Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The April 2011 A - Z Blogging Challenge - Q is for Q!

We're entering the homestretch in The April 2011 A - Z Blogging Challenge now - and after yesterday's Mega Post we're going to take it down a notch today...and pay a visit to...

The Video Vault of Mora Tau! 4/20/11

After giving some love to James Bond's boss four days ago - it seems only fair to turn our eye today to the other one letter fellow traipsing around the halls of MI6 (and my apologies to Miss Moneypenny for not putting the spotlight on her - this challenge, anyway)...yes, it's really no surprise by now for me to reveal...

Q is for Q!

Ian Fleming gave James Bond a .25 automatic pistol as his standard weapon in the early 007 novels - with the primary consideration in its choice the small, concealable size of the gun more than anything else. Fleming was appreciative of weapons but not an afficionado, with most of his knowledge coming from his own intelligence experiences of World War II - now almost a decade behind him at this point.

Beretta .25 automatic
 As the books became popular Fleming started receiving fan mail. One letter came from Geoffrey Boothroyd, who enjoyed the stories but disapproved of the agent's assigned gun. As he wrote:

'Dear Mr Fleming, I wish to point out that a man in James Bond's position would never consider using a .25 Beretta. It's really a lady's gun - and not a very nice lady at that! Dare I suggest that Bond should be armed with a .38 or a nine millimetre - let's say a German Walther PPK? That's far more appropriate.'

Fleming enjoyed Boothroyd's letter immensely and wrote back - here's that letter:

    And sure enough, when he wrote Dr. No, Fleming included a scene that incorporated not only the idea of switching 007's weapon - but also a tribute to Boothroyd by including him in the scene as the MI6 armorer and 'world's greatest expert on handguns.' But that was the only time we meet Boothroyd or anyone like him in any of Fleming's novels. Q branch is mentioned several times - with Q standing for Quartermaster - the military officer responsible for supplies. And Bond does get his gadgets from Q Branch - but there is no character of Q.

Geoffrey Boothroyd (l) meets Ian Fleming (r)
     EON Productions filmed Dr. No as the first James Bond movie, and they included the Boothroyd scene, with Boothroyd's original line changed to "Nice and light...in a lady's handbag." which always gets a nice laugh. In the film Boothroyd is played by actor Peter Burton. It's a nice scene - doing a bit to establish the relationship between Bond and M - Bond defying orders and still carrying the .25, M heading 007 off sneaking out with the prohibited gun - and it gives the armorer a funny line.

Peter Burton
Dr. No (1962)
    When the second Bond film went into production, they included a gadget laden briefcase Fleming had imagined for the novel. To explain all of its functions in the novel, Bond simply thinks about them in an interior monologue - which is not very cinematic, to say the least. So they decided to have Boothroyd come back for a presentation scene in M's office. However, actor Peter Burton was not available, so director Terence Young instead rang up an actor he'd worked with before, a man named Desmond Llewelyn - and history was made. Llewelyn's performance was understated in his first go-round - but the scene and the gadget are cool.

