Monday, 2 September 2013

Caroline Munro

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad

I first remember Caroline Munro from her performance in the Ray Harryhausen classic, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974), although as a model she regularly turned up in newspapers like the Sunday Express, which my mother read and I always searched through for that week's bikini dolly.

Munro's 1966 modelling card

Munro was born in Windsor in 1949 but attended St Martha's, a Catholic convent school in Rottingdean near Brighton.  At the age of sixteen a photographer friend of hers needed a model. Unbeknown to Munro he sent the pictures he took of her to the Evening News' face of the year 1966 competition; one of the judges being David Bailey. She won the competition and signed up with the Lucie Clayton modelling agency. Bailey helped her out in starting her modelling career and got her a part as an (uncredited) extra in a short film he made (G.G. Passion (1966) that year.  She was immediately popular as a model, despite still being at school, and even picked up a few more bit parts in films including Casino Royale (1967), her first brush with James Bond.

A 16 year old Munro on set for Casino Royale

Casino Royale

She only appears on screen, as one of Dr Noah's (Woody Allen) guards, for a few seconds. although her scenes took two weeks to shoot.  In the two stills above the sixteen year old Munro is fifth from the right in the silver mini dress.  She would return to Bond, memorably, in ten year's time. 

When she was seventeen, Munro, who was always keen to be a singer, recorded a song called Tar and Cement.  This was a cover of a song by Verdelle Smith., recorded in 1966, which was itself based on an Italian song Il ragazzo della via Gluck.  The Legatus best knows it in its French version by Francoise Hardy, La Maison ou j'ai grandi.  The backing group for Munro's recording consisted of, rather amazingly, Eric Clapton, Steve Howe, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce, all in early phases of their careers. She would later go on to make a record with Gary Numan, with whom she had a fling in the eighties.

Lamb's Navy Rum

In 1969 she signed a contract for what would become a ten year partnership with Lamb's Navy Rum and appeared in many advertisements for them, which would brighten many a day for the Legatus throughout the seventies.  

Also that year she won a contract with Paramount and appeared in A Talent for Loving (1969) a sex-comedy, western spoof which never even got a release in the US and only appeared on TV there five years later.  Munro appears as Richard Widmark's daughter.

Publicity photograph by George Whitear for Dracula AD 1972

James Carreras, the Chief Executive of Hammer Films, saw one of Munro's Lamb's Navy Rum posters and set about seeking her out and giving her a contract.  Her first film was the Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee Dracula AD 1972 (1971), where she plays Dracula's first victim in this groovy update on the traditional tale.

Munro on set at Elstree Studios for Dracula AD 1972

It was during the shooting for this that Munro decided that she would rather be a full-time actress rather than a model who did a little acting.  She was, however, still doing a lot of modelling work and like many of the glamour girls of the period appeared on the cover of one of those cover version compilations of chart hits.

In her case it was Hot Hits 11 from 1972 where she appeared fetchingly, and for no apparent reason, dressed up as a sort of fantasy, pantomime Robin Hood in hot pants and boots.

She didn't appear on the cover of the rival Top of the Pops compilation, unlike just about every other top model at the time.  Well, not on the UK edition, anyway, but she did feature on one of the European versions.

In those far from politically correct days models could also make good money from appearing on the covers of lurid paperbacks and Munro did a number of these too.

Munro with Horst Janson in Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter

The following year she made another film with Hammer, the rather bizarre Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter. The only film directed by Brian Clemens, who was the key figure in the development of The Avengers. Clemens had written the script and had produced Hammer's earlier Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971) which had been a great success.  

Clemens had worked with director Robert Fuest on The Avengers and adopted many of his techniques, such as extensive storyboarding, for Kronos.  Munro had been in both Fuest's The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971) and Dr Phibes Rises Again (1972) in an uncredited part as Phibes' dead wife which only required her to lay in a coffin.  Hammer, however, were disappointed with Clemens' stylish but off beat Kronos and it wasn't released for another two years.  However, the film was a big boost for Munro, in her largest part so far.  

Munro in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad

Clemens then helped her get the role in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974) for which he had written the screenplay, actually against the wishes of Ray Harryhausen and producer Charles Schneer who wanted a bigger name for the role of Margiana (Raquel Welch was their original choice). 

Munro promotes Sinbad in Amsterdam in 1974

In the end Clemens sent Schneer and Harryhausen some footage of Munro in action and they, not surprisingly, immediately changed their minds.  Oddly, Munro had nearly worked with Harryhausen in 1971 on the aborted Hammer film The Day the Earth Cracked Open.  

While doing pre-prodcution publicity for The Golden Voyage of Sinbad she gave an interview which appeared in April 1973's Oui magazine in the US.  Oui was a joint venture between Lui in France and Playboy.  It was designed to be a more "European" (i.e. slightly naughtier) challenger to Penthouse, which, at that time was eating into Playboy's circulation at an alarming rate.  

In this piece Munro said "No, I've never been nude in a film.  I don't really think it's essential.  You can get so much more - meaning, out of a bikini or a little decolette, if that's what they want."  

In fact, it had been this stance that had caused her not to be hired by Hammer for any more of their films. 

