As with all legends, myths endure. Sir Sean Connery, who died last week, inspired a few. My own favourite dates from a time when the man from Edinburgh was at the peak of his fame. A young teacher at his old school in Fountainbridge was trying to instil the virtues of hard work on a class of 15-year-olds.
'Everybody knows Sean Connery delivered milk for a living before hard work and playing James Bond made him a star,' the teacher said. 'But how many of you can tell me the name of the man who drove the horse and cart?'
When, predictably, none of them could, the young teacher announced triumphantly: 'It was Alex Kitson, deputy general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, and an adviser to the Labour Government throughout the 60s and 70s'.
'Next thing you'll be telling us,' scoffed one wee lad, seated near the front, 'the auld cuddy went on to win the Ayr Gold Cup'.
I like to think this was the sort of anecdote Connery himself would enjoy. His smile, on hearing it for the first time, would be more Bartholomew 'Barley' Scott-Blair, the sardonic middle-aged publisher he played in The Russia House
(my own favourite) than Jim Malone, the hard-as-nails Irish cop from The Untouchables
, which won him an Oscar; but certainly not Bond, James Bond, never him.
It's also interesting to consider, for all his pride in his Edinburgh roots, Connery, aged 37, chose Glasgow to fulfil a long-held ambition –
to step back from his usual role in front of camera and direct his own movie, a documentary about the woeful state of industrial relations in Britain, centred on Clydeside, with the colourful title, The Bowler and the Bunnet
. The subject, as developed by Connery, embraced the ill-fated Fairfield experiment, brainchild of the Scottish industrialist, Sir Iain Stewart, who believed passionately in the idea that all sides of industry were mutually dependent. Connery and Stewart, a former captain of the R and A, were golfing buddies. It's easy to imagine them agreeing, as they approached the final hole at St Andrews, that a TV film, directed by Connery, could provide a major boost to the Stewart campaign.
With a seat on the main board at Scottish Television, the gregarious Stewart didn't have any trouble finding the right ear to pour his proposal. Connery was quickly signed to make his documentary. The fact he lacked a 'director's ticket', issued by the Association of Cinematograph Television and Allied Technicians (ACTT), threatened the project for a time; ironic, perhaps, considering the subject matter –
the need to improve worker-management relations throughout industry. The problem was solved when STV agreed to assign a staff director, Bryan Izzard, a larger-than-life character with a history in light entertainment, to accompany Connery on his challenging mission.
Together with writer Cliff Hanley and an STV film unit, the man who was Bond – James Bond – headed for Govan, once a leading name in world shipbuilding. Almost immediately, a tantalising rumour swept Glasgow newspaper circles: following each day's wrap, the man known to more than half the world as filmdom's most glamourous secret agent, could be found supping pints in a hostelry frequented by men who'd spent their working life manning machine rooms and giant assembly halls along the River Clyde.
Cliff Hanley's wife, Anna, seeking to protect Connery from unwanted attention, is credited with misdirecting journalists to Govan. How long teams of experienced reporters, accompanied by photographers lugging large leather cases, containing heavy camera equipment, scoured the byways and watering holes of this ancient burgh, is unknown; although it wasn't the sort of assignment they would have been expected to rush.
In fact, following each day's wrap, Connery sometimes swapped Govan for Cowcaddens, a mile or more to the north. This once-famous thoroughfare was still a thriving community, complete with a variety of shops and houses; at the same time awaiting demolition to make way for the latest improvement scheme invented by a road-fixated city council.
Doherty's, the pub on which Connery settled (to the unalloyed joy of the neighbourhood children who competed for the right to guard his custom-built Jensen Interceptor parked on the pavement outside), was the sort of broken-down establishment people loved for a multitude of reasons, not least the impeccable manners of its gentlemanly owner, Hugh Doherty. Its regular clientele included an assortment of people who lived nearby, as well as workers from the old Buchanan Street railway yards, off-duty policemen, and a real hybrid crew (journalists and production staff and their celebrity guests) from Scottish Television across the road.
Thanks to the location of the TV studios, well-known faces were a regular sight in Doherty's, including the occasional 'Bond girl'. Except, of course, this was no ordinary celebrity. This was Sean Connery –
perhaps the most envied man in the world. How did Doherty's regular clientele react? Following their initial surprise at finding the man who was James Bond drinking in their midst (without once hearing him utter the famous line, 'I'd like mine shaken not stirred'), no-one appeared to find his presence in any way remarkable. Most people saw he was there, supped their pints, cleared their chasers, and got on with their lives.
For some, of course, it might have been difficult to reconcile the handsome star of the Bond movies, in his designer clothes, with the casually dressed figure seated at the bar. Gone was the immaculate clean-cut image made famous by the world's most glamourous spy. In its place was a balding figure, badly in need of a haircut, sporting a large Mexican-style moustache. One man said the Connery with whom he exchanged a few words in Doherty's looked more 'like Viva Zapata than James Bond'.
Connery, it must be said, was polite, good humoured and not unapproachable, within the bounds of acceptable pub behaviour. Amazingly (and this is surely a sign of the times), no-one betrayed his whereabouts to the papers. Would the same happen now?
By his own admission, working on The Bowler and the Bunnet
changed Connery forever. Prior to this experience, he never considered himself 'a particularly political animal at all'. How that changed.
Russell Galbraith is a writer and former television executive