James Bond Slept Here

© AF archive / Alamy

For nearly 20 years, British author Ian Fleming lived at Goldeneye, his home in Jamaica, writing his spy series. But when Dr. No was filming on the island, even Fleming was unsure if the movie was going to flourish or flop. 

The bulk of the cast and crew of Dr. No flew out on a chartered Britannia 312, arriving in Jamaica on Sunday, January 14, 1962. Sean Connery, who was cast as James Bond, and a handful of others had come out the previous week and set up camp at New Kingston’s Courtleigh Manor Hotel, on Trafalgar Road. Originally a private house lived in by, amongst others, the Swedish consul, it had become a hotel by 1948. As well as providing accommodation, it would also be used for a handful of scenes in the film.

Filming began two days later in at Kingston’s Palisadoes airport, witnessed by a reporter from the Jamaica Gleaner: “If the first day’s shooting was any indication of the quality of the finished product,” he wrote, “Dr. No promises to be a slapdash and rather regrettable picture.” There were continuity problems: An extra carrying a large suitcase and coat over his arm “soon got much too tired of toting them around.” So in a scene filmed later but shown immediately after, he is holding only a hat. “What I have heard of the dialogue is appalling,” the Gleaner writer added.

While the film crew were based in Kingston, as well as at the Courtleigh Manor, scenes were shot in downtown Kingston, at Morgan’s Harbour bar out on the Palisadoes, on the cement-company road up the Wareika Hills, and at the home of Dolores Keator, who played Mary Trueblood, on Kinsale Avenue off Jacks Hill Road.

Then, at the end of the month, the production moved to Jamaica’s north coast, with the crew split between the Carib Ocho Rios Hotel and the Sans Souci—both of which are still in operation today. A Sans Souci villa doubled as Miss Taro’s house, where Professor Dent was shot. The Reynolds bauxite pier at Ocho Rios served as Crab Key’s docks. Ian Fleming had advised on locations near Goldeneye and seems to have persuaded his friend Lord Brownlow to open up his mansion as the interior of King’s House, where the crew was not allowed to film. Fleming also recommended for the scene 
in which Bond first meets Honey Ryder, played by Ursula Andress, the stunning Laughing Waters beach, access to
 which was owned by a friend of 
his. Honey, Bond, and Quarrel, a
 local fisherman and ally to Bond,
wash themselves in Dunn’s River
 Falls, near Ocho Rios, now one of
 Jamaica’s most popular tourist attractions, and then are filmed nearby in the White River, St. Ann, where the three hide using improvised snorkels. The final location shoots were at Vanzie salt marsh near Falmouth, a mosquito-infested wasteland where Dr. No’s “dragon” captures Bond
and Honey and kills Quarrel.

Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records and now the owner of Goldeneye, was a production assistant on the film. He did his best to get his musician friends jobs as grips and gofers and also introduced the film’s music supremo Monty Norman to Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, the veteran ensemble who had played at Jamaica’s north-coast hotels and at Kingston’s nightclubs since the mid-’50s. Their manager, Ronnie Nasralla, charged with providing the musicians for the Morgan’s Harbour bar scene, says he interviewed others, including Bob Marley, who was turned down as he was “very untidy and crude.” Somewhat inevitably the job went to Byron Lee’s group. Lee himself is seen in the film playing the bass guitar in “Jump Up.” Ernest Ranglin would provide extra guitar for the final sound, and another legend, Count Prince Miller, does his trademark dance. As it turned out, the film would provide a great international showcase for Jamaican and West Indian music.

Blackwell loved the whole experience, describing the filming as “a riot.” Each day, undeveloped film and sound track were put on a plane to London, processed overnight, then sent back. Inevitably there were setbacks. Producer Harry Saltzman wrote from Jamaica: “The biggest problem is the ‘mañana’ attitude of the local people and the fact that they do not keep their promises to their contracts.... We have been gulled and taken in due to the complete and utter inefficiency of the locals.” Thunderstorms and other problems with the weather also meant that more filming than had originally been planned needed to be done back in England. As Andress had arrived in Jamaica a week or so after the rest of the cast, she was far too white-skinned to play her role as a Creole local, so each day, she had to rise early to strip naked and be covered from head to foot in a fake tan. She recalled how, while this was going on, a breakfast tray would be brought in. And then another, as members of the crew took the opportunity to feast their eyes on the sight. Sometimes there would be up to 20 trays in her room before the tanning job was done.

Fleming became a regular visitor to the set and invited cast members to dinner at Goldeneye. Andress remembers that she spent more time with Fleming than with the film’s producers. Fleming was clearly smitten, name-checking Andress in the book that he was writing at the time, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service —“that beautiful girl with the long fair hair at the big table, that is Ursula Andress, the film star.” She also met Noël Coward, another visitor to the set and Fleming’s neighbor: “Together they were a joy to be with,” she remembered, “two great personalities with a sense of humor; witty and interesting. It was my big discovery in Jamaica—Ian Fleming and Noël Coward.”

No one was sure whether they were making a hit or a turkey. Most believed the latter. But Blackwell remembers the turning point: when the crew sat down in the Cove cinema in Ocho Rios to watch the rushes of Andress’s emergence from the sea at the beautiful Laughing Waters beach. Then, he says, they knew they had something (and, of course, bikini sales would skyrocket).

The Gleaner had also changed its mind, declaring, “Filming has brought employment and publicity to Jamaica. Mr. Fleming is becoming a kind of one-man national asset.” The writer went on: “Perhaps most important of all, many of us have seen the leading lady, Miss Ursula Andress, in a bikini: a sight as sensational and perhaps even more stimulating than such natural splendors as Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon combined.”

Although none of the cast and crew could have expected it, the film provided Jamaica with its greatest international exposure to date. So what version of Jamaica is shown?

Marguerite LeWars, a local who was cast as a photographer in Dr. No, says it was “fairly accurate, though a large chunk of Jamaica was omitted.” Much of the portrayal of Jamaica as “imperial” is, of course, much less subtle. It is a touristic portrayal as well, with the beautiful beaches and the picturesque local women with huge loads on their heads. Apart from Quarrel, as subservient a character as in the book, most of the other locals are entertainers or waiters. As in Fleming’s stories, Jamaica is a place of romantic adventure and dangerous mystery. Nowhere is there a hint that this outpost of empire will be independent before the film is even released.

Excerpted from Goldeneye: Where Bond Was Born—Ian Fleming’s Jamaica (Pegasus Books, March 11).