It is June/July time, perfect to recall Stephen Boyd (4 July 1931 - 2 June 1977). His big break came with The Man Who Never Was and here are extracts from two letters I received describing his screen test for the role as an Iris spy working for the Germans.
"1955. Those were the great days of Sir Alexander Korda and London Films. I was under contract first as an assistant director, then as a very junior Director. Among my duties was shooting tests, since nobody else would do them. The other contract directors, Carol Reed, David Lean, Anthony Kimmins and Leslie Arliss considered themselves as much too grand. I always moaned and complained that they interfered with the scripts I was working on only to be brought sharply to heel by Korda. “A young man like you should take every opportunity to stand behind the camera.” How right he was. Among the tests I conducted were Diane Cilento and Kenneth More. W J O’Brien at the time Casting Director covered performances in plays that were brought to his attention. If the actor or actress caught his attention, with Korda’s approval they were then tested with a view to being put under long-term contract.
If I remember rightly, Stephen had appeared with success in a play at Hampstead and so we met at a studio one morning to shoot a test. Again, if memory serves me right, it was to be a monologue from the same play. I remember Stephen as a tall, shy young Irishman with a brogue you could cut with a knife and a pockmarked complexion which make-up soon covered. His natural nervousness was covered by intensely good manners. All I could do was to try and stage the scene to show him off to his best advantage and relax his performance, which I remember was excellent – strong, intense but still lacking craft and experience. I occasionally ran into Stephen in the years that followed, always gentle and courteous, and I watched with pleasure his stature grow on the screen."
Hamilton showed the test to his boss, Dennis Van Thal, who recalled:
DENNIS VAN THAL
"At the time Sir Alexander Korda was unwell. When I saw the film test I was greatly impressed but had to make a quick decision because another actor was being chosen for the role I wanted Stephen to play in “The Man Who Never Was”. Whilst I had a fairly free hand I was not permitted to sign long-term contracts.
However I was so certain about Stephen that I gave him a contract signed by myself and another director. When Korda returned to the office I said there was a test he must see. After the showing he said: “Dennis, you are right. Put him under contract.” I told him I already had and his reply is not for public knowledge. He was of course secretly delighted. That was the beginning. By then the other actor had been engaged but we paid him a sum of money “in lieu” and “The Man Who Never Was” was Stephen’s first starring role."
*Guy Hamilton went on to carve an impressive directing CV including the 007 movies Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die and The Man With the Golden Gun