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Unseen Connery interview reveals star’s political roots

A previously unseen Sean Connery interview in which the actor reveals his thoughts on the class struggle and Scotland’s “greedy” bosses is one of the gems in a new documentary collection from the British Film Institute (BFI).

Shot in 1967 and never broadcast, the interview sees the then 37-year-old James Bond star laying into the management practices which led him to make The Bowler And The Bunnet, a rarely seen documentary about Glasgow’s Fairfield shipyard.

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It is the only film Connery ever directed.

“I’d never considered myself a particularly political animal at all,” he tells Bernard Braden at the start of the interview. “But suddenly when I went up to Scotland to look at this Fairfield experiment it awakened all sorts of dislikes and likes that had obviously been kind of dormant in me -- particularly against management.

“I have never found a particularly sympathetic or really good functioning management … They’re too greedy and don’t put enough of what they take out back in. That’s what I found in the shipyard.”

The interview and The Bowler And The Bunnet are included on Tales From The Shipyard, a collection of documentaries about British working life in which Clydeside features heavily. The Bowler And The Bunnet will also screen at the Glasgow Film Theatre (GFT) later this month in an associated programme which launches on the final day of the Glasgow Film Festival.

The documentary itself shows Connery returning to Scotland to examine Tory industrialist Sir Iain Stuart’s attempts to forge a new way of working at the troubled Fairfield yard. Stuart viewed the forces of labour and capital as being mutually dependent and aimed to make Fairfield, in Connery’s words, “the testbed of an industrial New Deal in Britain”.

The “experiment” didn’t work. Fairfield was swallowed up by Upper Clyde Shipyards where, in 1971, union leader Jimmy Reid led the famous “work-in”. Ultimately, the Clyde’s shipbuilding industry went into terminal decline.

“As a piece of film it’s rather good,” says author and film-maker Mark Cousins. “It has a sort of visual dynamism that Connery is still rightly proud of.”

Not everyone thought so at the time, however. The film screened only once on Scottish television and was damned by The Scotsman for its “showmanship”. The Herald didn’t even bother reviewing it, as Connery notes archly in his 2008 book, Being A Scot. It did find an enthusiastic audience in Moscow, where its subject matter convinced the Politburo of his “unimpeachable proletarian credentials”.

In Being A Scot, Connery also describes seeing the film again years later during a retrospective of his work at the 2006 Rome film festival. “There I was, up there on the screen, wearing my bunnet, analysing the problems of the Clyde, freewheeling through the shipyards on a grocer’s bicycle to Land Of Hope And Glory, hoping that the film would be a force for change,” he writes.

Another film in the GFT programme is Seawards The Great Ships, the first Scottish film to win an Oscar. Shot in colour over a period of two years and released in 1960, it shows the launch of every ship made on the Clyde’s 23 yards during that period. It features a startling avant-garde soundtrack and won the 1961 Academy Award for best live action short film.

“There’s something about the Protestantism of Scottish life that makes it predictable that the Scots’ first big contribution to film would be in the documentary genre,” says Cousins. “This is a grand example of that, so it has this landmark importance in Scottish film.

“The astonishing thing about Seawards The Great Ships is its scale. Documentary was considered a sort of hand-knitted form of film-making but when you look at it, it’s huge. It’s got an opulence and a scale and a production value that’s really surprising, and it tells you something about Scotland’s sense of pride in its shipbuilding industry that it could put such effort into making such a film.”

The Tales From The Shipyard season begins at the GFT on February 27. It also includes USC1, about the 1971 “work-in”, and RMS Queen Mary Leaves The Clyde, from 1936. The BFI DVD, including the unseen Connery interview, is released next month.

  Shaken ... and stirred

 

It’s winter 1967, just before Christmas. A 37-year-old Sean Connery has just taken a seat in a whitewashed London office and is preparing to be interviewed by a TV journalist. The subject? His latest film, completed a month or so earlier.

Also present in the cramped room are a cameraman and a production assistant whose clapper board gives the date of the interview -- December 13 -- and the name of Connery’s interrogator: Bernard Braden.

Connery is wearing a dark jacket and a bright red polo neck sweater. He is moustached and his hair is thinning at the front. He looks tired, his face lined. But as he talks, the power and charisma that have made him one of the world’s most bankable movie stars are just a flash of the eye and a twitch of the mouth away. And he knows it.

But the chat today isn’t about 007 or Bond girls or how to mix the perfect martini. It’s about politics, trade unionism, bosses, workers -- and The Bowler And The Bunnet, the impressionistic documentary Connery has just made in the shipyards of Govan and which marks his debut as a director.

The interview shows a side to Connery that would later become familiar to us, that of the socially engaged Scot who will never forget his working class roots or his love of his country. But, amazingly, it was never broadcast at the time and for more than 40 years it languished forgotten in an archive at Braden’s production company, Adanac. Even Murray Grigor, Connery’s writing partner on 2008’s Being A Scot, was unaware of its existence.

Next month it will finally be seen as part of Tales From The Shipyard, a collection of documentaries about shipbuilding to be released by the British Film Institute (BFI).

Braden’s interview with Connery was shot speculatively and was intended to form part of a TV series called Now And Then. He filmed more than 300 hours of interviews with figures such as Quentin Crisp, Enoch Powell (captured just weeks after his infamous Rivers of Blood speech) and Robert Maxwell, then a Labour MP, but the series never found a buyer.

Connery talks about making The Bowler And The Bunnet, which outlines Tory industrialist Sir Iain Stuart’s attempt to bring in a new way of working at the Fairfield yard, a project which had begun two years earlier. Connery had met Stuart at a golf club dinner in London and been impressed by the older man’s commitment and drive.

But filming in the Clyde shipyard “awakened all sorts of dislikes and likes” in Connery, who tells Braden the bosses are “too greedy”.

 

Connery speaks about the need for better communication between bosses and workers and for less demarcation in the workplace. But he also tackles the unions.

“There are 600 trade unions in this country, which is far too many to deal with the problems. Each one becomes fragmented and when one comes in in support of another, they snowball into a mess. It becomes impossible. The original complaint gets lost sight of.”

At one point Braden tells him that Bond producer Cubby Broccoli claims the Bond production team exhibited just the sort of workplace flexibility Stuart was seeking to nurture.

“If Broccoli wants to take the credit,” Connery replies with a wry smile, “then who am I to deny it to him?”

The late 1960s were a difficult time for the Edinburgh-born actor. He had reluctantly appeared in a fifth Bond film, 1967’s You Only Live Twice, but was determined to move on. “Bond’s been good to me, but I’ve done my bit. I’m out,” he said at the time.

Author and film-maker Mark Cousins shares that belief that Connery’s post-Bond period was a difficult one. But he’s unstinting in his praise of this rarely seen documentary.

“It’s best understood for me in the context of what was happening generally in British cinema, where we were seeing the decline of deference. Film was no longer a sort of David Lean-style, middle-class view of British life. Kitchen sink cinema was coming along. Those more regional and national voices were coming along and London was no longer seen as the centre of the film-making world.”

In fact, for a brief few weeks in 1967, that honour went to Govan and the shipyards of the Clyde -- and it was Connery, then 37 and apparently with the world at his feet, who put it there. Now, as the dust comes off this long-forgotten interview, we start to understand why.

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