Actress and star of Thunderball

Born: April 26, 1941;

Died: December 18, 2019.

CLAUDINE Auger, who has died aged 78, saw off competition from Julie Christie, Raquel Welch and Faye Dunaway to land the leading role of Domino opposite Sean Connery in Thunderball (1965), the fourth James Bond movie and for many years the highest-grossing film in the series. “Domino is my favourite Bond girl and probably the most beautiful woman in the series,” Steven Jay Rubin wrote in The Complete James Bond Movie Encyclopedia. “Helping her along are a series of breathtaking bikinis and bathing suits. It’s no wonder that Broccoli and Saltzman [the producers] turned down consummate English actress Julie Christie.”

Bond’s first meeting with Domino is one of the most dramatic in the series. She is diving in the Caribbean when she gets her foot trapped and 007 turns up and frees her. And there certainly seemed to be a chemistry between the two stars. Andrew Yule in his Sean Connery biography, Neither Shaken Nor Stirred, mentions rumours of “close encounters” between the two before Connery’s then wife, Diane Cilento, appeared on the set.

A former Miss France, Auger was in her early twenties when she got the role but, like many Bond girls, found it difficult to build on that early exposure. Although she co-starred with Christopher Plummer and Yul Brynner in Triple Cross the following year, by 1971 she was reduced to appearing in the low-budget Italian horror movie, Black Belly of the Tarantula.

Born Claudine Oger in Paris during the German occupation, she studied at the Conservatoire de Paris and began appearing in small film roles in her teens. She won the title of Miss France Monde 1958 and was runner-up at Miss World. At the age of 18 she married the French film director Pierre Gaspard-Huit, who was 25 years her senior, but she was still a relative unknown when she caught the eye of Kevin McClory, who worked as writer and producer on Thunderball.

The Bond producers had been keen on Welch or Dunaway for the role of villain Emilio Largo’s Italian lover, but there were complications with both. They considered the young Julie Christie, but were not convinced she was right for the part. After an extensive search, they were sufficiently keen on Auger to rewrite the character to make her French instead of Italian.

Unknown to Domino, the sinister, eyepatch-wearing Largo has had her brother murdered. When Bond breaks the news, she is understandably upset and swaps sides, ending up killing Largo with a speargun. Auger took English lessons for the role, but, like Ursula Andress in the first Bond film Dr No (1962), she was dubbed by Nikki van der Zyll. Apparently her voice was considered too deep.

Suddenly Auger was in big demand, with several American television appearances, but it was short-lived and her Hollywood career never really got going. Back in Europe she made Triple Cross and the comedy Anyone Can Play (1968), with Ursula Andress.

She worked in theatre in France, made a string of low-budget European movies and appeared in an instalment of the British television series The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes in 1994, with Jeremy Brett, but by the end of the decade her screen career had fizzled out. Her first marriage ended in divorce. A second husband predeceased her. She is survived by a daughter from the second marriage.