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The Lord Lucan Mystery and its Bond connections

Sometimes you stumble on stories by accident and the following is one of these stories. It concerns a very mysterious case in British crime history that has never been fully solved until this day. What immediately got my attention was the fact, that the main character of this tale of murder and deception had apparently been screen tested for the role of James Bond. While digging for more substantial details, I uncovered not just this one Bond connection but four more. But let´s start at the beginning:

lord+lucanRichard John Bingham, the 7th Earl of Lucan was born on 18 December 1934 into an Anglo-Irish aristocratic family in Marylebone, London. In 1939 he and his sister Jane were evacuated from London to Wales during the Second World War. The following year, joined by their younger siblings, Sally and Hugh, the Lucan children travelled to Toronto, moving shortly thereafter to Mount Kisco, New York. They stayed for five years with multi-millionairess Marcia Brady Tucker; John was enrolled at The Harvey School and spent summer holidays away from his siblings at a summer camp in the Adirondack Mountains. After his return, Lord Lucan attended Eton before serving with the Coldstream Guards in West Germany from 1953 to 1955. 
After having been discharged from the army, Lord Lucan joined a London-based merchant bank, William Brandt’s Sons and Co, on an annual salary of £500. In the 1960´s Lucan became a regular gambler and an early member of John Aspinall’s Clermont gaming club, located in Berkeley Square. Although he often won at games of skill like bridge and backgammon, he also accumulated huge losses. On one occasion he lost £8,000, or about two thirds of the money he received annually from various family trusts. On another disastrous night at a casino he lost £10,000.
It must have been around that time, that Lucan regularly met James Bond creator Ian Fleming who was also among the various celebrity guests at the Clermont and equally had a soft spot for gambling. By 1962, ten Bond novels had already been published and Lord Lucan absolutely matched the description of the dashing gentleman spy. He certainly lived the James Bond lifestyle and even owned an Aston Martin which he loved to drive around the West Coast of the United States. But this was by far not the only connection between Fleming and Lucan.
When Fleming came up with the idea of James Bond, he actually lived in a cottage on the Nettlebed Estate near Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire. The cottage was later sold to the Lucan family in 1960 but a feud between the Fleming family and Victor Bingham, the cousin of Lord Lucan, erupted over a 5ft piece of land seperating it from the surrounding Nettlebed estate. Lord Lucan´s cousin lost in court and had accumulated a legal bill of around £120.000. The story made the news in 2005.



In 1963, Lord Lucan married Veronica Duncan who would become the Countess of Lucan in the process. But the marriage was not a happy one. Lucan´s daily routine didn´t leave much time for romance as spent much of his time at the exclusive Clermont club, gambling away the family money and spending huge sums for private yachts, planes and expensive lifestyle. In September 1966 he unsuccessfully screen tested for a part in Woman Times Sevenstarring Peter Sellers and Shirley MacLaine. Feeling that he wasn´t meant to be an actor, he turned down a later offer by legendary Bond producer Albert R. Broccoli to screen test for the role of James Bond. It is unclear at what exact time the screen test was offered to him, but it could have been around the time Broccoli was looking for a new actor to follow into Sean Connery´s footsteps for ‘ON HER MAJESTY´S SECRET SERVICE’ in 1969. I found two sources that claim, Ian Fleming had even personally recommended Lord Lucan to Broccoli. As Fleming died in August 1964, he must have done so between the first and third Bond film where he was occasionaly present on the film sets and often spoke to the Bond producers. It is no secret that Fleming wasn´t an avid fan of Sean Connery and would have loved someone else portraying Bond on screen. Maybe things would have turned out completely different had Lord Lucan taken the screen test – who knows.

