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Beachy Head Cliffs circa 1999

The ‘From Eastbourne With Love’ documentary also features an exclusive report on the town’s ‘starring’ role in Timothy Dalton’s debut 007 movie...

As grand a place as Eastbourne may be, it is not the first location you would associate with the glamorous world of the James Bond movies. Nevertheless, in December 1986 when Eon Production’s 2nd unit film crew required a location to stand-in for Gibraltar, they headed for the south-coast and the cliffs at Beachy Head.

The pre-credit sequence of ‘The Living Daylights’ required Bond to escape from an airborne(!) Land Rover, by parachute. The highly skilled driving stunts which lead up the scene had already been filmed on ‘The Rock’ in September. The 2nd unit’s task at Beachy Head was to film James Bond’s midair exit and the vehicle’s explosive destruction.

Why not film the stunt on Gibraltar? Daryl Burchmore & Mark Dawson found out the answer when they met up with Nick Finalyson, visual special effects supervisor in June 2000. Nick was responsible for sending the Land Rovers over the cliff and he spoke about this scene and his other Bond movie work at the Battle Marvellium.

One of the most distinctive features of ‘The Rock of Gibraltar’ is the giant corrugated steel rain catcher, located on the hill side above the port. It’s clearly visible in ‘The Living Daylights’ opening scenes, during the spectacular free fall by the trio of ‘00 agents’. It’s location prevented the stunt taking place on Gibraltar as any debris from the Land Rovers would have damaged the rain catcher

To accomplish this spectacular scene, the crew bought with them four fibreglass Land Rover mockups to catapult from the top of the 500 feet tall cliffs. These props were identical to their real-life counterparts, down to the nuts on the fake wheels.

The vehicles were also required to be as light as possible, in order that they could be filled with explosive, and still ‘fly’ far out to sea! Each morning, at around 6.00 am, the FX crew had the dangerous task of loading the explosive charges into the back of the car.

As Timothy Dalton was considered too precious a commodity to be used on the stunt, a remote controlled dummy would stand in for 007!

Nick Finlayson, mid-lecture!
'They told me that I was ideal for Roger Moore's old job...'

The Gibraltar scenes had been filmed against the deep blue skies of the Mediterranean. While Eastbourne has for years basked under the title of ‘the sun trap of the south’, in winter the climate is considerably more extreme than that of the Med.

And as the crew found out, Beachy Head in December can be a particularly inhospitable location! For the first few days after their arrival, the film makers were ‘confined’ to the shelter offered by the local pub as high winds and driving rain prevented filming.

The crew needed the sun to shine, but also for the tide to be in to provide  an ‘ocean’ back drop to the action. With two tides each day, there was just a half hour window of opportunity to fire the Land Rover. A  number of cameras were deployed around the cliff top to capture the action, one as far away as 1/4 of a mile!

Preparing No 1.

When the storms finally relented, the technicians prepared the first Land Rover for the cameras. The vehicle was mounted on a ramp and attached to a giant air compressor.  A crowd of onlookers had gathered in anticipation of witnessing some movie magic.

With the cameras rolling, the compressor unleashed it’s cargo into the skies above the English Channel... Unfortunately not far enough into the cameras’ vista for that perfect take. It was back to the drawing board!

Over the next few days, two more of the prop vehicles were jettisoned to a fiery doom but with less than successful results. The first shot was ruined when over eager spectators rushed to the cliff edge to view the midair explosion, only to end up in the camera’s frame. During the second attempt, the dummy literally lost it’s head on exiting the burning motor (007 would never have lost his composure in such a way!).

'This is the last time I'm doing this...!'

It was the fourth and final attempt that was to prove the most satisfactory. The Land Rover ‘flew’ majestically through the frame; the dummy exited on cue and the pyrotechnics fired first time.

The unit were on location atop Beachy Head for twelve days to capture a scene which lasts only seconds in the finished movie .

And All Because The Lady Loves Milk Tray!

The greatest adventure, however, came in the rescue of three members of the film crew from the rough seas below. These men, whose job it was to retrieve the dummy and ‘chute after it had landed in the sea, were in a small boat which became trapped at the base of the cliffs. They were rescued by the Eastbourne Lifeboat.

The Lifeboat crew were recognized for their bravery at an awards ceremony held at the Curzon cinema, in 1987. They were presented with certificates by Bond legend Desmond Llewelyn prior to a screening of, appropriately, ‘The Living Daylights’.

During Nick Finalyson’s talk at Battle, he commented that in order to obtain permission from Eastbourne Borough Council to film at Beachy Head, the film makers had to guarantee they would pick up all the debris from the base of the cliffs. To this end, a giant crane was brought in to remove the wrecks. Nick was very proud of the fact that he believed the crew had not only removed their own wreckage from the beach, but also a number of stolen vehicles which had been dumped over the cliff edge. However, Daryl and Mark managed to update the FX wiz on the situation....

The burnt out Land Rovers had remained at the base of the cliffs, out of reach of the tides, for seven months! It was from here that Daryl Burchmore retrieved the fibreglass wheel which was the talking point of the ‘From Eastbourne With Love’ exhibition and which remained in his collection until the Christie’s auction in 1998.

The wrecks, which  had become a sightseeing attraction in themselves were eventually towed out to sea by the Royal Navy and controversially dumped in a local fishing ground!!

Land Rovers Aren't Forever!
Cinema Standee From The Curzon

Find out more about the Land Rover stunt at Beachy Head and see the exclusive onset video scenes in the ‘From Eastbourne With Love’ documentary.

Click Here!