Contributed by: The James Bond Movie Encyclopedia by Steven Jay Rubin

(April 12, 1925–May 16, 1969): British cameraman and aerial specialist who filmed action sequences on You Only Live Twice and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. During location shooting in Japan on You Only Live Twice, he was involved in a terrifying helicopter collision.

Working with second unit director Peter Hunt, Jordan was responsible for shooting the aerial battle sequence that pits Bond (Sean Connery) in his tiny autogyro Little Nellie against four armed SPECTRE helicopters. Jordan would be filming from inside one of the speedy French Alouette copters, where a special Panavision camera was rigged to the helicopter’s metal skid. Four Japanese stunt pilots would be flying the four SPECTRE choppers, while Wing Commander Ken Wallis, Little Nellie’s inventor and the only person who could fly the autogyro with any degree of expertise, would be doubling Sean Connery.

On the afternoon of September 22, 1966, Jordan was filming above the little village of Ebino when the four enemy helicopters began their dive on Bond. Peter Hunt was on the ground, observing the action from a jeep. “Our problem,” Hunt remembered, “was that the helicopters were always getting too spread out. Our Japanese pilots were very nervous and wary of flying in too close a formation. We had radio communication with all the copters, and we were always yelling at them to close up so we could get them all in the same frame.”[1]

At two o’clock that afternoon, Jordan’s Alouette was keeping pace with two black Hillers when one of the action helicopters struck an updraft, hurtling it toward the helpless camera ship. Before the pilot could react, Jordan’s ship was struck by the Hiller’s rotor blade, which sliced through the Alouette’s skids and Johnny Jordan’s extended leg.

Hunt watched the whole disaster speechlessly. “We were filming this close-order formation when suddenly there was a terrible crash and the Alouette skidded on its side into a tree only a few yards from us,” said Hunt. “The pilot was okay, but Johnny’s foot was hanging by a thread. Typical of a cameraman’s mentality, he had photographed his own foot when it got hit, hoping that it might be useful for the surgeons.”

Coincidentally, Ebino was a health resort for tubercular and bone disease patients. There were a number of hospitals in the area, and one of them sent out an ambulance to transport the injured aerial cameraman. Said Hunt, “It just so happened that this hospital was one of Japan’s finest bone centers, and they were doing operations that very day. The Japanese surgeons rushed him into an operating room and attempted to save his leg. At the time, there was only one artery going strong. It was hopeless.” But they were able to stop the loss of blood and preserve the leg until Jordan was returned to England, where three months later it was amputated.

The loss of Jordan completely demoralized the second unit crew on You Only Live Twice, and Peter Hunt soon requested that they temporarily abandon the helicopter stunts and return to London at once. “It was a disaster,” Hunt recalled. “We were pretty early in the helicopter shooting when Jordan was hit, and we had finished only a couple of the establishing shots of the copters moving across the volcanoes. We ended up doing the rest of the fight over Spain, above Torremolinos on the Costa del Sol, before Christmas—under those bright Spanish skies. We were lucky, because behind Torremolinos there are many volcanic mountains that perfectly matched our locations on Kyushu.” Jordan’s work was completed by cameraman Tony Brown.

But Eon Productions had not heard the last of Johnny Jordan. Equipped with an artificial limb, Jordan returned to 007 service for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, working this time from a camera rig he designed himself, which hung down from the belly of a helicopter like a parachute harness. By using such a platform, Jordan drifted above the treetops with complete freedom of movement and 360 degrees of traverse. He was responsible for some of the film’s most beautiful aerial sequences, including the shots of the phony Red Cross helicopters of Marc-Ange Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti) headed across Switzerland for their attack on Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s Piz Gloria stronghold, and the aerial view of the hair-raising bobsled chase in which Bond has one last chance to eliminate Blofeld.

A native of Oxfordshire, England, Jordan made his motion picture debut as a camera operator on director Alfred Travers’s comedy The Strangers Came (1949). Sadly, on May 16, 1969, Jordan was killed in a fall from the fuselage of a B-25 bomber during the filming of Catch-22 (1970).

[1] Peter Hunt, interview by Steven Jay Rubin, London, June 21, 1977.


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