Our beloved Q
, he constituted many of the best parts of the Bond movies. He added much of the innocent fun to the series that made it so well balanced. He was always the first to chastise double-oh-seven for his "adolescent
antics" but also the first to relate to him, as he also seemed to be out of place, though neither of them would say so. He always made us laugh, and, only in death did we cry and realize how we related to him.
Desmond was born into a fairly wealthy family in Newport, Wales on the 12th of November, 1914. His ancestry had been poor but his grandfather, Llewlyn Llewelym, brought the family out of the pits of the mines and established a colliery and became high sherriff of Monmouthshire. His son, Ivor, married his cousin when they were both thirty. They gave birth to two children, Desmond and his younger sister Noreen.
From a very young age Desmond was interested in acting. He enjoyed donning full formal dress and, after getting over being mistaken for a girl in his first year at attendance, attended the annual hospital ball with much pleasure. At nine, he was enrolled in the Priory preparatory school where his interests in acting continued unabated. His father, however, was not quite as keen on this notion. Desmond recalls: "At eleven or twelve... My father had tut-tutted against any childish dreams of acting, claiming this profesasion 'was filled with queers and loose women'. I wasn't sure what he meant, but it sounded interesting." Though he was, by his own admission, lacking in his studies, with some tutelage, he was able to attend Radley College near Oxford in 1927. His father died just three years following and Desmond was left with three choices as to how he would pay the debt his father had left behind as a result of his "market dabbling". He decided that, since his rugby skills were not nearly enough, and he did not wish to join the church he would ply a career in acting.
He was helped into acting by his 6'3" frame, good looks and gregarious nature, the actual acting, however, was more difficult. He made his way through the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art but learned very little. He moved on to the Little Theatre Company in Southend and then to the Forsyth Players at Oxford, aside from a few successes, these were slow times for Desmond. It was, however, while he was with the Forsyth's that he met Pamela Pantlin, the daughter of a wealthy local; far out of his reach. This could not stop true love, however, the disparity could frighten Desmond away from the subject of marriage. It was, in fact, she who proposed to him. He retorted saying, "I'd love to, but I'm broke", she replied, more than slightly exasperated, "If you want to marry me, bugger the money." So they did, and married May 16th, 1938, he at 23, she at 25.
Acting was slow, but tempers were not during those days. World War II broke out and Desmond signed up for a commission. He was assigned 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Welch Fusiliers and went to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force. It was here that he was captured by the Germans in 1940 and was kept their prisoner for five years to the day. It might have been shorter had the escape tunnel (in whose creation he had been central) been more effectual.
Desmond began once again on the slow path of acting, trying daily to make ends meet. He sold much of his families land after his mother died and was able to purchase for his family a house in Chelsea, which was later sold to acquire a larger house in Battle. This second house was sadly destroyed in a fire but the couple was welcomed at Pamela's family home where they spent many of their years and gave birth to two sons, Ivor and Justin.
Following his return home Desmond played a number of minor roles both in film and stage and a few middling roles on television. It wasn't until 1963 that he was offered the role that would make him a household name (well, in the character sense, not actually in the letter sense).
The part of Boothroyd (the role was not credited as Q till Thunderball) was played by Peter Burton in Doctor No, the first Bond film. When it came time to shoot From Russia With Love, Peter Burton was unavailable to play the part, so Desmond was phoned up for the one day shoot. Upon arrival at the studio, Desmond was greeted and interviewed by none other than Cubby Broccoli himself. Having read Ian Fleming's novels, Desmond had a different take on the part which we will call Q for the sake of simplicity. He thought that Q should be a very straight, "toffee-nosed" Englishman, with a slight awe of double-oh-seven. The producer, thankfully, disagreed with him and thought that he should be played as a Welshman, generally annoyed with Bond. "He's irritatingly flippant and doesn't treat your gadgets with respect." said Guy Hamilton, the director. And so it was, Q would treat double-oh-seven with an air of both annoyance and humour and the gadgets would, as we saw, get really really cool.
By the time that Goldfinger was released, Q's gadgets were an expected addition to the Bond formula. Throughout Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, n Her Majesty's Secret Service and Diamonds Are Forever, Q's gadgets were a central feature, loved by audiences and integral to much of the plot. One can imagine Llewelyn's surprise when Q's role was dropped from Live And Let Die. This was supposedly to give the series a more serious air, the public, however, would have nothing to do with it, they wanted Q. He was back in The Man With The Golden Gun and his status as an institution began to rise. The role of Q changed from then on, it went from a minor, utilitarian role to more of a mentor and a straight man. The culmination of this was in The World is Not Enough when he really came out as a teacher and almost a father-figure to James.
Though EON Productions chose to leave Q's return open ended, he had intended to return for Bond 20. He would continue being Q "just so long as EON want me and The Almighty doesn't"
Desmond Llewelyn died on December 19th, 1999, returning from a booksigning, leaving behind his two sons, a wife sadly held by Alzheimers, and a world with one less hero.