In this interview from the July 1983 issue of Starlog Magazine, James Bond's gadget master, Desmond Llewelyn looks back on his 11 appearances as 'Q' in the James Bond films, and talks about his role in the latest movie, Octopussy.
ROGER MOORE IS AGENT 007
Desmond Llewelyn, weaponsmaster to James Bond in "Octopussy"
After 11 movie missions, an 007 series regular takes a balloon ride into danger - and center soundstage - in 1983, the biggest Bond year of them all.
By CHARLES BOGLE
Author Ian Fleming lived and died before the age of technology. When he created James Bond, the British agent with the "00" Licence To Kill, he was primarily concerned with defining his hero's impeccable tastes in food, women and motor cars and paid little attention to his weaponry and survival equipment. In fact, his failing in this regard caused the only serious criticism the Agent 007 of the early novels earned.
Soon after he published his second Bond adventure, Diamonds Are Forever, Fleming received a phone call from a war-time crony in Naval Intelligence. "Your man Bond comes off quite well," he told Fleming. "But he must get rid of that damned .25 caliber Beretta. It's a woman's gun, completely useless except for plinking at philandering husbands."
Fleming smarted a bit over the comment. He had meant to establish that 007, an expert shot, didn't need a heavy handgun to deal with the opposition. But the author did ask around about guns and found that most agents, British and American, carried at least .32 caliber weapons. So, in his next novel, Dr. No, Fleming constructed a scene in which Bond's boss, M, called in a sober-faced arms expert named Major Boothroyd, who took away Bond's Beretta and replaced it with a Walther PPK 7.65 mm., a snub-nosed automatic with hitting power, a gun which rarely jammed. And that was the last anyone heard of Bond's Beretta.
When Richard Maibaum (STARLOG *68) wrote the first-draft screenplay for Dr. No the initial James Bond movie, he liked the Major Boothroyd encounter so much, he lifted it almost intact for the screen. He felt it quickly established M's paternalistic relationship with his favorite agent and put the cheeky 007 on the defensive with his boss.
A Case From Q
Something more than a gun expert was called for in From Russia With Love, the second Bond film, in which Bond is presented a special survival kit in the form of a stylish attache case, armed with razor-sharp daggers, a break-down Armalite sniper's rifle with scope sight, and an exploding talcum powder can. Before 007 leaves on his dangerous mission to Turkey, M summons the head of "Q Branch" to demonstrate the effectiveness of these weapons. Bond, hardly the attache-case type, inwardly scoffs at the extra luggage. But the case, as it so happens, saves his life on several occasions, notably in hand-to-hand combat with Spectre assassin Red Grant.
Photos: Opposite page: Llewelyn in Q's London workshop, where Bond's Aston-Martin is under repair. Above: Q shows Bond phony "Faberge Egg" with hidden radio transmitter in Octopussy.
This brief scene, linked to the film's most exciting action sequences, provided the role of a lifetime for a gifted Welsh character actor named Desmond Llewelyn who, in 11 Bond films spanning nearly 20 years, has portrayed the gruff backroom genius whose timely technology has repeatedly helped 007 triumph over his enemies. With his preoccupied air, his rumpled suits and his constant exasperation with Bond's attempts at humor, Llewelyn is the quintessential British civil servant totally dedicated to his work and oblivious to the outside world. Such men helped win the Battle of Britain and are still stoically serving Queen and country with devotion and meager pay.
"Since I first appeared as Q, I've worked in all of the Bond films except Live And Let Die, "Llewelyn recalls. "When that film unit went to New Orleans on location, I was contractually involved in a weekly TV series and couldn't leave England." But because 007 was doing his stuff in the U.S. assisted by Felix Leiter of the C.I.A., audiences assumed that the Americans were providing the special gear. "They do a great deal of that all over the world."
In recent years, Llewelyn's role has grown with each succeeding film and, in Octopussy, he has more screen time than ever before, traveling to India with 007 to provide on-the-spot back-up for Bond's one-man battle with Kamal Khan's horde of thugs, goons and assassins. "I even get to do my first action sequence ever," he laughs. "I pilot the hot-air balloon that is Bond's only means of entering Khan's heavily guarded mountain fortress.
