Desmond Wilkinson Llewelyn

Desmond Wilkinson Llewelyn was born on September 12, 1914 in Newport, Wales. He trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and has an interesting and varied career in reperatory theatre and early cinema in Britain. Mr. Llewelyn was married to his wife, Pamela, on May 16, 1938 in Kensington, London. A little more than a year later, Mr. Llewelyn served his country in World War II in the 1st Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. The battalion formed part of the British Expeditionary Force in Northern France and in the aftermath of the retreat to Dunkirk, Llewelyn was captured and served the duration of the conflict as a Prisoner Of War in Germany.

After the war, Desmond Llewelyn’s career as a working actor continued. However, good luck was the catalyst that won Llewelyn the role of James Bond’s armourer after Peter Burton, who played the part in the first James Bond film, Dr. No in 1962 could not reprise the character. Mr. Llewelyn had worked with director Terence Young on an earlier war picture They Were Not Divided and they resumed their professional relationship on the second 007 film.

Mr. Llewelyn had a strong dramatic sense of what he perceived would work in the role and convinced Young that the role of Major Boothroyd should be played as an English civil servant instead of a boffin speaking in a lilting Welsh accent. The character was further refined on the next Bond film, Goldfinger, when director Guy Hamilton advised Llewelyn that his character does not actually like James Bond because of the contempt with which the secret agent treats Q Branch’s equipment.

Desmond Llewelyn reprised the role of Major Boothroyd a.k.a. Q in every subsequent James Bond film except Live And Let Die. The size of the part varied but the popularity of the character always increased. At the press screening of the 1989 James Bond film, Licence To Kill, starring Timothy Dalton as 007, jaded journalists and reviewers cheered the appearance of Q (in his biggest role) denoting an enthusiasm for the character that was shared by a global cinema audience.

Llewelyn always felt typecast by the role and in many ways was a victim of his own success. While admitting to be hopeless with gadgets in real life, the actor was utterly authoritative in the small but important role in each film. His conviction on the way the role should be played was buttressed by subtle attention to detail: clues to the character’s background can be seen in the various ties worn by Llewelyn throughout the series. Mr. Llewelyn did manage to do other television work in Britain as well as the odd film and advertising campaign.

In the 19th and latest James Bond film, The World Is Not Enough, at Llewelyn’s suggestion, the character of Q obtained an assistant in the form of John Cleese. It is significant that only an actor of Mr. Cleese’s stature was thought suitable to continue the tradition of Quartermaster to Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Bruce Feirstein, one of the writers on the film said that he envisaged Q’s exit in the film to be similar to that of Merlin leaving King Arthur. The scene works beautifully and has now, tragically, attained greater poignancy.

Desmond Llewelyn had no plans to retire from the James Bond series and often stated: “I’ll carry on working as long as Eon wants me and the Almighty doesn’t.” It is, thus, of particular sadness that that a man who survived the better part of this pivotal century should leave it in such a sudden manner.

The actor, Desmond Llewelyn, was killed on December 19, 1999 in a head-on collision in Southern England, Mr. Llewelyn was airlifted to Eastbourne District General Hospital but died from massive internal injuries at 5:20 p.m. GMT. He was 85 years old.

Here is a scene 6 months before his death
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:
BOND
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.
BOND
And second?
Q
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.