Q's Just Not The Same

Missing Desmond Llewelen

James Bond wouldn't be much if it wasn't for his gadgets. They saved his bacon on more than one occasion and every one of them from a laser watch to missile toting automobile was given to him by one man...Q. While Bond's and M's have changed through the years, the one constant was Desmond Llewelyn's Q.

If there was ever a man that could measure up Bond in a second and put him in his place, it was Q. When it was Connery, the two men weren't that far apart in age. Q and Bond could easily have been friends and as they got older, so did the deepness of their friendship.

The Roger Moore years saw a more distance between them, which I blame just as much on Moore's standoffishness as anything else. It wasn't until the Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan years that the familiarity was back again. By then, the dynamic was different. Q had aged considerably, but Bond was ageless. Their relationship was almost like father and son, where the father had to just let him go out and make his mistakes.

Q didn't treat Bond like he was the end all be all super agent. he knew that much if his success came from is gadgets and treated him accordingly. When Llewelyn died 1999, John Cleese had some pretty big shoes to fill. Cleese is known for his comedy and sadly that's what Q has been reduced to in the recent movies.

A man exasperated by Bond without the strength to call the super agent on his mistakes. I hope as the series continued Q once again gets that camaraderie that Llewelyn worked so hard on for decades. 

Don't forget about George Lazenby

His ego broke his Bond.

While Sean Connery may be considered the most dapper of the Bonds, George Lazenby might be considered the most conceited. This male model turned car dealer learned that Connery feared being typecast and quit the Bond gig after only four movies.

The studies were desperately seeking a new Bond and all the big name actors tried out, but Lazenby, who had no prior acting experience, won out because he looked good landing a punch. His one and only Bond movie “Her Majesty's Secret Service,” did mediocre in the box office, but it was good enough to solidify Lazenby as the next Bond.

What happened next is a typical Hollywood tale. Lazenby became drunk with power and fame, and since it was the '60s, fell in with the hippie crowd. They felt that Bond represented the establishment with his reaction to problems with violence and his objectification of women. When he was ready to start the next movie, Lazenby showed up in a full beard and wanted way more money than before.

Unlucky for Lazenby, Connery had come to his senses and once he heard that Lazenby was on the outs, was more than happy to take up the mantle once again. Lazenby had bit parts here and there, but could never recover after the Bond debacle. Lazenby has come to regret his decision to push too hard and that it pretty much ended his acting career.

Several others have come after Connery as Bond, but none had quite the same flair for the drama as Lazenby.

Oh, how I miss Pierce Brosnan

The best Bond ever.

Last Sunday, I had to resort to running on the treadmill for my 23-mile run.  The hurricane was on its way to my town, and I had no choice but to train for my upcoming marathon race from inside.  Luckily for me, there was a Bond movie airing on TV that morning.  Even better was the fact that the movie starred Pierce Brosnan—my all-time favorite Bond, James Bond.Ever since Pierce Brosnan has ceased to be a part of the Bond franchise, I have stopped watching 007 movies.  The reason being that to me, Pierce Brosnan is James Bond.  He simply looks the part.  Sexy, sophisticated, suave, smooth and cool are the words that quickly come to mind when hearing the name Pierce Brosnan. When seeing him onscreen, it is easy to see why all of the gorgeous Bond girls fall for 007.

In my humble opinion, Pierce Brosnan is easily the sexiest James Bond ever.  His eyes alone can make just about any female feel weak in the knees.  But it is not just his physical attributes that make him look so very hot, it is also due to the facial expressions that he makes while onscreen.

Besides his great looks, Pierce Brosnan is also one fine actor. He makes the 007 character comes alive. To this day, I am still upset by the fact that he got replaced. The franchise should have let him portray Bond in at least two more films.  Anyways, I am glad to have been able to catch the rerun of Brosnan’s 007 movie during my long run last weekend.  His wonderful screen presence was what got me through that long treadmill run.

James Bond

A different character in the books.

Bond. James Bond. 007. The British Secret Service agent with a license to kill. Is there any more iconic figure in the world of entertainment? One of the most successful movie franchise ever, currently only behind Harry Potter, the James Bond series may reclaim the top spot with the release of Skyfall in late 2012.I love the James Bond movies, especially the older ones, but recently I started reading the books. I agree with almost every statement ever made about the difference between a book and a movie – the book is better. The only exceptions I can think to this could possibly be The Shining and The Godfather, two excellent books that were made into two of the greatest movies of all time.

When you think of James Bond, how many images come to mind? Martinis – shaken not stirred. Baccarat tables in Monte Carlo. Beautiful women and all the larger-than-life villains. The gadgets – from cars to watches – provided by Q in the Q branch.

But the original series of books written by Ian Fleming presents a slightly different character. He’s less of a spy and more of an assassin. He is darker and less forgiving. He doesn’t sleep with all of the women, but often keeps his attraction in check in order to complete his mission, like in Dr. No. And sometimes he falls in love, getting married in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Also missing from the books are the gadgets. In the books Bond relies more on his wits and talent, such as his expertise in golf in Goldfinger.

