On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: James Bond’s Allies

The following is a guest post.

James Bond maybe a dashing international jet-setting playboy spy but let’s face it he wouldn’t be the man he is without the team behind him. The recurring cast of other characters is as loved as the secret agent himself.

M.

M is the head of the British Secret Intelligence service also known as MI6. It’s worth clearing up the difference between MI6 and MI5 – MI6 are like the British CIA, they deal with international threats to Britain and MI5 are like the FBI who deal with domestic security issues.

Fleming created M based on his superior, Rear Admiral John Godfrey, at Naval Intelligence Division during WWII, something that Godfrey didn’t find that flattering, “He turned me into that unsavory character, M” he said in an interview with The Times after Fleming’s death.

M puts up with Bond in an almost parental way, Bond being the brilliant, but often trying prodigal son. Therefore there is almost a sense of exasperation with Bond, which seems to be a common emotion among Bond’s allies.

Four actors have played M over the years, starting with Bernard Lee. Lee’s interpretation of M was very much in line with the literary character. Lee played M for 11 films his last being Moonraker, as he passed away during production of For Your Eyes Only, instead of filling the role, producers decided M would be on leave.

Lee’s grandson is Jonny Lee Miller, currently starring as Sherlock Holmes in CBS’s Elementary, once rumored to be considered for the role of Bond.

M returned for Octopussy with Robert Brown who’s M while still authoritative was softer, more like an elderly uncle than stern boss. Brown played M for 5 Bonds before being replaced in Goldeneye.

Legal issues meant there was a big gap in Bond films between License To Kill (1989) and Goldeneye in (1995) also there was a change in attitudes and for the first time a woman, Stella Rimington was appointed head of MI5 in real life.

Mirroring that Judi Dench took on the role as M. Dench’s M is rather cold and blunt, she doesn’t hide her dislike of Bond in their first meeting in GoldenEye;

“I think you’re a sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War” She had a point.

The casting of Dench as M gave the role a maternal air, which comes to a head in Skyfall with the rogue agent turned bad guy Silva referring to her as Mommy, but also of Bond’s protective nature of her. When Dench’s M dies at the end of Skyfall, she is replaced by Ralph Fiennes who will play M in the next film.

Miss Moneypenny.

Miss Moneypenny is secretary to M. She is the ultimate professional, able to set up office anywhere to take care of the administration needs of her boss. Perfectly coiffured and sensibly dressed Moneypenny has a twinkle in her eye for James Bond, who would flirt shamelessly with Miss Moneypenny before going in to see his boss.

Over the years 6 actresses have played Miss Moneypenny but Lois Maxwell is the quintessential Moneypenny. She is a delightful Moneypenny with a warm and likeable screen presence. Although she flirts shamelessly with Bond she does it with dignity and while retaining her power.

Maxwell played the character from 1962 to 1985 but towards the end it got a bit weird as Bond changed actors and didn’t age, but she did. The chemistry didn’t really transfer from Connery and Maxwell to Moore and Maxwell, which is surprising as Maxwell and Moore were good friends in real life.

The weakest Moneypenny was played by Caroline Bliss who played the role during Dalton’s late 80s Bond with her portrayal being almost a parody of the stereotypical secretary – thick glasses and her hair up in a bun. Samantha Bond was Moneypenny to Brosnan’s Bond, and once again the sexual tension between the characters heated up the screen.

Moneypenny’s role disappeared with Brosnan’s Bond until Skyfall, where she reappeared, in the field of all places, nearly killing Bond on a mission together. Played by Naomi Harris, Moneypenny announces her resignation from fieldwork to a desk job, and this incarnation of Moneypenny seems almost a reboot of the character and it will be interesting to see where it leads.

 

Q.
Q provides Bond with the high tech and outlandish gadgets, cars and other technological wizardry that saves his skin on numerous missions. Q (short for Quartermaster) is from the Q-Branch and has endearing love-hate relationship as Bond frequently destroys gadgets and cars supplied by Q much to Q’s irritation.

Q first appears in Thunderball played by the lovely Desmond Llewelyn who played Q from 1963 till 1999 in a total of 17 films. The only Bond film since Thunderball to not feature Llewelyn as Q was Live And Let Die and so popular was the character a public outcry ensued and he returned for the next film.

In real life Llewelyn was bit of a technophobe and apparently struggled with setting his VCR!

Q often provided some of the comic relief with some of the best lines;

Bond: [handing Q his coat] Do you think you can help me? Someone seems to have stuck a knife in my wallet.

Q: Oh, and missed you, did they? What a pity!

After Llewelyn retired, John Cleese who had played his assistant in The World Is Not Enough, took over briefly as Q until Brosnan stepped down from the role.

Like Moneypenny, Q didn’t appear in Casino Royale or Quantum of Solace but returned in Skyfall played by a much younger actor Ben Whishaw. Although it’s hard to believe Llewelyn’s Q would have made such an amateur mistake as plugging the baddies laptop direct into the main frame…

Each new actor playing these MI6 regulars, like each new Bond, brought their own style and interruption to the role. As the franchises goes into a new period, it’s clear the producers have thought carefully about how these other characters, who are very much part of the James Bond formula will also develop and grow.

Who is your favourite Bond ally and played by which actor?

BOND TRIVIA: Q is only referred to by his real name, Major Boothroyd, in Dr. No, From Russia With Love and The Spy Who Loved Me.

Clare A. is a British expat living in California who has been licensed to thrill as Smitten by Britain’s resident James Bond blogger. Besides blogging and making martinis (shaken, not stirred), Clare spends her free time writing travel guides for the L.A. area. Read more of Clare’s posts here.

Comments

  1. Bruce Armstrong says

    The original combo of Lee-Llewelyn-Maxwell will always be the best combo. However, Dame Judi Dench’s M came a very close second to Lee’s.

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