Lord Lucan in a photo montage of George Lazenby´s famous pose in London (Montage by Mark Sohn -
Lord Lucan in a photo montage of George Lazenby´s famous pose in London (Montage by Mark Sohn –

At the time their first child Frances was born in 1964, the Lucan household was already beginning to drift onto a dangerous course. Lord Lucan was losing more money than ever before and his wife began to suffer from post-natal depression after the birth of the second child George in 1967. One year later, Lucan tried to have his wife admitted to a mental institution, arguing she was mentally ill. She refused. In 1970, she gave birth to their third child Camilla. The combined pressures of maintaining their finances, paying for Lucan’s gambling addiction and Veronica’s weakened mental condition took their toll on the marriage. Two weeks after a strained family Christmas in 1972, Lucan moved into a small property in Eaton Row.

Lady Lucan leaving the custodial hearing
Lady Lucan leaving the custodial hearing

Despite several attempts of Veronica to reconcile, Lord Lucan wanted a separation and custody for his children. Arguing that his wife would not be capable to look after the children, they were made wards of court and taken in by their father. The Countess began to fight and took the case to court where a hearing was scheduled for June 1973. In a very clever move, the Countess used the time until the hearing for a four day stay at the Priory Clinic in Roehampton to have her mental state examined. In court, the doctors gave testimony that there was no indication that she was mentally ill. Lucan’s case depended upon Veronica being unable to care for the children, but at the hearing, he was instead forced to defend his own behaviour toward her. The judge ruled that the children were to be returned to Veronica and that she would receive custody. It was the beginning of a bitter dispute between the seperated couple and Lord Lucan began spying on his wife in an attempt to regain custody. Losing the court case proved devastating for Lucan. It had cost him an estimated £20,000 and by late 1974 his financial position was dire. As he drank more heavily and started chain-smoking, his friends began to worry. In drunken conversations with some of them, Lucan discussed murdering his wife and how  killing his wife might save him from bankruptcy, how her body might be disposed of in the Solent and how he “would never be caught” – statements that were no empty promises on his part.

Brutally murdered: Nanny Sandra Rivett
Brutally murdered: Nanny Sandra Rivett

In the summer of 1974, the Countess of Lucan employed a new nanny for her children, 28 year old Sandra Rivett. The two women got along well together and Sandra always had her regular night off on Thursdays. On 7 November 1975 however, she was at home with Lady Lucan having taken the night off the day before. After putting the younger children to bed at about 8:55 pm, she asked Veronica if she would like a cup of tea, before heading downstairs to the basement kitchen to make one. As she entered the semi-lit room, she was bludgeoned to death with a piece of bandaged lead pipe. Her killer then placed her body into a canvas mailsack. Meanwhile, wondering what had delayed her nanny, Lady Lucan descended from the first floor to see what had happened. She called to Rivett from the top of the basement stairs and was herself attacked. As she screamed for her life, her attacker told her to “shut up”. Lady Lucan later claimed at that moment to have recognised her husband’s voice. The two apparently continued to fight; she bit his fingers, and when he threw her face down to the carpet, managed to turn around and squeeze his testicles, causing him to release his grip on her throat and give up the fight. When she asked where Rivett was, Lucan was at first evasive, but eventually admitted to having killed her. Terrified, Lady Lucan told him she could help him escape if only he would remain at the house for a few days, to allow her injuries to heal. Lucan walked upstairs and sent his daughter to bed, then went into one of the bedrooms. When Veronica entered, to lie on the bed, he told her to put towels down first to avoid staining the bedding. Lucan asked her if she had any barbiturates and went to the bathroom to get a wet towel, supposedly to clean Veronica’s face. Lady Lucan realised her husband would be unable to hear her from the bathroom, and made her escape, running outside to a nearby pub, the Plumbers Arms. As blood poured from her injuries, she cried: “Murder, murder! He has tried to kill me!”