If you like Bond and like to read, then I highly recommend checking out the books.

Famous Spies: Jeremy Wolfenden

Jeremy Wolfenden was born in 1934 in England.  He was one of the top in his classes throughout school and known for being an extremely intelligent individual.  He studied politics, philosophy and economics, eventually becoming involved in journalism.  It was the time of the Cold War and Wolfenden was quickly recruited by the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) to work for them as a spy in Moscow.

Wolfenden also happened to be a homosexual.  During this time, it was particularly rough to have such a lifestyle and this was not made easier by the fact that his father was the chair of the Wolfenden Report - a condemnation in law of homosexual acts in Britain.  He represented everything that his father fought against and, if exposed, would have been an outcast among his own people.  This was further complicated by the fact that Wolfenden had a strong liking for both sex and alcohol.  These indulgences would eventually get him into trouble and shape the scope of his spying activities.

The KGB found out about his bad habits and attempted to use them to get Wolfenden to spy for them.  They threatened to expose his homosexuality and thus discredit him.  Wolfenden, valuing loyalty to his country over his own personal reputation, went to his British commanders in the SIS and told them of the KGB’s threats.  Instead of condemning him for his lifestyle, the SIS instead encouraged Wolfenden to play the KGB’s game.  He pretended to spy for them, feeding them false information, but all the while was still working for the SIS.

Eventually, the pressure became too much for him.  Both the SIS and the KGB expected more than he could handle.  He swapped out his reporting job with another person in Washington and managed to get transferred out of Soviet Russia.

It was a short time later, at age 30, when Wolfenden died.  The circumstances regarding his death were suspicious, and so some suspected foul play.  Others think that his heavy drinking finally caught up to him and it was liver failure or something similar that ended his life.  Either way, Jeremy Wolfenden was a man who served his country, even to the point of putting his rather controversial personal life in the spotlight.

Famous Spies: Rose O’Neal Greenhow

A smart, beautiful and socially adept spy

Rose O’Neal Greenhow was born in the early 1800s, long before the start of the Civil War.  She was a resident of Washington, D.C. who held no small degree of influence.  Known for being smart, beautiful and socially adept, she traveled among the most powerful people in both government and military circles, making many friends and allies.  Her beauty and personality earned her the nickname of “Wild Rose.”

When the Civil War arrived, she was forced to make a choice and pick a side.  Being as one of her closest friends happened to be John C. Calhoun, the choice was almost made for her.  She sided with the confederacy and began to use her contacts and influence to gather secrets and help the South in their struggle.

It wasn’t long, however, before the Union suspected her loyalties and called her out.  The famous Allan Pinkerton himself had the pleasure of throwing her into prison, along with her daughter, also named Rose.  Even from prison, Greenhow proved a formidable spy.  Her allies still gave her vital information and helped her pass it along to southern officials.  Her presence was seen as a continued security risk, so she was eventually deported back to the South.

Already her reputation had spread among her southern countrymen.  They greeted her warmly and as a hero.  Jefferson Davis continued to use her expert skills, though this time in a more standard diplomatic capacity.  She travelled to Europe and met with such leaders as Queen Victoria and Napoleon III, seeking allies for the South.

A return visit to the U.S. in 1864 would prove her end.  As she made her way home, a Union ship tried to run her vessel down.  In order to avoid capture, she fled in a lifeboat, but it capsized, sending her beneath the water and to her death.

She received a hero’s burial in the South for all the work she did in the name of her beliefs.  Though she may have been on the losing side of the war, no one can doubt Rose Greenhow’s courage and conviction.

Famous Spies: James Armistead

James Armistead was born into a world and among a people that didn’t think much of him.  He was a slave in 18th-century Virginia, with little in the way of rights.  Still, when the time of the American Revolution came, he volunteered, risking his own life to help fight against the British.  Instead of putting a gun in his hands and marching him in ranks, however, his commanders thought to best use him as a spy.  As it turns out, that was the best decision they could have ever made. Without James Armistead doing what he did, the American Revolution might have been for nothing.

He was first assigned to work under the commander of the French allied forces.  His duties consisted of acting as if he were a runaway slave and infiltrating the British army.  The British decided that they liked the idea of making him a spy as well, so Armistead became a double-agent.  He worked under British commander Cornwallis, being sent on recon missions against the American and French forces.  In reality, he was collecting information on the British and feeding them lies.

He managed to relay sensitive information regarding British troop strength, equipment and supplies and even the strategies that they intended to use in upcoming battles.  They thought little of Armistead as he walked among their camps and so freely spoke of their plans while he was around to overhear them.

