Friday, 16 October 2015

A diamond a day - the 1971 Diamonds Are Forever competition

What are the essential ingredients of a James Bond film? The jaw-dropping stunts? The exotic locations? The thrilling action? In 1971, readers of the Daily Express were invited to rank what they considered to be the most important qualities out of twelve put forward by the paper as part of a competition to coincide with the release of Diamonds Are Forever. The list reveals that some forty years later, those defining characteristics of a Bond film have little changed.

The 'Diamond-A-Day' competition was run over ten days up to Christmas Eve. Readers had to select eight essential qualities and place them in order of importance. Entries were judged by a panel of experts (the identities of those experts were not given), and the winning entry – one for each day of the competition – was that considered to be the most 'meritorious'.

The Diamond-A-Day entry form
To improve their chances, readers could make up to six selections in a single entry, and in the event of a tie, readers' answers to a tie-breaker were taken into account; readers were given a photograph of a Bond girl and had to name the actress and the film in which she appeared. If that still didn't resolve matters, then competitors were invited 'to take part in a simple eliminating contest to decide the outright winner'. (The  nature of this contest isn't described, but the slightly sinister text does rather conjure up images of a gypsy girl fight or perhaps something involving piranhas.)

However competitors were eliminated to leave only one (for each day), it was worth the prize: a diamond. But there was more for the winner who was judged to have had the best entry across the entire competition: a cruise on P&O Canberra, the ship on which some scenes for Diamonds Are Forever were filmed.

So what were those essential qualities? They were:

  • Prolonged excitement
  • Fantastic gadgets
  • Good direction
  • Sean Connery as James Bond
  • Fabulous and exotic locations
  • Theme music
  • Excellent casting for supporting roles
  • Tense script
  • Romantic interest
  • Ian Fleming's original stories
  • Subtle humour
  • Abundance of gorgeous girls

We might want to modify some of the terminology (the last item is of its time somewhat), but overall, few would argue that those qualities are not still important ingredients in a Bond film. That said, the inclusion of 'romantic interest' may have been influenced by the previous film, On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), in which the romance between Bond and Tracy is a significant plot point. Otherwise, romances do not seem to play an important role, at least not until Casino Royale (2006), which charts Bond's relationship with Vesper Lynd.

We must naturally replace Sean Connery with the latest incumbent, but the characteristic nevertheless holds true – whoever plays Bond is important. There are some Bond fans who have been drawn into the series by Daniel Craig's portrayal, and others who don't admit the existence of any other Bond except Connery's. And of course, prospective candidates for the role continue to earn many column inches in the press and generate huge debate on social media.

Even the quality of 'Ian Fleming's original stories' continues to have relevance, possibly more so today than it did in 1971, as the scriptwriters of recent films, not least Spectre, take inspiration from Fleming's novels and short stories.

While the Bond films have seen many changes through its 50-year history, judging by the 'Diamond-A-Day' list published in the Express in 1971, the essential qualities of Bond films remain much the same, testament to how the creative team has remained faithful, both deliberately and subconsciously, to the earlier entries.

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