Friday, 28 September 2012

The Three Faces Of M

In the Bond novels and films, M is the head of MI6 and Bond's superior.

There are several possibilities for the inspiration for M- the most obvious one is Rear Admiral John Godfrey, Director of Naval Intelligence for the Royal Navy during the war, whom Fleming worked under. Indeed, Godfrey could see himself in M but was less than impressed, calling the character 'unsavoury'. Other inspirations include Lieutenant Colonel Claude Dansey, Maxwell Knight (who was head of MI5) and even Fleming's mother (whom he called M).

In the official EON Productions Bond films, M has been played by three different actors.


Stern, authoratative and no-nonsense, Lee's portrayal of M is generally agreed to be close to Fleming's characterisation in the novels.

Lee played M in every Bond film from Dr. No to Moonraker. He sadly passed away in early 1981, four months into the filming of For Your Eyes Only. He had not recorded any scenes for that film and, out of respect, the character was not recast- his lines given instead to Bill Tanner and Sir Frederick Gray.

Outside the Bond franchise, Lee often played authority figures, such as policemen or army sergeants. He appeared in Carol Reed's The Fallen Idol, The Third Man (with Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten), Whistle Down The Wind and The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.

Interestingly, Brown had previously appeared in a Bond film before his casting as M in Octopussy. He played Admiral Hargreaves in The Spy Who Loved Me; however, it is never really clear whether Brown is still Hargreaves (who has been promoted to the position of 'M'), a version of the character played by Bernard Lee, or a different character altogether.

Brown appeared in four films- Octopussy, A View To A Kill, The Living Daylights and License To Kill- but his character is never truly developed within these films; Brown often played M as a softer version of Bernard Lee's character.  His finest hour in the role comes in License To Kill in the confrontation where he strips Bond of his 00 status.

Outside the Bond franchise, Brown appeared in such films as One Million Years B.C., The Masque Of The Red Death, Billy Budd and also had an uncredited role in The Third Man. On television, Brown played Gurth the servant in Ivanhoe opposite... Roger Moore (who played Ivanhoe).


In 1992, the real MI6 appointed its first female director-general: Stella Rimington. She held the role until 1996 and it is often thought that she inspired the casting of a female M when the Bond franchise was revived in 1995 with GoldenEye.

Described by Bill Tanner as 'the evil queen of numbers', she wastes no time by putting Bond in his place, calling him a 'sexist, misogynist dinosaur'. Dench's M has been more involved with Bond's adventures, even being abducted by Renard and Elektra in The World Is Not Enough. If the trailers are to be believed, M will play a big part in Skyfall- something from her past will come back to haunt her, prompting her to 'think on your sins'.

Skyfall will be Dench's seventh outing as M. Dench is one of the UK's most well-loved actresses and outside the Bond franchise, she has appeared in films such as Tea With Mussolini, The Chronicles Of Riddick and Notes On A Scandal and won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for playing Elizabeth I in Shakespeare In Love.

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