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Goodby Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square

“His bad side is a dangerous place to be”
Where past films in the series would have had a reissue or be paired up on a double-bill with an earlier 007 outing, The Living Daylights was released on video in the UK on March 28, 1988 three months before the next James Bond film (then titled ‘Licence Revoked’) went into production. The sixteenth entry in the series became the first film since Moonraker not to be filmed at Pinewood Studios due to the prohibitive costs of shooting in the UK following the abolition of the Eady Levy in 1985. The Eady policy allowed half of the ticket price for a film to be retained by the exhibitors, and half was divided among qualifying ‘British’ films in proportion to UK box-office revenue. To qualify as a British film a minimum of 85% of the production had to be shot in the United Kingdom or the Commonwealth, and only three non-British individual salaries could be excluded from the costs of the production, thereby ensuring employment of British actors, technicians and film crew. Following the introduction of the Levy in 1957 many American producers chose to make their films in the UK in order to benefit from the cheaper production facilities, and this practice continued well into the 1980s with US films such as the Star Wars, Superman and Indiana Jones series all being made primarily in the UK, with a largely British cast and crew.

Licence To Kill was first screened for the press at the ODEON Leicester Square on the morning of Monday June 12, 1989, the day before its Royal World Charity Premiere. The screening was attended by co-producers Albert R. Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson (who co-wrote the screenplay with Richard Maibaum). The occasion also marked the launch of the first edition of Graham Rye's book The James Bond Girls.

Licence To Kill Royal World Charity Premiere Odeon Leicester Square
Licence To Kill (1989) newpaper advertisement

The ODEON Leicester Square once again played host to the Royal World Charity premiere of Licence To Kill on the evening of Tuesday June 13, 1989. Held in the presence of Their Royal Highnesses The Prince and Princess of Wales, the premiere was attended by Timothy Dalton, co-stars Carey Lowell, Robert Davi, Talisa Soto, Anthony Zerbe and producer Albert R. Broccoli with his wife Dana. This would be the last premiere attended by ‘Cubby’ Broccoli before his death on June 27, 1996. Licence To Kill then opened to the public the following day, and simultaneously at the ODEON Marble Arch and across the country.

Licence To Kill was the first James Bond film to be awarded a ‘15’ certificate after a long battle with the British Board of Film Classification, who took exception to the realistic violence portrayed in the story. The Board had viewed a rough cut in February 1989 with the producers asking for them to consider a ‘PG’ or ‘15’. As it stood the Board recommended an ‘18’ certificate if the film remained uncut. The editors went back and took out some of the more objectionable material and toned-down other scenes of sadistic violence. A month later the Board recommended further cuts if the film were to achieve a ‘15’ rating. At this time the ‘12’ certificate did not exist and was only introduced in October of 1989 with the UK release of Tim Burton's Batman. Licence To Kill was eventually released with a ‘15’ certificate in the UK and it was not until the release of the Ultimate Edition DVD version in 2006 that the cuts were waived, but the overall ‘15’ rating remained.

Earlier Bond films had been subjected to minor cuts by the Board in order to achieve a ‘PG’ (or ‘A’ certificate prior to 1982) with only Diamonds Are Forever being reclassified from ‘PG’ to ‘12’ for home media release in 2012, although it had been slightly trimmed to achieve its original ‘A’ certificate for the 1971/72 release. Previous cuts were waived, but the re-classification considered the sadistic nature of some of the violence in Diamonds Are Forever, particularly the pre-credit sequence when Bond strangles a victim with her bikini top, and the general misogynistic attitude of the film.

Licence To Kill also had an identity crisis when it came to the marketing of the film. Before the title change from ‘Licence Revoked’, a series of stylish early teaser posters designed by Bob Peak (who painted the striking poster artwork for The Spy Who Loved Me in 1977) were rejected, and other artists including Tom Jung and Stephen Chorney coming up with concept artwork capture the new style of realism the producers were trying to achieve. Eventually Licence To Kill was released with a photo-montage poster designed by Robin Behling, which featured the first depiction of James Bond without the traditional tuxedo and bowtie. Although reviews were generally positive, the box-office for Licence To Kill was disappointing, particularly in the US where it was released against Batman, Lethal Weapon 2 and Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, which featured a scene-stealing performance by original 007 Sean Connery as Dr. Henry Jones.

