Childhood & Early Life
Honor Blackman was born on August 22, 1925, in Plaistow, London, to Edith Eliza and Frederick Blackman. She grew up with three siblings. She was closest to her brother Ken. Even though Ken was 17 months older than her, Blackman protected him from bullies at school.
Blackman had a strict upbringing, mostly regulated by her father, who was a civil servant. Her mother was a timid housewife. Blackman once revealed in an interview to ‘The Guardian’ that although her father had been tough on her, he had been her biggest support system.
As a child, Blackman always wanted to impress her father with her activities. On her 16th birthday, when her father asked her to choose between a bicycle and elocution classes, knowing what her father’s expectations were, Blackman chose the latter. Little did she know that those lessons would herald a life she had never imagined.
Blackman completed her primary education from ‘North Ealing Primary School.’ She was an athletic child and the games captain at ‘Ealing County Grammar School for Girls.’ The teacher who oversaw the elocution classes in her school suggested recitation and reading for Blackman to get rid of her cockney accent. These lessons revealed a talent in her that Blackman was not aware of earlier. Upon her teacher’s insistence, Blackman joined the ‘Guildhall School of Music and Drama.’
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After completing 2 years at the drama school, Blackman auditioned for a ‘West End’ play titled ‘The Guinea Pig’ as an understudy. However, fate gave her the chance to perform on stage when the lead fell ill. She did two more ‘West End’ plays before venturing into movies.
She was 18 when John Boulting interviewed her for ‘Fame Is the Spur.’ Though her interview was not satisfactory, she did win a small part in the film. She signed a 2-year contract with ‘The Rank Organisation,’ following her debut. She was seen a number of movies in the late 1940s, namely, ‘Quartet’ (1948), ‘A Boy, A Girl, and A Bike’ (1949), ‘Diamond City’ (1949), and ‘So Long at the Fair’ (1950).
Blackman struggled with depression and loss of confidence after her first marriage ended in a divorce. She described this phase of her life as a “private hell.” However, she was always a fighter. After a gap of almost 8 years, Blackman resurfaced as ‘Mrs. Lucas’ in ‘A Night to Remember’ in 1958 and as ‘Leslie Cartland’ in ‘The Square Peg’ in 1959.
In 1959, Blackman earned a role in the first-ever hour-long TV series, ‘Probation Officer.’ She series featured her as ‘Irish Cope.’ She began to appear in more series on TV, such as ‘The Four Just Men,’ ‘Danger Man,’ and ‘The Saint.’
In 1962, the ‘ITV’ crime drama series ‘The Avengers’ was losing one of its two leading men. Producer Leonard White and director Sydney Newman were frantically looking for someone to replace Ian Hendry. In the 1960s, it was unthinkable to cast a woman in an action-based role.
The idea of a woman replacing a male lead in ‘The Avengers’ was faced with a lot of opposition. However, White and Newman were determined to cast her. There was a minor disagreement between the two men on whether or not they should cast Blackman. However, the disagreement was short-lived.
Blackman’s character in the series, ‘Mrs. Catherine Gale’ (or ‘Cathy Gale’), was primarily inspired by a Kenyan mother who had survived the slaughter of her family with a gun in one hand and her infant in the other. Certain characteristics of two more women, Margaret Bourke-White, the lead photographer of the magazine ‘Life,’ and anthropologist Margaret Mead, were added to ‘Gale’s character.
Blackman went through a process of gradual development before becoming TV’s first leading lady to kick, shoot, and punch villainous characters. She was also the first female character fashioned in leather pants and boots. The reaction she received after coming on air was as wild as ‘Cathy Gale’ herself.
Balckman’s contract with the show expired on March 21, 1964. However, a few months before the crucial date, Blackman got her big break on the silver screen, as ‘Pussy Galore’ in the ‘James Bond’ movie ‘Goldfinger,’ alongside Sir Sean Connery.
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Her success in ‘Goldfinger,’ however, did not translate into better films. Blackman returned to the stage during this phase and had a successful 2-year run on ‘Broadway’ with ‘Wait until Dark’ (1966–1968). She appeared in ‘Mr. & Mrs.’ in 1968. She went on an Australian tour of ‘Move Over, Mrs Markham’ in the late 1970s. In 1979, she starred in ‘Night and Day’ at the ‘Perth Playhouse.’
During the 1980s and the 1990s, she appeared on stage in ‘The Sound of Music’ (1981) in London and ‘Nunsense’ (1987) at ‘Fortune Theatre’ in London. She also toured with the team of ‘My Fair Lady’ (2005–2006).
In 1986, Blackman returned to TV with ‘Doctor Who.’ Between 1990 and 1996, she was part of the British sitcom ‘The Upper Hand,’ an adaptation of the American sitcom ‘Who’s The Boss?’ She joined the cast of the British soap opera ‘Coronation Street’ for a brief period of time in 2004.
She contributed to the soundtrack of the series ‘Loose Women’ and also performed on ‘The ITV Chart Show’ and ‘Top of the Pops.’
Blackman’s family could not afford to send her to drama school. Following in her father’s footsteps, Blackman initially joined the civil service. She worked as a clerk during the day, attending acting classes during lunchtime and in the evenings.
At 38, Blackman was the oldest of all “Bond girls,” even older than ‘Bond’ himself.
Blackman released a recording, ‘Kinky Boots,’ with co-star Patrick Macnee in 1964, which attained the fifth spot on the charts when it resurfaced in 1990.