Honor Blackman

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In her late 80’s, Honor Blackman remained as feisty as ever and refreshingly blunt. Whether tirelessly campaigning on behalf of Equitable Life annuitants or questioning the wisdom of Royalty in a British democracy, nobody could accuse her of hypocrisy. This, after all, was a woman who declined a CBE.

A veteran of British films—she made her debut in the late 40’s—she will be forever associated with two characters, Cathy Gale, John Steed’s first female co-star in ‘The Avengers’, and as Pussy Galore, Ian Fleming’s lesbian thief brought back onside by Sean Connery in the third Bond epic Goldfinger’. Despite the seductive voice and hourglass figure, she both demanded and received respect from her male actors. A karate and judo student in the 60’s, she had, in her own words, ‘a terribly good uppercut.’ When she was ten, she knocked out two boys who were bullying her younger brother – not a woman therefore, to mess with…

When she was alive, there was an outspoken quality that endeared her to me. I can never imagine a duller experience than being amongst an after dinner group, carefully treading the path of political and social correctness. I have, in my time, been subjected to the most unbelievable comments in the workplace, some of which have crossed the racist line, but in all honesty they simply make me laugh. This country that I live in, is not purging itself of racism, merely rendering any public outburst punishable by heavy fines and/or detention. What goes on to this day inside people’s heads, is another matter entirely. I can lampoon myself, yet others I have observed remain chippily sensitive to criticism, however affectionately delivered. I therefore love being around individuals who ‘rail against the world and specific individuals.’ Former Bond girl and national treasure Honor Blackman was a force to be reckoned with. Only hours after the death of Baroness Thatcher, the actress had some unsurprisingly strong views.

“She’s not my idea of Heaven I have to say. Although she did some good things in her time, she was merciless about the unions.”

“I’m not too happy about the Falklands either. We lost men, we took injuries and we blew up a ship. I suppose we need it for a base, but my common sense tells me that it does belong more to Argentina than it does to us.”

“She was a powerful figure, but she did damn all for empowering women. She didn’t surround herself with any women whatsoever or encourage women to come into politics or do anything in particular. She could have been a quite wonderful role model.”

Reflecting on her early screen career:

“There was no equality of women when I started out and one was permanently chased around the office and all the rest of it. That’s what people did in those days and it was assumed you’d sleep with anybody and if you didn’t you wouldn’t get the work. It still persists with some people I’m afraid.”

Honor’s major breakthrough came in 1964, when she put Sean Connery firmly in his place as the no-nonsense Bond girl Pussy Galore in Goldfinger. Interestingly, Honor was older than Sean Connery by five years and remains the oldest Bond girl at 39.

It’s a piece of film trivia that Honor is frequently cited by male journalists. Remaining a fan of the long-running film franchise, the last Bond in her lifetime was accorded the Blackman seal of approval.

“I think Daniel Craig is lovely. He’s a terrific actor to begin with, but for me there’s only one Bond. Sean Connery. I last saw him on his 60th birthday, which was a long, long time ago.”

Like millions of women, her attitude towards, and relationships with men, have routes back to her childhood and in particular, her father. Speaking to ‘The Sunday Telegragh’ in August 2012, she was asked whether her parents had a happy marriage. Reflecting on those early days, she was moved to say:

‘I think they loved one another but he was such a disciplinarian and so demanding that there was a fair amount of fear in the house. He was a very randy individual. It didn’t matter what she was doing or how she felt,there was no foreplay. He didn\‘t even come down and help with the washing up and then say ‘how about it?’

Her first husband was a businessman called Bill Sankey, who reminded her of her father. This was surprising given that her father, a First World War veteran and statistician for the Civil Service, would beat her with a leather strap when he was angry.

“Bill was 13 years older than me and those were the days when your husband was always right. It took me a long time to realise I was more capable than some of the men I knew. It was maddening it took so long. We were supposed to emigrate to Canada where the plan was that I would ditch my whole career, but then I made a last film in Spain and I found it lovely being away on location, not haunted by his jealousy all the time.” Questioned directly by the Telehgraph’s Nigel Farndale whether she had been indiscreet, the actress replied:

“I behaved like a very good wife all the time we were apart. I must have been mad. I posted money to Toronto to help him get established. It all disappeared.”

Looking back on her first marriage, Blackman was in little doubt that he felt threatened by her having a successful career.

“He loved the money I earned but he was jealous beyond belief. He was always looking for people to bash and it was dreadful.