Licence To Kill Odeon Leicester Square 1989

Licence To Kill ended its ten-week premiere West End engagement at the ODEON Leicester Square on Thursday August 24, 1989. The same day also saw Licence To Kill finish its concurrent ten-week run at the ODEON Marble Arch, which had originally been home to the largest cinema screen in the country, and was the primary venue for the presentation of 70mm films in London. The original massive curved screen (75 feet wide X 30 feet high) was removed in May 1989 and a somewhat flatter screen installed. This was done at the request of Sir David Lean to allow for a less distorted view of the desert skylines in the restored directors cut of his epic Lawrence of Arabia (1962). Licence To Kill had replaced the exclusive West End 70mm presentation of Lawrence of Arabia at the ODEON Marble Arch, and therefore played on the new flatter screen.

On Friday August 18, 1989 Licence To Kill opened at the Plaza 1, off Piccadilly Circus where it played for six-weeks before transferring to the smaller 378-seat Plaza 2 for one week from Friday September 29th. The film then spent a further two-weeks at the 181-seat Plaza 3, followed by another five-weeks at the 163-seat Plaza 4 from Friday October 20, 1989. Licence To Kill was then booked for an exclusive return engagement at the Plaza, playing for four-weeks at Plaza 4 from Friday December 22, 1989, and a final week in Plaza 3 from Friday January 19, 1990. Just a month later Licence To Kill made its debut on VHS video in the UK, but many die-hard Bond fans chose to import the Dutch edition which was not subjected to BBFC censorship.

Licence To Kill Plaza Piccadilly December 1989

The relatively disappointing box-office returns for Licence To Kill led producer Albert R. Broccoli to question the viability of the series, and in August 1990 put DANJAQ, the company which held the James Bond film copyright, up for sale. Not since 1975 and the split with Harry Saltzman, did the future of the Bond series look to be in serious doubt. Timothy Dalton said at the time “My feeling is this will be the last one. I don't mean my last one, I mean the end of the whole lot. I don't speak with any real authority, but it's sort of a feeling I have”. Then distributors MGM/UA were having their own financial problems and it took until 1993 for the legal issues to be resolved. Broccoli appointed his daughter Barbara alongside stepson Michael G. Wilson as producers at EON Productions, while he concentrated on matters at DANJAQ.

During this hiatus period James Bond fandom began to grow in strength in the UK and USA. The wider availability of the films on video and laserdisc meant the series came under closer scrutiny than ever before, and the Sean Connery/George Lazenby era in particular was being re-evaluated by fans. However, it was now much harder to see these earlier films on the big screen and with an audience. Two ground-breaking James Bond fan conventions held in London in 1981 and 1982 had relied on poor quality 16mm versions.

National Film Theatre

“James Bond Back at the National Film Theatre”
1990 marked the 25th Anniversary of the release of Thunderball, the most successful James Bond film ever made; and to commemorate the event The James Bond International Fan Club, under the leadership of 007 MAGAZINE Editor & Publisher Graham Rye, arranged a special screening at London’s National Film Theatre on Saturday May 5th. The screening was attended by
Stuntman & Stunt Arranger George Leech; Main Title Designer Maurice Binder; Production Designer Syd Cain (although Syd had not worked on Thunderball his ‘Bond credentials’ are impressive – Art Director on Dr. No and Production Designer on From Russia With Love, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and Live And Let Die); Oscar-winning Special Effects Technician John Stears; Bond Girl Mollie Peters, and the maestro himself – Director Terence Young! This was the first time a James Bond film had been screened at the NFT since the 1983 Sean Connery season. However, obtaining a suitable 35mm print of the film to screen at the event was another matter, and eventually a composite version was assembled by editing the best footage from the 56 reels of film available in the UK at the time. Read the full story here

Thunderball (1965) 25th anniversary screening National Film Theatre 1990

Both director Terence Young and main title designer Maurice Binder addressed the audience before the screening of Thunderball, with Young commenting on his annoyance at the difficulty experienced in obtaining a screenable print of the film. In 1985 producer Albert R. ‘Cubby’ Broccoli had presented a set of brand new prints of the James Bond films to the Museum of Modern Art in New York to coincide with an exhibition of Bond props; but it would be another six years before a set of five new prints were made available to the British Film Institute, with a further three added to the archive in 1997.

