‘Just keep my martini cool’: Why On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) is the Epitome of Valentine’s Day Viewing

In search of true romance? Our critic helpfully (and totally sincerely!) suggests you look no further than Bond in 1969.

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Like indigestion or crippling heartbreak, Valentine’s Day is always just around the corner. I realise this because Wish.com has started targeting my Facebook feed with leather chaps and chastity cages, a classic algorithmic prank that, unlike romance, never gets old. What are you planning for V-Day? Do leave a response in the comments – but only if it involves tortured solo outings to Tesco, a botched face mask (the chin wax you never asked for), or a card from a secret admirer whose handwriting bears some resemblance to your mother’s. Let’s be frank: Valentine’s Day is a corporate shill monetising plasticky tokens of ‘love’ – an old term meaning ‘entrapment’ in Shakespearean, or something. Thankfully, I have found the tonic to the bitter weariness of my four-strong readership – and he comes with an Aston Martin and about three decent catchphrases. So put down those tissues and put on the 1969 goldmine that is On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

If you watch this film intoxicated, or you’re a middle-aged man, you might be able to enjoy its romantic delights without irony. The tone of the film, directed by Peter R. Hunt and starring George Lazenby in his only outing as 007, might be summarized in a single stage direction: ‘James puts his hands on Moneypenny’s behind’; but the social resonances of this opus go far beyond secretarial goosing. This pre-Christmas release was the final Bond of the sixties: with the gritty realism of seventies cinema poking its side-burned head round the bend, the film buffs among you might see this as a final splurge of mid-century celluloid optimism. Politicos, alternately, might interpret the break-neck espionage plot – which sees Bond encounter slaphead villain Blofeld and his crackpot plan to use twelve luscious ‘angels of death’ to enact biological warfare – as a sly fart of Cold War propaganda. But I prefer to see it for what it is – a pantomime shag-fest, replete with corruptible, giggly women and corrupting, grinning men. This, ladies, is true romance.

Because I’m committed to cross-generational discourse, I asked my correspondent baby boomer, Kirk Long, to review the film. He telegrammed me this: ‘He’s the super confident hero – she’s vulnerable – he saves her from drowning – she fiercely tries to resist, but he wins her over. She dies after finally finding happiness. The end!’ Diana Rigg (DBE), a celebrated Shakespearean actress who found mainstream fame in the tongue-in-cheek spy series The Avengers, lends her characteristic gravity to the role of Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo, or ‘Tracy’ – daughter of mob boss Marc-Ange Draco. Plucked from the brink of suicide by the dapper Lazenby, the pair embarks on a whirlwind romance. Perhaps the second most subversive character called ‘Tracy’ on the British screen (pipped only Coronation Street’s murderous antagonist Tracy Barlow), the Contessa is the epitome of all Bond women, sticking her foot in the revolving door of babes sauntering in and out of James’s gin-soaked heart. Spiky, sexy and tragic, she is a proto-manic pixie dream girl – yet she doesn’t submit to Bond’s bumbling advances without a knowing comment or two. ‘Think about me – as a woman you just bought’, she jokes. ‘Who needs to buy?’ Bond returns, all that Brylcreem causing the meaning to bounce right off his head.

If you’re looking for something uplifting, look elsewhere – I’m sorry to say it, but Tracy comes a cropper. Firstly, Bond does the dirty on her with two of twelve ‘angels of death’ – but let’s pause here. These beautiful ‘henchwomen’ are kept prisoner by resident crone ‘Irma Blunt’, under the guises of being treated for various allergies in a Swiss clinic. They are weaponised by Blofeld (recurring supervillain) in contaminating (somehow) the global food supply with each of their allergies – which are each oddly specific to the culinary staples of their home countries. Blofeld will hold off on international havoc-wreaking if he is accepted as not-a-villain and given the title ‘Count de Bleauchamp’, which is hilarious because it’s basically a French way of saying ‘Blofeld’. 

Most of the girls don’t really have names – even on those weird fan pages on the internet I’ve been scrolling through for three hours – but I do think you can tell a lot from a person by their allergies. I myself am allergic to milk and eggs, which has resulted in a number of tragicomic incidents where my eyes have swollen up and my skin has turned the colour and texture of a rusty bike chain. Ironically, this first happened on Valentine’s Day two years ago, a day I will never forget. These women, however, do allergy in style – their glamour is a good instructional guide for female allergy-sufferers everywhere. There’s Nancy from Hungary (potatoes), Ruby from the UK (chicken) and Helen from the whole of ‘Scandinavia’ (fish). Joanna Lumley even gets a part. Bond gets down and dirty with the chicken lady and the fish lady, before witnessing a midnight brainwashing session and getting jumped by Irma Bunt – or ‘Bunted’.

A ski-chase (plus avalanche), a car-chase and a romantic chase (Bond proposes to Tracy in a barn) follow – a few chases later (I bet Bond has bunions) the pair finally marry in Portugal, as sidepiece extraordinaire Moneypenny tearfully watches on. Thankfully for Moneypenny, Tracy (spoiler alert) gets bumped off by a familiar-looking bald assassin – Blofeld! While the best scene is Blofeld’s earlier escape from his HQ in a bobsleigh, this moment tugs on the heartstrings like no other. Doomed to perpetual bachelorhood, Bond holds Tracy’s drooping head in his arms. The credits roll over a still image of the shattered windscreen, and the Bond theme suddenly blasts out. All in a day’s work.

This, reader, is all you need to know about Valentine’s Day. Corny slogans, gender essentialism and male happy endings: all the rites of the romantic season are here in 142 minutes of glorious technicolour. We should take this particular installment of 007 as an allegory of tragic love – and as a warning against bogus medical professionals, which I should have heeded when I went to see a homeopathic doctor who attempted to remedy my milk-and-egg woes by talking about my childhood and playing me music. Save the chocolates and roses: just keep my martini cool.