Sean Connery and Desmond Llewelyn
From Russia with Love (1963)
It was with the next film - Goldfinger - and a change in director to Guy Hamilton - that the character of Q really gets going. He's referred to as Q for the first time, and we actually go down to Q Branch - so the filmmakers can show us some wonderful and funny gadgets being worked on before Q gets down to the business of arming 007 for his latest assignment. Initially, in rehearsals, when Bond comes in to the scene, Desmond Llewelyn rose to greet him - and director Hamilton nixed that, telling the older actor to treat Bond with disdain, as he comes and gets gadgets, shows no respect, and destroys everything. With that direction the character locked in - and became an instant scene stealer.
And hey! This is supposed to be a Video Vault post, so bring on the video!
Okay! Here's a clip from the Goldfinger scene - we miss the opening with Llewelyn snatching a grenade back from 007's wandering hands...but we do get the classic closing line...
After that, Q was a lock - as each new James Bond film brought another visit with or from the tetchy Welsh gadget master. Sometimes Bond went down to see him, sometimes he went out on location to equip 007 "in the field," never his favorite thing to do. And while he always crabbed at 007's lack of care regarding his gadgets, he cared enough to show up unannounced on Bond's unsanctioned rogue mission in Licence to Kill with a suitcase full of gagdets Bond might need to get the job done. Instead of trying to present all of the Q Branch scenes - which would amount to around an hour or so in total running time - once again I depend on the editing talents of others and present a YouTube video tribute to the late Desmond Llewelyn - which shows the actor with almost all of the Bonds he worked with - except for Lazenby - although they did have a nice scene together near the end of On Her Majesty's Secret Service - but you do get Connery, Moore, Dalton, and Brosnan, and this gives a good taste of the scenes - including that grenade snatch not present in the above clip.
As Desmond Llewlyn was getting on in years, in 1999's The World is Not Enough famed British comedian and actor John Cleese is brought in as Q's assistant, apparently being eased in to taking over the role. Sadly, that same year Desmond Llewlyn died. After his passing, Cleese indeed took over the role - and in their first Q Branch scene together - from Die Another Day - watch how Brosnan's Bond initially keeps the new gagdet guy at arm's length - then, at the end of the briefing, Bond let's the other man know he's been accepted. It's a classic moment from a Bond film - a Bond film that is a bit overlooked IMO. And for the record, I like the Aston Martin "Vanish."

 To date that is the last appearance of Q - as he has not shown up- in the form of Cleese or otherwise - in the two Daniel Craig 007 movies. Maybe he'll come back for the third next year. I certainly hope so.

Just as we did with M - we'll take a look at the "other" Q. There was no equivalent character in the original spoof Casino Royale - not worth mentioning anyway, but the rogue 007 picture Never Say Never Again did feature their own spin on the classic character: a Cockney smartalec who's also known to Bond as Algernon. Actor Alec McCowen played the role beautifully, and in fact could have taken over on the regular series if Desmond Llewelyn had retired early. McCowen gets NSNA's best line when he hears of Bond's latest assignment and tells the agent: "Now you're on this. I hope we're going to have some gratuitous sex and violence!" Bond replies he hopes so too.

Alec McCowen

There were usually Q types in the myriad Bond knockoffs and ripoffs over the decades, but none of them stand out as they are usually played so over-the-top as to be just disregarded as silly. Besides, why mess with the also-rans - when you can watch the original!

And with that in mind - to finish us off - I couldn't believe this when I saw it - but an incredibly talented person reimagined Desmond Llewelyn's Q as the star of his own TV show - and using the theme song from an 80's TV hero - here's what the opening would have looked like:

That is truly one of the most clever things I've ever seen - I think Desmond Llewlyn would have loved it!

Til next post, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!


  1. Yowzah! Well now you've gone and done it. This is my favorite post to date, and I simply don't see how they'll be any topping it.

    I'll admit to bias. Q was always, always one of my favorite parts of a Bond film. There's a place in my heart for the actor and the character. And I enjoyed Cleese's turn, too.

    I often wonder how actors get along off camera. I think Dalton and Llewelyn hit it off like ham and eggs. They just seemed to enjoy playing lines off each other.

    Alas, I don't think we'll see Q, as we know him anyway, with Daniel Craig. Q was the gentle humor in the film. I don't know that such a person can exist in Craig's world. I hope I'm proven wrong.

    I loved the clips--they're gems.

    But the Crown Jewel is the Fleming letter. It's brilliant! And it says so much about the man. For whatever reason, I didn't expect him to be so playful and cordial.

    I think I love these books and films a bit more now than I did a few minutes ago. Of course, it would be you who'd give me that.


  2. Okay...this is now one of my MUST READ blogs! Fantastic facts about Bond's weaponry and the illustrious Q. Where in the world did you find that letter from Fleming?

  3. Joe - thought you might like this one! Thanks for the kind words! It's nice to know this stuff isn't going to waste!

    Luana - wow! That is so kind of you to say! Thank you! That letter was found among my research into the subject of James Bond - which actually started for me almost exactly thirty years ago - I have to admit it's gotten much easier with the interweb though!