So that’s it then? – Bill Sankey in a nutshell – an avaricious, jealous and combative individual. The problem is that the man is probably no longer around to defend himself, whilst his ex-wife, from what little I could research, presumably discussed her relationship with him on tour throughout her ‘Honor Blackman as herself’ engagements. It could have all been true, but it appeared just too pat an answer to a difficult relationship problem.

Under construction.

Since 1992, the actress had been an active member of the Equitable Members Action Group, an organisation committed to seeking financial redress for distressed investors of the failed UK insurer. Interviewed in 2009 on BBC Breakfast News, she was candid enough to admit that, in financial terms, her loss had not been as great as other policyholders simply due to the longevity of her career, and the rewarding work that has continued to come her way well into her 80’s. Whilst understandably sought after by the group to act as a high profile campaigner, she has nevertheless devoted considerable time to the cause and should be commended for that fact. Nevertheless, the overiding attention paid to Equitable life’s policyholders, or perhaps I should say a certain faction within that beleagured group, still sits uncomfortably with me for reasons I will explain later on. Firstly though, for the uninitiated, here’s Blackman’s appearance on the BBC in 2009 suitably highlighting the Government’s failings in admitting any complicity in the debacle.


Secondly, some informative links to the case:



At the turn of the century, Equitable Life was considered the most respectable pension company in the UK. Established in 1762, it eventually became one of the biggest mutually owned life insurers in the world, with around 1.5 million policyholders.

Along the way, it had become the pension company of choice for the prosperous middle class professions -particularly accountants, solicitors and private sector middle tier management members, given that it appeared to provide a better return on its funds than most of its competitors. But, like many things in life, if it looks to good to be true, then it probably is. From the late 1980s, the society was telling policyholders their investments were worth substantially more than Equitable actually had in its coffers. By the year 2000, the stated value of its customers’ policies was £3bn more than the assets actually held by the company. More tellingly, it had made no provision for the guarantees against low interest rates contained in all policies issued before 1988 (the guaranteed annuity rate or ‘GAR’ – the basis for converting one’s accumulated fund into a retirement income for life). Worse still, the company continued to declare bonuses out of all proportion to profits and assets. Investigations undertaken between 2010 and 2012 estimated that the cost in excess bonuses paid out to retiring policyholders in the 1990s was £1.8bn. In 1998, the fall in interest rates led to the first rumblings from disgruntled policyholders about Equitable’s plan to cut the discretionary final bonus for holders of guaranteed annuity policies. By that October it was clear that Equitable would face a major legal challenge.

Two and half years of legal wrangling and a number of cases in the High Court led to suggestions that Equitable was facing a bill of £1.5bn to cover the guaranteed annuities. The mutual insisted that its liability was a mere £200m. On July 20 2000, Equitable Life’s attempt to pass on the cost of its guarantees to policyholders failed in the House of Lords with a ruling that the company had acted unlawfully in its treatment of GAR policies. Equitable was immediately put up for sale and unsurprisingly there were no takers. In effect, the Society had become so weakened by over-bonusing that it could not pay, and in effect, no one would buy its with-profit business at any price. Closing its doors in December 2000, its directors soon resigned.

In July 2001 the new board of directors slashed policy values by 16% (about £4,000 million) and proceeded to affect a compromise scheme to deal with the GAR problem. However, Equitable Life’s problems were too deep-seated and this was not enough to enable it to ride out the stock market falls of 2001/2002. In 2002 policy values were cut by another 10% and the Society was forced to invest almost exclusively in fixed interest stocks. With almost none of its money invested in equity shares, it could not operate as a with-profit insurer and its policyholders did not benefit from the stock market’s rise throughout the period 2003 to 2007.

Many will remember the company’s television adverts clearly. “With no commission to middlemen, it’s an Equitable Life, Henry” and therein lies ‘the rub’ with me.

