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Scannal

Scannal: The Man who would be Bond

Kevin McClory & Brighid MacLaughlin
Kevin McClory & Brighid MacLaughlin
Thunderball
Thunderball
Sean Connery as James Bond
Sean Connery as James Bond
Sean Connery as James Bond
Sean Connery as James Bond

Who owns James Bond? or to be specific who owns Thunderball - the 007 Story? Allegations of plagiarism gave rise to an enthralling case in London's High Court in November 1963 which gripped the Irish public imagination because at the centre of the row was a swashbuckling maverick Irishman up against an Old Etonian of the British Establishment. This week Scannal recounts the dramatic tale of the fight for Bond.

James Bond was the greatest fictional spy in cinema history. He liked his martini vodkas "shaken, not stirred" and he was licenced to kill. Special Agent 007 was the brainchild of Englishman Ian Fleming who wrote his 12 Bond novels in his home in Jamaica. But in 1963, an Irish producer called Kevin McClory took Fleming to court for plagiarism. The case caused a sensation in London, especially when the Irishman was seen to have won.

The case turned on a screenplay for a putative first ever James Bond movie called Thunderball. Irish film producer Kevin McClory held the rights to this screenplay, but the movie wasn't made as originally planned. In the meantime, Ian Fleming wrote a James Bond novel called Thunderball which led McClory to take him to court for plagiarism and infringement of copyright.

Nine days of court hearings were headline news. The ownership of Thunderball, its plot, characters and scenarios, the arguments on both sides were played blow by blow to a waiting public. In the end, a settlement was reached whereby McClory was awarded substantial compensation and acquired the film rights to Thunderball worth millions. Now only McClory could produce Thunderball. "I consider it a total victory", McClory said,"and I am very happy."

McClory was born in Dun Laoghaire in 1926. He was related to the English novelists, the Brontë sisters and his own life reads like an adventure story. He joined the Merchant Navy during the war and went to Shepperton studios in 1946 where he worked his way up the ladder. He worked with John Huston on African Queen, Moulin Rouge and Beat the Devil. Huston was so impressed with the young McClory that he made him Assistant Producer on his new film Moby Dick in 1956.

Ian Fleming was a member of the British establishment. Born in 1908, his father was an MP. Fleming was educated in Eton College where he mingled with the aristocracy and made money writing adventure stories for the school magazine. He was also a successful athlete and was Eton's champion athlete for two years in succession, a feat accomplished only once before in the school's history.

Fleming worked for Reuters News Agency in the 1930s, including a spell in Moscow, and with British Naval Intelligence during the War. The seeds of his spy novels were sown in this period and they bore fruit in 1953 with the publication of Casino Royale, the first of 12 James Bond novels. Despite the success of the books, Ian Fleming harboured a further burning ambition - he wanted to see his creation James Bond on the movie screen.

Producer Kevin McClory thought James Bond would light up the silver screen, provided the original stories were properly adapted for cinema. For Fleming, this was a dream come true. Unfortunately, the project involving McClory was abandoned and the movies were made without him.

It was then McClory saw Fleming's novel Thunderball and took him to court for infringement of copyright. Many twists and turns followed which involved the making and the re-making of Thunderball. McClory became obsessed with Bond and his role in the creation of the film version of the character.

The Court Case between Fleming and McClory was the first act in a drama of conflict, greed, snobbery, madness and death. And it raised the question: who really owned the cinematic version of the James Bond character?

Presenter/ Reporter: Pat Butler
Producer/ Director: Seán Ó Méalóid

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