Anyway, Tam preferred to be playing soccer or fishing in the Grand Union Canal, using his mum's old nylon stockings.
Name: Sean Connery
25 August 1930 (Age: 83)
Where: Edinburgh, Scotland
Height: 6' 2"
Awards: Won 1 Oscar, 2 BAFTAs, 3 Golden Globes
It's amazing how age has failed to wither Sean Connery. Not only has he been a major star for over 40 years, but he's somehow held onto the status of action-hero and sex symbol, even into his seventies. No actor of comparable age and fame - Eastwood, Redford, Newman - commands such pay-packets, or is held in such esteem by Hollywood producers. This alone would mark Connery out as something special. Yet when we consider that he rose from the poorest of backgrounds to the Beatle-style mania surrounding James Bond, then fought a long and successful battle to escape 007 typecasting and be taken seriously as a character actor, we must accept that his is one of the most extraordinary tales in cinema history.
He was born Thomas Connery in Fountainbridge, in the south-west of Edinburgh, on the 25th of August, 1930. Though the city's inhabitants are famed for their soft, cultured tones and Brit-Scot traditions, Connery, whose great-grandfather had been an Irish Catholic tinker from Wexford, was from the other side of the tracks, Fountainbridge being an industrial area of squeezed tenements, soot-blackened chimneys and the McEwan's Brewery. His father, Joe Connery, the son of a Glasgow bookie's runner, had come here in the twenties, seeking work in that bleak time of pay cuts and redundancies, and finding it at the North British Rubber Works at '2 a week.
It was a tough, tough time. Joe and his young wife Euphemia Maclean (known as Effie) lived in a 2-room, top-floor flat, with one bedroom, a kitchen/living room and an outside toilet. When Thomas was born he slept in the bottom drawer of the wardrobe, and would only get a proper (sofa) bed when his brother Neil arrived 8 years later. Outside the air was thick with fumes from the brewery, the rubber factory and the confectioners. In fact, the reek was so pungent that outsiders had been known to faint clean away.
The Connerys, though, were made of sterner stuff, particularly young Thomas, who thrived in this dirty, crowded place. As a kid he was impulsive, and always ambitious, with a real flair for sports, especially football. On the pitch he was the Roy Keane of Fountainbridge, savage and ultra-competitive. Even more intimidating, he quickly grew to be huge, earning the nickname Big Tam. But he was bright too, in a streetwise way. Mental arithmetic was no problem for a kid with a family history of bookmaking, and comic books led him to be a keen reader. Attending Bruntsfield Primary School, he was often frustrated at being held back by the slow progress of kids less bright than himself (a trait he would carry into his cinema career). Naturally, this would lead to trouble.
. When Neil was born in 1938, the family were under real financial pressure. And it says everything about Tam's ambition and industry, his sense of independence and responsibility and his amazing bravado that, at age 9 and with no prompting, he got a job at Kennedy's Dairy Stables, before the school day began working on a delivery dray. It wasn't simply toil - he loved horses. Soon, he'd also be working in the evenings as a butcher's assistant. Even before WW2 he was taking home '3 a week, all of which he gave to his mum, who saved what she could for him.
As the war kicked off, for a time the local schools were requisitioned by the authorities, with the kids being tutored in the houses of the seriously wealthy. The situation didn't last for long, but it left a lasting impression on Tam, who realised that, though the rich liked to have their milk delivered, they weren't so keen on having the deliverers in their homes. The boy would now equate money with power, and his dreams of escape and freedom would be coupled with a hard-nosed business sense that would later make him one of cinema's toughest negotiators. Indeed, were it not for other people's lack of vision, it might have made him a bona fide Goldwyn-style mogul.
During the war, Joe Connery would work at Rolls-Royce in Glasgow, returning home at weekends. Sean, meanwhile, graduated from Bruntsfield at 11 and began his two compulsory years of secondary education. Toffs would go to Boroughmuir to learn languages and economics, preparing them for the professions. Tam and his rough herbert buddies could look forward only to semi-skilled industrial labour, and were thus sent to Darroch to learn science, metalwork and the like. Throughout, he'd continue to work at his milk round, and deliver newspapers, too.
The war gave a big lift to business in Fountainbridge and at last there was money in people's pockets. The bars were buzzing and the streets filled with chancers and tricksters. Tam revelled in the boisterous activity. His physique was now well-developed and, though usually a reasonable guy, he'd bash anyone who messed with him. He was a strange sort, affable and physical, but also sensitive, even melodramatic. Perhaps due to his beloved comic books, he had a heightened sense of adventure and was a natural risk-taker. Once, daring some vertiginous slope, he rode a sledge into a tree, badly cracking his head, and spending 5 days in hospital and 10 more in convalescence. Needless to say he was back on his sled at the earliest opportunity. And there was always football. Once he purposely failed a grammar school entrance exam because he knew they played rugby instead.
Throughout the forties, holidays would be spent at his mum's parents' place, a country cottage just north of Kirkcaldy, across the Firth of Forth from Edinburgh.
For young Tam, not only was this a much-needed break from work but the solitude allowed his imagination to run riot. There was a different kind of life here - pigs, chickens and wide open spaces. There was granddad Neil Maclean, too, a big, strong, whiskey-loving bear of a man with a real lust for life. His exuberance would leave a profound mark on his grand-son. Another influence would be the cinema, then in boom-time. Though Tam was not as rabid a fan as his dad, he still spent many an hour before the flickering screen in Fountainbridge's Blue Halls, known to the locals as "the gaff". Adventures were Tam's thing, the seat-edge sci-fi of Flash Gordon and, particularly, the romance and machismo of westerns.
. At 14, Tam left school and began to deliver milk full-time, quickly rising to run his own cart. The extra money would come in helpful as Joe would break his wrist and nose in an industrial accident, and Effie would have to go out charring. The family would usually eat just porridge and potato stew, taking their baths at the public pool. Even so, once Tam had managed to squirrel away '75 he was keen to possess some material symbol of his efforts. His dream of a motorbike summarily quashed by his father, instead he spent '56 on an upright piano.
Still his greatest wish was for escape, to see the world and take life by the throat. Yet his first real attempt was not successful. Signing up for 7 years in the Royal Navy (plus another 5 in the Volunteer Service), he trained near Lochinver, then was moved down to Portsmouth where he'd serve in a gunnery school, in an anti-aircraft crew, then be assigned as Able Seaman to HMS Formidable. This wasn't really seeing the world. In fact, though he enjoyed his stint in the navy's boxing team, it was a pretty poor show all round. So it was painful but pleasing when, after two years, at age 19, he was diagnosed with peptic ulcers and discharged with a disability pension of 6s 8d a week. He was glad to be out, though in times of stress the ulcers would plague him for the rest of his life.
Back in Fountainbridge, life seemed all the more dull. He was a big hit in the local dancehalls, using his money to score glamorous girlfriends, but it wasn't enough. To build his escape fund, he toiled in the steel mills and on the roads, delivered coal and worked as an odd-job man. Eventually, getting a grant from the British Legion who, in the wake of the war were keen to aid the young disabled, he took a course in French polishing, in the summer of 1951 being taken on at a cabinet works. Here he worked on sideboards, wardrobes, even coffins, and this might have been his career had his curiosity and frugality not combined to push him in a new direction. When John Hogg, an experienced cabinet maker, mentioned there was extra money to be made that Christmas by helping out backstage at the Kings Theatre, Tam showed an interest. So Hogg took him down there and procured him a job working on the sets and costumes.