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From the Archive
Issue #37 (2000)



Desmond Llewelyn as Q

Pay Attention 007!

Desmond with Matthew Field 1999

On Sunday 19th December 1999, Desmond Llewelyn was killed in a car crash. The loss, not only to his family and friends, but to James Bond fans around the world, was immense. Desmond always had time for the fans, something that never went unnoticed. This final major interview, conducted in April 1999 at his Bexhill home, is a testament to the man. Here he discusses his life and work and thoughts previously unrevealed, to MATTHEW FIELD.

How did you become involved in the film industry? Did you always anticipate that acting was the path you would take, or was it a decision you made later in life?
I wasn’t really interested in acting in the slightest bit. I was at Radley where I shared a study with Dennis Price, and when I went to Radley I joined the Amateur Dramatics Society, really as a seat shifter as we were re-building the theatre. The first play I saw there was As You Are, and then they did The Devil’s Disciple. Then Dennis said to me why don’t you come and act in Bulldog Drummond. I said no, I wasn’t interested in acting.  I had done a house play before, which I was pushed into, where I played a vicar in the first scene.  When I did Bulldog Drummond I thought that this was rather fun, and then the next play I did was She Stoops to Conquer. I played Marlow, and Dennis played the other character, whose name I can't remember. I thought this was rather fun. After that we took a lot of one act plays to the East End, St Peter’s London Docks was a very poor parish, and the school sort of adopted it. We went down there and put on sketches and plays, and from then on I thought I’d better be an actor. My family were slightly against it – my father was dead. He would have never agreed to me being an actor, he would have disliked it very much.  I had an uncle who was a Chief Inspector of the Constabulary. He thought I’d better go into the Police, but luckily they turned me down because of my eyes. My eyes have long since been all right!  Anyway, I went to the Academy in 1933 and got my first job at Southend-on-Sea in the Repertory, and in the first year I did 40 to 50 plays. I came down here to Bexhill-on-Sea to the Pavilion in 1937.

You’ve been here ever since?
No. The only reason I’m here is because my wife Pamela inherited that house across the way. The Pavilion opened in 1936 with the premiere of Bernard Shaw’s The Millionairess.  I met my wife, and I was here in Repertory until 1938, and in '39 I toured in plays.  I did my first film Ask A Policeman, with Will Hay. Then I was with the Oxford Repertory company, which was once weekly and twice nightly.  One went into the theatre and rehearsed at 10 o’clock in the morning, finished rehearsing at 2 o’clock, and then went back in the theatre at five for two performances – then you had to learn your lines for the next week.  They were going to have a wonderful new season in 1939, and were going to have world premieres of plays, European plays and British premieres of plays, all the London producers were coming down.  It caused great excitement in the company, whether one was going to be engaged in this wonderful new season or not. Unfortunately war broke out.

World War 2 interrupted your career. After the war, was your enthusiasm for acting as strong as it was before, and what lead to your next break, They Were Not Divided in 1950?
I was just as keen on acting, as I was a prisoner of war, and I was putting on plays in Germany.  My stage career was interrupted due to my time in the prison camp. I spent quite a bit of time trying to escape, digging tunnels and things like that. I was actually caught down a tunnel and dug out, which landed me in the cooler for 10 days.  I then went back to acting because at the time I was learning Welsh, and I thought it would be rather a good idea to get books, and get escape equipment through by asking for books in Welsh. I went to the escape committee and they thought it was a good idea, so I sent this letter or postcard through. When I came back I went into acting. The first thing I did after that was a play called Golden Eagle, with Claire Loose. Then I was a blur in the background of Hamlet, and also appeared in As You Like It, and A Midsummer Night's Dream.

From Russia With Love came along in 1963, did you screen test for the role of Major Boothroyd, as the character was known early on, or were you automatically offered the role due to your previous involvement with the director Terence Young?
Yes. I had already done They Were Not Divided with Terence in 1949.

From Russia With Love (1963)

Desmond makes his first appearance in From Russia With Love (1963) opposite Sean Connery as James Bond and Bernard Lee as M.