Main title designer Maurice Binder/Thunderball director Terence Young at the NFT 1990

ABOVE: (left) The National Film Theatre Saturday May 5, 1990 - Maurice Binder reminisces about the main titles for Thunderball. (right) Three-time James Bond director Terence Young addresses the sell-out audience before the screening of Thunderball (1965). Young spoke for a while about the making of Thunderball, and commented on his annoyance at the difficulty experienced in obtaining a screenable print of the film.

Following the success of the Thunderball screening, The James Bond 007 Fan Club then arranged a special double-bill of You Only Live Twice/On Her Majesty's Secret Service at the National Film Theatre on the afternoon of Saturday February 22, 1992. Once again, Graham Rye invited special guests to the screening including On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) production designer Syd Cain, stunt arranger George Leech, and Wing-Commander Ken Wallis, designer and pilot of the autogyro ‘Little Nellie’ seen in You Only Live Twice.

You Only Live Twice/On Her Majesty's Secret Service National Film theatre 1992

ABOVE: (left) Graham Rye designed a special poster for the 1992 National Film Theatre screening of You Only Live Twice/On Her Majesty's Secret Service (right) Graham Rye interviews Syd Cain, George Leech and Wing-Commander Ken Wallis on stage at the NFT prior to the screening.

The double-bill was once again screened to an enthusiastic sell-out audience at the NFT1 and proved that although the films were popular as sell-through VHS videotapes, the only place to really experience their Panavision splendour was on the big screen.

You Only Live Twice/On Her Majesty's Secret Service National Film theatre 1992

“Bond at the BBC”
Graham Rye later programmed two rarely-seen BBC television documentaries which were screened in NFT1 on the afternoon of Saturday August 7, 1993. The programme started with Omnibus Ian Fleming: Creator of the James Bond Myth - an hour-long documentary film on the life of the man who created the legendary secret agent as told by his friends, colleagues and critics. With the help of Kingsley Amis, Henry Brandon, Cyril Connolly, Noel Coward, Col. Peter Fleming, Paul Johnson, Lois Maxwell, William Plomer, Diana Rigg and many others, with Sean Connery and George Lazenby as James Bond, and including sequences from the latest James Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Originally broadcast on BBC1 on January 4, 1970 and repeated two years later, the documentary was seen for the first time in two decades. This was followed by an episode of Whicker's World which focussed on the making of You Only Live Twice. Subtitled ‘The World of Bond’, this 53-minute documentary was originally broadcast on BBC2 on March 25, 1967 and repeated on May 14, 1968 this time on BBC1. Excerpts from the programme are available on the You Only Live Twice DVD and Blu-ray, but the full episode can currently be viewed online at the BBC Archive. Until the 1977 Open University series on the making of The Spy Who Loved Me, this 1967 edition of Whicker's World was the most in-depth look at the making of a James Bond film ever produced, and remains an important part of the James Bond legacy.

Bond at the BBC - National Film Theatre 1993

Until the triumphant return of 007 to the big screen in November 1995, these fan-organised events were the only way to see the James Bond films in a cinema environment, and then only in London for a small number of dedicated fans and audience members who made the effort to attend the special one-off screenings.

Climax! Casino Royale (1954) National Film Theatre 1995

Although not technically a James Bond film as it was made for and screened on US Television on October 21, 1954, Casino Royale (part of the anthology series CLIMAX!) did mark the first appearance of Ian Fleming's creation outside of the published novels. The live TV broadcast was largely forgotten until its rediscovery in 1981 (as exclusively reported in detail in 007 MAGAZINE issue #18 – Autumn 1988) and relatively unknown to UK audiences until its 1995 release on VHS by Retro video. The National Film Theatre arranged for a free screening of the one-hour show on Saturday June 17, 1995. As the source material was available as 16mm film, the show was screened in NFT1 and tickets were restricted to British Film Institute annual members only. The screening was therefore very exclusive as tickets could only be obtained three hours before the programme started at 2.30pm. The original Kinescope recording of Casino Royale was made by pointing a camera at a TV screen, so the resultant image was of poor quality and geometrically distorted. The original 16mm version discovered in Chicago by film and TV historian Jim Schoenberger was missing the final 2½-minutes which included the final confrontation between Jimmy Bond (Barry Nelson), Valerie Mathis (Linda Christian) and Le Chiffre (Peter Lorre). Also missing was the on-screen appearance of show host, William Lundigan, and the original end credits. The version shown at the NFT and originally released on VHS was the truncated version. This version was later included as an extra on the MGM DVD release of Casino Royale (1967). The missing minutes were discovered some years later and included in a video release by the US collectables company Spyguise.