It was thanks to Armistead that the American and French forces were able to trap the British at Hampton.  He also fed crucial information about British reinforcements in Yorktown.  Decisions based on what he provided allowed General Washington to strike at the right time and end the war in a victory for America.

In the end, Armistead was returned to the one who owned him.  A provision in the laws that freed African-Americans who fought in the revolution did not apply to him since he acted as a spy.  Eventually, thanks to the efforts of his commanding officers, James Armistead was given his freedom.  He ended his days in 1830, a farmer in Virginia and owner of his own land.

Discovering the Bond Novels

"... Indeed, for years they were out of print."

“JAMES BOND, with two double bourbons inside him, sat in the final departure lounge of Miami Airport and thought about life and death.”

These are the opening lines of the novel Goldfinger by Ian Fleming. How great is that? As good as the movies are, and Goldfinger is one of the best, I don’t think that this level of badassery can be properly filmed.

Obviously James Bond is best known because of the movies, and rightly so – it is the second biggest selling franchise of all time, second only to Harry Potter. I think most fans have an idea that books came first, but maybe either don’t like to read or have never come across them in a bookstore.

Indeed, for years they were out of print. Then recently they were reissued by Penguin in nice, expensive editions. Some of the books are combined into one volume, which makes sense because most are short – between 100 and 200 pages.

But I’m too cheap to buy new books. I got into the Bond novels by finding them in the library. I read From Russia with Love and was hooked.

Then I moved out of the country, but before I left I browsed through my favorite used bookstore, the Dawn Treader in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Sure enough, in the back of the store squeezed between mysteries and adventure was the whole collection.

I bought a good handful and read them all. Goldfinger and From Russia With Love are still favorites, but I also recommend the dark On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and the short story collection For Your Eyes Only, which includes the really quality non-action story Quantum of Solace, which has nothing to do with the movie.

All in all I made three trips to that bookstore during visits to Michigan to see family. Now I have the entire James Bond collection, at least the originals by Ian Fleming. If you like good, clear writing and adventure, then check them out!

Famous Spies: Pham Xuan An

Pham Xuan An, also known as agent X6, was one of the most successful spies of the Vietnam War.  He worked as an assistant for reporters during the war, performing both journalist and assistant roles for such prestigious news sources as Reuters and Time.  This unique position gave him special access to the military secrets of South Vietnam, secrets that he fed to the North Vietnamese communist leaders.

He was undercover among his enemies for nearly 20 years, and to facilitate this, an elaborate background was constructed.  For this reason and others, many of the facts regarding Pham’s life are in question.  Some believed that in addition to working as a journalist and spying for the Viet Cong he had also been brought in to help the CIA and South Vietnamese intelligence, the CIO.  If this is truth, it would have given him access to even more vital information to help his communist allies achieve victory.

It is believed that the information he gained played an essential role in the defeat of the U.S. and South Vietnamese forces.  Later, once the communists had won the war and the truth came out, many of those he worked with, who had once considered him a close friend, were shocked to discover his true motives.  Some, however, simply shrugged it off and expressed that they still considered him to be a good person, despite his differing ideals.

His good nature was proven when the North Vietnamese army finally took the city of Saigon.  Despite the fact that his friends were considered dangerous enemies of the Viet Cong, he helped them to escape.  This almost certainly saved their lives.

Pham Xuan An was a man who believed in a cause, but did not see the lives of those he cared for as being disposable, no matter what the consequences.  Even in seeking victory for his people, he still remained human.

Famous Spies: Brita Tott

Brita Tott, also known as the Lady of Hammersta, was a noblewoman of the 15th century who happened to have ended up in the perfect position to become one of the most effective spies in Danish history.  Born to a wealthy noble family, Tott would eventually become one of the biggest landowners and powerful women in all of Scandinavia.  Though born in Denmark, she would end up marrying an influential Swedish noble and move to Sweden.  For nearly 10 years, she was content to use her vast wealth to manipulate politics in both Sweden and Denmark.  But when these two countries went to war, her loyalties lay with her homeland. 

She acted as a courier, sending information back to Denmark regarding the strengths and weaknesses of the Swedish army as well as their position and movements.  She was also involved in a conspiracy to assassinate the King of Sweden, Charles VIII.  Her actions in Sweden during the brief war with Denmark proved to be highly effective in allowing the Danish military to achieve remarkable success in the struggle against their enemies.  Eventually, however, she would be discovered and tried for high treason.

She was found guilty of her crimes and sentenced to die by being burned at the stake.  Later, this sentence was “lowered,” and she was ordered to be walled-up - a process whereby a person is interred within a hollow space of a wall and allowed to live out their years in darkness and isolation.  In the end, however, she managed to get off without any punishment whatsoever, eventually returning to Denmark to continue her wealthy life.

She ended her days managing her massive estates and controlling the politics of her homeland, one of the wealthiest women in the country.  Brita Tott was a spy who truly managed to survive, despite all odds.  She beat death and ended up coming out well ahead in the end.