Whilst there have been several actors to take the role of Q but, to me, there is only one man worthy of that initial: the late, great Desmond Llewelyn.
Llewelyn played Q, MI6's gadget-master, in no less than seventeen Bond films (starting with From Russia With Love and ending with The World Is Not Enough; Q is only absent from Live And Let Die as producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman felt the films were getting too reliant on the gadgets and decided to play them down). Very little is known about Q beyond his work for MI6 although he is referred to as ‘Major Boothroyd’ by Anya in The Spy Who Loved Me.
The gadgets are as integral a part to a Bond film as the villains and the Bond girls. Each film has a scene where Q equips Bond with whatever he may need for that particular mission. Rhys has written a brilliantpiece about the gadgets, so I won't mention too many, but some of my favourites include Bond's attaché case in From Russia With Love, the tooled-up Aston Martin DB5 in Goldfinger and the gyrocopter Little Nellie in You Only Live Twice.
The relationship between Bond and Q is an interesting one. Q seems to view Bond as an eternal adolescent, unable to take things seriously or appreciate the tech he's being given. Q frequently has to ask Bond to 'pay attention' whilst he explains how the gadgets work. Q seems to be generally exasperated with Bond's playboy lifestyle- in Octopussy, he jokes ‘007 on an island populated exclusively by women? We won't see him till dawn!' Q can often be irascible and a bit grouchy but he always takes pride in his gadgets, frequently pointing out a feature he's particularly proud of, and- as he says in Goldfinger- 'I never joke about my work'.
Despite this seeming antagonism, there are hints that Bond and Q have a depth of mutual respect. When Bond gets married at the end of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, he offers Bond a helping hand should he need it outside of MI6 and he poses as Bond's uncle in License To Kill to get some needed kit to him once he's had his 00 status rescinded. Bond tries to dismiss him, but Q rightly states: ‘Oh, don't be an idiot, 007. I know exactly what you're up to, and quite frankly, you're going to need my help. Remember, if it hadn't been for Q Branch, you'd have been dead long ago’
Perhaps the best example of their mutual respect is in The World Is Not Enough. Bond seems genuinely moved at the news of Q's retirement and Q gives him a last piece of advice:
As final exits go, that's a pretty good one. This was Llewelyn’s last Bond film, with John Cleese taking over the role of Q for Die Another Day.
What about the man behind the role?
Llewelyn was born in
South Wales on 12 September 1914. He
originally wanted to become a minister but caught the acting bug during his
time at . He has accepted to RADA in the
mid 1930s but his acting ambitions were put on hold due to the start of the
Second World War. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Royal Welsh
Fusiliers but was captured by the German army in Radley College France in 1940 and was held as a
prisoner-of-war in Colditz for five years. After the war, he resumed his acting
career, working with longtime Bond director Terence Young on war movie They Were Not Divided (1950) and was
eventually cast as Q. Ironically, despite playing a gadget master on film,
Llewelyn was ‘hopeless’ with them in real life.
Outside the Bond franchise, he appeared in uncredited roles in Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet (1948) and Ealing comedy The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), as well as playing George Coggins in Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang (1968) and The Colonel in television series Follyfoot.
Llewelyn sadly passed away in December 1999, at the age of eighty-five, in a car accident, a few weeks after the premiere of The World Is Not Enough. His contribution to the Bond franchise is immeasurable and he is sadly missed.
Ben Whishaw's got some pretty big shoes to fill.