She had been offered the lead in Hammer's Vampirella but turned it down because of the required nudity even though she had actually gone to Italy and shot some publicity photos.

The same went for her modelling except for a couple of mild topless pictorials done in 1969,  For the sake of completeness I felt compelled to include some of these shots.

With Doug McLure in At the Earth's Core

Munro cemented her fantasy film credentials by appearing (with Peter Cushing once more) in At the Earth's Core (1976), an adaption of the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel.  She received third billing, behind Cushing and Doug McLure, as Princess Dia.  The costume department and publicists made the best of her assets.   The following year she appeared in an episode of Clemens' The New Avengers, The Angels of Death.

 Bond tries not to get distracted in The Spy Who Loved Me

1977 also saw Munro's most celebrated, despite not being her biggest, role in the Roger Moore James Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me.  Munro played bad girl helicopter pilot Naomi and really made the most of what was actually a small  part.

She has two key scenes, firstly where she picks up Bond and an understandably scowling Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach) to take them out to Stromberg's base and, of course the helicopter chase where, ultimately, she becomes the first woman that any Bond kills on screen.  Her wink at Bond from the cockpit of the helicopter being the most famous cinematic example since Elizabeth Taylor's in Cleopatra (1963).

It being a Bond film, of course, the publicity machine went into overdrive with some splendid shots of Munro appearing just about everywhere,  The Wetbike featured in the film was a new invention so it was obvious that Munro should be put into a gold crochet bikini and sat on one.  The one used in the film was actually the prototype and it didn't go on sale until the following year.

Caroline Munro in a gold crocheted bikini.  No further words are really necessary

The Spy Who Loved Me is very much the Legatus' favourite Roger Moore Bond film.  I thought Barbara Bach was absolutely gorgeous (unlike most of my class at school who though her bust wasn't big enough), Munro's appearance was an unexpected bonus as was Valerie Leon's as the Sardinian hotel's receptionist.  Interestingly,  Leon also turned down the role in Hammer's proposed Vampirella film after Munro declined it, also because of the nudity required.

When it was announced that John Barry wouldn't be doing the score (he was unable to work in the UK for tax reasons) I was quite anxious about the film's music but Marvin (The Sting) Hamlisch turned in a very different but still enjoyable score. This score also resonates because I first heard the record in its entirety in the bedroom of A, our first proper girlfriend.  She did a little belly dance in her underwear (having stripped off her school uniform) to the Arab-type music (actually written by Paul Buckmaster not Hamlisch) which was most diverting.

More publicity shots for The Spy Who Loved Me

After The Spy Who Loved Me Munro was advised to go to America by Cubby Broccoli but she decided to stay in the UK to be close to her family, condemning her to career of low budget (often Italian) films and TV appearances.

You didn't get much more low budget than Italian Star Wars rip-off Star Crash (1978) which starred a pre-Baywatch David Hasslehof and Christopher Plummer, who really, really must have needed the money. Munro's husband, Judd Hamilton (who she had met on the set of A Talent for Loving in 1969 - they married in 1974 but divorced 12 years later) also featured, as did one of the Legatus' favourite seventies actresses Nadia Cassini (at her best in Pulp (1972), Mike Hodges follow up to Get Carter (1971)). 

The film got far more publicity than it deserves, almost entirely due to the publicity shots of Munro in her minimalist leather costumes.  Bizarrely, although John Barry couldn't do the soundtrack to The Spy Who Loved Me he did do the soundtrack to Starcrash, giving the film a far better soundtrack than it deserved.

The Last Horror Film

Her husband, Judd Hamilton, co-produced her in the Last Horror Film (1982) and although she kept working during the decade she dialled right back on her film appearances.

As a hostess on 3-2-1 in the eighties

She spent three years working as a game show hostess on the ITV quiz 3-2-1 between 1984 and 1987, which must have been something of a come down. She even played a game show hostess in a Christmas 1986 TV pantomime: Cinderalla: the shoe must go on (cringe).

In Midsomer Murders (2013)

In the nineties her appearances were largely confined to cameo roles as herself in a number of small productions but lately she has started working on screen again, recently appearing as an "evil priestess" in Midsomer Murders.

In the world of the seventies, when there were perilously few attractive girls to lust after (at least, ones whose names you actually knew) Caroline Munro was a particularly splendid example of English womanhood.  Long may she prosper!


  1. Might I suggest Valerie Leon for this blog?

    Just the other day my wife and I watched 'The Revenge of the Pink Panther', in which she plays a dominatrix in Cato's cathouse. There were a couple of things about her performance that I'm reminded of when I view this post, as I admire 'The Munros'.

    Talking of Inspector Clouseau and the health benefits of hillwalking, as 'The Revenge...' finishes, and the titles roll, we hear Clouseau - Chief Inspector Clouseau, mind - regaling Simone Legree (Diane Cannon) with the story of how he got started a policeman, which involves an 'unlicensed Armenian phrenologist':

    Clouseau: 'Have you ever had your beumps read?'

    Simone: 'I don't think so.'

    Clouseau: 'I would guess that your beumps would make excellent reading. Would you mind if I read your beumps someday?'

    1. I met Ms Leon last year. Still a very elegant lady! But yes she needs to appear here! Blake Edward always got some fine young ladies into his films!