In 1968, George Lazenby had the world at his feet.
By chance, he’d met James Bond producer Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli in a barber shop, and had landed himself an audition to take over from Sean Connery in 'On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’.
Though he wasn’t an actor – the Australian-born star was a model at the time – it was thought that he had the swagger to carry off Fleming’s globe-trotting spy.
During a screen test, where he accidentally punched a stuntman in the face, Broccoli saw potential, and against all odds, he scored the job.
Peter Hunt, who was lined up as the director of the follow up to 1967’s 'You Only Live Twice’, Connery’s last appearance as Bond, seemed to agree that his lack of acting experience didn’t matter.
He told the Washington Post: “We wanted someone who oozed sexual assurance, and we think this fellow has that. Just wait till the women see him on screen… I am not saying he is an actor. There is a great deal of difference between an actor and a film star. Didn’t they find Gary Cooper when he was an electrician?”
But it would be a rocky road ahead.
He ended up clashing with Hunt, not to mention his co-stars Diana Rigg and the mild-mannered Desmond Llewelyn, who played Q in 17 of the Bond movies.
He says that the filmmakers ignored him, and refused to listen to his ideas.
Rigg, rather witheringly, told the Canberra Times: “I can no longer cater for his obsession with himself. He is utterly, unbelievably … bloody impossible.”
Though he was offered a contract, said to be worth $1 million, to make six more movies, he turned Broccoli down, before 'OHMSS’ had even hit cinemas.
Petulantly, he grew his hair long and a beard as if to further distance himself from the role.
“I much prefer being a car salesman to a stereotyped James Bond,” he said at the time. “My parents think I’m insane, everybody thinks I’m insane passing up maybe millions of pounds. Nobody believed me. They thought it was a publicity stunt. But it’s just me doing my own thing.”
He branded Bond 'a brute’, and had been persuaded by his manager that Bond would soon be old hat, with counter culture movies like 'Easy Rider’ and the changing attitudes of the 70s becoming increasingly fashionable.
But his career floundered after Bond, and he never managed to make good on that big break. In 1978, he was reduced to offering his acting services in an advert he took out himself in Variety magazine.
Instead of the Bond series, he instead starred in the b-movie erotica series 'Emmanuelle’, appearing in eight of the movies through the 90s.
In a tragic twist, though 'On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ was not critically lauded at the time, it has since become a classic in the Bond canon.
Equally, despite walking away from the role, Lazenby still does the Bond circuit, making personal appearances.
He told the Los Angeles Times: “It hasn’t been easy, trying to climb back… I admit I acted stupidly. It went to my head, everything that was happening to me. But remember, it was my first film.
“Now what I’ve got to do is live down my past; convince people I’m not the same person who made a fool of himself all those years ago. I know I can do it. All I need is the chance.”
Image credits: AP/Rex Features/Getty