As careers go, there aren’t many as dangerous, yet in many ways glamorous, as being a movie stuntman. A role that can see you travel the world working alongside the very best actors and directors in the business, the only drawback being you have to constantly put your body and life on the line to do the job.
One man who knows this better than many is Rocky Taylor, Britain’s most famous stuntman. His storied career has seen him become James Bond in place of Sir Roger Moore and Sir Sean Connery and feature in some of the biggest movie franchises of all time from the Indiana Jones films to Harry Potter.
With today marking the release of Taylor’s book Jump, Rocky, Jump, the remarkable story of his life and immense body of work in motion pictures, we caught up with Rocky to talk about his numerous stunts, including the one that nearly cost him his life. What it was like doubling on screen for two James Bonds and what led to him falling into the industry in the first place.
The MALESTROM: Tell us about your path into stunt work? Your father Larry was an actor and stuntman…
Rocky Taylor: I’ll tell you how it started. I’ve always been a sporty man, football, cricket. I never liked sitting down doing reading and writing or dealing with figures. One day my father turned round to me and said, “do you want to learn judo?” So I learned it and became very good at it, in fact, I became a black belt.
From that moment on I got a bit of confidence in my life and one day one of his stunt friends, Peter Diamond, turned round and said, “Larry, your son’s a judo man isn’t he?” And he said yes. Peter said, “we’re doing a film called The Young Ones, I need someone to teach Cliff Richard a couple of judo throws, would he be able to do that?” My father said I’m sure he would.
So I got a phone call from Peter Diamond to ask if I’d come down to Elstree Studios, so off I went down there on my little Vespa, met Cliff Richard and Sid Fury the director, showed Cliff three or four throws, which he enjoyed, and Peter Diamond then asked me if I want to play the part of the young thug in the youth club. So I said, “yeah, why not?” So, we worked out a judo fight and some punches and that’s how I really got into it.
Then he asked if I wanted to do a TV series called Sir Francis Drake, on that I learned how to handle a sword, so I got those routines down. Now I had punch-ups and swords… I was always a motorbike man and loved cars, I was not bad at them, so I learned more of those skills, went to a skidpan and did all that. Then I went onto The Avengers. That was five years, like an apprenticeship, learning how to fight, drive cars, motorbikes, all that.
Eventually, an actor and stuntman called Joe Wadham asked me if I wanted to come to Switzerland and do a film called Monte Carlo or Bust for six months. So I did that. On that one I came down the Cresta Run…
TM: That was one of your first big stunts, driving a car down the Cresta Run. It sounded pretty hairy…
RT: It was, it was. It was the six blokes in front of me on an old wooden toboggan, they’re the ones who would have come out worse as I could have run over them. But that was years and years ago, it wouldn’t happen now.
Then other films came along, like when I got invited to do a war film in Israel with Sophia Loren and Peter Finch. On that one I learned how to fire guns, so that’s how I built my stunt career, just by continually working.
TM: Your first Bond film was From Russia With Love with Sean Connery, how was that?
RT: I mean I wasn’t really a stuntman in those days, well I wasn’t an extra, so I suppose I was a stuntman, I just didn’t know what a stuntman was. On that one I did a few fights, had to jump out of the way of a car and horses coming through, moving out of the way this way and that. Then they’d ask if I’d come back tomorrow, and I’d turn up.
Sean was just getting into his role of Bond during that picture and still needed brushing up on a screen fight. He clocked one or two of us during the shoot, but he was a great pupil.
So I wasn’t what I’d call stuntman on those pictures, but I became one. It was only later in my life when I realised what stunt work was, by getting my pads and talking to people who understand about stuntwork. Now it’s much harder with risk assessments and wire work is now very important.
In my day we used very thin piano wire and if it broke you got injured, now you can have wires as thick as your hand and they can CGI them out, so it’s a lot safer now.
TM: Would you have considered yourself a stuntman when you were a ninja in You Only Live Twice?
RT: Yeah, yeah. But I wasn’t doubling for Roger Moore or Sean Connery in those days. There could have been twenty of us dressed as ninjas, but I’m not sure which one I was. They call them hairy arsed stuntmen.
The time I doubled for Sean was on Never Say Never Again. I did all the title sequences, then I doubled for Roger Moore the same year. I’m the only stuntman to double for two Bonds in one year. I’ve got a Guinness World Record for that.