Lady Lucans injuries a few days after
Lady Lucans injuries a few days after


Lucan called his mother between 10.30 and 11.00pm, asking her to collect his children from the house. He said that he had seen his wife struggling with an intruder through the kitchen window, entered, and scared the assailant away.  He then drove to Uckfield in East Sussex to the home of his friends, the Maxwell-Scotts. Susan Maxwell-Scott’s meeting with Lucan was his last confirmed sighting. Meanwhile police had entered the Lucans’ house. A blood-stained towel was found in Veronica’s first-floor bedroom. The area around the top of the basement staircase was heavily blood-stained. A blood-stained lead pipe lay on the floor. Pictures hanging from the staircase walls were askew and a metal banister rail was damaged. At the foot of the stairs, two cups and saucers lay in a pool of blood. Rivett’s arm protruded from the canvas sack, which lay in a slowly expanding pool of blood. The bulb had been removed from the kitchen light fitting, but there were no signs of a forced entry. After Veronica Lucan was interviewed at hospital, the investigating officers realised it was imperative that they speak to the Earl. Breaking into his flat, they found his wallet, driving licence, spectacles and passport – but no sign of Lucan himself. Since that night in 1974, he has never been seen again.

The Ford Corsair that Lucan had been seen driving and whose details had been circulated across the country was found on November 10 in Norman Road, Newhaven, about 16 miles (26 km) from Uckfield. In its boot was a piece of lead pipe covered in surgical tape, and a full bottle of vodka. The car was removed for forensic examination. 
The Ford Corsair in which Lord Lucan made his escape
The Ford Corsair in which Lord Lucan made his escape
Another interesting Bond connection can be found in the subsequent search for Lord Lucan: None other than Wing Commander Ken Wallis (1916-2013) was involved in the aerial search above Newhaven. Wallis had worked as Sean Connery’s stunt pilot in the 1967 James Bond film ‘YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE’, where he flew one of his WA-116s autogyro copters named Little Nellie. Fitted with infra-red cameras, one of his autogyros was able to take X-ray pictures from up to 2,000 feet above the Sussex Downs, which scientists hoped would enable them to spot clues to the disappearance of Lord Lucan.
Wing Commander Ken Wallis on May 17, 1975 during a search flight for the disappeared Lord Lucan
Wing Commander Ken Wallis on May 17, 1975 during a search flight for the disappeared Lord Lucan
At the inquest into the death of Sandra Rivett in June 1975, the jury reached the verdict of“Murder by Lord Lucan”. Lucan became the first member of the House of Lords to be named a murderer since 1760. Regarding the fate of Lord Lucan, Detective Chief Superintendent Roy Ranson initially claimed that Lucan had “done the honourable thing” and “fallen on his own sword”, a view publicly repeated by many of Lucan’s friends, including John Aspinall, who shortly before his death in 2000 said he believed the earl was guilty of Rivett’s murder, and that his body lay “250 feet under the Channel”. Veronica Lucan believes her husband killed himself “like the nobleman he was”. in 1999, Lord Lucan was officially pronounced dead although no death certificate could be issued due to the missing body.
 The case of Lord Lucan´s disappearance has baffled investigators and journalists for over 40 years now and various alleged sightings always sparked new controversy about the fact, that he could still be alive and living in hiding.

8177Q-bruuL._SY550_The second last Bond connection can be found with author John Pearson (84), who was Ian Fleming’s assistant at the Sunday Times in the 1950´s and went on to write the first biography of Fleming, The Life of Ian Fleming, published in 1966. In 1973, he also wrote James Bond: The Authorized Biography of 007, a first-person biography of the fictional agent. After extensive research into the mysterious Lucan case and the illustrious gamblers at the Clermont Club, Pearson wrote The Gamblers, an account of the group of gamblers who made up what was known as the Clermont Set, including John Aspinall, James Goldsmith and Lord Lucan. The book was published in 2005.

The final Bond connection was made when Warner Bros. purchased the film rights to the book in 2006. The Gamblers was made into a two-part TV drama, Lucan, starring Rory Kinnear and Christopher Eccleston and was broadcast on ITV1 in December 2013. Rory Kinnear is of course known to Bond Fans for playing MI6 Chief of Staff Bill Tanner.

Overall, the connections between the Lord Lucan case and the Bond world are like a gripping thriller, a spiderweb of ties and loose ends.

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