ABC had acquired the American broadcast rights to the James Bond 007 films in the early 1970s, and they started out with Goldfinger which aired for the first time in 1972. The ABC Television version of Goldfinger was shown edited for sex and violence, with the gunbarrel sequence and Oddjob's death (by electrocution) among the scenes left on the studios' cutting room floor. From Russia With Love followed in 1974, then Thunderball and Dr. No, all with similar cuts. Maurice Binder, who created many of the famous title sequences showing silhouettes of scantily clad women, was so horrified by the butchering of his work for television - not just the censorship but also the Pan and Scan conversions - that he would later start filming both theatrical and television versions of his opening titles.
In 1975 ABC started to become more bold in it's edits: Diamonds Are Forever was edited to remove any hint of the homosexual nature of the relationship between Mr. Wint and Mr Kidd and later that same year, You Only Live Twice was shown with the beginning of the movie confusingly and needlessly re-edited. The film began, as it should, with the space capsule but eighteen seconds into the scene it cuts to Bond already dead in his bed and then the credits begin to roll! Here is a short capture from the 1979 ABC Broadcast of You Only Live Twice:
However, all of this pales in comparison to the abomination that was the "ABC cut" of On Her Majesty's Secret Service. OHMSS was first broadcast on American television in February 1976. By then they had shown all of the Sean Connery James Bond films, and Live And Let Die would not be shown until the fall of 1976, so all that left was On Her Majesty's Secret Service, which starred that other chap that nobody had heard of again since he left the role. The ABC television promos for On Her Majesty's Secret Service did not mention George Lazenby at all, instead they described the movie as starring "Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas":
"Although this James Bond film has been edited for television, parents may consider it unsuitable for some viewers and discretion is advised. Tonight! 007 is back in action. With Dianna Rigg and Telly Savalas... On Her Majesty's Secret Service"
February is one of the "sweeps" months for American TV in which Nielsen collects data about which channels are being watched most, and which shows are currently winning the ratings war. This helps the advertisers decide when and where they should spend their money. In February 1976, ABC was ahead of rivals CBS and NBC for the first time in its history, thanks in part to a mini series called Rich Man, Poor Man , starring Peter Strauss and Nick Nolte. It was decided that the network TV premiere of a James Bond film would not only cement their ratings victory, but with all the skiing and Bobsledding in the movie, On Her Majesty's Secret Service could be used help promote the winter Olympics.
The problem the network faced was how to squeeze a 140 minute movie into a two hour time slot along with a little over 30 minutes of commercials. The solution they hit upon was to split the movie into two 90 minute parts. This had the advantage of nailing down not one but two Monday nights in February, a time slot usually dominated by CBS with their sitcom lineup of Rhoda and All In The Family . On Monday, February 16th On Her Majesty's Secret Service part one premiered at 8:30pm and was followed at 10pm by the final episode of Rich Man, Poor Man. Part two was shown in the same time slot the following week.
I doubt anybody will admit responsibility for the decision to re-edit the beginning of the movie, but their reasoning could have been a fear that the relatively slow pace of the first half of the film might not be enough to keep the viewers tuned to ABC and if they didn't watch all of the first part, they would not be back for the second the following week. While I don't think their re-edit did anything to improve the film, you have to respect the effort that went into it - the ABC version features custom optical effects at the new points of transition, and the infamous narration required to explain the new flashback heavy first part had to be written, performed (by Alexander Scourby, who had previously narrated The Incredible World of James Bond), recorded and mixed with the original soundtrack, which in 1976 was not something just anybody could do at home on their PC the way we could today. This implies that it must have had the blessing of senior ABC executives as the project would have come with considerable expense.
Regardless of who's to blame, there is no denying that the first half of the ABC cut was not an accurate representation of the film as it appeared in cinemas in 1969, and that it would leave many first time viewers believing On Her Majesty's Secret Service was a truly awful film for many years to come. In 1980, this same cut of the film would air on ABC again, though this time shown in a single night. It wasn't until several years later that ABC finally created a new edit of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, which - although it contained minor cuts for sex, language and violence - thankfully no longer re-arranged the scenes and therefore needed no narration.
