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The idea for “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” English screenwriter/director Matthew Vaughn explained in a recent phone call, came over beer.

“Sitting down in a pub, pouring back several pints of Guinness” with comic book maestro Mark Millar, his collaborator on the cartoonish, gory “Kick-Ass,” the pair felt a twinge of nostalgia. They longed for a throwback to the golden age of spy movies with charm.

“We sat there thinking about how spy movies like ‘Bourne’ are so serious,” Vaughn said. “The world’s a pretty horrible place just now. Everyone’s having a tough time. When I go to the cinema I want two hours of escapism, so my plan was to do that in a fun, British, gentlemanly manner.”

What they wanted to do was turn Colin Firth into a killing machine.

“When I was writing the screenplay, I was thinking about David Niven in the role. He was Ian Fleming’s first choice for Bond. He was furious when Sean Connery was cast (for the first Bond film in 1961). He rang up and said, ‘He’s not a gentleman. It should be David Niven.’ Then the director of ‘Dr. No’ literally took Sean Connery to Savile Row, got him the right suit, proper haircut, taught him how to be a gentleman.”

That story, which fascinated Vaughn for years, inspired “Kingsman,” which concerns Firth’s sophisticated hell-for-leather hero teaching a new spying recruit to be appropriately lethal and foppish.

When he approached Firth for the role, Vaughn told him “the good news is you can play the gentleman stuff standing on your head. The bad news is, right now I’d have no problem poking you in the eye, thinking nothing’s going to happen. If you pull it off, you’ve got the role. If you don’t, you haven’t got the role.” Firth took six months of combat training in the south of France while starring in Woody Allen’s 1920s romance “Magic in the Moonlight.”

“He pulled it off all right,” Vaughn said.

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