Desmond Llewelyn

"Yes, I know Q is beloved," Desmond said. "But for God's sake, don't make him some kind of sentimental grandfather -- that's what I am in real life."


Meeting Desmond Llewelyn was a little like meeting Santa Claus.

As a child, I first saw him in films like “Goldfinger” and “From
Russia with Love,” outfitting James Bond with a slew of fantastic
gadgets and weapons — the Aston Martin with the ejector seat, the
lethal briefcase with the hidden knife.

Back then, as an 8-year-old boy in suburban New Jersey, I
believed that surely, somehow, somewhere in London, Q existed. He
must be real, I told myself. Q and Bond. We needed guys like that
to fight the Cold War, didn’t we?

Thirty years later, in September 1994, I found myself sitting in an
abandoned Rolls Royce jet engine factory, 30 miles north of
London, writing the last draft of the James Bond film “Goldeneye.”

I’d held the legendary Bond gun, the Walther PPK. I’d taken the Aston
Martin for a spin. I’d learned — to my great amusement — that Q
stood for quartermaster, and that in the scripts, the gadgets and
weapons were referred to as Q-toys. But I still hadn’t met him.

Then, one October afternoon, Desmond Llewelyn came to our makeshift
movie studio for lunch. And, all of a sudden, I was an 8-year-old boy again.

“Yes, I know Q is beloved,” Desmond said, with a faint roll of the
eyes. “But for God’s sake, don’t make him some kind of sentimental
grandfather — that’s what I am in real life.”

“The key to Q is his conflict with Bond,” Desmond explained that
day at lunch. “When I was cast, the director said, ‘Everyone
loves Bond, except for you. You hate him. You don’t think he
appreciates you. Or your equipment. He doesn’t respect you. You’re
always saving his life, and he never says thank you.’”

To illustrate this, Desmond proceeded to replay the famous scene from
“Goldfinger,” where Q tells Bond about the ejector seat in the Aston
Martin. Bond’s reaction: “You must be joking,” to which Q replies, “I
never joke about my work, 007.”

Over the years, I would see Desmond in London or L.A.,
whenever we were in the same city. He became something like the
great uncle I always wanted, the one with the fantastic war stories.

He’d wrap his giant hands around a tumbler of Jack Daniels and joke
about the burdens of being typecast. He could talk with equal
enthusiasm about “Larry” Olivier, with whom he worked in the ’30s;
about Lara Croft vs. James Bond (“I don’t know about you, but the
way I see it, Lara Croft is no James Bond”) and about the battle of
Hastings, which took place near his home in Sussex in 1066.

“Of course I’m fascinated by it,” he’d explain, “I was there when it

Contrary to the usual actorly behavior on a movie set (disappearing
into your trailer for the 50 minutes between shots), Desmond was a
delight on set. He’d remain on the stage the whole day, signing
autographs and telling stories.

In fact, shooting Q’s scenes was always the highlight of any Bond
film. On the days that Desmond worked, the studio became a carnival.
What seemed like hundreds of guests would arrive hoping for a glimpse
of the two idols, Bond and Q. Ringed with onlookers, the soundstage
was all but transformed into theater as even the most blasi grip and
technician had made sure to get his son, nephew and uncle a pass
onto the set.

During the making of “Goldeneye” and “Tomorrow Never Dies,” there
were a handful of conversations between producers Michael Wilson and
Barbara Broccoli and Desmond and me about coming up with a strategy for
the character’s dignified exit from the series.

It became sort of a running joke: Whenever we left a restaurant,
he’d stuff a 10- or 12-page handwritten sequence into my
pocket, each one detailing a new, ever more elaborate exit for his

“Desmond,” I would reply, “these are 45-minute sequences. I
know you’re beloved, but –”

“You’ve got to figure out a way to write me out,” he’d laugh. “You
know, I’m not going to last forever.”

“Don’t be silly,” Barbara and Michael would respond. “You’ve got a
contract through 2015. We intend to hold you to it.”

But as we began this most recent film, “The World Is Not Enough,” a
decision was made that Q, as well as Desmond, should have the option
of retiring gracefully.

When I went back to my hotel room in London to write the scene, I
spent a fair amount of time thinking about who Q was. Why did he
touch a nerve with so many people? What archetype did Desmond
correspond to that resonated with so many different people all over
the world?

This is what appears in the script, dated June 16, 1999:

Q and Bond look at the balloon, rolling away. Then, as the noise
fades, Q and Bond share a moment. Both men know that after all these
years, all these missions, this might — possibly — be time for
goodbye. They look upon each other: Q’s Merlin to Bond’s Arthur.
Bond fights the sentimentality:


You’re not planning to retire anytime
soon, are you?

Q (ignoring this)

Pay attention, 007.
There are two things I’ve always tried to teach you. First: Never
let them see you bleed.


And second?


Always have an escape plan.

POOF!!! There’s a flash of powder, and Q disappears behind a secret
door. Bond nods, a fond salute farewell.

When Desmond Llewelyn died in a car accident on Sunday, Dec. 19, the world
lost an icon, and I lost a friend. Yet, as I sit here, writing this
24 hours later, I am left with two visions of Desmond.

The first was six months ago, as we shot that last scene on Stage
3 at Pinewood studios. Looking around the room, I saw dozens of
young English schoolboys staring — eyes wide open, mouths agape,
barely breathing — as Q and Bond ran their lines. I realized that
for those boys, as for me at that age, Santa may not have existed
anymore, but Q still did.

My second and last vision of Desmond took place barely a month ago,
at the party following the premiere of “The World Is Not Enough” in
Santa Monica, Calif.

At 1 o’clock in the morning, in a room filled with movie stars,
beautiful women and handsome men, Desmond Llewelyn, 85 years
old, sat at a long banquet table, alone under a blue light, besieged
by young fans, merrily signing autographs into the night.

Bruce Feirstein is a screenwriter and journalist. Aside from working on the last three James Bond films, his writing also appears in the New York Observer, and Vanity Fair.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>