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22 September, 2013

Bond Trivia #4: The Alphabet Boss

There are always 2 main alphabets used as names in the James Bond series, M and Q. Everyone knows Q stands for quartermaster, but

What is M short for?

When Ian Fleming wrote the character M, he had several people in mind. The most widely known inspiration was his superior officer during World War 2, Admiral John Godfrey, who was a serious, efficient, no-nonsense authority figure. But what most people do not know is that Ian Fleming used to call to his own mother as M when he was young. His mother was very strict and was certainly a person he was frightened of.
Admiral John Henry Godfrey, Fleming's own M.
Along with Q and Ms Moneypenny, M is the character who was portrayed in almost every film adaptation of James Bond, with exception of For Your Eyes Only. The character was played by 4 different actors in the Eon series although it was not mentioned whether all 4 were playing the same character or if M was just a position held by 4 different people.

1. Vice Admiral Sir Miles Messervy (Dr No - Moonraker)
M in Dr No (above) and Moonraker (below) 17 years apart.
In 11 films over the span of 17 years, the role of M was played by the late Bernard Lee. He was often described as a strong leader who thinks highly of Bond but maintains his authority at all times, very similar to Fleming's intended character in the novels. He even starred in the Italian parody of James Bond called O.K. Connery starring Sean Connery's brother, Neil Connery as the title character in 1967 and another French parody called Bons Baisers de Hong Kong (From Hong Kong With Love) in 1975.
Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell portrayed their roles in these parodies
In 1981 when For Your Eyes Only had just started filming, Bernard Lee died from stomach cancer before he could film any scenes for his role. His character of M was not replaced by another actor immediately out of respect for the actor. Instead his role was divided by MI6 chief of staff Bill Tanner and Minister of Defense Sir Fredrick Gray while his character was on leave.
His portrait was in M's office in The World is Not Enough.
2. Rear Admiral Hargreaves (Octopussy - License to Kill)
Robert Brown in Octopussy.
Actor Robert Brown replaced Bernard Lee's role as M in Octopussy (1983) and played the character for a total of 4 Bond movies over 6 years. Before playing M, he played another small character in The Spy Who Loved Me, leading to fans speculating that that character was reassigned. His M was not actually named in the film series and Rear Admiral Hargreaves was actually the name of his previous role. Robert Brown's M was slightly different and many consider him to be more lenient with Bond than his previous counterpart, with exception of revoking Bond's license in License to Kill.
Admiral Hargreaves in The Spy Who Loved Me
3. Olivia Mansfield (Goldeneye - Skyfall)
M in Goldeneye (above) and Skyfall (below) 17 years apart.
Bond had a 6 year hiatus after License to Kill and it was time for a radical change. The world has changed after the end of the Cold war and Bond had to start fresh with Goldeneye. Experienced actress Dame Judi Dench played the role of the first female M, who was modeled after the real life head of MI5 Stella Rimington at that time.
*Spoiler Alert* M dies at the end of the film, passing the torch to the next actor.
She starred in 8 Bond films and was the only actor to cross over from the "Brosnan era" to the reboot in 2006's Casino Royale. Among all the actors portraying this role, she has probably the most screen time and the most character development. From the start she was cold and strong towards Bond, at some point even seems like she really dislikes Bond. But her relationship with Bond evolved especially in The World is not Enough where she was kidnapped and in Skyfall for which her character drove the movie more than Bond's motivation.
Gareth Mallory in the final scene of Skyfall as M
Skyfall is the first official Bond film with 2 Ms which provided extensive character development for the previous M and additional character development for the new M, Lieutenant Colonel Gareth Mallory portrayed by Ralph Fiennes in preparation for the next film. Who knows what will we get with this new M?

So what does M stand for? Is it a designation for the chief of MI6? Or is it an abbreviation for their last names (Messervy, Mansfield, Mallory)? Probably only Ian Fleming knows the answer.


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