Family & Companions
He professed to have no mechanical ability in real life and hated the involved scientific dialogue he was required to deliver, but beloved Welsh character actor Desmond Llewelyn was recognized worldwide as the prime gadget master of spy cinema. He was a face in the crowd before being cast in the second James Bond thriller, "From Russia with Love" (1963) as the MI6 quartermaster later known as "Q." Proud of his ingenious and deadly creations and appalled by Bond's frequent destruction of Crown property, Q quickly became a favorite of fans who looked forward to his inevitable appearance in each installment. The character's importance to the 007 formula became apparent early on to series' producer Albert R. Broccoli, resulting in Llewelyn appearing in 18 of the 19 subsequent Bond outings. Although he rarely set foot outside the lab, Q invariably played a key role in the success of 007's missions and Llewelyn's unforced likeability more than compensated for the fact that he spent his time inventing ways to kill people. "The World is Not Enough" (1999) established that the character would soon be leaving the series, something that sadly happened for certain when Llewelyn was killed in a car accident shortly after that entry's release. Although other actors took over Q's duties, none matched the degree of personality and charm that Llewelyn brought to a part he truly made his own.
Desmond Wilkinson Llewelyn was born on Sept. 12, 1914 in Newport, Wales, U.K. A graduate of Radley's College, Llewelyn discovered he had a knack for acting when a friend convinced him to try out for a local play. After failing a police entrance exam due to faulty eyesight, he joined the Forsyth Players repertory group, but eventually decided to become a priest. When that proved to be the wrong path, Llewelyn resumed performing and was accepted into the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. In addition to further stage work, he was among the first actors to appear on British television via the drama "Campbell of Kilmhor" (BBC, 1939), one of the earliest BBC broadcasts. However, when World War II broke out, Llewelyn put his professional ambitions on hold and served in the British army. His unit saw action in France, but Llewelyn was soon captured and held at German prisoner-of-war camps for the next five years. When fighting ended in 1945, Llewelyn picked up where he left off and appeared in BBC Shakespeare broadcasts, as well as an adaptation of "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (BBC, 1950) in which he played the doctor's fiendish alter ego. Terence Young's war drama "They Were Not Divided" (1945) provided Llewelyn with his first film role of any note, but subsequent assignments were mostly small and uncredited, so he focused mostly on television and stage work.
The first James Bond adventure "Dr. No" (1962) was a huge success worldwide and it was not long before the film's producers announced that the British superspy would be returning in "From Russia with Love" (1963). "Dr. No" director Terence Young was brought back for the sequel, but Peter Burton was not available to reprise his role as the MI6 man who supplied Bond with his trademark .32 Walther PPK handgun. Young brought Llewelyn into the 007 fold as a replacement and he proved to be an excellent fit. Not yet referred to by other characters as "Q" (short for "Quartermaster"), the character was well received and Llewelyn appeared in the next set of Bond features that followed. At first, Q first simply dispensed weapons, but as the series went on, he became a dependably amusing component of the series' humor. Rightfully proud of his outlandish but ingenious creations, he was regularly miffed that 007 rarely shared his enthusiasm or even seemed interested in learning how to properly use them ("Oh, do be careful, 007!"). Q's toys - including everything from lethally accessorized Aston Martins to an Electro-Magnetic Controller ring - almost invariably played a part in saving Bond's life, but usually ended up damaged or outright destroyed. Llewelyn's convincing delivery of unwieldy technical jargon and his amiability as a performer made the scenes something that fans came to relish.
His outings as Q made up the majority of Llewelyn's acting work outside of a supporting assignment in Bond producer Albert R. Broccoli's big-budget fantasy comedy "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" (1968) and a handful of guesting assignments on various British television programs. After years of intermittent engagements, Llewelyn finally landed his first recurring TV series character on the family drama "Follyfoot" (ITV, 1971-73). When Roger Moore took over as Bond for "Live and Let Die" (1973), Q did not make an appearance in the picture, even though fancy gadgetry still figured prominently in the storyline. Fans expressed their disappointment at his absence, so Llewelyn - who had been fulfilling his obligations on "Follyfoot" -returned to his familiar environs for "The Man with the Golden Gun" (1974). Although other actors would end up playing Bond over the years, Llewelyn's Q was a fixture in the next 10 of Broccoli's 007 outings and the character was finally granted some genuine field work in the Timothy Dalton installment "Licence to Kill" (1989).
With both Llewelyn and Q getting on in years, it was felt the time had come to give them both a send-off. Thus, "The World is Not Enough" (1999) provided Q with an assistant in the form of "R" (John Cleese), whom he was grooming to take over. However, R's incompetence proved just as exasperating to Q as Bond's impertinence. That year also saw the publication of Q: The Biography of Desmond Llewelyn, which the then-85-year-old performer supported with a book tour. After appearing at a book signing engagement, Llewelyn was involved in a head-on crash in his Renault Mégane and the internal injuries he suffered from the accident proved fatal a few hours later. The police investigation determined that Llewelyn had brought about the collision while trying to pass another car in an unsafe manner. By the time the next Bond entry, "Die Another Day" (2002), appeared in theatres, R had taken over the department. There was no mention of MI6's most reliable quartermaster having passed away, so Q was apparently finally enjoying a well-deserved retirement.
By John Charles
Cast (Feature Film)
Early TV appearance in British production of "A Midsummer's Night Dream"
Early film credit, "They Were Not Divided"
Introduced the character of Q in the James Bond films in "Goldfinger"