Nikki van der Zyl, actress who became the voice of numerous Bond girls – obituary

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Nikki van der Zyl in 2013 - Jörg Carstensen/Avalon
Nikki van der Zyl in 2013 - Jörg Carstensen/Avalon

Nikki van der Zyl, who has died aged 85, was the unseen and uncredited star of James Bond films from Dr No to Moonraker, as the voice-over artist providing the sultry tones for romantic interests such as Ursula Andress and Shirley Eaton.

A talented actress who retrained as a barrister then worked at the Commons, she provided the Bond franchise with voice-overs for almost two decades – also dubbing Raquel Welch’s grunts in One Million Years BC (1966).

The Berlin-born daughter of a rabbi who escaped with his family to Britain, Nikki van der Zyl was expected to make foreign actresses more comprehensible to American audiences – starting with the Swiss-German Ursula Andress’s explosion on to the screen as Honey Ryder in Dr No (1962).

Cubby Broccoli, progenitor of the Bond franchise, once said its formula was to have “girl No 1” as pro-Bond, only to be “bumped off by the enemy, preferably in Bond’s arms”. Girl No 2 had to work for the enemy, then be bowled over by Bond’s “sheer sexual magnetism”. Girl No 3 must not allow 007 “any lecherous liberties until the very end of the story. We keep that for the fade-out.”

Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder in Dr No, voiced by Nikki van der Zyl - AF Archive/Alamy
Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder in Dr No, voiced by Nikki van der Zyl - AF Archive/Alamy

Nikki van der Zyl voiced all three. Almost the only exceptions were Lois Maxwell’s Moneypenny, Honor Blackman’s Pussy Galore and Diana Rigg’s Countess Tracey de Vicenzo.

Nikki van der Zyl was relatively new to voice-over work when she was asked to dub for Dr No. “I was the first girl ever to speak in a Bond film,” she would recall with pride. But her input would remain largely unsung, and when Ursula Andress won a Golden Globe, Nikki wondered: “Why not me?”

In 1964 she worked as a dialogue coach with Gert Frobe, whose English was limited, in the title role for Goldfinger. But it was her seductive voice-over for Shirley Eaton’s Jill Masterson (an early casualty in that film) that made the impact.

During the making of the first Bond films, Sean Connery became a good friend. “Sean and I really got on,” she recalled. “I think he was the best Bond.”

She revoiced not only Connery’s (and later Roger Moore’s) romantic interests. For Dr No she dubbed almost every female voice, though not the distinctive tones of Moneypenny, receiving the princely fee of £150. In her last Bond film, Moonraker (1979), she revoiced several characters.

In between, she voiced over Eunice Gayson, whose accent was considered too upper-class (Dr No and From Russia with Love), Claudine Auger (Thunderball), Mie Hama (You Only Live Twice), Jane Seymour (partly) (Live and Let Die), and Françoise Therry (The Man with the Golden Gun).

She dubbed Ursula Andress again in She, The Blue Max and the spoof Casino Royale, and revoiced movie appearances by Shirley Anne Field, Claudia Cardinale, Anita Ekberg, Sue Lloyd, Monica Vitti, Suzy Kendall, Jacqui Chan, Jenny Hanley and Lulu.

Nikki van der Zyl was once banned from an anniversary party for Goldfinger lest her presence upset Shirley Eaton. When she protested, another invitation was withdrawn – from a Bond convention marking 50 years of the franchise. She was told: “There have always been sensitivities with actors in the series who were dubbed.”

Shirley Eaton as Jill Masterson, voiced by Nikki van der Zyl, with Sean Connery in Goldfinger - Masheter Movie Archive/Alamy 
Shirley Eaton as Jill Masterson, voiced by Nikki van der Zyl, with Sean Connery in Goldfinger - Masheter Movie Archive/Alamy

In 2013 she published a memoir, For Your Ears Only. Roger Moore contributed a preface, only for his office to pull it at the last minute, and when it went on sale other movie interests went to court to force its withdrawal. It was published in German, and today is freely available.

Germany had a soft spot for her. In 2013 the Museum Pankow staged an exhibition highlighting her life from her Berlin childhood to her work at Westminster. And in 2014 she was a special guest at a 50th-anniversary screening of Goldfinger, being awarded honorary membership of the James Bond Club Deutschland.

She was born Monica van der Zyl on April 27 1935, the daughter of Dr Werner van de Zyl and his wife Anneliese. Early in 1939 the family fled to England.

The young Nikki dubbed a German children’s film into English, and on leaving school trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama. She appeared in several West End plays before joining the Brian Rix Company at the Whitehall Theatre.

Nikki van der Zyl gave up the stage in the late 1960s to become a barrister after representing herself in the High Court to divorce her first husband.

She worked as a Commons assistant to the Conservative politician David Mellor, then was in turn the researcher for Southern Television’s political editor Brian Shallcross, and a Lobby correspondent. Her book of poetical biographies of MPs earned her the title “Poetess Laureate of the Press Gallery”.

In 1994 she founded a theatre company, appearing in Blood Wedding on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Winning first prize in a painting competition, she was commissioned by Barnet General Hospital to design wall panels for its waiting area.

Nikki van der Zyl was twice married, to Helmut Zondorff in 1957, and George Rooker in 1968. He survives her, with two children from her first marriage.

Nikki van der Zyl, born April 27 1935, died March 6 2021

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