Eunice Gayson

Eunice Gayson
Eunice Gayson

Eunice Gayson wasborn in 1931 and is best known as the first of Jame Bond’s ladies in the early part of 1961’s “Dr No”.   “Picturegower” felt Gaysonwas the girl with possibly the biggest drawing power among Britain’s up and coming actresses.  other films include “My Brother Jonathan”, “Miss Robin Hood” and “Street Corner”.

Eunice Gayson obituary in “The Guardian” in 2018.

Eunice Gayson, who has died aged 90, was an actor with a film, television and theatre career that spanned several decades. Despite this, she will be forever associated with her unique place in cinema history as the first Bond girl.

Exactly eight minutes into the running of the 1962 film Dr NoSean Conneryutters the words “Bond, James Bond” for the first time, in answer to a question from Gayson, whose character has introduced herself at the card table as “Trench, Sylvia Trench”. With typical efficiency, Bond adds Miss Trench to his list of conquests shortly after their casino encounter and he later finds her hitting golf balls in his apartment dressed only in his shirt. Their playful exchange is momentarily interrupted when he is summoned to Jamaica on a mission, a clear demonstration of Bond’s constant juggling of business and pleasure.

Unlike the other women on the Bond girl list, Gayson played the same character in more than one of the extremely successful franchise’s films. Trench turns up again in From Russia With Love (1963), when her afternoon punting with 007 has to be curtailed when he gets a call from headquarters. The intention was that Miss Trench would be a regular presence in the films, part of a running joke involving their assignations being cut short when espionage obligations arose at an inopportune moment. Guy Hamilton, the director of the next film in the series – Goldfinger (1964) – had other ideas however, and kiboshed the plan.

No matter, for by then Gayson’s claim to cinematic immortality was unimpeachable, even though her voice was not heard in either film: she was dubbed by the actor Nikki van der Zyl. No criticism of Gayson should be inferred – Van der Zyl dubbed the majority of female voices in Dr No and many others in future Bond films. Gayson’s perfectly acceptable vocal performance, playful and seductive, can still be heard on the film’s original trailer. She might have had a different slice of Bond movie immortality had the original plan – that she play the recurring role of Miss Moneypenny – gone ahead. As it was, Lois Maxwell took the role (and played it for 23 years). Nevertheless Trench was an important part – Gayson received higher billing than Maxwell in both films – and the actor helped a nervous Connery during that crucial first scene.

She was born in Streatham, south London, the elder of twin daughters and the middle of three children of John Sargaison, a civil servant, and his wife, Maria (nee Gammon). The family moved to Purley, Surrey, then Glasgow and finally Edinburgh, where Eunice enrolled at the Edinburgh Academy. A gifted soprano, she trained as an opera singer and in 1946, aged 18, made her professional debut playing a small role in Ladies Without at the Garrick theatre in London. 

That Christmas, she was Princess Luv-Lee in Aladdin (Grand theatre, Derby), with the Stage describing her as a “vivacious” performer “who sings, dances and acts extremely well”. By the end of the decade she was appearing regularly on television – in music shows, revues and television pantomimes. In 1954 she was selected to be a panellist on Guess My Story, a programme in the vein of What’s My Line but featuring disguised celebrities.

Her film break had come in 1948, in My Brother Jonathan, and her other work on the big screen included Melody in the Dark (1949), Dance Little Lady (1954), Basil Dearden’s Out of the Clouds (1955) and Hammer’s The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), in which she played the female lead.

When she was cast in Dr No she was having success on stage playing the Baroness in the original London production (at the Palace theatre, 1962) of The Sound of Music which ran for more than 2,000 performances (she was one of its longest running cast members).

Her other theatre work included Over the Moon (Piccadilly theatre, 1953) and Uproar in the House (Whitehall theatre, 1968, taking over from Joan Sims), Victor Spinetti’s production of Duty Free (on tour 1976-77), The Grass is Greener (with Richard Todd, 1971, in Stratford-upon-Avon for the Royal Shakespeare Company), and An Ideal Husband and Kismet (both 1980, at the Connaught theatre, Worthing). One final run in the West End as the grandmother in Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods (Phoenix theatre, 1990-91) was followed by pantomime in the Isle of Man in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Gaiety theatre, 1992).

Her 1953 marriage to the writer Leigh Vance was seen by three million American viewers when it was part of the television show Bride and Groom (“sponsored by Betty Crocker’s Piecrust Mix”). The marriage was dissolved six years later and in 1968 she married the actor Brian Jackson. That marriage also ended in divorce but produced a daughter, Kate, who survives her. Kate appeared in the casino scene in the Pierce Brosnan Bond film GoldenEye(1995).

• Eunice Gayson (Eunice Elizabeth Sargaison), actor, born 17 March 1928; died 8 June 2018

• This article was amended on 11 June 2018, to add further details of Eunice 

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