The Secret Service

James Bond is a spy. He works for the British Secret Service. It doesn't seem like there's a lot more to say, but the various designations of the UK's various security agencies can cause some confusion. So this article attempts to clarify things, as well as give some information about the Secret Service as it is portrayed in the Bond movies.

A summary of the main information is given in a user friendly form in the James Bond Secret Service FAQ.

the real secret service
The real British Secret Service is known as MI6 (the MI standing for Military Intelligence) but is more correctly called the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS). It was created in 1911 to undertake espionage overseas. The 1994 Intelligence Services Act states that its current role is "(a) to obtain and provide information relating to the actions or intentions of persons outside the British Islands; and (b) to perform other tasks relating to the actions or intentions of such persons...[in relation to] the interests of national security, with particular reference to defence and foreign policies...the interests of the economic well-being of the UK...or in support of the prevention or detection of serious crime."

The director general of the SIS is known as "C", which was originally a nickname for the first incumbent Sir Mansfield Cumming, inspiring Ian Fleming to call his Secret Service chief by an initial letter. Richard Dearlove is the director general incumbent, having been in the post since February 1999. In March 1994, the SIS was reported to have 2303 staff. Its HQ is at 64 Vauxhall Cross on the South Bank of the Thames in London. The distinctive building (shown below) was designed by architect Terry Farrell and has actually featured as the home of Bond's MI6 in the movies since GoldenEye.

The SIS HQ at Vauxhall Cross

The SIS is often confused with MI5, the Security Service. This agency was founded in 1909 in order to deal with counter-intelligence within the UK. More recently it has gained a wider remit including counter-terrorism and action against organised crime. It is MI5 which was headed by a woman, Stella Rimmington, thus inspiring M's sex change for GoldenEye. In April 1996 she was succeeded by Stephen Lander.

For more information:

  • The Official MI5 Site
  • Britain's Security Services

  • MI6 in the movies
    In most of the films Bond is simply said to work for Her Majestry's Secret Service (for example in On Her Majesty's Secret Service). However, in Dr No, M comments that he is head of MI7, although it has been noted that while his voice says MI7 Bernard Lee's lips are clearly saying MI6. This is possibly explained by the fact that up until recently MI5 and MI6 did not officially exist, despite the common knowledge of them (although strangely in an earlier scene a character asks to contact "MI6 radio signal control"). GoldenEye was the first film to properly acknowledge that Bond works for MI6 with it being mentioned in a couple of lines of dialogue.

    The head of the secret service is known simply by the designation M. At least two people have served in this capacity in the Bond films (see the article on M for more on this issue). M has a personal secretary, Miss Moneypenny, as well as other administrative staff including Bill Tanner (the Chief of Staff) and Charles Robinson (Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day).

    The top agents available to MI6 are the elite Double 0 section, members of which have a licence to kill during the course of duty. Many other agents have been seen, including Dawes, Hamilton and Baines (who were all killed by Dr Kanaga's men in Live and Let Die, Mary Goodnight (The Man With The Golden Gun), Paula Caplan (Thunderball) and Sir Godfrey Tibbet (A View to a Kill).

    One section of the service of immense value to the Service's agents is the Special Ordanance Section, otherwise known as Q Branch (and later Q Division in The World Is Not Enough). The head of the section is known as Q, a position originally held by Major Boothroyd until his retirement following The World Is Not Enough, which introduced his successor (as yet un-named). Other Q Branch staff have appeared over the years including Smithers (For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy), Sharon (For Your Eyes Only) and Karen (Octopussy).

    MI6 also has a number of resident experts available for consultation on specialist matters. These include Colthorpe, a ballistics expert (The Man With The Golden Gun), and Jim Fanning, an antiquities consultant (Octopussy).

    universal exports
    In Ian Fleming's novels, the Secret Service often used a cover name - a company called Universal Export with M referred to as its "managing director". This has made it into a number of films (although pluralised to Universal Exports), often subtly and without any proper explanation. For the record, these occurrences are as follows:
    • In Dr No the door of Moneypenny's office (and a direction sign outside) is marked Universal Exports. When Bond arrives in Kingston he mentions the company when he talks to the Governor.

    • When Bond is paged in From Russia With Love he phones in and asks for "UnivEx", the only time this abbreviated version is used.

