self making scrap books of Bond photos culled from TV magazines and a ten year old Bond fan now collecting jpegs of Daniel Craig on the set of Bond 24.
A little part of me regrets that for the Bond fan teenagers right now who won’t know what it is like to find a wondrous still from a new, unseen Bond film in a magazine in WHSmiths rather than follow daily behind-the-scenes online blogs about what the 2nd Unit Costume Department had for lunch yesterday. I do miss seeing a trailer for a big new film actually at the cinema. Imagine that?! But to put some sense on my romantic past (!), that was sometimes an expensive shot in the dark – a gamble that saw much praying to Him upstairs to allow the trailer to The Living Daylights to be shown on this matinee of Police Academy 4 my mum has taken me to. Never mind Citizens on Patrol. I was a Bond Fan On Patrol.
Of course now the internet and new technologies have democratised cinema for everyone. We can now watch the best examples of Third World cinema, low budget non-entities with great swagger and panache that will not get shown at the Odeon and – most importantly - we can all be filmmakers now. I would have burnt my James Bond VHS collection (admittedly with the aid of a lot of lighter fuel) to be an eleven year old in the 1980s who was able to go out and shoot, edit and add FX to my own production – all in the same day. In ten years’ time we are going to see such interesting, game changing films because there was a generation of kids who will be able to just get out there and do it. That was less the case in the 1980's, with our 8mm cameras borrowed from our step Dads and no pocket money to buy let alone develop and print a film (which would have to be about two minutes in length anyway… with no sound).
IN ONE SENTENCE HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE EACH OF THE ACTORS TO PLAY 007?
I will do it in one word. We had the masculinity of Connery, the vulnerability of Lazenby, the diplomacy of Moore, the instinct of Dalton, the professionalism of Brosnan and now the conscience of Craig. They all obviously share those traits in differing ways, but that is their leading facets – and ones that are key to the onscreen embodiment of James Bond 007.
YOU ATTENDED THE SKYFALL PREMIER IN 2012. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE EVENT AND WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO BE ON THE RED CARPET?
It was a wondrous night. Utterly surreal, quite epic (you suddenly realise the guy that is about to ruin the selfie of you and your partner is Daniel Craig) but oddly very relaxed and almost intimate. It is a grand project to house that many people as well as let folk take it all in and of course let the press go wild over the Bond faces. I have so many memories of that day, night and following morning (a lot of us never went to bed). For me, it was a lovely night for my partner and I and Catching Bullets. There was a poignancy for my Grandfather who had attended the Bond premiers of old and is no longer with us, as well as seeing Barbara Broccoli and the Eon family take their well deserved 50th anniversary moment in the global spotlight. In fact, that release of Skyfall and the months since represented a big time for me and the book. A lot has happened since and will maybe one day form “the next chapter”.
The red carpet itself stretched for miles. It fitted the whole road, approach, steps, concourse and entrance at the Royal Albert Hall. It was also the plushest red carpet I have ever stood on.I was sorely tempted to remove my shoes and just take it all in. Though I did commit one indulgent faux-pas and that was to badly ape Shirley Bassey (arms in the air, a twirl of the wrists) as I stood at the top of the stone steps. I sort of forget that the world’s press were there too. A day or so later a friend in America wondered if he had spotted me titting about on his CBS feed at work.
IN YOUR BOOK YOU TALK OPENLY ABOUT YOUR SEXUALITY. RECENTLY WITH TOM DALEY OPENLY TALKING ABOUT HIS BOYFRIEND AND ELLEN PAGE PUBLICLY ADMITTING SHE IS GAY DO YOU THINK THAT SOCIETY IS MORE TOLERANT ABOUT PEOPLE'S SEXUALITY?
Tolerance is a funny thing. I am not so sure society – as decreed by its leaders – in the likes of Uganda, Russia, some parts of America and the Australian government is quite so tolerant right now. There is certainly a momentum of tolerance which has been gaining a global headway for maybe twenty years now (certainly in Western countries). The gay community doesn’t want to be “tolerated” though, or “accepted”. And with tolerance comes a complacency that younger generations should do well not to ignore (i.e. Russia and its vile treatment and government sanctioned violence and sometimes murder inflicted upon its gay kids). Tom Daley’s decision to come out was an interesting one. And maybe seen as an important one on the LGBT timeline, certainly in Europe (where outside of the UK Mr Daley has quite a big following). I say “interesting” (for want of a better word) as he was one of the few sports folk to be at the peak of their game when making that very public decision (if anything, Daley has possibly yet to really mature as a diver – so fingers crossed for Rio 2016). There is a default mechanism of sporting men and women coming out after they have retired or are downsizing their career. But that is up to them. Everyone’s journey is personal and should not be dictated by anyone or anything. I don’t agree with outing people against their will. Unless they are American congressmen of British politicians lining their own closets with the anti-gay legislation papers they have supported. Hypocrisy has no boundaries of sexuality, nor does tolerance imply change. The most notable element of Daley coming out was the “yeah… and?”. That is where it is important – not the poster boy diver forever seen in his skimpies coming out, but that it was very quickly not news. Yes, there was a vile minority who trolled social media with rather vile sentiments. But those sort of people are going to be vile about all sorts. It takes so much more effort to be homophobic so good luck to the haters.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO BE NOMINATED FOR THE 2013 POLARI FIRST BOOK AWARD?
Unexpected! Very unexpected. I had done a reading at one of Polari’s brilliant monthly evenings at the Southbank Centre (brilliant for anyone, regardless of sexuality, to pop along to and experience the written, spoken and performed word in all its guises). I wasn't quite sure how my tale of 007's and Roger Moore obsessions sat with what was – to me – the worthier fiction, poetry and thinking. But Polari embraces the “experience”. It celebrates the journey – so maybe my journey with these films as a Bond fan was more universal and less sexuality-pinned than you’d think. People say this, but it was indeed an honour. No matter what industry we work in, it is nice to receive recognition from others. I see why so many film folk say that on the podium. It is not an awards show cliché at all!
ARE YOU PLANNING TO WRITE ANY MORE BOOKS IN THE FUTURE?
Absolutely! I am working on Book two right now.
Thank you Mark for this interview.
Mark O'Connell has his own website where he shares news and views from the world of 007 and beyond and you can visit it be clicking on the below image:
CLICK "HERE" TO READ OUR REVIEW OF CATCHING BULLETS.