Desmond Llewelyn (September 12, 1914 – December 19, 1999) was a Welsh actor, famous for playing the fictional character of Q in the James Bond series of films. Q is the quartermaster of the MI6 gadget lab known as Q-branch.
Desmond Wilkinson Llewelyn was born in Newport, Monmouthshire in 1914, the son of a coal mining engineer. He originally wanted to be a minister. However during his education at Radley College he worked as a stagehand in the school’s productions and then picked up sporadic small parts.
The outbreak of World War II in September 1939 halted his acting career, and Llewelyn was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the British army, serving with the Royal Welch Fusiliers. In 1940, he was captured by the German army in France, and was held as a POW for five years. During this period he appeared in a number of theatrical productions as well as taking part in attempted escape activities.
Since 1963’s From Russia with Love, Llewelyn appeared as Q in every Bond film, except Live and Let Die (1973), until The World Is Not Enough (1999). He had originally been chosen for the role as he had previously worked with the director Terence Young on the 1950 war film They Were Not Divided. In the 2002 film Die Another Day, John Cleese, who played the character R, the assistant to Q in The World Is Not Enough, was promoted to the head of Q-branch, thus taking on the title of Q. Llewelyn appeared in other films such as the 1981 PBS production of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde and also a small appearance in the famous musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) and in the Ealing comedy The Lavender Hill Mob (1951). He acted on stage and appeared in the British television series Follyfoot – his commitments filming that series were the reason why he did not appear in Live and Let Die.
Contrary to his gadget-expert character in the Bond films, Llewelyn always maintained that he was totally lost in the world of technology.
Llewelyn was killed in a road accident on December 19, 1999 after returning home from a booksigning promoting his autobiography in East Sussex. He collided head-on with a car and died shortly after. He was 85. Roger Moore spoke at his funeral.
Llewelyn’s final Bond film, The World Is Not Enough, had been released only a few weeks before his death, and in his final scene in the picture he is shown being lowered into the ground beside a car. Although the film had alluded to Q’s retirement (though not stated that it was imminent) and introduced John Cleese’s character as heir presumptive, Llewelyn had stated not long before his death that he had no plans to retire and that he would continue playing Q “as long as the producers want me and the Almighty doesn’t.”