The “priceless” recording of ‘Requiem for a Heavyweight’, a one-off BBC drama, was found gathering dust in a London attic.
Aired in 1957, it saw a young Connery in the lead role of washed-up boxer Malcolm “Mountain” McClintock and introduced the nation to the actor’s trademark Scottish brogue.
Like all TV shows in the 1950s, the 75-minute programme was not officially recorded but broadcast live from a studio.
But director Alvin Rakoff recognised Connery’s talent and “thought it prudent, for posterity’s sake” to capture an audio recording of the show for his own private collection.
It was stowed under old blankets in his loft for safekeeping but was “soon forgotten” as his burgeoning Hollywood career took off.
The Emmy Award-winning director, now 87, finally dug out the vintage reel-to-reel tape on Monday after inadvertently reminding himself of its existence during a media interview – about Connery’s accent – last week.
Until now, no-one – including Connery, now 83, – knew that a copy existed.
Canadian-born Rakoff, whose movies have featured cinematic icons like Laurence Olivier, Donald Pleasence, Peter Sellers, Kenneth More and Alan Bates, said: “It was my habit in those days to take audio recordings of some of my better work. It was the only way of capturing it given that everything went out live.
“Sean was tall and strikingly handsome – he was an obvious star in the making – so I decided to take a copy for posterity, should my inkling come true. An international legion of 007 fans will be pleased it did.”
Requiem for a Heavyweight was originally a teleplay that was later adapted for British and American TV. It was also made into a feature film starring Quinn, Jackie Gleason and Mickey Rooney.
The British version was screened on March 31 1957 in the BBC’s Sunday Night Theatre anthology, and starred Warren Mitchell and Michael Caine.
Connery, who went on to play James Bond five years later, was cast as the lead.
But the BBC only began recording programmes in the ’60s. Until then, all shows were live. It means thousands of programmes, including Requiem for a Heavyweight, will never be seen again.
Luckily Rakoff, who launched Connery’s career with earlier walk-on parts, set-up a line feed and captured the show as audio.
He remembered the reels’ existence after discussing Connery’s accent in an interview, and “dug them out” after nearly six decades “gathering grime”.
Rakoff, who moved to the UK from Canada to work for the BBC, has just completed his latest work, ‘The Seven Einsteins’ – a novel set for big-screen adaptation.
He said: “It is remarkable that the tapes survived, unharmed, for so long. It’s also remarkable that I remembered them – they could easily have been left in the attic for another 60 years.”
Although no actual footage of Requiem for a Heavyweight exists, experts say the recording is a “major coup” for the British TV and film industry.
Chris Perry of The Kaleidoscope Archive, the classic TV and film organisation which has taken the reels for digitisation, said: “It goes without saying that this audio, featuring Sean Connery’s first on-screen lead performance, is priceless.
“It’s a snapshot of a golden era of television when programmes were broadcast live to an expectant nation.”