Desmond Llewelyn, best known as “Q,” the faithful and canny supplier of trick cars, reverse-firing guns, exploding toothpaste and other spy-baiting toys through 17 of the 19 James Bond films, died Sunday of injuries suffered in a car crash. He was 85.
Llewelyn was returning home from autographing books about his life in the town of Firle in East Sussex south of London when his car slammed head-on into another auto. Sussex police said the actor died of massive multiple internal injuries after he was airlifted to a hospital.
Three people in the other car were said to be in stable condition, and no cause was given for the accident. Llewelyn was driving alone.
Even as the actor portraying the suave British secret agent changed from Sean Connery to George Lazenby to Roger Moore to Timothy Dalton to the current Pierce Brosnan, Llewelyn endured. His most recent Bond caper, “The World is Not Enough,” is now in theaters.
Aging wisely in the current film, Llewelyn is shown trying to train an apprentice--the comic John Cleese--for the day he ultimately might retire.
But in real life, the actor had no intention to ease out of the franchise that brought him his greatest fame, cinematic status and, at long last, modest wealth.
“I will play Q as long as God lets me. I have no inclination to stop,” he told a newspaper shortly before the opening of the current film, which introduces Cleese, designated “R,” moving into the gadget department.
Less than a month ago, Llewelyn told CBS News that he hoped to be on board for the 20th Bond installment scheduled for release in 2002.
Meanwhile, in existing footage, Llewelyn continues to devise new miracle gadgets for Bond, ever hopeful that his prize material may survive the mayhem-prone agent’s deployment. In the 1997 “Tomorrow Never Dies,” Llewelyn’s first line to Brosnan as Bond was a cautionary “Now pay attention, 007.” His last of the film, after Bond’s usual field day of explosive action, was: “Oh grow up, 007.”
On board from the second Bond film, “From Russia With Love” in 1963, Llewelyn resisted the director’s instruction that he use a Welsh accent, although he was born in South Wales, the son of a Welsh coal mining engineer.
“My interpretation of the character was that of a toffee-nosed English,” Llewelyn said. “At the risk of losing the part and with silent apologies to my native land, I launched into Q’s lines using the worst Welsh accent, followed by the same in English.”
The actor’s version, now a part of motion picture history, won out.
Llewelyn missed only the first Bond film, “Dr. No” in 1962, and the 1973 “Live and Let Die,” Moore’s first outing as 007.
The Q character, formally named Maj. Boothroyd, was nicknamed “Q” for Quartermaster, a position in the British army that specializes in sciences for the military. No such character existed in the Ian Fleming novels creating James Bond, although the written Bond did receive equipment from Q Branch.
Ironically, Llewelyn said that absent the Bond cinematic magic, he was “allergic to gadgets” and couldn’t even manipulate a hotel key card correctly. His comfortable home in Bexhill, England, has no computer or cell phone.
Asked repeatedly to name his favorite Bond gadget and his favorite Bond, Llewelyn hedged. Didn’t have favorites, he would say, but then concede he particularly liked a grenade fountain pen from the 1995 “Golden Eye.” As for the actors, he clearly liked and admired Connery and Moore, noting that Moore simply gave Bond a lighter style. He always dismissed Lazenby with “He wasn’t an actor,” and called Dalton “tough, the nearest to Fleming’s Bond.” But he rated Brosnan “terrific,” credited him with reinventing Connery’s 007 and bluntly predicted that Brosnan “will be the definitive Bond.”
As a youth in Wales, Llewelyn envisioned careers as a clergyman or accountant. But at 17, he spent a religious retreat perusing Film Weekly magazine instead of praying. So he focused on acting, beginning as a stagehand in high school, and studied with the Royal Academy for the Dramatic Artists.
Llewelyn spent his entire career as a character actor in supporting roles and achieved fame only in his 50s as Q. His first film was the 1939 “Ask a Policeman.”
When World War II intervened, Llewelyn joined the Royal Welsh Fusiliers of the British army. He was captured in France and was a German prisoner of war for five years.
After the war, he toured in small repertory theater troupes before resuming his film career in 1950. In addition to a dozen or so non-Bond films, Llewelyn appeared on several television series, including 1979 episodes of PBS’ “Masterpiece Theater.”
The actor is survived by his wife of 61 years, Pamela, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease; two sons, Ivor and Justin, and two grandchildren.