The Dark Secret
at the Heart of the Bond films

by George A. Rooker, Independent Film Producer (revised October 2015)

A review of Taryn Simons' exhibition Birds of the West Indies says:
... the uncredited voice artist Nikki van der Zyl, who dubbed most of the Bond girls throughout the years, was - and continues to be - denied recognition due to the producers' efforts to maintain the total 'Bond girl' image.
53 years have passed since Dr.No hit the screens, so isn't it time for them to acknowledge the great work she did for the Bond films? How about a special BAFTA award for her unique contributions?

Film making is all about 'make believe'. Very little on screen is what it appears to be - visually or aurally. And we are not just referring to sets, props and special effects. The art of acting is pretending and it is no shame for an actor/actress to admit to their limitations. For example, all the scenes which showed Roger Moore running in his seven Bond movies were performed by doubles, as Moore felt he looked awkward when running. The naive Bond fan can be excused for not realizing that Connery did not actually fly the autogyro in You Only Live Twice, or Moore did not ski off a mountain top and deploy his parachute to escape from baddies. Those daring deeds were performed by stunt doubles; the special men and women who step in when the going gets tough.

But actors/actresses should be expected to act. So when an 'actress' fails to deliver the vocal interpretation required by the director, it is clear exposure of their limitations.

What they tried to conceal from photographer Taryn Simon

When Taryn Simon was in London for three weeks in 2012 to photograph all the women who took part in the Bond films, for inclusion in her new installation, one Bond secret was kept from her.
She knew nothing about Nikki's crucial part in revoicing the Bond girls and none of the self-appointed controllers of the Bond world had informed her. They kept quiet and hoped that Taryn would depart none the wiser.
It was only when Taryn stopped off in Paris, before returning to her base in New York that she learnt about Nikki. The Voice of the Bond Girls was quickly invited to join Taryn in Paris so that Nikki's significant contribution could be included in a filmed feature.

See the Birds of the West Indies reviews and checkout the dates and venues.

Acting requires a wide range of skills, including vocal projection, clarity of speech, physical expressivity, emotional facility, a well-developed imagination, and the ability to interpret drama. Acting also often demands an ability to employ dialects and accents, but these skills were often missing from many of the females used in the Bond films. They were unable to deliver the complete performance that the directors wanted, hence the need for some major repair work in the sound studios at Pinewood before the films were released.

Many of the women who appeared in the Bond movies were mere 'eye candy' and although they may have looked good on screen, their voices were often not suitable for the sexy parts they were playing. The solution? Use a voice double, that is, have them revoiced (or dubbed) by a professionally trained actress. But that seems to be something they are too ashamed to admit to - and so it is rarely disclosed - and very rarely openly discussed. In fact great efforts have been made to conceal the facts and deny the truth about this aspect of movies. It's the 'artifice that dare not speak its name' - the dark secret. Nevertheless, it has been a part of film production since the first talkies in the late 1920s. And it takes great skill to pull it off successfully without being detected. It has been likened to ventriloquism, with the actress being the dummy.

Roger Moore's reaction when he was told by producers that he would have to work with 'actresses' that need to be dubbed, was "ARRGH"

At the end of every film there is a long list of credits which acknowledge all those who contributed in some way - big or small - to the production. The credits usually include everyone from the director, producers, photographer, writers and editor right down to less significant persons such as the gaffer and tea-boy.

In Dr.No, Nikki's smooth, sexy voice replaced the thick Germanic teeth-gnashing accent of Ursula Andress. Yes, every word spoken (and sung) by Honey Ryder was the voice of German born actress Nikki van der Zyl - now a British National Treasure. Her vocal performance was crucial to the success of the film, but you will look in vain for any mention of Nikki's name in the credits. Suppressed in Britain; but acclaimed in Germany, you can see - and hear - the famous beach scene by following the YouTube link.

The deception was so successful that, in the subsequent Bond films, the producers continued to use females with limited acting ability and/or unsuitable 'cor-blimey' accents, or little known foreigners with both limited acting ability and a poor command of English. They were effectively mute and would have been better suited to the era of silent films. When talkies came along in the 1920s it revealed the limitations of many actors, but even as late as the 1960s and 70s unsuitable 'actresses' were still being employed. So the all-important seductive voices needed to seduce 007 were supplied by Nikki van der Zyl.

OK, you might say, Nikki didn't get any credits but she must have been richly rewarded for her work, after all the Bond films made millions (and now billions). Think again; she was paid a pittance for what was normally just one or two days' work. Because she was so efficient, she usually achieved a perfect match with one or two 'takes' and therefore only received a session fee. (A 'session' is half a day.)

 Photo: Racquel Welch, Copyright Hammer Films. Nikki was also was the unsung 'star' of many other films and added glamour and conviction to the performance of the likes of Racquel Welch, Anita Ekberg, Shirley Eaton, Eunice Gayson, Claudine Auger, Jane Seymour, .... and many, many others whose names have yet to be revealed. Nikki went on to revoice Ursula Andress again in She and The Blue Max.

Nikki's unique versatility was proven once more in One Million Years BC (left), where only she could be relied upon to grunt in the authentic Neanderthal way!

Next time you are watching a film, look carefully and see if you can detect which females have been dubbed. Unless you already know, you will not detect Nikki's voice, which is why the deception was never discovered - but you might detect those females who were dubbed by persons less skilled than her, and where the lip synchronisation is less than perfect.

Oh, incidentally male actors are revoiced too, (and I don't just mean Homer Simpson!) .... but that's another story altogether and has the potential to damage too many screen egos - and ruin careers.

The technical term for revoicing (commonly called dubbing) is post-synchronisation. As the term suggests, the key to it is the exact matching of the replacement voice with the lip movement of the actor/actress you see on the screen. This is difficult enough when the actor speaks English badly and introduces wrong intonations and emphasis. It is even more difficult when a foreign film is dubbed and the original lip movement does not match the English translation.

How is it done?
The techniques of dubbing - and who else has been 'done' - are discussed in Nikki's book For Your Ears Only.

Interesting Fact: Although she only played voices, it technically makes Nikki the only actress beside Maud Adams to play a Bond girl more than once.

On his website, Roger Moore says:
"Dubbing is a lot more difficult than it seems, and I've always said you need to be a good character actor to be able to dub someone else - and capture all the little nuances and inflections. .... Thankfully there are people like Pino [Locchi, who dubbed Connery in all the Bond Italian versions] and Nikki van der Zyl who are masters in the field. What would we do without them?"
Read more at: Roger Moore Official Site

In the James Bond Archives (published by Taschen in 2013) the editor Paul Duncan quotes from a discussion he had with Peter Hunt and Ursula Andress in which Hunt says: 'Revoicing somebody is very tedious, hard work. It's not easy, and you've got to be extremely patient and careful about how you get it. '
About Nikki he said: 'she used to work very hard at it and we would redo things and work very, very hard.' Of Nikki providing the voice of Honey Ryder in Dr No, Andress acknowledges that Nikki 'did a very good job'. What a pity other females who Nikki revoiced cannot be as grateful.

With English language films that are released in the UK or US, it is only necessary to dub actresses who have poor diction. So to maintain the illusion - and fool the fans - it has to remain a clandestine process. But when the same films are released overseas, everyone - including the major stars - have to be dubbed, so it is not a secret. Want to know who dubs them into French, Spanish, Chinese etc.? Read these articles in : The Guardian and The Hollywod Reporter

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The World of Nikki van der Zyl