Of course, Octopussy's girls have pretty much subdued the baddies by the time we land and the only jeopardy I encounter is being kissed by four or five beautiful girls at the same time. Makes one wish for being younger. Much younger.
"I take it as a compliment that many people including some supposedly sophisticated press people who've interviewed me, actually believe I've had a hand in inventing the devices that Bond uses in the films . I try not to disillusion the public and have always familiarized myself with the workings of all the equipment I supposedly create for Bond's adventures in the field. But the truth is that I'm merely an actor and not particularly mechanical, at that. I sometimes have a dickens of a time trying to get some of the gadgets to work right for me."
In addition to his jaunt to India, for Octopussy, the Bond films have taken Llewelyn to Japan, Sardinia, Portugal, Brazil, Italy the Bahamas and Las Vegas, Nevada. And film-wise, I have been to several other countries which were re-created, at least for my sessions with 007, on a set at Pinewood Studios. The important thing to me is that I'm no longer a backroom boy. I've become sort of a traveling straight man for Bond to bounce his quips off. Roger, in particular, has come up with some spontaneous dandies that have gotten big laughs from the audience. I like to think they wouldn't work at all if people didn't think of Q as a strictly no-nonsense type who is offended by Bond's lack of respect for his inventions."
WW II Experiences
Llewelyn deserves as much traveling as he can pack into his working life. Born in Newport, Wales, the tall, distinguished actor spent all of World War II in anumber of German prisoner-of-war camps including Lauten Warburg and Rotenburg. While serving with Royal Welsh Fusiliers, he was captured during the British evacuation at Dunkirk, on May 27 1940 and was not released until Easter 1945. Trained at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts before the war, he resumed his acting career in 1946 and has kept busy ever since performing on stage, screen and television. His only major motion picture role was in the pre-war They Were Not Divided. Bond films excepted, he is best known in England for the long-running TV series, Follyfoot, in which he played a retired Welsh colonel who ran a stable.
"I left a good bit of my youth in Germany," Llewelyn says. "But I didn't have a bad war, compared to some. None of us liked the confinement and the inadequate food, which got worse as the war wore on, but life in the prison camps was bearable. As long as we behaved, the Germans treated us properly most of the time. But there was none of that romantic nonsense about escaping that you see in war films. No one escaped from any of the camp's where I was imprisoned.
For the past 20 years, Llewelyn has worked mainly in the theater, with occasional film parts "In Britain, because of our numerous repertory companies, a professional actor can work almost as much as he chooses, he says "Our television does more dramas, too. I always considered films as sort of a lark, never expected to get rich from acting But I've been satisfied with my career and it has provided me with enough to raise a family and to maintain a pleasant home on the coast of Sussex.
"Of course, the Bond films are special. I admit to enjoying the splash in the limelight they have given me. Everywhere I travel, people always recognize me as Q, the man who always has something new and exciting up his sleeve for 007."
According to Llewelyn, everyone involved with Eon, the Bond production company, has contributed to the galaxy of gadget showcased in the superspy sagas. "I once saw an article in my local paper about an armored motor bike and sent it to Cubby," he says "Later I discovered that four other people had also clipped the same story. Unfortunately, we never used it. So, in actuality, my real contribution is still zero."
Bond has almost exhausted every conceivable mode of getting from one place to another - on the land, in the sky and beneath the sea. "But it seems there's always something new under the sun," he says. "The Acro-jet flown by Corkey Fornof in Octopussy's pre-title sequence is a remarkable aircraft which will put people on the edge of their seats for a few minutes. Lately, the scenes I do with Roger involve the smaller pieces of equipment I've developed for Bond. Some of them are ridiculously impractical and are there just for the sake of humor. But others turn out to have a real life-saving use for 007 later in the film."
Cars, Jets & Gadgets
The most celebrated of all the major Bond screen vehicles was the Aston-Martin DB-5 which appeared in both Goldfmger and Thunderball, outfitted with the amazing equipment created by special-effects wizard John Stears, including the famous passenger ejector seat, smoke-screen device, machine guns, bullet-proof shields and retractable tire-slashing blades. "Sales of the Aston- Martin DB-5 skyrocketed as a result of the film," says Llewelyn. "A few months after Goldfinger premiered, the factory returned to Eon to ask Stears to make a replica of the specially-equipped movie car for the Edinborough(sic) Tattoo, a spectacular outdoor show staged in stadiums and arenas worldwide.
