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JAMES BOND ON THE BOX – An ESP-ionage tribute

In the build up to Christmas 2015 TV, dominated with atrocities, airstrikes and Mrs Brown’s Boys getting another Christmas special, it’s reassuring to turn over the pages of this year’s TV Times (always when it comes to Bond films), past all the spoilers for Corrie and the soaps to discover… THERE’S A BOND FILM ON TELLY OVER CHRISTMAS.

It may not be the latest instalment SPECTRE, (still playing in cinemas to a dedicated double-o section of fans on their 5th or 6th visit), but it’s fitting that for Christmas 2015 ITV have gone up into their loft, rooted around amongst the tinsel and stepped down the ladder with a present they first gave the British public on October 28, 1975. This was the day ITV made broadcasting history by showing the first ever James Bond film Dr No on television.


Ever since, James Bond has become the most welcome film guest in living rooms across the country, so to celebrate here’s some key moments that demonstrate the enduring appeal 007 has had on TV audiences.

Following Dr No in 1975, ITV began to show the next 6 films in order throughout the next 3 years. From Russia with Love (May 2, 1976), Goldfinger (November 3, 1976), Thunderball (February 26, 1977), You Only Live Twice (November 20, 1977) and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (September 4, 1978).

Thanks to Bond films popularity and the ratings they were receiving, ITV made a decision that would change the face of British TV forever and give birth to a new festive tradition. A BOND FILM ON TELLY OVER CHRISTMAS! It began at 6.45pm on December 25, 1978 and the premiere of Diamonds Are Forever – the final official Sean Connery Bond film. The TV premiere of the previous Connery Bond adventure You Only Live Twice in 1977 had seen 20.8m viewers tune in, and with ITV locked in a ratings battle with the BBC it was the perfect choice.

The TV premiere of Live & Let Die on January 30, 1980 attracted 23.5 million viewers which made it the most watched film ever broadcast on British Television. 35 years later and it still holds that record. In September 2015 when ITV published a list of their biggest ratings programmes of all time, it featured at number 2. The top spot was taken by the World Cup 1998 football match England v Argentina that peaked at 23.78m viewers.

Following that for Christmas Day 1980 The Man With The Golden Gun made its debut, resulting in one of the best ever TV Times front covers. Morecambe & Wise (whose Christmas special was on straight after the Bond film) took part in a photo shoot with Roger Moore and impressionist Janet Brown dressed as Margaret Thatcher – mirroring her soon to be cameo in the film For Your Eyes Only.


During 1981 the second showing of Diamonds Are Forever on March 15 was watched by 22.15m viewers. Only the network premiere of the film Jaws and the Royal Wedding of  Prince Charles and Lady Diana received more viewers that year.

On Sunday March 28, 1982 – The Spy Who Loved me was shown on TV for the very first time and received 22.90m viewers making it the most watched programme on telly that year. Not even the network premiere of Star Wars on October 28, 1982 could topple it from the top of the ratings.


The rest of the eighties was a golden time for watching James Bond films on TV, and particularly around Christmas time and New Year when at least one film was on. Interestingly the one Bond film that features a scene in it set at Christmas, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, first shown on TV in September 1978, didn’t get a yuletide outing until Christmas Day 1989. It’s probably fitting that George Lazenby’s only performance as 007 was the last we saw of Bond on telly in the eighties.

The late eighties, early nineties were uncertain times for Bond fans. The latest box-office blockbuster in the summer of ’89 Licence To Kill hadn’t faired particular well and that combined with shifting global politics and legal disputes between the Bond owners, studios and distributors saw 6 years before a new Bond film at the cinema. ITV continued to keep their Bond end up by regularly showing them with the films occupying a regular place in the TV schedules and in October 1992, 30 Years of James Bond, a 60 minute documentary aired on ITV exploring the films’ success.


In 1997 to coincide with newly released Tomorrow Never Dies at cinemas ITV showed Countdown To Tomorrow – the making of the 18th James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies. The brilliant Brosnan adventure would eventually be shown on Christmas Day 2003, directly after the Queen’s speech, in a similar manner to so many of the classic Bond movies.

When the first Brosnan Bond film Goldeneye eventually premiered on ITV on March 10 1999, it was watched by 13.23m people. A long way short of the eighties hey-day of 20m viewers for a Bond movie, but in a time of changing viewing habits, still impressive enough for Goldeneye to become the most watched film on TV that year, beating premieres of Braveheart, Apollo 13 and Die Hard With A Vengeance. Later in June 1999 ITV screened all the Bond films in chronological order over successive weeks for the very first time. Billed ‘OO Heaven’ fans devoured the back catalogue, some seeing them for the first time, others for the umpteenth. It was a masterstroke of scheduling with the classics from Connery and Moore regularly attracting 10m viewers and 13 of the films featured in the Top 50 most watched films on British TV that year.


The Daniel Craig era has continued to see his Bond films form part of prime time TV. When Sky Movies secured the rights to show Casino Royale before ITV, they premiered it during the evening on Christmas Day 2007 with Quantum of Solace receiving its TV premiere from Sky on New Year’s Day 2009. Meanwhile ITV returned to its Christmas Bond traditions in 2014 with the terrestrial TV premiere of Skyfall on Christmas Eve, and began 2015 with Thunderball on New Year’s Day, in the year of the film’s 50th anniversary.

And so to Christmas 2015 as ITV’s 40 year old flirtation with James Bond goes back to the beginning. In a piece of shrewd scheduling ITV1 have a midnight feast of Bond action with Dr No at 12am on Christmas night and into the early hours of Boxing Day. For one year only St Stephen’s Day will becomes St Sean’s Day as devoted 007 fans stay awake and on watch in their chairs and sofas, tweeting and facebooking along to their festive film fix. Ursula Andress’ ‘Honey Ryder’ will be serenaded out of the cool, crystal clear Caribbean ocean, as ‘underneath the mango tree’ becomes a seasonal carol sung by a choral choir of monogrammed pyjamed up fans. (Also see ITV1 on Boxing Day night for From Russia With Love and Goldfinger on New Year’s Eve.) ITV2 meanwhile are showing Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall each night between December 24-26 meaning that once again over Christmas it will feel like your coolest relative has dropped in for a quick visit.

And for 2016… James Bond films on TV will return with SPECTRE.


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