Sunday 15 September 2019

The name's Harwood, Johanna Harwood and she worked as Bond's Irish 'mother'

Much is made of 'Fleabag' rescuing the 25th Bond but no one recalls the Irish woman who did it first

LICENCE TO THRILL: Sean Connery and Ursula Andress on the set of ‘Dr No’, the first 007 movie in 1962 and whose script was written by Irish woman. Photo: Courtesy of MGM/UA Entertainment/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images
LICENCE TO THRILL: Sean Connery and Ursula Andress on the set of ‘Dr No’, the first 007 movie in 1962 and whose script was written by Irish woman. Photo: Courtesy of MGM/UA Entertainment/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

Can we imagine a female Bond? It turns out we can. Daniel Craig has retained the title role in the 25th Bond, but a black female actor - Lashana Lynch - has been given the 007 codename.

The new Bond already has a feminist tint after Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the UK TV writer and playwright known for Killing Eve and Fleabag, was drafted in to "rescue" the script.

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Her involvement, as well as the casting of Lynch, has been hailed as a giant leap for Bond. Finally, this most macho of franchises would benefit from a woman behind the gun, and at the helm.

Yet unknown to many, Bond has already had a 'mother'. Irishwoman Johanna Harwood was the first official scriptwriter for the Bond films, and until last month remained the franchise's only credited female writer.

Her name is unknown to all but consummate film buffs. As Roger Moore noted in his memoir: "Her involvement has often been overlooked and her pivotal role clouded by the vagaries of film history and the egos of those within."

Harwood was a complete outsider in Hollywood and grew up in an era when few Irish people made their mark in the film industry. She was born in 1930 in Wicklow and began directing plays at school. She decided to become a director after reading about the English film director Jill Craigie. Until then Harwood, had thought that only men could become directors.

Johanna Harwood also penned ‘From Russia With Love’ (1963). Photo: LMPC via Getty Images
Johanna Harwood also penned ‘From Russia With Love’ (1963). Photo: LMPC via Getty Images

None of the universities in Ireland taught film, but since she was already fluent in French she applied to the highly selective Institut des Hautes Etudes Cinematographiques, in Paris.

After studying there for two years, she returned to Ireland and found work as a script supervisor on films including Everybody's Business (aka Gno Gach Einne) and Return to Glennascaul, an Oscar-nominated horror short shot in Ireland and starring Orson Welles. That led her to being hired as a clerk on Welles's 1955 feature, Mr Arkadin.

At the time Johanna, rather like Joan in Mad Men, was doing the work of a man but getting the credit of a woman. Script supervision was considered a suitable female role, but these women often unofficially fulfilled other roles including writing and directing, for which they were then usually uncredited.

After her stints working in Ireland and France, Harwood moved to London and took a job with the talent agency Famous Artists. When her boss John Shepherd left to work for 20th Century Fox, she was dismayed to discover he had rented out his old office to a friend - theatre producer Harry Saltzman - and that she had been included as part of the lease.

Johanna Harwood
Johanna Harwood

"I didn't like this at all and told Harry Saltzman when he turned up assuming I was going to work for him. So he said 'What do you want to do?' and I said 'I want to write scripts'. And he said, 'Well, you stay on as my assistant and I'll let you write scripts for me'."

And she did, writing multiple scripts for Alzman's company including an adaptation of the Shelagh Delaney's kitchen sink classic, A Taste Of Honey (inspiration behind many of the songs of The Smiths).

In the late 1950s Saltzman acquired the rights to Ian Fleming's novels based on a fictitious English double agent called James Bond. He decided Harwood would work on the scripts.

"It's always the same," she would later say. "The producer needs a cheap screenplay but until they set up the affair they have no money. So that was why I was so terribly useful to have about because I was unknown and cheap."

Saltzman entered into negotiations with a number of American studios to bring the popular novels to the screen. He eventually struck a multi-film deal with United Artists and phoned Harwood from California breathlessly telling her to begin work immediately on Doctor No and Thunderball.

Harwood would write a script for Dr No which was faithful to the novel, but what she didn't know was Saltzman had signed the deal on the condition that another producer - Wolf Mankowitz - would write the final draft.

Mankowitz had reservations about Bond many still have today: that the hero was too old-fashioned, and that audiences in 1961 wouldn't stand for the sillier elements of the story. His solution was even sillier than the dressing gowns and beautiful villainesses. He wanted to replace Bond with a super-intelligent talking monkey.

The studio heads soon realised this was a dreadful mistake and brought Harwood in to scrub the script clean of this preposterous plot point. She tried to write something more faithful to the source novel.

Once again, the studio allowed men to meddle in her work. Berkley Mather, an Indian army general, was charged with, in Harwood's description, "masculinising the dialogue".

He soon had all of the characters talking "like Chicago hitmen."

Harwood and director Terence Young regained control of the script and finished it eight days before shooting was due to begin. Despite suspicions it would be a flop, the film was a massive box office success and Harwood was brought back to work on To Russia With Love.

This time Harwood could not take the huge interference in her work and walked out, retaining an adaptation credit on the film, but not one for screenwriting.

She left Saltzman and Bond and went to live in Paris, marrying French director Rene Clement, whom she had met while working as a script supervisor.

In Paris she also co-wrote the 1967 comedy Ne jouez pas avec les Martiens (Don't Play with Martians).

It would be several decades before anyone Irish again had a hand in the James Bond films. In the early noughties, Pierce Brosnan was one of the more successful 007s.

Harwood's contribution was largely forgotten and she lived out her later years in Monte Carlo.

She remained modest about her role in the birth of Bond.

Asked in 2012 if she was proud about Dr No she said: "No, I wasn't. It was useful for my career. I mean, listen, it's not a terribly good film. It's OK, but it's OK by mistake... I have it on DVD but it's still under cellophane."

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