TH: How was it working with Sir Roger Moore?
RT: I have to say he’s one of the loveliest men, I was so sad when he passed away. That was a very sad day. I was actually there the day he became Bond. I was walking down the corridor of a studio and right at the very end Roger’s head popped round the corner, I was with a guy called Les Crawford, who was his stunt double and stunt arranger, and he said, “Rocky, Les, quick, quick.”
So we ran down the corridor to him to find out what he wants, and he got right close up to us and whispered in my ear, “Rocky, your now looking at James Bond.” I went “what?” He said, “Cubby’s just signed me as James Bond.” We couldn’t believe it, we were dancing in the corridor, then we went into his dressing room, Roger opened a bottle of champagne and we were drinking and shouting, “He’s James Bond! Our James Bond!” It was unbelievable.
TH: You were good pals with Sir Roger…
RT: Yeah, we were pals, I did a lot of doubling for him on The Saint. We grew up together. He went further than me, he went up there and I stayed where I was.
TH: So doubling for Sir Roger on Octopussy must have been quite an honour?
RT: Oh yeah, it was wonderful, just wonderful. I did all the stunts in the jungle, swinging along being chased by the villain on the back of an elephant and the jump of the three-wheel taxi. We jumped over the camel and landed. I wasn’t driving, I was the passenger doubling for Roger in that scene.
TH: We can’t not mention you staying with the thirteen Miss Worlds on that production…
RT: That was true. The production manager came up to me and said, “Rocky, you’re not in this hotel, you’re on the island.” I said, “why am I on the island?” He said, “well there’s thirteen Miss Worlds there.” I went “what?” He said, “yeah, thirteen of them, all the girls are there, we want you to make sure they’re all looked after properly.” I said, “are you sure?” (Laughs). They were looked after as far as I was concerned. No, it was great. A great experience and fantastic to work on.
TM: Anyone who reads your book will quickly work out the most dangerous stunt you’ve taken on. That would be you jumping off a burning building for Death Wish 3, a stunt made even more dangerous thanks to Michael Winner…
RT: You can’t get more dangerous than that. The set up was there was supposed to be a bit of fire. Michael Winner said to me, “Rocky, can you do this jump here?” Our stunt co-ordinator said I’d be able to do that. So I get up there on the roof and had a look down and said, “sure, I can do that”.
So we get it all prepared and the cameras were turning over, I was supposed to go to the edge of the building where there would be a little bit of flame and I’d jump off the building and as I jump they blow the building up behind me.
But I didn’t get to the edge of the building… they just blew it up while I was still up there on the roof.
The next thing I knew I had to jump for my life, which I did. I missed the landing bed, cause I couldn’t see the bed and I landed half on the side of the ground and half on the boxes. I broke my hip, my pelvis and my vertebrates and I was out for over a year.
TM: The pain from that jump sounded horrific the way you describe it in the book…
RT: The pain was unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable.
TM: How was it going back into stunt work after such trauma?
RT: Well, I was waiting for a call and Peter Brown phoned me and asked me if I wanted a couple of days up in Manchester filming the TV show Boon, as I was doubling Michael Elphic before I got injured.
I had to get back into it slowly, I took my time, and then the phone calls started to come and not long after I got asked to come to Elstree to double for Sean on Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade.
TM: You doubled for him in the scene where Harrison Ford and Connery are tied back to back and the room goes up in flames. Amazingly that was your first fire job since your accident and it took place on 19 June 1988 at four p.m., when the Death Wish 3 stunt happened at the same time on 19 June 1985!
RT: Yes, same date, at the same time. They were all standing around the camera, Sean and Speilberg, and they all started clapping. I thought, what the hell? Then I realised, of course, it’s the anniversary. So they all came up and shook my hand and told me it was great. That was very emotional.
TM: One of your first jobs back when you came back was on Who Framed Roger Rabbit? – A bit of a departure…
RT: Yeah, Peter Diamond called me down for that one. They wanted a silhouette, it was the early days of motion capture. Whenever you see the rabbit on the screen it’s animated, but whenever you see the rabbit in shadow or silhouette on a wall or window it’s me.
TM: How was it working on Titanic?