For every unworldly investor suitably bamboozled by marketing hype – and for those individuals I can only offer heartfelt sympathy for their years of suffering – I also recall ‘high end professionals’ with an overwhelming sense of smugness, mining my extensive knowledge and then investing in Equitable Life, thereby by-passing any right of mine to be rewarded financially for my hard earned academia. Studying every night and sitting exams whilst ignoring the pursuit of a ‘good time’ was my choice and I seek no sympathy. However, explaining to those individuals that the company paid their reps ‘Performance Related Emoluments’ fell on stoney ground. These considerable bonuses, whilst admittedly unconnected £ for £, to each client’s investment, nevertheless impacted on company reserves and its ability to meet future liabilities. Every time, the subject of pensions was raised with me, an existing Equitable policyholder would singularly fail to discuss the company’s perceived investment pedigree focussing instead on the ‘no middleman’ marketing hype. For those individuals with substantial holdings in the company, I was certainly aware, by their own admission, that they had not ‘diversified their risk away,’ thereby spreading contributions amongst several pension providers. If, after all, one could remove adviser commission for the first £100,000 contribution, then what argument might there be for reintroducing such a perceived impediment to ‘value for money’ investing with the next £100,000? No – I’m afraid the primary driver was ‘enhanced terms’ and a professional perception of ‘superior investing.’ In life however, individuals are often hoisted by their own petard. For those who felt they knew best – that in effect, others have no right to earn a living from their accrued professional qualifications – then I’m afraid I have little sympathy. I personally, have always paid for the services of professionals, and whilst there is some merit in DIY self sufficiency, there must also come a point where I can either relax or deploy my income earning potential in more profitable areas than attempting cost saving projects for which I have no formal training. When Miss Blackman marches on behalf of Equitable policyholders, she possibly simply sees an array of elderly retirees with scant understanding of their varied professional background. But, with well over three decades’ experience in financial services, I am acutely aware of this diversity and hence my diluted sympathy for those of a certain ilk. QED.

Recommended viewing

A Night to Remember (1958)

The Avengers (1962-63) TV Series

“There wasn’t really a format for the series,” producer Brian Clemens recalled in 1979. “Everybody tries to take the credit for creating The Avengers, but it was self-generating, really. It was just a doctor (Ian Hendry) and a special agent (Patrick Macnee) and was quite terrible – a million miles away from what the series became.

“The first one was all about razor-gangs. It was trying to be ‘real’ – a bit likeEdgar Wallace, I suppose. I wrote the first episode and then, I think, two or three more for Ian Hendry.

“Then Ian left the series and they were stuck with six scripts for Ian (written by various writers) and they couldn’t afford to commission new scripts. So they brought in Honor Blackman and she played the man’s part.

“It was around that time that Patrick Macnee was looking for something to do with his character, which didn’t do anything on the page. He was really a stereotyped Scotland Yard man. He came in and said Yes guv and No guv and things. So Patrick put on a bowler hat and picked up an umbrella and I think it was him who said to Honor Blackman: Why don’t you wear trousers and boots? I like them. Then it kind of escalated and the writers really caught up with it after Pat and Honor had set it going on a trend. We overtook the trend and made it even more consciously trendy after that.”


The complete Avengers episode guide compiled by \‘The Classic TV Archive\’ can be located at:


Jason & The Argonauts (1963)

Goldfinger (1964)

Life at the Top (1965)

Lawrence Harvey returns as Joe Lampton in the sequel to \“Room at the Top\”, his breakthrough movie from 1958.

In the novel by John Braine, Joe is ten years older and ostensibly living the life of the successful young executive, complete with luxurious suburban house, white Jaguar, a wife and two wonderful children. His amber light marriage trundles on, as much indicative of knowing neither what he wants nor what he’s prepared to settle for.

He’s made it to the top in the eyes of his envious peers by marrying the boss’s daughter in his northern mill town, yet he’s increasingly at odds with himself as his public and private life remains continually manipulated by his father in law. Questioning the wisdom of his son’s private boarding school education at the dining table, his mother-in-law chides him – “I don’t understand your sort – you say you want a better life and then when you do step up a peg or two, you hate yourself for it”. In a later scene, Joe’s wife enquires whether he’s ever had a coloured girl. ‘Every friday after the tea break’ he amusingly responds – it’s an old custom at A Z Brown & Co’. ‘But what if it’s different, what if it’s better – we’ve soon going to be old’, she responds, clearly at odds with life’s unfulfilled dreams. Emigration to the south of France is discussed and Joe offers Taiti as an alternative before deadpanning – ‘And what would we do all day sitting in the sun? Talk to each other? Later that night she clearly wants to make love but he turns away.

