The moment director Sam Mendes and producer Barbara Broccoli revealed the official title of Bond 24 as ‘SPECTRE,’ 007 fans everywhere knew exactly what this must mean: the return of the iconic villains commanded by one Ernst Stavro Blofeld, with whom Bond did battle in the early days.
But where have SPECTRE (who made their last official appearance in 1971’s ‘Diamonds Are Forever’) been all these years, and why are they only coming back now?
it’s all down to a long-running legal battle between EON and filmmaker Kevin McClory, owing to the tricky history of ‘Thunderball’ - which, lest we forget, was the novel that introduced Blofeld and SPECTRE.
Most Bond fans probably know this story by now, but here it is in a nutshell: Ian Fleming had been trying to bring Bond to the screen for many years before EON Productions finally began the series with 1962’s ‘Dr No.’ To this end, he had collaborated in the late 1950s with Kevin McClory on an original concept for a Bond movie, not based on an existing novel - and we might note that one of their working titles was ‘SPECTRE.’
When these plans fell through, Fleming took the story idea for this abandoned movie and put them into his novel ‘Thunderball’ - but neglected to give McClory any credit for his story contributions.
A long and arduous legal battle ensued, with McClory ultimately granted part-ownership of ‘Thunderball’ and credited as a producer on the 1965 film (released shortly after Fleming’s death). McClory was also given the right to remake the film some years later - hence ‘Never Say Never Again,’ the unofficial 1983 Bond movie which saw Sean Connery reprise the role one last time.
As McClory’s rights extended to the characters and story elements of ‘Thunderball’, that left SPECTRE and Blofeld pretty much off limits to EON Productions in the decades since - until November 2013, when McClory’s estate sold back all rights to ‘Thunderball’ to MGM.
This resulted in immediate speculation that Bond’s old enemies would at last return - speculation which the title ‘SPECTRE’ has all but confirmed. (The announced plot synopsis also mentions a secret evil organisation that Bond must investigate; you don’t need to be a Q-level genius to figure it out.)
Who is SPECTRE?
Though not introduced by author Ian Fleming until the ninth Bond novel, ‘Thunderball,’ the Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion have been a staple of the EON Productions film franchise from the very beginning, when the title villain of first film ‘Dr No’ (played by Joseph Wiseman) revealed himself to be a member of the diabolical organisation with the imposing acronym.
Key things to remember: they do not tolerate failure, their emblem is a particularly angry-looking octopus (subtly alluded to in the new film’s logo), and their leader Blofeld is surely 007’s single most memorable adversary.
Throughout the Sean Connery and George Lazenby years (well, okay, George Lazenby year), SPECTRE and Blofeld were Bond’s constant opponents. Blofeld’s appearance was famously kept a mystery at first; while he features in ‘From Russia With Love’ and ‘Thunderball,’ nothing is shown but the white cat that sits in his lap whilst he unfurls his nefarious schemes.
The arch-villain was finally revealed in ‘You Only Live Twice,’ portrayed by Donald Pleasance, who was succeeded in the role by Telly Savalas in ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,’ and finally by Charles Gray in Connery’s last official Bond movie ‘Diamonds Are Forever.’ (The legal battle between McClory, EON and the Fleming estate was still ongoing when the latter two films were made, so Blofeld and SPECTRE were not quite off-limits yet.)
Blofeld’s last appearance in an EON Bond movie was a brief, implied cameo in Roger Moore’s ‘For Your Eyes Only,’ Blofeld and SPECTRE have been entirely absent from the series since - with their last appearance being in ‘Never Say Never Again,’ which saw Max Von Sydow appear as Blofeld opposite the returning Sean Connery.
Now that we know SPECTRE are back, the big question is whether or not Blofeld will also return - and if so, who will portray him. Rumours are already rife that this is the role Christoph Waltz has been covertly cast in, and, as we’ve already discussed, he would seem an ideal choice.
However, might it be possible that there’s some complex double (or triple) bluffing going on? Might the younger new cast member Andrew Scott - known for his role as another iconic villain, Moriarty in TV’s ‘Sherlock’ - possibly be revealed as the new Blofeld? Or given that we’ve already had a female M, who’s to say we might not have a female SPECTRE boss in Monica Bellucci…?
Well, we’ve got until October 2015, when ‘SPECTRE’ opens in UK cinemas, before we know for sure who’s who - but we’re sure the wait will be worthwhile. After all, longtime Bond fans have been waiting a lot longer for this.
Picture Credit: MGM/EON