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Western Mail (30/Aug/2006) - Ian Fleming's secret mission...

(c) Western Mail (30/Aug/2006)

Ian Fleming's secret mission was to coax our Richard Burton into playing hero James Bond

"The name's Burton... Richard Burton."

He hardly needs a catchphrase, but one suspects the Welsh actor would have carried that one off rather well. And it seems James Bond author Ian Fleming -- one of Burton's favourite authors -- also thought so. It has been discovered the writer of 007's original adventures was keen for the Pontrhydyfen actor to play the iconic secret agent role. As everybody knows, the role eventually went to Sean Connery, right, who founded an illustrious career on the womanising spy character. But three years before the debut of "Dr No", Fleming wrote a letter indicating he wanted Burton as the movie's hero, with Alfred Hitchcock directing.

Writing in 1959 to his friend Ivar Bryce, whose company Xanadu was planning to make the first Bond film, Fleming said, 'Both Dehn [a Hollywood screenwriter] and I think that Richard Burton would be by far the best James Bond.'

And in a cable to crime novelist Eric Ambler, he added, 'Would Hitchcock be interested in directing first Bond film? Plentiful finance available. Think we might have a winner particularly if you were interested in scripting.'

The revelation is made in a new book called "The Battle For Bond -- The Genesis Of Cinema's Greatest Hero".

Author Robert Sellers said, 'Burton had the same brooding sexuality and sexual magnetism as Connery. But the Bond series we know and love would have been completely different.'

Burton's brother Graham Jenkins said he was sure Richard would have relished the Bond role.

He said, 'He read most of the books. They were a favourite of his along with Agatha Christie's.

'The nearest he actually got to Bond was probably Where Eagles Dare. I know he very much enjoyed that. He got to work with a lot of Welsh actors, although most were spies or got killed.

'But I'm sure if he had been approached about playing Bond he would have had a go if he'd had the time.'

Film critic Gary Slaymaker said although Connery is now regarded as classic Bond, he would not have had a look in had Burton landed the role.

He said, 'Richard Burton would have been about the right age as Fleming had written the character.

'He's supposed to be middle-aged and have a lived-in look. Well Richard Burton certainly looked that.

'To have the first Bond being Welsh would have been good.

'Bond is seen as the hard-drinking womaniser, so Burton certainly fitted that profile.

'If he had got the role he probably would have stayed there for a long time, as the money would have made it hard to turn down. 'Sean Connery could well have ended up delivering milk back in Edinburgh.' However said Burton would not have been the Bond that Connery has made so well known. 'Burton would have been more serious than Connery, and would have given the role a lot more weight,' he said. 'But I've got the feeling he may have brought a bit too much theatre to the role, although, having said that, Roger Moore played it as panto for years. 'But Burton might have been too well-known already. 'That's one of the problems Daniel Craig's having in the new film. That and the fact he's blond, which is ridiculous.' According to Mr Sellers, the Burton and Hitchcock Bond film never got going because the director was working on "Psycho". Fleming later sold the film rights to his novels to producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R Broccoli, who chose the unknown Connery to play 007.

Arts Correspondent Karen Price explains why Richard Burton would have left James Bond fans shaken and stirred...

To millions of Bond fans everywhere, brooding Scot Sean Connery may be the original - and best - Bond, but I believe there was one other man who could have given him a run for his money - Richard Burton.

Our late great actor had so many attributes which would have made him the perfect 007 -- he was a fine actor, oozed sex appeal and, perhaps most importantly, was a huge hit with the ladies.

And you could just picture Burton carrying out plenty of death-defying stunts while dressed in a tux.

Let's start with his acting abilities. Burton is often considered to be one of the greatest British actors of all time and at one time was the highest paid actor in Hollywood. Known for his rich Welsh accent, he was nominated seven times for the Best Actor Oscar.

Burton was extremely versatile -- after winning critical acclaim for his heavyweight stage roles he successfully made the transition to Hollywood star.

He simply lit up the screen in movies like "My Cousin Rachel" and, of course, "Cleopatra" (which, incidentally, may never have been made had he been picked to play Bond). And as Bond, you certainly need that kind of charisma to pull in the punters to the box office. As far as sex appeal is concerned, Burton had it by the bucketload. Just as any good Bond should be, he was handsome in that manly, rugged way, which most women love. Just like Bond, Burton had women throwing themselves at his feet. As we all know, he was married five times -- twice famously to Elizabeth Taylor. Once again, it was a combination of Burton's rugged good looks, charm and style which captivated the women. If he had played Bond, how very different the film world -- and the lives of Burton and Taylor -- would have been.