by james w thomas
Welsh-born Timothy Dalton never introduced himself as Bond from North Wales on screen even though he played James Bond in two movies in the franchise. In 1987’s The Living Daylights, Bond surprises KGB General Pushkin (Welshman John Rhys-Davies). “I take this is not a social call, 007.” Bond answers, “You should have brought lilies.” “May I ask why?” inquires the general. “Smiert Spionam.” Ah, yes, Death to Spies. Sadly, due to the producers’ legal troubles, Dalton’s Bond career died after Licence to Kill in 1989.
Originally considered in 1971 as a Bond replacement, a too-young Dalton refused the role, saying, “When you’ve seen Bond from the beginning, you don’t take over from Sean Connery.” Dalton had a ‘rehearsal’ for it, though, in a 1979 episode of Charlie’s Angels, when his playboy character is described as “almost James bond-ian.” Then, after Roger Moore retired and Pierce Brosnan had contract difficulties with his Remington Steele series, Dalton parachuted in.
Born on 21 March 1946 in Colwyn Bay (the same home town as Monty Python’s Terry Jones) to an English father and American mother of Italian and Irish descent, Dalton is the only 007 with a family history of skulduggery in government service. His father, Peter Dalton-Leggett, was an advertising executive in Manchester, England after World War II, but during the fight, he served as a captain with the Special Operations Executive, handling espionage, reconnaissance, and sabotage behind enemy lines.
The SOE, sometimes officially known as the Joint Technical Board or the Inter-Service Research Bureau, was also called the Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare or Churchill’s Secret Army.
Based in North Wales, Captain Dalton-Leggett may have been only an administrator and instructor or an agent and a spy, although apparently he never talked about it. Typically, such an assignment would have come with an oath of secrecy similar to the ones taken by the boffins at Bletchley Park who broke the German Enigma code. Such an operation was simply not mentioned, even after the war was won. Then again, the captain’s son himself never talked much about his own family. He did talk about Bond though.
Dalton wanted to return to author Ian Fleming’s novels. He once said about his famous role that Bond is not a role model. “I don’t think anyone should grow up wanting to go around killing people…to be a secret agent.” Welsh actor Desmond Llewelyn (Q of the MI6 gadget lab) said he thought Dalton was the closest to Fleming’s vision of 007 as a reluctant secret agent. Sally Hibbin’s 1989 book, The Making of Licence to Kill, noted the darker realism in his struggle. Or, as Dalton put it, “Real courage is knowing what faces you and knowing how to face it.” He also got his martini later, “shaken, not stirred,” of course.
Dalton left the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art early to join the Birmingham Repertory Theatre in 1966. He jumped from there to the BBC and made his film debut in 1968 as Philip II with fellow newcomer Welshman Anthony Hopkins as Richard I in The Lion in Winter. Dalton then mixed movies and the Royal Shakespeare Company until his American career started in 1978 as the husband of 85-year-old Mae West in Sextette. They shared a Stinkers Bad Movie Award nomination for Worst On-Screen Couple.
Dalton has appeared in more than 30 movies, 30 plus television series and specials, and in over 30 stage productions playing such Shakespearean roles as Romeo, Petruchio, Richard III, Henry V, and Macbeth. In 1985 he starred in The Doctor and the Devils, a Mel Brooks Brooksfilm production adapted from an original 1953 screenplay by Dylan Thomas, with fellow Welsh actors Jonathan Pryce and Siân Phillips. And in a 2009 Doctor Who episode, “The End of Time,” Dalton plays the Time Lord Rassilon.
On the lighter side, he co-starred as Damian Drake, secret agent, with Daffy Duck in the 2003 movie Loonie Tunes: Back in Action and did the voice of Mr. Pricklepants in the 2010 movie Toy Story 3. As the former James Bond said, “We Welshmen like to think of ourselves as heroes – on screen and off!”