Website last updated: 12-7-2024

In Memoriam of Scottish actor Neil Connery (1938-2021)

By: Brian Smith
Neil Connery 1938-2021
Neil Connery, younger brother of Sean and who starred in the sixties James Bond spoof Operation Kid Brother (1967), passed away on May 9th at the age of 82, following a long illness. Our thoughts are with Neil's family and friends, in particular wife Eleanor and daughters Martine and Leone.

Neil Connery was born on 16 December 1938 in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was brought up by his parents, Joseph & Effie Connery, in the tenement building at 176 Fountainbridge, Edinburgh along with his brother Thomas who was born just over seven years earlier. At the time Fountainbridge was a working-class area in Scotland’s capital, their tenements surrounded by factories and breweries. Edinburgh was known as ‘Auld Reekie’ (‘Old Smokey’) due to the constant smog which hung over the city. The Connery brothers spent their summer holidays across the Firth of Forth in the Kingdom of Fife with their maternal grandparents where the open skies and landscapes were a world apart from Fountainbridge. Grandparents Neil & Helen Maclean lived in a small cottage near Kirkcaldy and kept farm animals. Whilst Thomas held various jobs before embarking on a path that would eventually lead him to international film star status as Sean Connery, Neil followed in his grandfather’s footsteps and became a plasterer.

Around 1966 Neil had some of his tools stolen. Neil said, ‘I got onto the union, and they said do you mind if we bring the press into this because it’s not often the Scottish plasterer’s union gets publicity. I said not at all.’

The subsequent broadcast which Neil thought was only for BBC Radio Scotland also went out in London. Neil believed it was Bond director Terence Young who heard it and was amazed just how much he sounded like Sean. Word spread and the story reached Italian film producer Dario Sabatello.

Sabatello travelled to Edinburgh and invited Neil for a meeting. Following drinks at the Caledonian Hotel, Sabatello offered him a contract for $5000 for a movie that was yet to be scripted. Sabatello brought in Paolo Levi, with whom he had worked before in Italy, and Frank Walker to write a script tailored to Neil. While Neil was brought over to Rome’s Cinecitta Studios for some screen tests, Sabatello appointed Alberto De Martino to direct the feature. De Martino had previously made Dalle Ardenne All’inferno (Dirty Heroes) starring Daniela Bianchi, Anthony Dawson and Adolfo Celi. All of these past Bond players were brought on board the film, as well as Bond series regulars Lois Maxwell and Bernard Lee. The film now had a title – OK Connery. As Neil explained, ‘When I was doing my test they said “OK Connery, OK”, so that’s what they called the film in Italy. In English-speaking markets the film was called Operation Kid Brother.

Due to the international cast not all of them spoke the same language. The movie was ultimately dubbed for various markets. Unfortunately, when Neil arrived back in Scotland he had an appendectomy and ‘they thought I’d be too weak to do the voice.’ Ironically, his Scottish burr which kick started this whole adventure for Neil ended up being dubbed by an unknown American actor working in Rome. Neil was disappointed. He said that, ‘they killed the film because, as I say, my voice comes over very, very well.’

Sean was cautiously supportive of Neil’s foray into acting. ‘I remember the advice Sean gave me.’ Neil told Photoplay magazine. ‘Take it easy, make sure everything is in black-and-white before you sign it; and ensure it’s to your advantage.’

Neil had fond memories of working with the cast, especially Lois Maxwell, Bernard Lee and Daniela Bianchi. When Neil was looking to light his cigarette, Bianchi offered him the use of her gold Dupont lighter. ‘I want you to keep it,’ she said. ‘I enjoyed working with you more than your brother!’

Neil Connery with Lois Maxwell and Daniela Bianchi
Neil Connery with Lois Maxwell and Daniela Bianchi at a press conference in Italy in 1966. Photo by Keystone. Copyright © 2021 Getty Images. All rights reserved.

Operation Kid Brother took less than twelve weeks to shoot, in Monaco, Morocco and Spain. It opened in the UK in May 1968. The film was picked up for theatrical release by United Artists, the studio behind the James Bond films. Neil recalled being invited by UA to the London opening. A keen amateur photographer, Neil regretted not taking his camera to get a shot of his name in lights above Piccadilly Circus.

Trailer for Operation Kid Brother (1967) starring Neil Connery

An interesting piece of trivia is that Ennio Morricone is the only person to have scored both a Neil Connery and a Sean Connery movie.

Although Neil never really pursued an acting career, he had a few more credits over the years, most notably The Body Stealers (1969) and in an episode of the Scottish crime drama Taggart in 1989.

As I’ve written elsewhere, even though Neil looked and sounded like his older brother, he was very much his own man. He was great fun to be with; a sentiment echoed by other people I have spoken with today who knew him.

Neil Connery Edinburgh
Neil Connery pictured at the writer’s home (and main photo above) in 2008. Photographs © 2021 Brian James Smith. All rights reserved.

In addition to his wife, Eleanor, Neil Connery is survived by two daughters, Martine and Leone.

Editor's Note:

FSWL contributor Brian James Smith interviewed Neil Connery at his home in Edinburgh in 2008.

The news of Neil Connery's passing was first reported by his friend Steve Begg who wrote on Facebook:

”My good friend and Edinburgh drinking buddy Neil Connery passed away early this morning Im sad to report. He considered me a lackluster challenge when it came to the drinking stakes but I considerd him with respect. He looked and sounded like his big bro so going out with him was always interesting to say the leasht. Mish you Neil.”



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