“No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die.” Goldfinger's prediction has been repeated many times over the last half century but the world's favourite secret agent has an uncanny ability to survive. Now, after an 18-month bout of delayed premieres, he is up and running again, pointing his Walther PPK at us in No Time To Die (in cinemas from September 30).
Along with Bollinger, Rolex and all the other brands that have hitched a ride on the Bondwagon, the small Swiss ski resort of Mürren has good reason to be grateful for his longevity.
Perched on a cliff edge opposite the towering Eiger, Mürren starred in the 1969 film On Her Majesty's Secret Service. The cable car station at the top of its Schilthorn mountain became Piz Gloria, the evil Blofeld's hypnotherapy clinic for pretty girls with an allergy to chicken and potato. Blofeld's plan to achieve world domination by spreading a killer virus was thwarted by 007 (in a mission presciently named Operation Corona) after the greatest ski chase in cinema history, with avalanche and bobsleigh excitement thrown in.
In the original novel, Ian Fleming placed Piz Gloria at the other end of Switzerland, near a different ski resort, St Moritz. Who cares? Brand Bond outgrew the printed page long ago. Mürren renamed its cable-car station after its role in the film and has been cashing in ever since.
Bond fans make the four-stage cable-car journey from the valley to the top of the 2,970m Schilthorn every day of the year, save for brief periods when the cable car closes for maintenance in spring and autumn. They pose at selfie stations on the viewing terrace, buy Bond-branded knick-knacks in the souvenir shop, OD on trivia in the Bond World exhibition hall and consume vodka martinis and 007 burgers in the restaurant.
Apart from the throng in the lift stations, Bond tourism does little to disturb the tranquillity of Mürren’s car-free village. It was a different story when the film crew arrived for two months of filming in late 1968.
Many of the actors and crew members stayed at the Hotel Eiger and the proprietor at the time, Annelis Stähli, whose grandparents founded the hotel in 1892, remembers it well. “The film was a gift for us,” she told me. “Because most of the filming was done between mid-October and Christmas, it was a bonus season.”
The film crew's demands dragged Mürren into the 20th century. “We had to serve a breakfast buffet, which was unheard of, and dinner at nine o’clock or even later!” Frau Stähli recalled. Unfamiliar items such as lobster and oysters found their way to this remote mountain outpost, the Hotel Edelweiss served Mürren's first draught beer, and the village even acquired a special phone line for direct-dial overseas calls.
Aspiring British downhill racer Konrad Bartelski was a 14-year-old trainee with the Mürren-based Kandahar Ski Club at the time. “Telly Savalas [who played Blofeld] walked past us in the lift queue once, sucking one of his famous lollipops. Unfortunately, I was selected for the British Junior Championships and missed the chance to ski as an extra.”
One Kandahar teenager who did not miss out was Bernard Lunn, whose grandfather founded the Kandahar club and staged the first-ever Slalom race at Mürren in January 1922. “My brother Steve and I dressed up as baddies in white mountain-combat suits and skied like hell for two days. Most of it ended on the cutting room floor – we appeared for about two seconds, as corpses – but the money was good. Our 100 francs bought a lot of beer.”
In the 007 theme park that Piz Gloria has now become, no gimmick has been overlooked. Screens show the film’s climactic fight scenes. A statue of George Lazenby in his first and last Bond role quotes well-known one-liners (“Just a little stiffness coming on”). Flushing the loo triggers an avalanche roar and a desperate cry: “Jaaaaames!” That's Diana Rigg as Tracy, the short-lived Mrs Bond, who reappears as a hologram in the mirror. “What are you doing here?”, she asks. Washing my hands, obviously. “You're very sure of yourself. What if I were to kill you, for a thrill?”
Piz Gloria's restaurant revolves, taking 45 minutes to go full circle, and gives wonderful views that stretch from the Eiger to Mont Blanc. Bond buffs will recognise a golden lattice grille above the stairwell. Its rings are just right for braining an opponent in a punch-up.
The Piz Gloria experience would be very different if Schilthorn lift company CEO Christoph Egger had obeyed his board's instructions when he took over in 2012, as he explained over an 007-branded coffee. “When I was appointed, they told me: ‘45 years ago Bond was exciting. But now he's old history. Let's go in a different direction’.”