The 1976 ABC version of On Her Majesty's Secret Service begins with 007's midnight ski-escape from Piz Gloria and was accompanied by a disembodied voice - claiming to be that of James Bond, agent 007, On Her Majesty's Secret Service - explaining what he was doing 'midnight shushing' down a mountain in the Swiss Alps with several heavily armed 'orange-suited bully boys' in hot pursuit. Although the narrator, Scourby, was born in New York his smooth modulated voice could pass for British which probably helped him get the assignment. I don't know if George Lazenby was even considered for the job of narrator, but nothing that I have read suggests that he was approached for the project.
Bond, James Bond here. On Her Majesty's Secret Service. The slope might be rated as excellent if it weren't so crowded. Those gentlemen in orange represent Spectre, headed by my arch enemy Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Midnight shushing down one of the major Swiss alps is not my favorite sport, but tonight its important that I contact M, my chief in London. You see I've just learned that Herr Blofeld has a new plan to dominate the world. Waiting to head me off in town are more of Blofeld's orange-suited bully boys. With his aide-de-camp, a formidable lady known as Fraulein Bunt.
At the ice rink. Bond with his coat up around his ears:
Right now Her Majesty's Secret Service needs help. And suddenly it appears in the lovely form of the last person I want to involve in this rather desperate situation. The Contessa Teresa DeVicenzo. Tracy as she prefers to be called.
This is followed by the original pre-credit sequence with the fight on the beach and "this never happened to the other fella."
Tracy seems to have a knack for turning up in my life under odd circumstances. And always with her little red sports car. It was in the south of France that we met. I was assigned to Operation Bedlam, looking for Blofeld and his international crime cartel Spectre. But his trail was cold and the organization was underground. Relaxation was called for. And what better manner than following a beautiful woman in a speeding car.
The initial chase in Tracy's cougar:
Blofeld's scheme to dominate the world might well become a reality if Fraulein Bunt can catch us. Right now its all up to Tracy and the red car that I was learning to love all most as much as I did her. When Tracy sets her mind on going somewhere, you can make bet she'll be there ahead of you. She proved it when I arrived at the hotel following our brief but one-sided introduction on the beach. There was that little red car, waiting for me.
Then back to the ice race:
As you can see my first two days with Tracy were confusing but certainly not dull I couldn't know then that the invitation from her 3 friends would lead to our unannounced entry in this icy car race.
Arriving at Draco's Warehouse:
I wondered how James Bond was going to get out when my captors and I arrived at our destination..a rather ominous looking construction warehouse.
(That's right, 'Bond' is talking about himself in the third person.)
Arriving for Draco's Birthday Party:
I don't know about her car, but I do know that the Contessa Teresa De Vicenzo can and will stand up to anything...including her father. Draco's lovely daughter arrived at his birthday party as arranged. But Tracy had other ideas about his plans concerning herself and one James Bond.
During the Romantic interlude:
In that all-too-brief period I realized that Tracy might well be the one woman to tame James Bond. Now my thoughts were on how to keep us both alive.
With Tracy a part of this life-or-death race I was almost sorry that Draco and his underworld sources had given me the Swiss connection with Blofeld. But at the time I was eager to follow it up. I had to finish my business with Herr Blofeld and Spectre...then there would be time for Tracy.
Obviously we can't show you the whole movie, but to give you some idea of what it was like here are the first 10 minutes from an original 1976 betamax recording from the archives of Ray Glasser
Download this file (Right click the link and choose 'Save Target As...')
In December 2005, a James Bond fan known only as "Blofeld's cat" put together a widescreen shot-for-shot recreation of the original 2 part 1976 ABC broadcast, complete with part two promo and part one recap. For reference he (or she) used a VHS copy of an ancient original Betamax recording as a visual and aural reference. The video and principal audio was sourced from the Pal MGM DVD, while the ABC narration was lifted from the aforementioned videotape and mixed with the DVD audio. High resolution sleeve art was also created for the project by the same artistic genius responsible for the DVDs of the 'banned' Criterion Bond laserdiscs.
Here is the same 10 minutes from part one of the recreation by Blofeld's Cat:
Download this file (Right click the link and choose 'Save Target As...')
You can see how closely the project recreates the original broadcast. Sadly, due to copyright restrictions, we are unable to provide you with a link to download the full remastered version of the ABC Cut but here are some of the sources we used while researching this post: