On one of their various televised travelogues, Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan engaged in a testy duel of Sean Connery impressions. "I'll have a vodka Martini, shaken not stirred," they hissed at each other, their faces contorting into worried scowls as they tried to register the trademark rumbling rasp. They weren't bad either, but then again, everyone thinks they do a good Connery.
At one point in the mid-1980s, few nights out remained unpunctuated by a ham-fisted round of Connery impersonations, whether on the relatively safe ground of 007 - "Ah, Miss Moneypenny", "The name is Bond, James Bond", and so forth - or the more experimental territory of Brian de Palma's Untouchables, in which Sean played a Chicago-Irish beat cop. "They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That's the Chicago way."
Even as I write those words, I can hear the great man growling them, a testament to his enduring place in the canon of late 20th century popular culture. Connery turns 90 on Tuesday and although he retired from cinema almost 15 years ago, his legend is undimmed. Earlier this month, the Radio Times conducted a poll on the best Bond ever - as usual, Connery came in first. Inevitably, it's his seven years as 007 that dominate public perceptions of his career, but there was a whole lot more to Sean Connery the actor than that.
It all began in Edinburgh in the working class enclave of Fountainbridge, where Thomas Sean Connery was born on August 25, 1930. The son of a factory worker and a cleaner, he worked as a milkman before joining the Royal Navy at 16. A keen bodybuilder, he was also a decent footballer, and considered turning professional before wisely deciding acting might be a better long-term bet.
Early turns (invariably as a hoodlum) in British films like No Road Back and Hell Drivers led to a breakthrough role opposite Hollywood star Lana Turner in the melodrama Another Time, Another Place. He already had a reputation as a hardman and when Turner's jealous mobster boyfriend Johnny Stompanato visited the London set and pointed a gun at Connery, the actor disarmed and humiliated him.
Perhaps it was this edgy air of menace that saw him land the role of James Bond above the better known Cary Grant and David Niven. The first Bond film Dr No exceeded its producers' wildest expectations, and from the moment Connery appeared seated at a casino table, is asked his name and says quietly: "Bond, James Bond," he was an international star.
Six sequels followed, the best of them probably From Russia With Love, but by the early 1970s, Connery was tired of the increasingly cartoonish role, weary too of using toupees to hide his baldness. And after he left the franchise, he set out to deconstruct his typecasting by taking on more varied and challenging roles.
In the 1980s he enjoyed a career purple patch, bringing charisma and authority to the role of a defecting Soviet sub commander in The Hunt for Red October and winning an Oscar for The Untouchables. He was an inspired choice to play Indy's fastidious dad in Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, but my favourite Connery performance was given in The Name Of The Rose, in which he played the medieval sleuth William of Baskerville. In this film, perhaps above any other, Connery proved there was more to him than Bond.
For successive generations, he has represented a kind of idealised Scottishness - tanned, impossibly handsome, wealthy, with better teeth. He's a rich and successful international superstar who, for all the elocution lessons, never renounced the working-class roots or the land of his birth, his loyalty proudly emblazoned on his arms in matching tattoos that read 'Scotland forever' and 'Mum and Dad'.
In the opening scenes of Trainspotting, Edinburgh drug addicts Renton and Sick Boy exchange flawless Connery impressions as they prepare to shoot an enemy's pitbull terrier in the arse. It's a backhanded tribute perhaps, but appropriately salty, and proof that Big Sean is loved in Scotland by the high and low.