John Glen: Celebrating the 90th birthday of James Bond's most prolific director

·9-min read
John Glen (centre) directed five James Bond films: For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, A View To A Kill, The Living Daylights and Licence To Kill. (Getty/MGM/Mark O'Connell)
John Glen (centre) directed five James Bond films: For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, A View To A Kill, The Living Daylights and Licence To Kill. (Getty/MGM/Mark O'Connell)

“[John Glen] steered James Bond through its most difficult decade – the 1980s," David Walliams tells Yahoo about James Bond's only five-time director.

"He reinvented Roger’s Bond in a much grittier style in For Your Eyes Only after The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker.

"And then introduced the world to a brand-new Bond with The Living Daylights — creating a film that is one of the highlights of the series. He is the person who has directed more Bond films than anybody else which is quite an achievement.”

Read more: New trailer for 60 Years of Bond

To direct five successive and high-end franchise films in a row is a major achievement in any era. To have edited three more key classics and been a second-unit stunt coordinator from the same franchise is unique.

David Arnold, Martine Beswick, David Walliams and John Glen at the BFI in 2019. (Photo by Mark O'Connell)
David Arnold, Martine Beswick, David Walliams and John Glen at the BFI in 2019. (Photo by Mark O'Connell)

Yet, that is what director, editor and second-unit master John Glen has achieved in his career including directing a decade of 007 titles with For Your Eyes Only (1981), Octopussy (1983), A View to a Kill (1985), The Living Daylights (1987) and Licence to Kill (1989).

As he celebrates his ninetieth birthday, we speak to his colleagues and fans about one of the James Bond series and British cinema’s most prolific creatives.

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The director that Roger Moore would quip about as 'the actor-killer', John Glen was a Home Counties child of WW2 raised on Saturday morning film clubs. Having once left his name at the gate of Alexander Korda’s Shepperton Studios in the vain hope of a job, the thirteen-year-old John was soon a studio messenger boy and subsequently an editing apprentice.

Not long after he was cutting his teeth in the cutting rooms of such post-war British classics as The Third Man (1949) and The Wooden Horse (1950).

Orson Welles in a scene from the British Lion Films The Third Man in 1949. (Donaldson Collection/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Orson Welles in a scene from the British Lion Films The Third Man in 1949. (Donaldson Collection/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Various TV and film projects based throughout the Home Counties studio belt followed as John became an adept editor, sound editor and second-unit director. Filming absent coverage and insert shots for the editing teams, he gravitated towards action sequences becoming versed in what a fight scene or stunt needs both on set and in the editing room.

As Bond’s new-era debut Dr. No (1962) made audiences and movie editors alike sit up, John Glen kept an impressed eye on the burgeoning 007 series whilst working on 1960s TV shows like Danger Man (1964) and Man in A Suitcase (1967) — all inspired by Bond.

A stint sound-editing the crazed traffic sequence in 1969’s The Italian Job led to a phone-call from the founding editor legend of the Bond films, Peter Hunt. He was now at Pinewood Studios directing On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969). And because he was no longer editing, Bond needed a new editor. And second-unit director. John Glen was hired.

UNSPECIFIED - DECEMBER 02:  On Her Majesty's Secret Service On Her Majesty 'S SECRET SERVICE PeterHunt 1969  (Photo by Apic/Getty Images)
John Glen shot second unit on On Her Majesty's Secret Service in the Swiss Alps in 1969. (Apic/Getty Images)

Five-times Bond composer David Arnold (Tomorrow Never Dies, Casino Royale) remarks how “together with director Peter Hunt he made a very modern-looking movie with unexpected slam cuts, zoom, pans and furiously energetic action cutting.”

John Glen enabled the series that changed how action cinema was cut to step itself up again. “George Lazenby’s only Bond movie OHMSS felt like it ushered in a new era,” notes Arnold, “and sat George Lazenby atop the whole thing like he had been there forever. And all helped enormously by that leviathan of a score by John Barry.”

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When Bond producer Albert R. Broccoli tasked Glen’s pal Lewis Gilbert with directing 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me, it was Glen who was asked to edit. And to cover the second-unit work for the iconic pre-title sequence.

One of cinema’s key stunts of all time involves Roger Moore’s Bond escaping KGB assassins on skis as he freefalls into a magnificent Union Jack parachute jump.

Later homaged at the London 2012 Olympics by The Queen herself, the sequence was directed by Glen, shot in Canada, and performed by stunt performer, Rick Sylvester.

“There was none of the Hollywoodish attitude and pretentiousness the public has come to expect,” remembers Sylvester. “John struck me as just a very regular person, a very decent bloke.”

Two Bond films later and Glen was asked by legendary producer Broccoli to helm the first Bond film of the 1980s. “No one was more surprised than me to be asked to direct For Your Eyes Only,” Glen told Yahoo in 2021.

French actress Carole Bouquet, British actors Roger Moore and Julian Glover on the set of For Your Eyes Only, directed by John Glen. (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)
Carole Bouquet, Roger Moore and Julian Glover on the set of For Your Eyes Only, directed by John Glen. (Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

Maybe it was because he was — like all good directors — an instinctual editor first. Skater-turned-actor Lynn-Holly Johnson recalls collaborating with John on the film: “He was actually working backwards, how to edit the scene before it was even shot.”

It is an observation shared by co-star John Moreno who remembers 'a man who knew what he was doing.'

