With memorable roles in Goldfinger and The Avengers, Blackman became an icon of British cinema through her formidable, no-nonsense persona
‘My name is Pussy Galore.” “I must be dreaming.” The cool appraising glance of Honor Blackman falls on Sean Connery’s preposterous, smirking Bond as he awakens aboard Auric Goldfinger’s private jet, and she becomes that rarest of things: a Bond girl who is allowed to introduce herself by name, and perhaps unique as one who is as old or older than Bond.
And though the camera in that movie lingers on her corona of honey-blonde hair, blue eyes, sculpted cheekbones and droll half-smile, she is not as obviously sexualised as Shirley Eaton’s bikini-clad Jill Masterson. Blackman is a mature love interest, Goldfinger’s personal pilot in charge of a squadron of female aviators called Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus (an influence, surely, on Britain’s great comedy creation) and one who was capable of executing a skilled judo throw on 007 before their roll in the hay. Galore coldly rejects Bond’s knowing banter about how personal a “personal pilot” she is. “I’m a damn good pilot,” she snaps. Blackman’s Miss Galore was someone with a distinct no-nonsense Home Counties manner, the Bond version of Miss Joan Hunter Dunn. Perhaps it was this formidable persona which allowed the movie to get away with that absurdly pornified name, so outrageous that 1964 was probably the last time anyone could get away with it.
To say that Honor Blackman was the greatest Bond girl is not a distinction that any female star would want to have, although Blackman was always effusive about Connery, calling him the sexiest actor she had every worked with. She was also very amusing about Gert Frobe, the German actor playing Goldfinger, and having to respond calmly when Frobe gabbled his heavily accented lines (which later had to be dubbed).
At the time, she was probably equally or more famous for playing the athletic Cathy Gale in The Avengers on TV, opposite the dapper, bowler-hatted Patrick Macnee, with whom she also recorded the cheeky and somewhat bizarre pop single Kinky Boots. Again, this was well before Goldfinger was released. Blackman had something more like equal billing in The Avengers, in which her bantering rapport with her male co-star was important. It was the persona of Cathy Gale that probably meant Pussy Galore was a bit more of an interesting and forthright character.
Goldfinger and Bond launched Blackman into what became a long career, and she spoke with good humour about being the eternal sex-fantasy of a million male Bond fans of a certain age; her cut-glass manner meant that this fanbase was very British. She had been the imperious and blonde goddess Hera in Jason and the Argonauts the year before, and a goddess was probably what she was born to play. She worked with Connery four years later in Edward Dmytryk’s Shalako, a western in which Connery is the tough US cavalry officer and Blackman is the simmeringly sexy-posh Lady Julia Dagger in a hunting party of European adventurers, who is having an affair with Stephen Boyd’s macho frontiersman. She appeared in a clutch of films around this time, opposite names such as Laurence Harvey and Dean Martin, and kept her movie career ticking over in the years that followed, largely in that kind of well-off role, verging on stereotype, which she sportingly sent up in a comically self-aware cameo in Bridget Jones’s Diary in 2001.
Blackman may have found more reward on the stage, where her theatrical training served her well, and on television, where she had steady work, including iconic appearances in Coronation Street, Casualty and Doctor Who. Blackman always gave every impression of never taking it too seriously, and certainly not her part in the continuing 007 franchise. Elegance, wit, martial arts and familiarity with gadgets and hardware were supposed to be Bond’s exclusive department. But Honor Blackman became a Brit movie icon by doing all that as well.