Did you screen test for the role of Boothroyd?
No, no, no – you see Terence knew me. What he wanted was me to play it as a Welshman. I had a helluva fight with him because I told him it wouldn’t work as I could only do a broad Welsh accent, and a south Welsh accent. He wouldn’t have been a Major with that type of accent. In the end I said is this what you want: (breaks into a strong Welsh accent) “This lovely case I got ’ere, I just press a button and out comes a knife!” He said ‘no, no’, so I played him as a toffee-nosed Englishman ever since.

Prior to being cast had you read any of the Ian Fleming novels?
No. I had seen the cartoon strips in the Daily Express? I remember thinking what a wonderful film this would make. Then finally my agent rang up and said there was a small part going in the new Bond film – do you want to be in it?  I said don’t be so bloody silly, and didn’t mean because it was a Bond film – it was just work.

When you finished shooting From Russia With Love, did you have any idea that you were going to be asked to continue the role in succeeding James Bond films?
No, no. Not at all. In fact I was lucky. Peter Burton who played the part in Dr. No was unavailable. There is a real character Boothroyd who is a gun expert from Glasgow. I haven’t met him unfortunately, but I would like to because he wrote to Ian Fleming while he was writing his books, and he said he liked everything about James Bond except his deplorable taste in weapons. He told Fleming that the Beretta was a useless gun, and only used by a lady – and not a very nice lady at that. This is why we have Boothroyd in Dr. No, handing over the Walther PPK. Actually there is a new gun now, but I can’t remember what it's called. They had the P99 in the last one, but there is a better gun now. When I played Boothroyd in From Russia With Love, the first line was originally “Ask Major Boothroyd to come in,” but Terence said we can’t use that because he is a different character. So instead he changed it to “Ask the equipment officer to come in.”  That’s how I became Q.  I am not listed in the credits as Q until

Can you recall your first meeting with Harry Saltzman and ‘Cubby’ Broccoli?
With ‘Cubby’ yes, because ‘Cubby’ actually came onto the set. He was remarkable man, a fantastic producer, and if it wasn’t for ‘Cubby’ there wouldn’t be Bond films today.  He is the main reason for them. When I arrived he came onto the set to welcome me. Normally one doesn’t meet a producer. ‘Cubby’ was there, in fact there was a small party, and I was invited to it, which was quite amazing as I was only playing a small part, and that’s when I met Ian Fleming. I went up to ask him if he remembered a friend of mine at Eton with him.

“I had my first publicity in Thunderball, when I was photographed with all the gadgets – but no one took any notice. I started to become well known when the films started to be shown on television.”

Desmond on the set of The World Is Not Enough (1999) On location for Thunderball (1965)
Q with gadgets

ABOVE: (left) Desmond on set for The World Is Not Enough (1999) (top right) Desmond is photographed on location for Thunderball (1965). (bottom right) Q with his tricks of the trade.

Did you feel that Terence Young or Guy Hamilton had the strongest influence on the creation of the character of Q?
Oh definitely Guy. For Terence it was a straight ordinary part, I was just demonstrating the brief case. At the beginning of Goldfinger I’m working at my desk and Bond comes in. In the rehearsal I got up to greet him. Guy said “no, no – you take no notice of this man, you don’t particularly like him, he doesn’t treat your gadgets with any respect”.  I got the script of Goldfinger, and I really must say I found it a very odd script to read you see, because it had all these odd remarks, but as soon as he said I don’t really like Bond it all fell into place. So it was Guy who gave me this idea of this love/hate I have with Bond, because Q is an old man, and even in those days I was much older than Bond, so he didn’t really approve of his way of life at all. Also he didn’t like the way Bond treated his equipment. He treated it with contempt and just as a joke. Over the years, naturally, Q has become quite fond of Bond.