RT: Titanic was a nice one. I was away on that for nearly six months. They flew us out First Class, flew us back home for Christmas then flew us back again. We worked six at night till six in the morning six days a week. That was an eye opener with James Cameron, he’s a great, great director, but not a very nice man to his crew, a bit like Winner. They’ve all got their good bits and their bad bits.
TM: Who was the best director you’ve worked for?
RT: Speilberg’s the best I’ve ever worked with… In my opinion. He knows what he wants and he won’t let anything go unless it’s done his way.
TM: Working on those Indiana Jones movies must have been great?
RT: It was superb. I just wished I’d have worked with him more.
TM: Another great film you worked on was Sexy Beast…
RT: I co-ordinated that. I didn’t get a credit for it though, I really got the hump about that. Ray Winstone did the foreword to my book for me, what a lovely gesture, lovely words from him. People have said such beautiful things.
One of the reasons I did this book, when I was in hospital I got a lot of cards and messages telling me to get well soon and I never really thanked anybody personally. So I wanted to thank them through this book.
TM: What’s your favourite stunt out of all that you’ve done would you say?
RT: It’s difficult cause they all have their dangers, they all have their heights. I mean I enjoy doing car turnovers. I wish I could have done the one on the Bond film that turned eight times. Yeah, I’d say all the car turnovers, I really enjoyed doing them.
TM: And another iconic role you took on, but in an advert was the Honey Monster. That seemed to have amazing benefits…
RT: I was the Honey Monster. How that came about, there’s a guy called Kim Dabson, he’s a golf pro and his girlfriend worked at an agency and when he was out of work she said, “Kim, do you want to do this Honey Monster gig? You have to get in a suit and go around the country promoting this breakfast cereal Sugar Puffs.”
Well, he needed someone else to do it, he knew I didn’t work every day and asked if I wanted to make a few bob as the Honey Monster. So I said yes and we went around the country everywhere. I’d put the suit on, do a little dance and everyone loved it. We’d turn up at a hotel and wouldn’t get charged for anything. Get free drinks in nightclubs all night. It was great! So yes, I was the original Honey Monster.
TM: Do you have a proudest moment from your time in the industry?
RT: I did a stunt for Remember a Charity, it’s where you can leave a percentage of your will to a charity and when you die it all blossoms. I did the biggest turnover through the largest glass structure at the 02.
That was inspired by the record broken on Die Another Day, it was a great stunt to do, I got another Guinness World Record for that one. We also recreated the stunt from Death Wish 3. Both of those were great moments.
TM: You’ve been a part of so many iconic films, you even doubled for Flash Gordon?
RT: That was great. It was me and Jim Dowdall, he was doubling for Timothy Dalton and I was doubling for Sam Jones. The scene fight scene with the knives coming out of that plate we were standing on we rehearsed for two weeks.
TM: American Werewolf in London was another you worked on…
RT: Yes. On that, I skidded the motorbike into the double-decker bus that Vic Armstrong was driving around Piccadilly Circus.
TM: Is there a favourite film out of everything you worked on?
RT: I did enjoy the Pink Panther films. I did three or four of them. They were great fun to work on. We worked with Peter Sellers, then we did two without him, with Ted Wass. In one I turned a car over upside down with Gerry Crampton driving it.
So the car went over onto its roof, all the way down the road, and then flips over again onto its wheels. That was a great stunt. I think that was in The Curse of the Pink Panther.
TM: You must have seen the business change a fair bit since you started out?
RT: Yeah, it’s changed. There’s a lot more health and safety and all that. And with the big wires they now used I mentioned earlier. Your a lot safer than you were years ago. But it’s still risky, that’s why they get stuntmen in. If the actor gets hurt they can’t replace him, but they can replace me.
TM: Is there a funny story you’d like to tell to finish off? Your book is full of them…
RT: There’s one with my old mate Dinny Powell when I was having a little love affair with a lady. Dinny was staying in the same suite and had to get up for a flight early in the morning. I’d brought this lady back to the room late on and we were in bed and she’s whispering in my ear, “Rocky, tell me you love me… tell me you love me.” And Dinny gets up and says, “For f**k sake, tell her you love her I’m trying to get to sleep!” That was a funny moment.
Rocky Taylor’s book Jump Rocky Jump published by Pegasus is out to April 18th.
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