Nevertheless, he declines a job offer in London over a business lucheon, and wisely avoids Norah Hauxley (Honor Blackman), a decidely ambitious and attractive television presenter. As his friend so succinctly puts it – ‘she sees us all as provincial bores. She’s a climber. Once in more fastidious times I suited such creatures to a T but other ages other ladders. No it won’t be a rake with the right backgrpound like me – and pointing to Joe he adds – ‘nor a grammar school boy like you who’s going to enjoy Miss Hauxley – rather a highly placed tele producer.’ However, when he finds his wife is having an affair, he reconsiders on both counts, but is the job offer a racing certainty and what exactly does Norah want?.

As the storyline develops, Lampton’s working-class conscience rears up when he votes on a canal side development scheme against his party’s wishes. He grows increasingly tired of both his marriage and his father in law, and when he finds wife Susan (Jean Simmons) in bed with his best friend, Mark (Michael Craig), he becomes involved with Norah. She is intrigued with Joe, the Tory with a social conscience, yet remains clearly content for him to burden himself with the complexities of the situation.

‘I’m not running away’ she tells him in a quiet moment together – ‘the job I’ve been waiting for in London has fallen vacant, that’s all.’

Letting him know in no uncertain terms that she won’t live like a nun for a year or two while he ponders the fate of his marriage, Norah rebuffs his professed need for her with a downbeat exhortation – ‘If you need me, you’ll come to London’.

Eventually he does, and lying in bed together with a seemingly overjoyed Norah, she is moved to tell Joe:

‘I still can\‘t believe it – you gave it all up – Susan, A Z Brown, everything for me’ – before burying her head in his chest. The camera catches Joe’s reaction, a picture of stark reflection as he silently screams – ‘yes I bloody have’.

Problems materialise with the job offer that previously appeared a racing certainty, when he fails to impress at a panel interview. His regional accent, lack of both a university degree and military commission during the war, in addition to the considerably smaller turnover of A Z Brown that he is accustomed to managing, all work against him.

As the weeks slip by, Norah’s career displays signs of upward mobility whilst Joe stagnates, ever fearful that his father in law has used his influence to scupper work opportunities for his estranged son-in-law. Nora eventually snaps informing her lover that she’s moving into her Hampstead flat alone:

‘I think it’s best we don\‘t see each other for a while until you get your bearings’.

Joe ripostes : ‘I’ve got my bearings darling – you asked me to leave Worley and here I am’.

Suggesting that Joe is merely using her as a stick to beat his wife with, Norah lays down the gauntlet :

‘Find your own job and then find me in Hampstead’.

As tempers fray, Joe rounds on her:

‘Oh face it Nora, I’m a summer romance – the chap you liked on board ship and find embarrassing now you’re in port. You’re ashamed of me’.

Drawing a line under the relationship, Joe tells Norah that he knows he’s good at his job but so are 5,000/50,000 other men. He can never live with her because she’ll always make him feel that and in any event, with her talent, she’ll go far. ‘You make it sound like a curse’ she replies before exiting the door and his life. What lies ahead for Norah is an all consuming career and probable marriage to a top television producer. In time, she may even encounter the same persons on the way down but for now, there is little humility to counterbalance her patronising ways. She never loved Joe – what she loved was the notion of finding out what he was prepared to do to be with her. Stunned that his seemingly well connected lover has not brought him employment opportunities galore, he professes difficulty in starting at the bottom again, but she shows little sympathy – hardly the emotional bedrock therefore, upon which a man might deal with the vagaries of the employment market.

Eventually, with his father-in-law’s health failing, and a wife who wants to try again, Joe returns home to run the business, a wiser and more focussed man.

Blackman excels as the decidedly ambitious and manipulative Norah. Eminently more comfortable in the company of men, she’s the sort of person around whom other women bolt down the hatches on their marital life. Applying the maxim – stay close to one’s friends and even closer to one’s enemies, she’s dangerous in a way only other members of her own sex can recognise. In time, when the tele producer hasn’t materialised, she’ll lower her sights and ‘settle’ for companionship, financial security, and total unstinting, delusional devotion.


Honor Blackman - The Official Website


A useful news section with details of forthcoming television and personal appearances but otherwise, as essentially bland as most star authorised sites. She’s admitted herself that informationn technology has passed her by, so others are obviously maintaining/updating it for her. There’s no obvious criticism intended here – it’s simply that more insightful articles about her views on life, financial matters and the acting profession can be located elsewhere on the worldwide web.

The availability of non personalised, signed photos is an obvious financial move for many a celebrity inexplicably linked to the world of film and tv memorabilia, but perhaps especially so for a beleagured Equitable Life pension policyholder.

'The Sound of Music' Stage Musical (1981-82)