Read more: 40 years of For Your Eyes Only

Such was the pared-down success of Eyes Only after the excess of Moonraker and The Spy Who Loved Me — both edited by John Glen — that Bond’s newest captain was asked by Broccoli to direct the next four 007 adventures.

Bond superfan David Walliams believes it is because Glen "understands the genre very well, so he is very confident making a Bond film. He is not trying to turn it into anything else. He is very aware of what the genre is about and about making it funny, making it thrilling, and making it exciting.”

A promotional shot of British actor Roger Moore (as James Bond) surrounded by female palace guards in the film 'Octopussy', 1983. Clockwise from top, they are Carolyn Seaward, Carole Ashby, Tina Robinson, Gillian De Terville and Mary Stavin. (Photo by United Artists/Archive Photos/Getty Images)
Roger Moore surrounded by (clockwise from top) Carolyn Seaward, Carole Ashby, Tina Robinson, Gillian De Terville and Mary Stavin. (United Artists/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

Actor Carole Ashby was directed by John in both Octopussy (1983) and A View to a Kill (1985). She remembers first arriving in 1982 on the Octopussy palace set in India’s Udaipur — and her accidental slip on the marble floor right in-front of John.

After some emergency pain-relief, Glen turns to Carole and warmly quips, 'watch out, this one’s trouble'. With her foot injury hidden from the next day’s elaborate river shoot on Octopussy’s barge, Ashby recalls how “he was just lovely about it and kept teasing me about it from then on”.

After Glen threw her a lighthearted invite to appear in his third Bond opus A View to a Kill, Ashby gladly accepted and toured the world with John, his wife Janine, and the whole Bond PR circus. “For me they were the most special times ever. He was very easy to work with and be with”, she recalls affectionately.

Actress Grace Jones and actor Christopher Walken on the set of
Grace Jones and Christopher Walken on the set of A View To Kill. (Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

Alongside Roger Moore and later Timothy Dalton, Glen successfully steered the Bond ship through the box-office waters that started with Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982) and ended on Batman (1989) and Lethal Weapon 2 (1989). That also included winning the 'Battle of The Bonds' when Sean Connery and Roger Moore both launched rival 007 movies for a 1983 release. John Glen’s Octopussy won.

Read more: How Pierce Brosnan became Bond nine years before his debut

“I think he really moved with the times," Walliams notes. "To think that The Living Daylights was the first post-AIDS Bond, what he got out of Timothy Dalton in those two films is extraordinary and totally reinvented the wheel. I’d have liked to have seen him do more, but I understand that when the series moved on six years later there was a chance for another director to create a new vision.”

British diirector Jon Glen and American producer Albert R.Broccoli on the set of Licence to Kill. (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)
John Glen, screenwriter Michael G Wilson, and producer Albert R.Broccoli on the set of Licence to Kill. (Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

Glen moved on to more directing after his final Bond film, Licence to Kill (1989). Having first directed the second-unit work on Superman the Movie (1978), Glen was approached by producer Ilya Salkind to direct 1992’s Christopher Columbus – The Discovery.

It was a problematic shoot for the director, but one made slightly easier by being surrounded by familiar Bond crew and cast members. This happened too on Gerry Anderson’s Space Precinct (1993).

Georges Corraface and Rachel Ward in a scene from the film 'Christopher Columbus:The Discovery', 1992. (Photo by Christopher Columbus Productions/Getty Images)
Georges Corraface and Rachel Ward in a scene from the film 'Christopher Columbus:The Discovery', 1992. (Christopher Columbus Productions/Getty Images)

However, it will always be Bond that John Glen is most remembered for. Once not always favourably compared to the initial Bond films of the 1960s by lazy critics, the 007 adventures of the 1980s are now highly regarded by fans, audiences, and commentators alike.

The social media love and memes for each of those Glen films is immense. And Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Rises), the Mission: Impossible franchise, Uncharted (2022), the BBC’s Top Gear and Seth McFarlane (Ted) all attest to the influences on pop-culture John Glen’s Bond work alone has made.

Read more: The best Bond Easter eggs in No Time To Die

Bond’s current visual effects supervisor Chris Corbould recently admitted an early thought for the Matera car chase in No Time to Die (2021) would see the DB5 fall off a cliff and sprout Union Jack patterned wings to pay homage to Glen’s iconic 1977 Bond jump.

James Bond uncovers The Living Daylights' Aston Martin V8 in No Time To Die. (@007/Instagram)
James Bond uncovers The Living Daylights' Aston Martin V8 in No Time To Die. (@007/Instagram)

Stunt driver Ben Collins (Wonder Woman 1984, Ford V Ferrari) gladly admits A View to a Kill is his favourite Bond film and helped inspire his own car stunt skills. “Those days were quite special” he remembers. Collins later drove No Time to Die’s very own Aston Martin V8 — itself is a warm, deliberately direct lift from The Living Daylights.

As he reaches his ninetieth milestone, we raise a glass of Bond champagne to one of the true captains of Bond, Mr. John Glen.

“One of his films will be someone’s first Bond, and will be the most special one… He is one of the great gentlemen and tentpoles behind this incredible franchise,” concludes Walliams.

Many thanks to John Glen, David Walliams, David Arnold, Carole Ashby, Lynn-Holly Johnson, John Moreno, Ben Collins, and Rick Sylvester.

Watch: New 60 Years of Bond trailer

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