George Leech: Stuntman and actor best known for his work on the Bond films franchise

 

The resourceful stunt arranger and performer George Leech epitomised the phrase "unsung hero of the film business".

Alongside the usual falls and fights of his trade, Leech walked along the arm of the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio di Janeiro, fell from a cable car, and swam with sharks. He was particularly noted for his work on the James Bond franchise, which began with its inception in Dr No; he demonstrated remarkable durability and, in a minor way, established a dynasty of screen stunting.

Stern-visaged, with receding hair and slender in build compared to most stuntmen, Leech was among a generation who parlayed their military experiences during the Second World War into film action sequences, through an agency known as HEP (Howard, Evans and Powell). Another was Bob Simmons, stunt arranger for the Bond films.

George Leech was born in north London in 1921; his father worked in the London docks, and George was a small, pale child. To build him up, George's father and uncle gave him boxing lessons and he was soon a regular at a St Pancras boxing club. He won the ABA National Championships when he was 15 (at six and a half stone). After leaving school at 14, he joined the Navy in 1943 and won four fights as a welterweight. In 1946 he got his first job in the film industry, in Carol Reed's Odd Man Out (1947); his first stunt involved rolling down a flight of stone steps in place of James Mason.

When flim work was not forthcoming, Leech performed in the then popular "open-air aqua shows", once appearing with Johnny Weismuller at the Earls Court Aqua Show.

Leech was among a team of British stuntmen provided by HEP for Helen of Troy (1955), made in Rome by the Italian division of Warner Brothers, with the pioneering Hollywood stuntman Yakima Canutt as second-unit director. When rehearsing one stunt jump of around 15 feet, Leech landed badly due to a gap between two mattresses, and broke his foot. An Italian first-aid man promptly realigned his foot to its correct place and bound it tightly; despite being in bandages, he was soon back at work, on Port Afrique (1956), starring Pier Angeli.

His earliest work for television was Teddy Gang (1956), an hour-long drama about rebellious youth made for Lew Grade's company ITC, by the producer Harry Alan Towers, who used Leech again on two minor film thrillers, Coast of Skeletons and Mozambique (both 1964). Again for ITC, Leech lurked in the background in a rollneck jumper and dark glasses, only emerging to take part in punch-ups, in Man in a Suitcase and The Prisoner (both 1967).

After The Guns of Navarone (1961), Leech was recruited as Simmons' assistant for Dr No (1962), in which he also doubled Sean Connery in a pool fight, and he continued in that position for the next four films. His onscreen appearances included taking a fall from a Fort Knox balcony in Goldfinger (1964), and a minor, nautical henchman in Thunderball (1965).

When Simmons was unavailable, Leech was his ideal replacement as stunt arranger for On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), personally selecting a dozen stuntmen for the film. He later likened this task to "being in charge of a gang of unruly schoolboys." The production office once rang him to complain: "Please control your men. One is climbing the Eiger, another is skiing across a table while hotel guests are having breakfast and [George] Lazenby is shooting at animals on the Alps with a pistol and driving the insurance people and producers mad." To which Leech replied, "You can't keep a gang of virile men sitting on their arses waiting."

One of Leech's OHMSS stuntmen was Vic Armstrong, with whom he had previously worked on You Only Live Twice (1967). Armstrong would become one of the film world's most respected stuntmen, particularly for his work for Steven Spielberg; he also became Leech's son-in-law, marrying his daughter Wendy, who had successfully followed her father into the stunting profession. All three worked on Superman (1978), and later two granddaughters, Nina and Georgie, entered the family trade.

Simmons returned for Diamonds Are Forever (1971) and Leech remained on hand, doubling for the campy assassin Putter Smith as he was set on fire at the climax. He also contributed to The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and For Your Eyes Only (1981), as a Greek heavy; neither The Wild Geese (1978) nor North Sea Hijack (1979) were Bonds, but both starred Roger Moore.

Leech took charge of stunts for Philip Martin's Gangsters (BBC, 1975) a Play For Today that led to a series. He was also a beekeeper accidentally assaulted with a spiked mace by Peter Sellers in The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976). One of his last credits as stunt arranger was in Ireland, on The Fantasist (1986), part of the sparse filmography of Robin Hardy, director of The Wicker Man.

Leech recalled the experience of working alongside genuine, hungry, sharks during Thunderball on an ITV documentary, 30 Years of James Bond (1992). In retirement he kept fit – even at the beginning of 2012 he was still jogging – and was a guest at Bond-themed conventions.

George Daniel Leech, stunt arranger and performer: born London 6 December 1921; married 1952 Elizabeth Mary Hopkins (two daughters); died Cardiff 17 June 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Property
pets
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Sport
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk