Star Wars fans get a special day every year. "May the 4th be with you," they utter to their fellow disciples. For devotees of 007, however, it's not quite that simple.
Ian Fleming's veteran spy has been a cinema star since way back in 1962, has only appeared on screen twice in the past decade, and . . . wait a minute . . . 50 years? That's got to be an excuse for a Thunderball of a knees-up.
Sure enough, today has been declared worldwide James Bond Day, a golden anniversary celebration for British cinema's 24 carat success story.
Half the world's population has seen a James Bond movie. The films have grossed an inflation-adjusted £7.7 billion at the worldwide box office, spawned myriad imitators, and been credited with reinventing the world of cinematic action adventure. Even the Queen was shaken and stirred enough to join 007 on screen for the highlight of the Olympics opening ceremony.
It's exactly 50 years ago today since the first Bond film Doctor No, got its world premiere. Unsure whether audience brought up on a diet of light-hearted Cary Grant thrillers would take to this sexist, ruthless British agent, it was initially only shown in a few cinemas.
How times change. The 23rd official Bond film, Skyfall, arrives on October 26 on a frenzied wave of expectation, having assembled a mouthwatering collection of acting talent. Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw and Albert Finney join the usual bevy of beautiful femmes fatales alongside Daniel Craig in what fans reckon has the makings of an all-time classic.
Everyone has their favourite 007; and it's usually the person you saw in the role first. For me, the original, Sean Connery, remains the best. That's probably because the first film I remember watching was Goldfinger, a glossy, glitzy, audacious travelogue unlike anything I'd ever seen before, sweeping our hero from Miami Beach, through the Swiss Alps, to a climactic battle at Fort Knox . . . helped by that amazing, gadget-laden Aston Martin DB5 which sold a zillion Corgi die-cast models.
Ask a die-hard Bond fan for their favourite film, however, and you may be surprised at the answer. George Lazenby was unfairly crucified for his one-time appearance in the tuxedo, because despite his acting limitations, On Her Majesty's Secret Service is magnificent. More powerful, more visceral, and boasting the best John Barry soundtrack of the series, it was voted Shropshire’s favourite in our online poll last week. A welcome, pleasant surprise.
For many, of course, Roger Moore is the saint among spies. His 007, perfect for the 1970s, was a lighter, self-deprecating joker. He would rather smoke a cigar and let the stuntmen do the hard miles than get his fingernails dirty, but he played to his strengths, which included reminding everyone that he was very definitely not trying to be Connery.
After a creaking, 58-year-old Moore signed off in A View To A Kill (having hung on for a film or two too long), Timothy Dalton became possibly the right Bond at the wrong time. His quest to take 007 back to the darker, more brutal killing machine from the pages of Fleming's books was diluted by the political correctness of the 1980s. His swansong, Licence To Kill, then suffered from being elevated to a 15 certificate, but remains one of the most atmospheric entries of the series.
A complex legal dispute over the rights to the 007 franchise followed, and six long years would pass until Bond hit screen again in the form of Pierce Brosnan. A contract dispute with the producers of Remington Steele had prevented him taking the role ahead of Dalton, and when his chance finally came in Goldeneye, he had to prove 007 was still relevant in the post-Cold War era, and could connect with a new audience.
Blending elements of Connery's physicality with Moore's light quips, he charmed his way into our hearts. His Bond was never better than in the first 90 minutes of Tomorrow Never Dies, hunting down barmy media mogul Jonathan Pryce.
Which brings us to Daniel Craig. It's fair to say 'blonde Bond' was not universally popular when he was unveiled as Brosnan's successor. Craig's a terrific actor, and his brooding physicality (not to mention those sky blue trunks) made Casino Royale a gigantic success, taking the agent back to his roots without an invisible car in sight.
But his last film, Quantum of Solace, was a perplexing mess, edited too rapidly and stripping out two of the most important elements of Bond's longevity - wry humour, and the chance to luxuriate in beautiful locations.
The jury, then, is still slightly out on Mr Craig. Connery and Moore's third 007 films - Goldfinger and The Spy Who Loved Me - remain their most loved and arguably their best, however, so there are high hopes for Skyfall.
The release of the movie isn't the only highlight for Bond fans this month, though; a new feature documentary is also coming to cinemas.
Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007 focuses on three men with a shared dream – Bond producers Albert R Broccoli, Harry Saltzman and author Ian Fleming.
With unprecedented access both to the key players involved and to the Bond family's extensive archive, this is the first time the inside story of the franchise has ever been told on screen in this way.
Director Stevan Riley follows a story that begins with a groundbreaking spy thriller and continues six Bond actors and five decades later. While Bond was saving the world from chaos and catastrophe on screen, it promises to draws back the curtain to reveal the battles, threats and real stakes unfolding behind the camera which, on more than one occasion, threatened to derail the 007 cinema legacy.
Shropshire has its own claims to 007 fame, of course. Current Bond star Daniel Craig is a periodical visitor to the county, dropping in to visit his father Tim who lives near Oswestry. And his predecessor, Pierce Brosnan, has Telford connections through his cousin Ann O'Callaghan, who has lived in Brookside for many years.
So it's 50 years and counting for the evergreen Mr Bond. Who would bet against The Man With the Golden Anniversary still going strong in another half a century, with six or seven more iconic actors added to the amazing legacy?
By Carl Jones