IN the wake of last week’s release of No Time To Die, plenty of people have been indulging in one of the great debates of our time – just who is the best big screen James Bond?

Yes, I know it’s all a bit silly given the seriousness of these depressing times – but a little bit of escapism does nobody any harm. Judging by the hot air expended by broadcasters, and the acres of newsprint dedicated to the subject – not to mention the overwhelming amount of social media comment – why should The National not have our own wee bawbee of a say on who has been the best Bond?

The character, lest it be forgotten, was half-Scottish and educated in Edinburgh, as stated by author Ian Fleming in You Only Live Twice.

Fleming retro-fitted Bond with a Scottish father – Andrew Bond of Glencoe – because he had been so impressed by Sean Connery’s interpretation of 007. Fleming originally could not believe that an actor he considered uncouth had been given the role by producers Albert R “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman.

“I’m looking for Commander Bond, not an overgrown stunt-man,” he said about the unknown Connery.

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The director of Dr No was Terence Young, an Old Harrovian who had been a wartime tank commander and fought at Arnhem. Of Irish descent like Connery, he worked with the actor early in his career on the largely forgotten film Action of the Tiger, and pushed for Broccoli and Saltzman to audition the Scot, as did Broccoli’s wife, who was smitten by Connery.

The “audition” turned out to be a lunch, and it was as he was leaving that he won the part – Salzman would later say Connery moved out of the restaurant like “a jungle cat”.

Young took Connery under his wing, kitted him out at his own tailor and taught him how to talk the part of a Naval commander. Ian Fleming attended the premiere of Dr No and promptly became Connery’s biggest fan.

So a legend was born, and in six films as Bond – or seven if you count Never Say Never Again, which was not part of the franchise – you can see Connery making the role of the super spy his own. He also developed as an actor, and later gave award-winning performances in films like the Name of the Rose in 1986 (BAFTA Best Actor) and The Untouchables in 1987 (Best Supporting Actor Oscar).

The reason why the “Best Bond” debate has opened up again is Daniel Craig’s outstanding performance in No Time To Die, his last outing as Bond.

Craig has always been a highly-rated actor, and from his first film as Bond – Casino Royale in 2006 – he has excelled as a muscular tough guy who is not scared to show his emotions and vulnerabilities, especially in his dealings with women. In No Time To Die, he gives us a remarkable version of Bond – and all I am going to say is that for any Bond fan, or any movie fan at all, this film is quite simply unmissable, especially if you can view it in the very clever Screen X format at Cineworld. It really is that good, and Craig really is at the top of his game.

But who is better as Bond – Connery or Craig? I’m a great admirer of Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan and Timothy Dalton, but with all due respect to those three and George Lazenby, there’s only two men in the running for the title of Best Bond.

It’s almost a year since “Big Tam” Connery died at the age of 90, and we must remember that he created the role of Bond as far back as the early 1960s, in a totally different era when 007 was expected to bed multiple women and dish out mayhem and murder willy-nilly.

The scene in Dr No when he cold-bloodedly shoots traitor Professor R J Dent, played by his fellow Edinburgh-born actor Anthony Dawson, was truly shocking for cinema audiences back in 1962. British good guys didn’t do that sort of thing, but in a way it defined Connery’s Bond – sardonic and deadly. The quips and the gadgets would come later, but in that one scene Connery showed that he was believable as the agent with a licence to kill.

Connery had the benefit of good direction by Young and, later, good writers such as Roald Dahl who wrote the screenplay for You Only Live Twice. Interestingly, Dahl was a good friend of Ian Fleming and they both served in British Intelligence.

Like Bond, Connery also served in the Royal Navy but was invalided out of the Senior Service with ulcers. You can see his serviceman’s deportment several times in his Bond films.

Like Craig, Connery developed another parallel career as a serious actor in several tremendous films such as The Hill, Marnie and The Offence, though he did make the odd turkey like Zardoz.

The point is that Connery may have started off as beefcake, but he grew into a very fine actor. He is still the only Bond to have won an Oscar.

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Craig, on the other hand, was already a noted screen actor when he came to play Bond for the first time. He was memorable in television’s Our Friends in the North, and I thought he was outstanding in Road to Perdition and Layer Cake in 2002 and 2004 respectively. He has continued to make other non-Bond films, such as the 2019 movie Knives Out in which he played detective Benoit Blanc. After winning a Golden Globe nomination, he is contracted to play Blanc in two sequels.

As Bond, he also developed the character. Re-watching Casino Royale, you soon forget that James Bond is supposed to be tall, dark and saturnine, and the film and all subsequent Bond films have had to contend with the Jason Bourne legacy – lots of physical action, mainly.

Yet in Casino Royale – for which he received a BAFTA Best Actor nomination, and he will surely get another nod this year – A Quantum of Solace, Skyfall, Spectre and now No Time To Die, Craig has created a vulnerable, emotional Bond.

A poll a while back had the public voting Connery as the best Bond on screen, and looking back over the last 49 years of Bond, I would have to agree. But with No Time To Die, Daniel Craig is giving Sir Sean a run for his money.