Why James Bond actor Timothy Dalton is proud of his Belper roots
- Credit: Alamy Stock Photo
Playing such an iconic role can be both a blessing and a curse.
And there’s no doubt that Timothy Dalton’s performances as the legendary James Bond were iconic.
His first outing as 007, The Living Daylights in 1987, grossed more at the box office than either of the two previous Bond movies, Octopussy and A View to Kill – both portrayed by Sir Roger More – and his reprisal, Licence to Kill, was equally critically acclaimed.
Yet there has always been so much more to this classically Shakespearean-trained actor.
Equally adept on stage, TV or the big screen, Dalton’s back catalogue is the envy of many a successful actor.
This amazing journey started when, at the age of 16, Dalton decided to try his hand at acting professionally, as he left the gates of Belper’s Herbert Strutt Grammar School for the final time.
It is a source of great local pride that this Amber Valley Derbyshire town left its mark on a young man who would go on to conquer the world.
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From Wuthering Heights in 1970, the British smash-hit comedy Hot Fuzz in 2007, Doctor Who in 2009-10 to recent voiceover roles in the world-famous animated Toy Story movies, Dalton is an acting polymath who has set the standard for over 50 years
But of course, at least from the outside, his zenith came as the most celebrated, famous agent of all time.
He has not been James Bond for 32 years but he is often still hailed as the best Bond of them all.
Why? Because he was so relaxed then and is still relaxed now, no matter what role he is playing. How come? Timothy believes it is at least in part to being brought up in Belper.
‘A lot of people think I was born in Belper but I wasn’t – I had great growing up years there though,’ says Timothy, speaking exclusively to Derbyshire Life.
‘I was born in Colwyn Bay, so many people think I must be Welsh but it is not quite as simple as that.
‘I’m not really Welsh other than being born there, although it must be said there have been many great actors born in Wales and I don’t mind one bit to be named among them.
‘The truth is I was born in Colwyn Bay because my parents happened to be there at the time. My father was an advertising executive, that was his career, but he was also a captain in the Special Operations Executive (SOE) during World War Two and had been stationed in Colwyn Bay.
‘I was nearly four when the whole family moved to Belper, with my father back into his advertising career and working in Manchester.’
Timothy’s father was English and his mother was American. Eventually, Timothy was brother to four other children. Belper proved to be an ideal spot for them all to grow up together at their new home in Chevin End, Farnah Green, Belper.
‘It was a good place to grow up,’ acknowledges Timothy. ‘It was far from the rush of daily life but close enough for my father to work in Manchester and for us to be able to go to theatres and so on.’
Why theatres? It was part of his heritage, because Timothy’s grandfather and great grandfather were in vaudeville.
‘Perhaps that is why I loved the theatre so much,’ he suggests.
‘I also loved the cinema and used to go to the Saturday morning pictures to watch my favourites, who included Hopalong Cassidy, the Lone Ranger, Flash Gordon and the cartoons which made us laugh.
‘I also liked some TV of course and quite liked the early Doctor Who stories, I never expected that one day I would be in one. The real magic for me though was a trip to the theatre – that was always really special.’
Living just on the outskirts of Belper meant Timothy had the best of the countryside as well as access to town and a spirit of adventure.
He went to Herbert Strutt Grammar School, which had a great reputation for nurturing and progressing star pupils. Timothy was one of those star pupils, excelling in both the class room and the sports field, as well as progressing in the Air Training Corps.
‘When I was in my teens, I started thinking about what I wanted to do when I left school,’ recalls Timothy.
The Herbert Strutt was good for me, living where we did in Derbyshire was good for me, but while my mother liked the idea that I would get a decent job somewhere nearby, my own thoughts were focused on the stage.
‘My father supported that, I expect he felt that if I had a go when I was young I would either be successful or still be young enough to start another new career, I don’t know.’
When Timothy was 16 he went to the theatre once again, this time to see Macbeth. He had no further doubts about what he wanted to do with his life and not long after leaving school began touring with Michael Croft’s National Youth Theatre.
He then went to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art for a couple of years before leaving to join the Birmingham Repertory Theatre.
‘That was a real education,’ he says. ‘I learned so much and played in so many varied productions that I was almost ready to face anything.’
Timothy’s career took off in the most amazing way. He was still quite young when the offers began to pour in and he found himself working alongside such huge stars as Peter O’Toole, Katherine Hepburn and even the legendary Mae West.
‘They were all very helpful too,’ Timothy recalls. ‘They were all happy to help a young man like me and Mae West, who was making her last film, was fascinating to both be with and to listen to as she recalled tales from her career which had begun in the previous century!’
Hopefully one of these days we will be able to read a full autobiography of Timothy Dalton but, in the meantime, Timothy is rarely short of offers of film work and there are even those who think he should make a comeback as James Bond.
‘I don’t think that is likely to happen,’ he says with a smile.
‘I did two of them and enjoyed the experience. I was supposed to have done a third but there were problems at the time which led to a long delay and by the time – several years later - they decided to go for another Bond film I was already committed to something else.
‘I’m not too upset by that as I have had a variety of work since then on stage as well as on the big and small screens. It is an honour to play James Bond and it works wonders for your career. There is a lot of baggage that comes with it though.
‘You find yourself constantly being compared favourably or otherwise with the various other actors who have played Bond. Every time you go to get a drink someone asks if you want it ‘shaken but not stirred’.
‘I was shooting a documentary about wolves in the ice and snow of the far north and we were flown in. I was wrapped up in clothes, scarves and everything else, there was just about only my nose showing but some local people – Eskimos – pointed at me and said, ‘James Bond!’ It can be quite unnerving.
‘I liked the Bond films and went to see each of the first three that were made, still not knowing that one day I would be playing Bond. I don’t think anyone has ever taken the mantle from Sean Connery, although Daniel Craig has also done exceptionally well.’
Timothy’s career continues to engulf stage and screen and he likes to vary what he accepts. Among his many talents are his skill as a swordsman and as a horseman.
‘I should never like to be cast in the same kind of role time after time, audiences would soon be bored by me and I think I would be bored by myself,’ he says.
Away from work he is a great fan of Manchester City but also has passions for fishing, antique fairs, jazz and opera as well as reading. He also still has a passion for not just his childhood town of Belper, but Derbyshire in general.
‘It is a lovely county,’ he acknowledges.
‘I am proud to have been brought up here because it has the best of everything. The city and towns are all vibrant and the countryside is breath-taking.
‘You can never be stuck for something to do because there really is always something for everyone, whether it is watching birds of prey wheeling over the Peaks, shopping in the centre of Derby or going to the magnificent Buxton Opera House.
‘That’s why I am always proud to say that I am from Derbyshire.’