Continuing his celebration of all things James Bond, the Malay Mail's Daniel Chan looks at the supporting roles of M, Moneypenny and Q, and how they have evolved over the last 50 years, as well as collaboration between He Majesty the Queen and James Bond for the opening of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, celebrating all things British.
Reflecting on James Bond's closest associates in the 50 years of the screen 007
Every Wednesday With DANIEL CHAN
IT had to happen. When Britain's 86-year-old Queen Elizabeth II gamely appeared alongside Daniel Craig as British secret agent James Bond as part of the London Olympic Games opening ceremony on July 27 this year, it was a kismet moment in which reality and fiction crossed paths.
London-born Elizabeth was surely aware that this year's 60th anniversary of her ascending the throne on Feb 6, 1952 while on a trip in Kenya, runs parallel with London-born Ian Fleming (1908-1964) who, 11 days after she became queen, started writing the first Bond novel Casino Royale on Feb 17, 1952 at his Goldeneye beachfront retreat in Jamaica, then a British colony in the Caribbean.
Casino Royale was first published on April 13, 1953 in London by Jonathan Cape and less than two months later, the coronation of Elizabeth took place in London on June 2, 1953, which means that Bond has been On Her Majesty's Secret Service from the very start — next year, expect more fanfare in conjunction with the 60th anniversary of the literary Bond and the crowning of Elizabeth.
Over the past 50 years of the screen 007, Elizabeth and other members of her fam-y, including her son Prince Charles and her grandson Prince William, have regularly graced the London premieres of Bond movies.
Which brings us to Bond's closest associates in Britain's Military Intelligence Section 6 (MI6), specifically, his boss who's code-lettered M, his boss' private secretary Miss Moneypenny, and MI6 armourer Q.
SPOILER ALERT. If you have not yet watched Skyfall and intend to do so, put aside this article and only resume reading it after you have seen the movie, so as not to spoil your enjoyment.
LET'S start with M who has been portrayed by four British actors, starting with Bernard Lee (1908-1981) clocking 11 times from 1962's Dr. No to 1979's Moon raker, followed by Robert Brown (1921 -2003) four times from 1983's Octopussy to 1989's Licence To Kill, then Judi Dench (she will turn 78 on Dec 9) seven times from 1995's Goldeneye to Skyfall, and now Ralph Fiennes (who will be 50 on Dec 22).
In Fleming's 14 Bond novels, M comes across as stern, gruff and curt, and to Lee's credit, he managed to convey M's all-business, no-nonsense attitude and fatherly presence, with most of his scenes firmly anchored behind a desk in his security-tight office. Fleming only revealed M's real name — Admiral Sir Miles Messervy — in the 1965 novel The Man With The Golden Gun which was published posthumously.
Lee passed away before his scenes were to be filmed for 1981 's For Your Eyes Only, and out of respect to Lee, Bond franchise boss Albert R. Broccoli and his team decided to forgo having a replacement straight away. Just like audiences had problems accepting a new Bond when George Lazenby took over, Robert Brown had an unenviable task as the new M and, compared to Lee (who presided during the Bond tenures of Sean Connery, Lazenby and Roger Moore), Brown lacked charisma.
Brown's M is revealed as Admiral Hargreaves, a role he earlier played in 1977's The Spy Who Loved Me, thus maintaining Fleming's intent of having a high-ranking naval officer in charge of M16. Fleming had a fondness for the British navy as during World War II, he was a naval intelligence officer who was involved in the planning of Operation Mince-meatand Operation Golden Eye. Brown did have a memorably dramatic moment in his final outing as M in Licence To Kill, when he revoked the Double-0 licence of Bond (played by Timothy Dalton).
Between Licence To Kill and Goldeneye, there was a six-year gap due to the Bond franchise being mired in legal tussles and by the time it was sorted out, there was a new Bond (Pierce Brosnan), along with a new M (Judi Dench) and a new Miss Moneypenny (Samantha Bond). Had the Bond producers gone for a female M after the passing of Lee, that would have been groundbreaking because it would have been before the British government appointed Stella Rimington as the first female chief of MI5 (right, MI5 and not MI6), a position she held from 1992 to 1996.
Dench's M, whose real name was never revealed, called Bond a "sexist, misogynist dinosaur, a relic ofthe Cold War", but gradually projected motherly concern for Bond, and it's a wise move or else Dench's M could be accused of being a misandrist, that is, a hater of men. Skyfall is a good sending-off for Dench's M, a tear-jerking plot device that worked because over the past 17 years, Dench has won the regard of Bond fans. And in a clever move too, we are introduced to, and impressed with, Ralph Fiennes as the new M alias Lt Colonel Gareth Mallory who's clearly a man of action in the Bond mould.
NEXT, Miss Moneypenny whose first name was never mentioned in Fleming novels, and who had a prim-and-prop-er relationship with Bond. As such, the screen Moneypenny was a vast improvement, especially during the tenure of Canadian-born Lois Maxwell (1927-2007) who essayed the role 14 times from 1962 to 1985. Having Moneypenny flirt outrageously with Bond during the brief moments they have together before and after Bond receive his secret instructions from M are one of the minor delights which Bond fans look forward too, and Maxwell exuded chemistry with Connery, Lazenby and Moore.
