Bond’s usually sarcastic equipment officer from Q Branch; Q stands for “quartermaster” in British military parlance. With only three exceptions—Live and Let Die, Casino Royale, and Quantum of Solace, in which no quartermaster was featured—Q has been a ubiquitous presence in the James Bond series. Actor Peter Burton introduced 007’s first equipment officer, Major Boothroyd, in Dr. No, reciting the specs of his new Walther PPK pistol. Desmond Llewelyn took over for Burton in From Russia with Love. Though credited initially as “Boothroyd,” he was generally referred to only as Q, and continued in the role through seventeen Bond films.
Llewelyn’s most memorable appearance was in Goldfinger, in which he introduces Bond to the ultimate gadget: a modified Aston Martin DB5 sports car. When he finally mentions the passenger ejector seat, Bond replies, “Ejector seat, you’re joking.” To which Q responds in his typical deadpan, “I never joke about my work, 007.” Llewelyn’s appearance in Licence to Kill was his most lengthy, as he joins rogue agent James Bond (Timothy Dalton) in fictional Isthmus City. His bag of tricks proves to be the equalizer for outnumbered and outgunned 007.
Meanwhile, outside Eon Productions’ James Bond series, Geoffrey Bayldon portrayed Q as a fop in the 1967 spoof version of Casino Royale. And Alec McCowen portrayed a Q-type, a witty engineer named Algernon, in the 1983 Thunderball remake Never Say Never Again.
In 1999, Desmond Llewelyn made his last appearance as Q in The World Is Not Enough, which also featured John Cleese as his assistant “R.” When Llewelyn was killed in a traffic accident that same year, Cleese took over the role of Q in Die Another Day.
However, when Daniel Craig became the new Bond with 2006’s Casino Royale, it was decided to forgo an equipment officer in his first two films. In Skyfall, the delightful Ben Whishaw was introduced as the youngest Q of the series. A brainy, energetic computer expert, engineer, scientist, and all-around genius, Whishaw’s Q has added a degree of fun to the role of the equipment officer who becomes one of Bond’s staunchest allies.
Q has always been and will always be a staple of the series—in essence, the voice of Ian Fleming, whose original novels were filled with the type of technical references that characterize the Q Branch equipment briefings.