Entertainment & Arts

'Lost' Sean Connery play recording unearthed by director

Sean Connery (l) as Mountain McClintock in Requiem for a Heavyweight
Image caption The 1957 play marked Connery's first ever lead performance

A recording of Sean Connery's first-ever lead TV performance, which was thought to have been lost forever, has been unearthed by the film's director.

Connery played past-his-best boxer Malcolm "Mountain" McClintock in the 1957 play Requiem for a Heavyweight, which was broadcast live on the BBC.

Director Alvin Rakoff recorded the play for posterity and stored it in his attic where it remained for 55 years.

"He was tall, good-looking and had charisma from the start," he said.

Connery "was an extra" at the time, said Rakoff. "One of those guys who rang every other day and asked: 'Do you have any work for me?'

Media captionConnery re-discovered

"I did a show called The Condemned, in which he played four of five parts for me - one was an old man who had been in prison for a long time and had gone a bit bonkers.

"I tried to get one of the other extras to do it and he wasn't quite right and Sean said: 'I can have a go at that, Al'."

'Ladies will like him'

Requiem for a Heavyweight was written for US television in 1956 by The Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling and starred Jack Palance in the lead role. The play won a Peabody Award.

Rakoff said it was his future wife, Doctor Who actress Jacqueline Hill - who he had cast in the BBC adaptation, who convinced him to cast Connery in the Palance role of a boxer who is told that he can no longer fight for health reasons.

Image copyright ALAMY
Image caption Palance starred in the US television version and a film adaptation in 1962

He told BBC News: "I got a call from his [Palance's] agent who said: 'Jack ain't gonna show'. Something better had come up and he didn't want to come to England.

"She [Jacqueline] said, 'Have you seen Sean?... the ladies will like him', which was quite a remarkable statement but it was true, women adored him and so I called him and narrowed it to two fellows and Sean got it."

Because the play was broadcast live and no recording was made, it had been thought the performance was lost until Rakoff, 87, remembered the recording he had made during a recent interview and found it gathering dust in his London home.

Speaking on his decision more than 50 years ago to make the recording, he said: "I had suddenly thought: 'Maybe this is an important piece,' and I spoke to the man in the sound booth and asked him to do a reel-to-reel so he had an audio recording, and he did."

The British version was screened on 31 March 1957 on the BBC's Sunday Night Theatre anthology and co-starred Till Death Do Us part actor Warren Mitchell and another young actor by the name of Michael Caine.

"It went out on American television so there were commercial breaks and on the BBC there weren't any and Sean had a big costume change and I rang Rod and said we needed a new scene just to let him change.

"He said, rather nonchalantly, 'I hear you can write Alvin, you write it'.

"I cast two actors as has-been boxers who were struggling and Michael Caine was one of them. People in rehearsals watched the little scene and said: 'That guy's going to go far'."

Image caption Connery's leading lady Jacqueline Hill would later become the Doctor's first assistant in Doctor Who

'Scottish-ness'

The crackly recording of Requiem for a Heavyweight features Connery's unmistakably Scottish burr despite the character being written as an American.

Rakoff said: "We worked hard and long on the accent, he was trying but couldn't get rid of some of the Scottish-ness and in fact Michael Barry, who was the head of drama at the time came to rehearsals and he said: 'Are you sure you want to go ahead with this guy, I don't think he can do it'.

"I said: 'Michael I can assure you he can do it'."

In 1962, Connery became a household name when he played James Bond in his first big screen outing Dr No and would go on to become one of the biggest film stars of the 20th Century.

Now in his 80s, Rakoff is still working and has just written the conspiracy thriller The Seven Einsteins.

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