Ever since Maxwell ended her run, Moneypenny has lost her shine, with England-born Caroline Bliss (who turned 51 on July 12) as a bespectacled, school-teacher-like Moneypenny appearing only twice (during Dal ton's tenure) and not having enough opportunities to grow into the role, and worse of all, England-born Bond namesake Samantha Bond (who will turn 51 on Nov 27) as a Moneypenny who seems to take her cue from Dench's M and is hostile to Brosnan's attempts to charm her, though, happily, by Samantha Bond's fourth out ing as Moneypenny in 2002's Die Another Day, her icy attitude finally cracks as she fantasies Bond barging into her room and kissing her... and then Q appears wondering what's she's hot and heavy about and us audiences finally realise we have been had as Moneypenny was using Q's virtual reality glasses.
In casting England-born Naomie Harris (who just turned 36 on Sept 6) as the new Moneypenny, it looks like it's back to the good old days of flirting between her and Bond, and as depicted in Skyfall, this Moneypenny was a MI6 field agent who can hold her own in bang-bang action but decided to opt for a desk job. Not only that, while Bond and Moneypenny were in Shanghai, they definitely broke office rules by sleeping together. Can't wait to see what the Bond writers have in store for Bond and Moneypenny, and never mind that M's secretary has gone from Caucasian to coloured... by the way, her first name is Eve.
SAVE the best for last, and that means Q which is short for Quartermaster, and head of Q branch which is Fleming's fictitional research and development division of M16. In the Fleming novels, Q is named as Major Boothroyd and was introduced in the sixth Bond novel, Dr. No (published in 1958), when he issues a Walther PPK 7.65mm to Bond as replacement for his Beretta 418, which Bond reluctantly complies, on M's instructions. Major Boothroyd was named in honour of real-life Geoffrey Boothroyd, a firearms expert from Glasgow, Scotland, who in 1956 had written a fan letter to Fleming persuasively arguing that Bond should not be using a Beretta which Boothroyd denigrates as "a lady's gun" with no real stopping power and Boothroyd recommended Walther PPK 7.65mm. In the Dr. No movie, Peter Burton played Major Boothroyd.
Burton was apparently unavailable for the next Bond movie, 1963's From Russia With Love, and the Bond producers decided to re-name the character as Q as, in Fleming's novels, when it comes to arming Bond with weaponry and gadgets, Fleming had used phrases like "Q branch" and "see Q for any equipment you need"(in the Casino Royale novel) and "Q branch would handle all of that" (in the Diamonds Are Forever novel published in 1956) and"Q's craftsmen" (in the From Russia With Love novel published in 1957).
Thus, the legendary cinematic character of Q was born and the one who benefited was Welsh-born Desmond Llewelyn (1914-1999) who essayed the role 17 times from From Russia With Love to 1999's The World Is Not Enough (Q did not appear in 1971 's Live And Let Die), covering the tenures of the first five screen Bonds, namely, Connery, Lazenby, Moore, Dalton and Brosnan. No other actor or actress has appeared in so many Bond movies, and Llewelyn, having played Q from age 49 till his death in a car accident at 89, has deservingly garnered the affection of Bond fandom. His antagonistic attitude towards Bond for not returning government equipment in good condition and his grandfatherly scoldings provide much humour each time, from his favourite phrase of "pay attention, Double-O-Seven" to, most famously in 1964's Goldfinger when he told Bond about the ejector seat in the Aston Martin DBS and was greeted with disbelief, Q, who prides himself on his professionalism, admonished "I never joke about my work".
It would appear that the Bond producers intended to gradually replace Q with his absent-minded equally-nameless assistant, played by England-born John Cleese (who turned 73 on Oct 27) who was introduced as R in The World Is Not Enough and then as the new Q in Die Another Day.
Goldeneye saw a new M and a new Moneypenny, but Skyfall has orchestrated the biggest sea-change ever With a new M, a new Moneypenny and a new Q with the latter, in a welcome move, being played by a young man for a change, England-born Ben Whishaw (he just turned 32 on Oct 14) who's immediately likeable as a high-tech geek.
The beautiful thing about the Bond series is that the Bond actors come and go, but the above mentioned supporting characters subtly provide the reassuring semblance of continuity each time there's a change of Bond actors. So, here's a toast to M, Moneypenny and Q who, like Bond, also ably serve On Her Majesty's Secret Service.
Photos: Judi Dench, George Lazenby with Bernard Lee, Ralph Fiennes, Robert Brown with Roger Moore, ROYAL AUDIENCE: Queen Elizabeth II with Daniel Craig as James Bond, Moneypenny: Lois Maxwell, Caroline Bliss with Timothy Dalton, Samantha Bond with Pierce Brosnan, Desmond Llewelyn, Naomie Harris, Sean Connery with Desmond Llewelyn, John Cleese, Ben Whishaw.
[Source: Malay Mail, November 14th, 2012, P.24-25. Copyright © 2012 Malay Mail Sdn. Bhd.]