During the production of Thunderball you experienced your first location shoot in the Bahamas.
Oh it was fascinating. I was sent out there as wet-weather cover. I went down to the studios at Pinewood to do my one scene. I hung about all day, and Terence was directing a scene with a lot of girls in it, and it took longer than it should of. About 5 o’clock they said you can go home, so I said “when am I wanted next”, and they said they didn’t know because they were going on location to the Bahamas on Saturday. About a week later, the telephone rang. I was wanted out in the Bahamas. I thought oh good I have got an extra scene.  When I got out there I found out that I was wet-weather cover. It was a bit boring, so I used to go out and watch the filming. We had a very fussy little production manager, and if I wanted to go out, such as down to Nassau, I would have to go and see him and ask for his permission. He would look at the weather, and if it wasn't sunny, say okay.  After I had been out there about three weeks he told me I was going home, and that they were not going to use Pinder’s Store, which was my scene. They couldn’t get me on the plane right away, so on the Monday I was a told I would be catching a plane that afternoon. I packed, and then the telephone rang and I was told I wasn’t going. The first assistant Gus Agosti, came into the production office and said although it's a dull day we could do Pinder’s Store, and one of the other chaps said no we can’t because we are sending Desmond home. So Agosti said does Cubby know?  They rang up Cubby – and Cubby had a fit of course – because it was much cheaper to keep me out there, because in those days it was First Class fare home, and I stayed out there and came home on the charter. Eventually I did my scene a couple of weeks later – in the studio!

Thunderball marked the beginning of Bondmania. Was it around this time the press first started to recognise you as James Bond’s gadget man?
No it didn’t start with Thunderball. I had my first publicity in Thunderball, when I was photographed with all the gadgets – but no one took any notice. I started to become well known when the films started to be shown on television.

Due to a legal wrangle early in 1964 concerning the rights to Thunderball, producer Kevin McClory became involved with the production of the movie. What was the relationship like between Saltzman, Broccoli, and McClory, who has since spent the last 20 years battling with EON Productions over the rights to future remakes of Thunderball?
There was nothing when we were making Thunderball.  Kevin was charming, he’s gone a bit mad now, but there was no friction amongst them at all. I knew them only in the Bahamas, and I knew Kevin quite well. It was thanks to Kevin that Thunderball was my first premiere, which he invited me to. When Thunderball was an enormous success he started talking about what films he was going to make, he was going to make a film about Michael Collins, God knows what he wasn't going to do, but nothing ever happened, then 10 years after he made Never Say Never Again. Then he said he was going to make another one, but I think he has sold out his rights to Sony, I think it's all finished now.

Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Follyfoot (1971)
Desmond played ‘The Colonel’ in the UK TV series Follyfoot (1971)
Octopussy (1983)

Octopussy (1983) saw Q and his team relocated to India.

Desmond as Coggins with Adrian Hall and Heather Ripley in Ian Fleming's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)

Desmond as Coggins with Adrian Hall and Heather Ripley in Ian Fleming's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)

Many argue that Sean Connery’s performance in Thunderball was his best. What are you fondest recollections of working with Sean?
He was a highly professional actor. He was extremely good. He was a very good Bond, although he did have the best scripts, he had Fleming’s stories. He was very nice to work with. A lot of the irritation I showed in those earlier films are because I was not an established character in the films, and one had to know your lines, and I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about, and I had to learn it like a parrot. Sean in character was always fiddling about, so a lot of the irritation was because it was distracting my train of thought. But no, he was very good.

Sean Connery received constant harassment from the media while filming in Japan on You Only Live Twice, and he became quite miserable because of it. 
He did have an awful time in Japan. He was at the height of his fame really. They just wouldn’t leave him alone. I was out in Japan for a week and used to go along and watch the filming. But I had only one scene with Sean and that all went beautifully.

Did you have much contact with Ken Wallis, who built and designed the autogyro ‘Little Nellie’ which you presented to Bond in You Only Live Twice?
I’ve had quite a lot to do with him over recent years. When I was out in Japan he was out there naturally. But it’s only recently that I’ve got to know him quite well, because he usually presents ‘Little Nellie’ when we do the James Bond fan club conventions together. 

Desmond lines up with the rest of the cast for GoldenEye (1995) at the international press conference at Leavesden.

Apparently Sean Connery was displeased that Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell appeared in Operation Kid Brother, the Italian spaghetti Bond film, because he felt that it exploited his brother Neil. Why didn't you appear in the film?
I wasn’t asked.

Have you ever seen the film?

