On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) is a standout film within the James Bond franchise. It was the first James Bond film to not star Sean Connery and the only Bond film to star model-turned-actor George Lazenby. It also happens to be the only James Bond film set during Christmas time.
Released in the United States on Dec. 19, 1969, the film follows Agent 007 (Lazenby) as he travels undercover as a genealogist to a clinical allergy institute in the Swiss Alps. The institute is a front for SPECTRE, the crime syndicate operated by Bond’s arch-nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Savalas). Bond’s goal is to uncover what research Blofeld is really conducting and why it involves 12 beautiful women from all over the world. Outside of this excursion, Bond also falls in love with Contessa Teresa “Tracy” di Vicenzo, played by Diana Rigg.
All of this also occurs at Christmas time.
Christmas is weaved into the plot in various ways:
• When Blofeld confronts Bond, he is playing with tinsel on his Christmas tree.
• Each of the 12 girls is given a deadly Christmas gift
• Bond runs through an ice skating Christmas party during an escape
The John Barry-scored film also features the song “Do You Know How Christmas Trees are Grown” written by Hal David and John Barry and performed by Nina van Pallandt (credited as “Nina”), who is not featured on screen.
“Much of the film takes place in snowy Switzerland in December, so a Christmas song seemed natural for a “source of music” that would be heard emanating from speakers at the train station and elsewhere in the town below Blofeld’s Piz Gloria hideaway,” according to the book “The Music of James Bond” by Jon Burlingame.
The music writing style for “Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown” differed from other songs and scores written by John Barry. According to Hal David, Barry set his music to the lyrics rather than vice versa.
“I think it’s the only time, with John, that I wrote the lyric first,” David said in Burlingame’s book.
The song features van Pallandt singing with a group of children.
This, however, isn’t the main Bond theme of the film. Barry and David also wrote “We Have All The Time in The World,” which was performed by Louis Armstrong. The song ended up being and one of Armstrong’s final projects before his death in 1971.
While the Bond theme didn’t chart in 1969 and it was popular to make fun of Lazenby’s Bond, in recent years it seems fans have come to appreciate “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” For me, I feel Lazenby’s Bond provides emotion that Connery’s didn’t. And no other Bond girl holds a candle to Diana Rigg.
*Note: In “The World is Not Enough” (1999), there is a vague scene that could be Christmas and a character named Christmas. However, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” is the only film that explicitly references Christmas-complete with Christmas trees, a song and gifts.