What could go wrong when Ronald Reagan, sitting President of the United States, honoured James Bond in a 1983 documentary?

When Ronald Reagan Endorsed 007

29th December 2010

Back in 1983, London Weekend Television (LWT) commissioned a special 60 minute programme to coincide with the theatrical release of "Octopussy" and to celebrate James Bond's 21st birthday on the silver screen. The list of world famous figures LWT corralled in to commenting about 007's character and legacy was stunning: Muhammad Ali, Bjorn Borg, Bobby Charlton, Joan Collins, Henry Ford II, James Garner, Bob Hope, Burt Lancaster, Paul McCartney, Stirling Moss, Arnold Palmer, Al Pacino, Gregory Peck, Christopher Reeve, Telly Savalas, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Frank Sinatra and James Stewart were amongst the dozens of contributors.

But no-one could top Ronald Reagan, then President of the United States, performing the introduction to the special and praising 007 as a modern hero. It was broadcast on ITV on 27th May 1983 in the UK to large viewing figures.

All was well until the special, dubbed "James Bond: The First 21 Years", was sold in America. The White House was unhappy when stations who secured the broadcast rights used the President's words in TV spots promoting the show. Press around the world covered the controversy in early July, 1983.

White House spokesman Mark Weinberg said Reagan never expected any portion of his appearance to be used in television promos. Washington DC station WTTG, a stone's throw from the Oval Office, began their cheeky trailers with an announcer saying "and now a special announcement from the President of the United States" over a static shot of the Presidential seal.

 

His agreement to take part in the "one-time tribute" was understood to be a celebration of the 21st anniversary of Bond films, not an inadvertent promotion of the latest release "Octopussy", spokesmen told the media. MGM and United Artists were said to be "making the most of the showbiz spectacular". "He never intended this appearance to become part of the orchestrated hype for Octopussy, or the documentary itself", a defensive White House spokesman said.

The Democrats were naturally enjoying he whole affair. "We always wondered what would happen when we got an actor in the White House," said Speaker of the House, Mr 'Tip' O'Neill. "This is the kind of thing we all thought Reagan would be doing if her lost the '80 election."

Mr Reagan, however, gets the last word. "James Bond is a symbol of real value to the free world. Of course some critics might say that Bond is nothing more than an actor in the movies. But then we've all got to start somewhere."

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Reagan was the second sitting President to publicly endorse James Bond, after John F. Kennedy named "From Russia With Love" as one of his favourite books in an edition of Time Magazine. The inclusion saw sales of Ian Fleming's novels soar in the USA, and caused producers Saltzman and Broccoli to select is as the follow up film to "Dr. No".

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