Neil Connery stars in Operation Kid Brother in 1967
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The year 1967 saw Sean Connery at the peak of his powers as James Bond. Four films into playing Ian Fleming’s already iconic British spy, Connery was the biggest star in the world and as established a symbol of the 1960s as the Beatles or ‘swinging London’. His fifth 007 adventure, You Only Live Twice, looked set once again to take the box office by storm. Yet waiting in the wings lay one of the strangest competitors to Connery’s secret agent dominance in Bond history.
A picture made in Europe with a fraction of the Bond budget featured his well-known surname, and starred his brother Connery… Neil Connery.
Born some years after his famous brother in 1938, Neil never followed Sean into the acting profession, which Sean himself arrived at circuitously after stints as a bouncer and male nanny.
Neil plied his trade as a plasterer in his home city of Edinburgh while Sean travelled the world making movies and romancing great beauties. The Bond star made millions while his younger sibling made £7 to £8 an hour plastering.
Until one day, a remarkable opportunity worth a cool £5000 lump sum came calling when Neil was sacked from his job for losing his tools, and his famous brother was called onto a local radio station to discuss the matter with his trade union.
Dr. No and From Russia With Love director Terence Young, hearing the interview, informed Italian film producer Dario Sabatello just how much Neil evoked his famous brother’s distinctive Scottish brogue.
Sabatello was well-known for making many examples of the ‘Spaghetti Western’, which following the success of Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars in 1964 saw Italian filmmakers spawn an entire legion of European-produced imitations of the traditional American film genre.
Alongside it came another, similar genre of knock-off – the so-called ‘Eurospy’ movie, which expressly copied the James Bond franchise with the same formula of guns, girls, gadgets and action sequences.
Neil was offered the opportunity to appear in such a film, released in America ultimately as Operation Kid Brother and elsewhere as OK Connery.
He would play the Bond-esque ‘Dr. Neil Connery’, a skilled surgeon with powers of hypnotism, recruited by the British government to save a kidnapped scientist from the machinations of THANATOS, a sinister organisation bent, of course, on world domination.
In this, he is aided by numerous veterans of the official James Bond series of the era including Bernard Lee aka M, Lois Maxwell aka Miss Moneypenny, all taking the money and sprinting!
The end result, directed by veteran Alberto di Martino, ended up a curate’s egg even by the standards of the Eurospy genre. “Not only was he the opposite of an actor, he looked like nothing” di Martino said years later.
“He was losing his hair, so we put a wig on him; he had bad teeth, so he had dentures; he had a dull face so they put a beard on him; we put adhesives on his temples to make his eyes stand out more.”
Where Sean had the natural star power, Neil was heavily confected in the attempt to cash in on his brother’s superhero glories and the result was a film almost immediately destined for the bargain basement bin.
Neil was dubbed by an American actor to cover his wooden performance. The film took on the unorthodox title of ‘O.K. Connery’ amongst the crew based on Neil’s screen test when they would consistently repeat “Ok Connery ok’.
It stuck and, indeed, created quite the pop warbler from singer Christy draped across much of the picture, produced no less by the legendary film composing maestro Ennio Morricone.
Upon the film’s release the same year as You Only Live Twice, Sean Connery was far from pleased with his brother’s seeming attempts to try and steal his thunder. “Neil is a plasterer, not an actor,” he declared with typical Connery bluntness.
“Still, they put him in a film over in Rome – gave him the lead, too! It’s a typical example of the way some people do things. It doesn’t matter whether the person can act or not. What matters is one happens to be one’s brother.”
Sadly, Operation Kid Brother aka O.K. Connery was no career-making turn for Neil Connery.
While Sean would leave his role as 007 after You Only Live Twice (for a while, at least), decades of classic pictures and a diverse assortment of roles awaited him as the Bond franchise soared to new heights.
Neil returned to Scotland, returned to his traditional life as a plasterer, and never adorned the silver screen again.
He passed away just six months after Sean in April 2021, at age 83, but his younger self remains immortalised in a kitsch example of 1960s European excess.
Nobody may have done it better than Sean as James Bond, but Neil albeit briefly attempted to give him a run for his super spy money.
The Cinematic Connery: The Films of Sir Sean Connery by AJ Black is out now
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