A Question of Honor; She Struck Fear into the Heart of James Bond as Pussy Galore, but the Real HONOR BLACKMAN Is a Sensitive Woman Who Has Been Plagued by Mental Illness
Honor Blackman, barefoot and a shade weary in her theatre dressing room, is being disappointingly charming. She has offered tea, though she's the one who sounds as if she needs it for that classy rasp of hers, and is very chatty. I'm surprised because I was expecting to be intimidated by Pussy Galore, the James Bond villain with which she will be forever associated. 'Aah,' says Honor with a naughty smile, 'You've only been spared because I haven't been trying to frighten you.' She seems barely changed since her 1964 appearance with Sean Connery in Goldfinger.
That enduringly beautiful bone structure has helped her avoid the usual jowls and pouches of age, and she remains an elegant shade of blonde. What she describes matter-of-factly as her 'very good bosom' is still prominent under a black T-shirt.
Her career began in 1946 in the film Fame Is The Spur, but her big break came 15 years later with the TV adventure series The Avengers, co-starring Patrick MacNee as Steed. 'It was the hardest work I've ever done,' she says, 'although I enjoyed it. We didn't have a day off for the first year. I had to go to the gym to practise judo and choreograph fights, and I'd often have to stand for four hours while they fitted the leather outfits that became my trademark.'
MacNee called her 'the steeliest man I know - and that's a compliment in my book'.
She has worked with some of the world's most handsome leading men, including Dirk Bogarde in the film Quartet - 'he became rather bitter in his last years, but when I worked with him, he was charming,' says Honor. Then there was Dean Martin in Something Big.
'Everybody said it would be awful and that he would always be drunk,' she says, 'but he wasn't like that at all. He was the most professional person I've ever worked with. He was patient and funny, and very polite - a real gentleman. And he never drank while he was working.' She says he was sexy 'but not knockout so, not like dear Sean Connery'.
Her role in Goldfinger made her an international star and she credits Connery with the success of the film. 'The Bond films were very new, and no one could have foreseen that they would still be turning them out 40 years later. Sean was very self-assured, but anxious to learn, and I found him very sexy. Still do. But doesn't half the world feel the same way?' Honor does not look or behave as if she's anywhere near 79 - an age when anyone else would be described as old.
She does, admittedly, have a bad back, a legacy from The Avengers when her character, Dr Cathy Gale, would throw heavies about. But that hasn't stopped her embarking on a punishing eight-showsaweek run as Berlin landlady Fraulein Schneider in Cabaret on the London stage.
Considering that Lord Lloyd-Webber's protegee Connie Fisher, young enough to be Honor's granddaughter, was forced by exhaustion to take a rest from The Sound Of Music, can a soon-to-be-octogenarian really hack it for a six-month run?
'Fraulein Schneider is the kind of woman who just keeps on battling. She's a survivor, and so am I,' says Honor briskly. 'And, actually, five songs a night is not such a big sing. I have to do a bit of ballroom dancing, nothing wild; though I'd rather I didn't have to do it in high heels.
'I can do the job. That's what matters. I'm glad people are grown up enough now to acknowledge that you're not necessarily on the rubbish heap if you're a woman over 50. I mean, there are masses of young Sienna Whatnots out there, but look at all those marvellous old actresses - Sheila Hancock, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Vanessa Redgrave, Helen Mirren - who are still working.' Honor had a mere two weeks of rehearsals to prepare for her opening night. 'It's been frantic, frantic, frantic, but I can't tell you how thrilled I am to be on stage. I love theatre; it gives me such a charge. It's that energising mixture of joy and terror. I still get nerves, though, before a show. …