Actress and the first Bond girl

Born: March 17, 1928;

Died: June 8, 2018

EUNICE Gayson, who has died aged 90, was the first ever Bond girl - romancing and bedding 007 almost an hour before Ursula Andress emerged from the Caribbean in her little white bikini. In fact, Gayson appeared in the first Bond film Dr No (1962) even before audiences got their first glimpse of James Bond, in the shape of Sean Connery.

She played Sylvia Trench, a raven-haired beauty, who is first seen in a sexy, scarlet, off-the shoulder evening dress, playing cards in a casino and losing heavily. She declares she will play on and writes a cheque for more chips. Her opponent says he admires her courage. She replies “I admire your luck, Mister…”, setting up one of the most famous introductions in cinema history.

Only then does the camera turn its attention to her opponent, played by a 32-year-old Scot, who at that time was probably best known for his starring role in Walt Disney’s whimsical family entertainment Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959).

“Bond…” he says, after a slight pause, without removing the cigarette from his lips, “James Bond.” And a franchise and a legend were born.

Except it was not quite that simple. Gayson said Sean Connery was very nervous, fluffed his lines, announcing himself on one occasion as “Sean Bond”; several takes were wasted and it took a couple of stiff drinks during the lunchtime break to settle him. And then a legend was born.

Except in the early days of Bond the producers regularly called on the services of Nikki van der Zyl, a voice specialist to rerecord Bond girl dialogue. She dubbed Andress and quite possibly rerecorded at least some of Gayson’s lines too. The truth has seemingly been lost in the mists of time. But that is certainly Eunice Gayson on screen.

Sylvia and Bond arrange to play golf and have dinner next day, but Bond finds her in his apartment later that same night, playing golf, wearing only his shirt. He tells her he has to leave “immediately”, but then amends it to “almost immediately”

Sean Connery and Eunice Gayson reprised their roles in From Russia With Love (1963). Sylvia Trench did not appear in the original novels, but it was intended that she should be Bond’s regular girlfriend in the movies and they share a picnic on the river, before 007 is called away on another mission.

“The gag was meant to be that he was always getting called away just as they are getting down to it,” Gayson said. But sadly, like many romances, it just did not work out. Bond became involved with a sexy Russian agent. And Sylvia - and by extension Eunice Gayson - were dumped, reduced to a footnote in James Bond history.

She was born Eunice Sargaison – an old name deriving from the occupation of police sergeant, in Croydon in 1928. As a girl she moved from home to home with her father’s work and spent some time in both Edinburgh and Glasgow. She recalled vivid childhood memories of a visit to Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness when I met her six years ago when we were both involved in Bond’s half-century celebrations.

She made her film debut in a small part in the romantic drama My Brother Jonathan (1948) and had a starring role in Melody in the Dark (1948), a low-budget movie about a troupe of entertainers “resting” in a mansion that may be a haunted house. She appeared in the weepie To Have and To Hold (1950) and the Goons film Down Among the Z Men (1952) and she had a starring role as an air hostess in Out of the Clouds (1954).

By 1955 she was a sufficiently major star to appear on the cover of Picturegoer magazine, which reckoned she had “possibly the biggest drawing power among Britain’s up-and-coming actresses”. She also did quite a lot of television and in the mid-1950s appeared in several teleplays in Douglas Fairbanks Jr Presents , an American series that was made in England. Leigh Vance, a writer on the series, became her first husband when they married live on American television.

She was the female lead in Hammer’s The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), playing the doctor’s unwitting assistant, and was apparently lined up to play M’s secretary Miss Moneypenny in Dr No before being given the potentially more exciting role of Bond’s lover.

She recalled that the dress she was supposed to wear in that iconic first casino scene in Dr No was too close in colour to the walls of the set and it was decided a replacement was needed at short notice. The wardrobe mistress spotted a suitably sexy garment in a local shop, but Gayson recalled: “It was a size 20 and I was a size eight.” The dress was quickly cut down, but was held together by clothes pegs. “They were all down the left-hand side,” said Gayson. “I had to walk very sedately so that they didn't show."

At the same time as Dr No was shooting, Gayson was playing Captain von Trapp’s lady friend Baroness Schroeder in the original West End production of The Sound of Music.

Gayson went on to appear in a string of notable TV series, including two episodes of The Saint (1963 and 1965), with future 007 Roger Moore, Danger Man (1964), with Patrick McGoohan, who turned down 007, and The Avengers (1966), with Diana Rigg, who became Mrs Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), though her character’s relationship with Bond proved even briefer than Sylvia Trench’s.

Gayson’s first marriage lasted only a few years and a second marriage also ended in divorce. Work dried up and Gayson went through a difficult time, raising a young daughter by herself. At one point she was arrested for shoplifting.

After appearing in a number of provincial theatre productions, Gayson returned to the West End stage in Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods in 1990, playing Cinderella’s mother and Little Red Ridinghood’s grandmother.

Latterly she revelled in her status as the original Bond girl and she called her autobiography The First Lady of Bond. She also regularly attended fan conventions and other events.

She is survived by her daughter Kate Gayson, who also became an actress and had a small role in GoldenEye (1995), appearing in a casino scene with the Pierce Brosnan incarnation of Bond.