Shaken and stirred
Richard Hammond talks to Vic Armstrong, the man many call the World’s greatest Stuntman, beside the Aston Martin Vanquish.

Fifty years. Twenty-three films. Six actors. Hundreds of stunts. And thousands of smashed, crashed and bashed cars. If you're a fan of the longest- running franchise in film history, James Bond, or the world's most watched television show, Top Gear, then you simply can't miss 50 Years of Bond Cars: A Top Gear Special, which screens on Foxtel and Nine to coincide with tomorrow's release of the latest Bond film, Skyfall.

In the one-hour special, Top Gear host Richard Hammond goes behind the wheel for a spin in 007's many cool cars, beginning with the original Aston Martin DB5, which is resurrected in Skyfall, to the DBS and the amphibious Lotus Esprit. He also gets the scoop on the death-defying stunts that helped the series become a $1.7 billion success story.

Along the way, Hammond chats with Bond men Roger Moore and Daniel Craig about their favourite Bond cars and gets the inside scoop on the stunts from producer Michael G. Wilson and director Guy Hamilton. And as far as stunts go - be it on Bond or any other film - nobody does it better than legendary stuntman Vic Armstrong, who has worked on seven 007 films and performed many of their most spectacular sequences.

"It's phenomenal - absolutely phenomenal," Armstrong says of Bond's 50th anniversary.

"I remember when I was just 17 working on my first Bond movie You Only Live Twice (1966) and being blown away by it. It was a huge deal to work on a Bond film, so to think it's still going strong 50-odd years later is amazing."

Revered as the greatest stuntman in Hollywood history, the strapping Brit has doubled for the likes of Sean Connery, Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan and is the man behind the stunts of Indiana Jones, Superman and Jack Ryan, among many others.

"Harrison Ford said that he was 'lucky enough to perform my dialogue', so that was nice of him," the gentle giant says from his home in England.

In the Top Gear special, Armstrong gives Hammond the secrets behind several of the incredible stunts that dot the 23 movies.

"We talk about my involvement with the Bond vehicles, such as the chase on the BMW motorcycle in The World is Not Enough, where we perform a chase through the streets of Saigon," says Armstrong, a former steeplechase jockey who got his start when a stuntman needed a horse and rider to jump fences and water on a film.

"In fact, my wife sat on the tank to double as Michelle Yeoh in that one. That was fun. And we talk about Die Another Day, where I drove the Aston Martin and Jaguar on the frozen lakes up in Alaska. It cost several million pounds to covert them to four-wheel drive so we had traction on the ice, but I think it made a sensational chase sequence."

Of course, it hasn't all been fast cars and faster women for the 66-year-old, who has had his fair share of broken bones over the years.

"The worst I've had is a broken shinbone, which happened in Morocco in the 1970s. I've got a plate and eight screws in it now. But I've broken an arm, a nose and collar bone and things. But I don't think I've had as many injuries as I would have had as a steeple chase jockey all my life.

"But it's not really the breaks that slow you down. It's the cartilage and tendons that go. They break down from all the stresses. But this business keeps you young, really."

True to form, the irreverent Top Gear Special sees Hammond attempt to build his own "Bond Car On A Budget" - a Top Gear Lotus Excel submarine based on the Lotus Esprit S1 submarine car used by Roger Moore in The Spy Who Loved Me.

Hammond is also heading to Sydney with his Top Gear co-hosts Jeremy Clarkson and James May in March for the Top Gear Festival. Sydney's Motorsport Park in Eastern Creek will be transformed into a petrol-head's heaven, with celebrity races and hot laps with The Stig.

The West Australian

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