1969 marked the arrival of George Lazenby as 007. Did you meet Lazenby before you began shooting, and what were your first impressions of the guy?
I know about George from what he has told me later. He wasn’t an actor, he was a car salesman. It was jolly bad luck with him really. When he met Cubby and he asked him to do a test, he had never met an actor and didn’t know what a test was. He spent a couple of days looking for actors, to find out what happened. Then some idiot said ‘you’re a star now behave like one’. He had only read in the papers how stars behaved off the set, such as getting drunk and having a good time. What he didn’t realise was on the set they were highly professional people, they didn’t argue with the director, they learnt their lines, they were on time. Lazenby just behaved extremely badly. 

Cubby Broccoli wrote in his autobiography that George was difficult on set by having, “an arms-length relationship with everyone.” In your preparation for your scene with George in Portugal, do you remember any evidence of this behaviour?
I do know exactly what happened. He just walked off the set because he wasn’t allowed to ride a horse. He was fooling around on a horse, and Bernard (Lee) fell down, the owner said he (Lazenby) shouldn’t ride it, because it was amongst all the extras. The extras weren’t just normal film extras, they were people like Colonels and Generals who were living in Portugal. They were told that if they wore the right clothes they could all be in the film, and this was about 11 o’clock in the morning. George Lazenby said that if he couldn’t ride his horse he was going, and he walked off the set.

How did Cubby get him back on set?
I don’t think Cubby was even there. They didn’t get him back on set, they had to shoot round him all day. He was telling the director how to direct and just behaving abominably, he behaved badly towards the press, and of course he got bad press coverage. I think he was a good Bond, he’s extremely good in the death of his wife at the end.

In 1995 you were the subject of This Is Your Life, when Lois Maxwell recalled amusing incidents in Portugal during the filming of OHMSS. Over the years did you build up a friendly relationship with the regulars such as Lois and Bernard; and in later years Geoffrey Keen?
Geoffrey I knew well because I was at the Academy with Geoffrey, and he is my son’s Godfather. I haven’t seen Geoffrey for ages now, we were great friends, and we still are friends. Bernard I was a great friend of, I never really saw Lois, I saw her a little afterwards, she wasn’t really in any scenes with me. I think the only scenes I have with her are the ones in A View To A Kill at Ascot. But Bernard was awfully nice, a bloody good actor too.

Diamonds Are Forever marked the return of Sean Connery in 1971, with main location shooting in Las Vegas. Were your scenes shot entirely at Pinewood, or were you lucky enough to visit Vegas for the shoot?
I went out to Vegas. I was there for a week, I think it was. I remember Guy Hamilton telling me they went to shoot the Strip for odd scenes, and the lighting from the Strip was too strong for the camera. I remember going into ‘Circus Circus’ with Charles Gray, and there were all these fantastic acrobats flying about, and no one was taking a blind bit of notice, they were all gambling underneath.  I remember him turning to me and saying “Perhaps the Russians have something!” I have been out there quite a few times since doing various things. I stayed in the MGM Hotel, and I think that’s the hotel in which if you slept in a different hotel room every night it would take you twenty-five years!

1971 also marked your involvement in the TV series Follyfoot. How did you become involved in this series?
My agent put me up and I went for a test, and I ended up playing the Colonel. I had a lovely time. I loved it; I loved every moment of it. Michael Apted directed me in a couple of the episodes. I remember him from Follyfoot well. Bernard (Lee) also did a scene in the series.

Live And Let Die was your one and only absence from the series since you joined the cast. Why?
I don’t know.  I was actually written out of Follyfoot to be in it. I think Saltzman was getting fed up with the gadgets.

How did you feel about being cut out of the movie?
Bloody annoyed. I know it was probably only one or two days work, but I was annoyed because I had been cut out of Follyfoot for it, they had written me out of three episodes so I could go and do Bond, and then they decided not to use me.
Desmond with the Octopussy girls

Have you seen the movie since, and what do you think of it compared to the others in the series?
Yes, I think it's all right, I think it’s a good film. Everyone has a favourite. I mean a lot of people have written to me and said what a great film A View To A Kill is, which I think is not one of the best, and some think it's among the best – which is incredible.

The Man With The Golden Gun was probably the least exciting role for you to play as Q, as the level of gadgets is exceedingly low. Why do you think this was the case?
Were there no gadgets in it? 

You didn’t give Bond any gadgets.
No, I didn’t give him any gadgets did I... I identified the golden bullet.