"The car was the star of a 15-minute James Bond presentation, with doubles for Bond and Oddjob shooting at one another like cowboys and Indians. I don't know how many DB-5s they sold as a result, but it was a great many. I understand that a man in Pennsylvania bought the trick version of the car used in the show and has since made a small fortune renting it to auto shows and malls.
"People are still inquiring about the speedy Lotus car which converted into a submarine in The Spy Who Loved Me. If Lotus ever gets around to building a functional model of that car, I'm sure they could find a market for it. But our version, including the cannons for shooting underwater missiles and sea-to-air missiles, was a special-effect creation for the film and no longer exists in any form."
The series' most authentic aircraft discovery was the tiny WA-116 autogiro, designed and flown by Wing Commander Ken Wallis in You Only Live Twice. Affectionately known as "Little Nellie," this amazing flying machine had a top speed of 180 miles per hour, a ceiling of 14,000 feet and could land on a surface as small as 24 feet. On its visit to America, "Little Nellie" so fascinated Hugh Downs, then-host of The Today Show, that he insisted on flying it himself.
"For the film, we tricked 'Nellie' up a bit," says Llewelyn. "When 007 calls headquarters for help, I take it out to Japan in four large 24" x 38" suitcases and secretly assemble it in a garage so Bond can fly up for a look at the volcanic mountain where Ernst Blofeld and his minions are supposedly preparing to launch an interceptor space rocket and plunge the world into nuclear war."
Photo: Bond's means of personal transport vary from caper to caper, depending upon the situation. Here Q has outfitted him with a rocket belt for the Thunderball mission.
Another practical flying unit which made its spectacular debut in a Bond adventure was the Bell-Textron Jump Jet which appeared in Thunderball's pre-title sequence. It was first spotted by an Eon production associate in a demonstration film made to sell the unit to the U.S. military as a quick escape device for commandos. Agent 007 uses it for a getaway flight from a group of armed thugs in the French home of Jacques Boitier, a Spectre killer Bond polishes off after a brutal fight. "We filmed the whole scene in a very posh Parisian suburb," says Llewelyn, "and we always had a mental picture of some sedate banker looking out his window to see a man flying by - with no visible means of support. That sight certainly would have sent him rushing for the brandy decanter."
He chuckles. "One of my personal favorites of the smaller gadgets we've used was the electronic device designed to trip the jackpots on Las Vegas' fruit machines. When we were filming Diamonds Are Forever out there, I put quite a few quarters in them before I realized this gadget wasn't going to work, even by accident."
The one film in which Q lost the technological battle was 1979's Moonraker, in which Bond's equipment was completely overshadowed by the billion-dollar space station designed for Hugo Drax's mad plot to destroy Earth's entire population (STARLOG #22). "I did rather enjoy the sequence with Roger down in Brazil, where he comes in dressed like a gaucho," Llewelyn says. "Quite wisely, I think, we played it strictly for laughs. We just couldn't compete seriously with that whole subterranean layout created by Drax. His resources were bigger than the British treasury at that point."
Llewelyn laments that it's nearly impossible for him to remember all of the gadgets that he has provided to three different James Bonds throughout the last 20 years. On the earlier movies, most of the items were lost or destroyed after production wrapped. "I've tried to keep a collection of the smaller things myself, for television appearances that come up now and then. It's sad, really, that they weren't kept, but this is a business of illusions and they just don't have the space anymore to store everything left over when a motion picture is completed.
"One last fact," says Desmond Llewelyn. "I am often asked by journalists if my character's name is Major Boothroyd. The answer is no. Boothroyd was strictly a gun expert and we left him back there in the first film. They've never put a name to the character I play. Just Q will do."
[Source: Starlog #72 July 1983, P.54-57. Copyright © 1983 O'Quinn Studios, Inc. All rights reserved. Starlog is a registered trademark of O'Quinn Studios, Inc.]