Before setting changes in motion, Egger spent time getting to know his customers. “We observed that Bond was what most people were talking about on the lift, and their main reason for coming to the Schilthorn. So when we drew up our master plan for the Schilthorn it was Bond Mountain.”
Phase one, Bond World, opened in 2013. What had been a simple push-button film presentation became a full-scale interactive museum, featuring interviews, a virtual helicopter flight and a bone-shaking bobsleigh ride.
Pulling back the curtain folds of a kilt – Bond wore one in the film – reveals a video of a leathery old George Lazenby explaining why he turned down the chance to reprise his role in the Seventies. “They offered me a million but I thought Bond was finished. If they weren't going hippy it wasn't going to work. It was a decision I took.”
There's no need to be a Bond nut to enjoy the insights into the filmmaking process at Bond World though. Meet stuntmen hanging from lift cables, crashing bobsleighs and diving into the path of a snow-blowing machine, to be spewed out as mince (“He had a lot of guts,” observed Bond).
Slim-hipped German slalom champion Ludwig ‘Luggi’ Leitner donned a long wig to ski as Diana Rigg's double. And cameraman Willy Bogner (ski racer and future skiwear tycoon) filmed action sequences while skiing backwards on a custom-made pair of twin tips.
Bond World was an instant success, and further visitor attractions have followed, including a 007 Walk of Fame at the Schilthorn and a Thrill Walk across a cliff face beneath the cable car mid-station. Before the pandemic struck, Mr Egger saw his company’s turnover rise by 50 per cent in seven years, the increase entirely attributable to non-skiing visitors.
Skiers may not be Egger’s most profitable customers, but the spin-off benefits of Bond tourism feed through to the slopes as investment in new lifts, better snow grooming, a high-spec terrain park, a snow-cross course and snowmaking, all of which have upgraded Mürren's ski area to compete with the best in the Alps.
Ungrateful though it may seem, Bond’s approval rating is not universally high among Mürren's traditionally-minded skiing clientele, who include third and fourth generation devotees of the resort. It’s not so much the loop of film music in the cable car they object to, nor the shameless kitsch of Bond Mountain. The issue is queuing for the lift, as skiers and day-trippers jostle for space in the crowded cabin.
Relief is in prospect, in the form of a project to replace the entire chain of cable cars over the next three years, increasing capacity and cutting uplift time in cabins with improved wind resistance. The scale of this project is quite something for a village of 450 inhabitants. Would the new lifts have been affordable without Bond? “They wouldn't have been necessary,” is Christoph Egger's simple answer.
Over an aperitif in in the Hotel Eiger's Tächi Bar, Annelis Stähli shared her memories from half a century ago, speaking warmly of the entire film troupe, with one exception: the self-important George Lazenby “didn't quite fit in”. The Tächi hosted many glamorous parties. At the end of one of them, a well-lubricated stuntman crashed out in the Duke and Duchess of Kent's suite by mistake – as a patron of the Kandahar Ski Club the Duke was in Mürren to present race prizes.
Stähli was nursing her first child at the time. “Sandra wasn't an easy baby, and one evening in desperation I brought her down to the bar, where Diana Rigg shut her up with a sip of champagne. We always say it's why she grew up with such a good nose for wine.”
George Lazenby wasn't the last to write off 007. When Sandra’s brother Adrian took over the running of the hotel – leaving his big sister in charge of the cellar – one of his first moves was to create a Bond-themed suite, with golden-gun bedside lights, Bond girls on the wall and a complete library of Bond films. "I thought it was an awful idea," Annelis admitted, “but people love it.” Never underestimate 007’s pulling power.
Many stories circulate about the winter of ’69, when Bond came to Mürren. It’s not true that the Schilthorn cable-car and its revolving restaurant were conceived, built and paid for by the film company. Diana Rigg’s alleged habit of chewing garlic before clinch scenes with Lazenby is another myth.
But was there really a spike in Mürren's birth rate nine months after the actors and stuntmen departed? “I can tell you the Bond babies are not a myth,” said Adrian Stähli. “I went to school with them!”
How to do it
Seven nights at Hotel Eiger costs from £1,112 per person half board in a double room, including Heathrow to Zurich flights and rail transfers (book before October 31), with Inghams (inghams.co.uk). For more information about Mürren and getting to the Schilthorn visit muerren.swiss and schilthorn.ch. The cable car to Piz Gloria is closed for maintenance from October 25 to November 19, 2021.