Secret Service FAQ

This FAQ list was compiled for posting to alt.fan.james-bond where there is often much confusion about the Secret Service and its connections with Bond. The FAQ is posted to the newsgroup approximately every two months and is archived here.

1: The service

1.1   Who does James Bond work for?

To put things simply, James Bond works for the British Secret Service; the title On Her Majesty's Secret Service makes this pretty clear. This is the branch of British Intelligence with responsibilities external to the United Kingdom. Two specific designations have been used for the Service - MI7 in Dr No (see q.2.3) and MI6 from GoldenEye onwards (see q.2.2).

1.2   What about the real Secret Service?

The real British Secret Service is called the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) although it is commonly known as MI6 (the designation from GoldenEye onwards). It is responsible for intelligence activities outside of the UK and as such can be equated to the US CIA at a simplistic level. The SIS is based at Vauxhall Cross in South London, as featured in GoldenEye, The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day.

1.3   What's Universal Exports?

In a number of films Bond is said to work for Universal Exports. This is taken from Ian Fleming's novels. Due to its covert nature, the Secret Service used the cover of a trading company with this name. In some of the early movies the Secret Service headquarters are also under this cover (Dr No and OHMSS). In Fleming's later novels it was made clear that the cover had been discovered by the oppositon, so the name of the fictional company was changed to the Transworld Consortium, but this has never been used in the films. However, the movies have retained the original cover, with Universal Exports being referred to as recently as in The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day, showing that it still has a use despite the greater open-ness and visibility being shown by the MI6 of the more recent Bond movies.

2: MI5, MI6 - and MI7

2.1   What's MI5?

MI5 is the designation often used for the Security Service; this is the intelligence service with responsibilities within the UK. Traditionally it was concerned with counter-intelligence, but more recently its remit has been expanded in order to cover anti-terrorism and organised crime. James Bond has no connection with MI5.

2.2   What's MI6?

MI6 is a designation often used for the Secret Intelligence Service, the organisation that Bond works for (see q.1.1 and 1.2).

2.3   What's MI7?

In Dr No M claims to be the head of MI7, which is a totally fictious designation. It can be seen that Bernard Lee is really saying MI6 and has been redubbed. The reason for this is unknown, and is strange since the radio room operator earlier in the film is instructed to contact MI6.

2.4   What does MI mean?

The MI stands for "Military Intelligence". However, the services are now not connected with the military (perhaps explaining why the MI designations are no longer used). SIS and the Security Service are the responsibilities of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Home Office respectively. The numbers arise from the room numbers that the organisations were originally based in.

3: Personnel

3.1   Why M?

In the novels and the subsequent movies Bond's boss, the head of the Secret Service, is known as M. Fleming based this on the real Secret Service, whose head was known by the designation C after the original director general of MI6, Sir Mansfield Cumming. There is a theory that Fleming chose M since this is what he called his mother. In the novels, M is named as Sir Miles Messervy, which may explain the use of the letter in terms of the fiction of the novels.

3.2   Is M a name or a position?

GoldenEye made it clear that M is the designation given to the person who is head of MI6 (in the same way as C in reality), with Judi Dench's character identified as "a new M". Bernard Lee's original M was named as Miles in The Spy Who Loved Me and is clearly supposed to be Sir Miles Messervy. The character played by Robert Brown in four films starting with Octopussy may be the same character (in the same way that Miss Moneypenny is recast). However, there is a theory that he this M is in fact Admiral Hargreaves, Brown's character from The Spy Who Loved Me. There is no conclusive evidence one way or another.

3.3   Wasn't there a real female M?

Not quite. A woman called Stella Rimmington was head of MI5, not MI6. However, this did inspire the casting of Judi Dench as a female head of the Secret Service in GoldenEye. Ironically, Ms Rimmington had retired by the time that the film came out and was replaced by a man. In reality there has never been a female head of MI6.

3.4   Why Q?

Q is the designation given to the Armourer of the Secret Service in the movies. This is based on the term "Quartermaster", the head of an army department controlling the supply of equipment. This is confirmed in Die Another Day when Bond refers to the new Q in this way. In The Spy Who Loved Me, Desmond Llewelyn's Q is named as Major Boothroyd, the name of the Armourer in Fleming's novels. His successor, played by John Cleese, has not yet been named.

4: The Rest

4.1   Where can I find out more?

The material in this FAQ is discussed in more detail at The Bond Film Informant, http://www.mjnewton.demon.co.uk/bond. This site features articles on MI6, M, Q and many other aspects of the movies, discussing what we know about them from the films, and how these relate to reality.

For more on the real British intelligence services: http://www.pair.com/spook/security/security.htm.



This FAQ is compiled by Matthew J Newton (matthew@mjnewton.demon.co.uk) and may be freely distributed provided it is in its entirety. This is version 1.6, dated 13 December 2002. The author has no connection with the British intelligence services. This FAQ is archived at http://www.mjnewton.demon.co.uk/bond/jbssfaq.htm.




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