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Man On Fire: The Life & Other Accidents of Jim Dowdall (review)

By: Jon Auty
Jim Dowdall Stunt Man on Fire book review
I’ve been lucky enough to have known Jim Dowdall on and off for about 30yrs. I first met him on the set of the BBC television series starring Leslie Grantham and Don Henderson called The Paradise Club back in 1990. We chatted, exchanged stories and sheltered from the rain in his car.

Cut to 2000 and I find myself in an aerodrome in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire having lunch with the man himself whilst he discusses the possibilities of hiring a helicopter company to use in an upcoming film project.

These meetings were interspersed with a number of phone calls and discussions about the business and a number of his credits.

August 2018 and I finally tie him down to an interview for my podcast The Stunt Pod whilst he attends a British Stunt Register Committee meeting at a hotel in Surrey. Its been a long day, but Jim is in fine good humour and dives into our interview with the élan expected of a racing cyclist. I pulled out a few facts about his career that even he didn’t remember and at the end of the interview he says, and I quote “Jon, I have to take my hat off to you. If ever I write my autobiography you need to be sitting beside me so I can refer to you and ask you what I was doing on such and such a show because you’ll probably know about it”.

So here we are in November 2019 and imagine my horror as through the post comes a padded envelope containing Jim Dowdall’s autobiography, MAN ON FIRE - The Life and Other Accidents of Jim Dowdall. A book that I literally had absolutely nothing to do with. And yet its an excellent read covering all aspects of Jim’s career and his off-screen activities over the last fifty or so years.

Jim's love of everything military is certainly a major factor in his career. If you are a director and you want to recreate a battle sequence as if you were there at the time Jim will not only find a way of doing just that but will also dig up actual vehicles, the correct time of day the battle was fought and a number of engines that were likely to have been used in that period. He is a master of authenticity.

Bond fans will leap for joy when they read of his exploits on the franchise. Although I was left open mouthed when he dangled a big fat juicy worm in front of me, in the form of saying that his Bond association started back in 1965 with Thunderball. He then sweeps past the movie making no mention of what he did or when and dives into The Spy Who Loved Me. I was flicking back a few pages convinced that I had missed an entire section dedicated to the Sean Connery movie, but alas no. He covers The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), For Your Eyes Only (1981), Octopussy (1983), GoldenEye (1995), Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) and Die Another Day (2002). If you’re a fan of the Bond movies, and let’s be honest, who isn’t, you’ll love these chapters.

Jim Dowdall doubling Roger Moore on Octopussy
Jim Dowdall doubling Roger Moore on Octopussy. Copyright © 1983 Danjaq S.A. & United Artists Corporation. All rights reserved.

Jim Dowdall in Iceland for Die Another Day 2002
Jim Dowdall on Iceland doubling for Pierce Brosnan on Die Another Day 2002. Private photo. All rights reserved.

His is a story of determination and fun. He proves to the young adults of today that you don’t need to have massive amounts of qualifications to get on in life. He came out of school with one O-Level, the equivalent to a smack in the face these days and yet he realised that the academic life wasn’t for him. A biker with a love of leather jackets, jeans and girls and not necessarily in that order. He realised that all of his planets had aligned when he arrived in the summer of 1976 on the set of The Eagle Has Landed. He rode his bike, was given a US Army Jeep to drive about in, lived in the village where the film was being made and met a girl who floated a great deal more than just his boat.

He has, as you will discover whilst reading, been very lucky with the ladies. One who he wasn’t romantically connected to, did kick him off the roof of a train once back in the mid nineteen seventies. She writes on the back cover of the book and their friendship has continued to blossom ever since that day on The New Avengers. The lady in question? Joanna Lumley.

The foreword for the book is written by another military and engineering nut. One James May who Jim has been working with over a number of years on Top Gear and its on-demand alter-ego The Grand Tour.

I picked the book up, read the first few pages and just over three hours later I had finished it. I was left wanting more. Maybe this is the way a book should leave you? You listen to an album by an artist you have admired for years and can’t believe the whole thing is over after 12 tracks. This is how I felt after reading this book. I know that Jim has many stories he hasn’t told here. Maybe he’s bottling them up and keeping them for the day my phone will ring, and he asks me to come up with volume two? Well a boy can dream, can’t he?

Review by Jon Auty. Copyright © 2019 From Sweden with Love. All rights reserved.

Order MAN ON FIRE - The Life and Other Accidents of Jim Dowdall from Amazon UK.

Editor's Note
Jon Auty's two-part interview with Jim Dowdall can be listened to by visiting The Stunt Pod - subscribe, download and enjoy.



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