As a product of Edinburgh, and further still the city’s working class, very early on you became aware of the name Sean Connery.
You learned of his very humble beginnings in the 1930s in Fountainbridge, today a gentrified upscale part of the Scottish capital but back then a run down enclave of overcrowded tenements slap bang in the centre of the city. My father hailed from this part of Edinburgh also and went to the same school as Sean Connery, known as Big Tam to those who knew him in Edinburgh back then long before he changed his first name to Sean, and indeed was in the same year as his younger brother Neil.
You also learned of his Sean Connery’s early forays into the world of work as a coffin polisher and milkman (Connery must’ve had the longest milk round in Edinburgh there’s ever been if the sheer number of people in the city who claimed he used to deliver milk to their granny were to be believed).
He also served in the navy and there developed a disdain for authority that he never lost, evidenced in his legal tussles with various Hollywood studios over money. Connery carried that Edinburgh working class chip on his shoulder throughout his life, which to my mind added the grit and gravitas to his performances he was known and rightly celebrated for.
I still remember watching my first Bond movie. It was Goldfinger and along with a room full of other kids, I saw it at the old prison warders’ club in Longstone, adjacent to Saughton Prison, in Edinburgh. I must have only been ten years old or thereabouts and it was a seminal moment. Growing older, Connery inspired me with the belief that someone from my background, leaving school with no qualifications, didn’t have to just ‘get oan wi it’ and accept a life of meaningless jobs that you despise, along with the ensuing drudgery — that instead you could roll the dice for something different and more meaningful.
Fast forward 24 years to the start of 2003 and there I am, sitting in a plush office in Hollywood across from Juliet Blake, back then the vice-president of Jim Henson Television (the company behind The Muppets), discussing a feature length script I’d written with a view to Sean Connery starring in it. She was personal friends with Connery and my producer, Nick, had managed to get the script to her, which she read and liked it enough to send to Sean Connery at his home in the Bahamas.
She really wanted him to play the part and sitting there listening to her rave about the screenplay and inform me that ‘Sean thinks the writing’s excellent’, this was about as surreal as you could possibly imagine. It got even more surreal when she proceeded to pick up the phone and call him from her office while I was sitting there to discuss the script.
Officially, Connery had retired from acting by then and Juliet was hoping to coax him into making an exception for this part in this movie. It was a part I had originally written with him in mind. He was due in LA in a few weeks to present an Oscar at that year’s awards and she was hoping to organise a meeting between us while he was in town. Juliet liked the fact that I was from the same Edinburgh background , and felt that the combination of the part and this connection would produce the desired result.
Driving out of the studio lot in my beat up Chevy, replete with a Scotland bumper sticker, onto a busy La Brea Avenue in the sweltering heat of an LA afternoon, I did what any self respecting Scotsman would do in this situation and pulled over to call my mum. The golden door of opportunity was opening after struggling and writing for too many years to recount by then. Now, it seemed, the stars had finally aligned in my favour, and driving along Beverly Boulevard later, I had the window down and the music up.
In the end, alas, the meeting never took place. Sean Connery was only in town a few days and his schedule was full, I was informed. He also demurred when it came to taking things forward with the screenplay. Still, I will never forget the delightful words, ‘Sean thinks the writing’s excellent’.
RIP Sean Connery. More than a great actor, you were a great and true Edinburgh man.
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