    • On Her Majesty's Secret Service opens with a shot of a brass name plate reading Universal Exports (Ltd) London prior to a scene featuring M and Q.

    • The helicopter which is apparently sent to collect Bond in the pre-credits sequence to For Your Eyes Only is marked Universal Exports. The fact that the helicopter has actually been sent by a wheelchair bound cat lover who wants to kill Bond implies that the cover has been blown.

    • In Octopussy Bond welcomes Penelope Smallbone to Universal Exports and Vijay later introduces himself to Bond as working for the company.
    • In The Living Daylights there is an establishing shot of a building with a Universal Exports Ltd sign prior to a Q Branch scene. When Bond telephones Station V (Vienna) it is answered with the cover name.

    • Bond tells Milton Krest that he represents Universal Exports when checking his warehouse in Licence To Kill.

    • In The World Is Not Enough, Bond tells Davidov that he works for Universal Exports and he has an identitiy card for the fictional company. These references came as something of a surprise, given that the more recent films have shown a more open MI6. However, it appears that even though the existence of the Secret Service itself is widely known, the cover name is still useful for when its operatives are travelling overseas.

      In Die Another Day Bond says that he is representing Universal Exports when arrives at the cigar factory, a signal to active Raoul, who is an MI6 sleeper agent.

    In the later novels, the cover name was changed to the Transworld Consortium since it was believed that Universal Exports was too well known. However, this name has never been used in any of the films.

    MI6 headquarters
    In Fleming's novels the Secret Service is based on the eighth floor of The Ministry of Works, a tall grey building near Regents Park in central London. In most of the films, the Service appears to be based in central London, with both Dr No and Goldfinger using shots of the Houses of Parliament prior to the MI6 scenes which follow. In the first film the Service does appear to share a building with other organisations, as indicated by the Universal Exports signs. Later, Octopussy and A View To A Kill use establishing shots of the same building in Whitehall prior to scenes in M's office. In reality, this building is The Old War Office, which is used by the Ministry of Defence.

    We do not see much of the interior of this central London building - mainly M's elegant wood-panelled office and Moneypenny's room which is adjacent. There is also a large conference room (seen in Thunderball), plus other offices (including Bond's, which is numbered 17, in On Her Majesty's Secret Service). Q Branch is also based in this building, at least initially, since The Living Daylights implies that it then has its own building on the corner of Trafalgar Square and Pall Mall (in reality it is currently the Malaysian tourist office).

    As previously mentioned, since GoldenEye MI6 in the movies has been located in the real SIS building in South London. This features a more modern office for the new M and hi-tech incident rooms. Die Another Day also showed that Bond has an office in this building. In The World Is Not Enough, the building is damaged following a bomb attack, so the organisation relocates to a secondary headquarters in a Scottish castle. Die Another Day also introduces some more MI6 premises in London in an disused underground station which also appears to be the home of Q Branch's archive. This base is accessed from a doorway on the south bank of the Thames, by Westminster Bridge.

    overseas offices
    As well as its London headquarters, the Service has a number of permanent stations in various parts of the world. The films have featured the following ones:
    • Station C (Carribean), based in Kingston, Jamaica and consisting of Commander Strangways and his sectretary Mary Trueblood prior to their murder by Doctor No's men. The call sign for the station was W6N. (Dr No. The station is not named in the movie, but is given the designation C in the novel as well as the novel of "Let And Let Die" in which Strangways first appears).

    • Station T (Turkey), headed by Kerim Bey prior to his murder by Red Grant, with its key staff consisting of Kerim's sons (From Russia With Love).

    • Station Y (Yugoslavia), who send Captain Nash to meet Bond in Zagreb and help him on the Orient Express (From Russia With Love).

    • Station C (Canada) (another one!) where Bond is initially assigned as part of Operation Thunderball until he convinces M to send him to the Bahamas instead (Thunderball).

    • Station VH (Rio de Janerio), whose staff included Manuela (Moonraker).

    • Station I (India), headed by Sadruddin. Vijay also worked for the station (Octopussy).

    • Station V (Vienna), headed by Saunders prior to his murder by Necros (The Living Daylights).

    Die Another Day features an MI6 agent based in Cuba called Raoul, although since the nature of this particular country presumably precludes a more formal station he is a sleeper agent who appears to have been all but forgotten about.

    Dr No established a procedure whereby all international stations were required to make regular contact with London (callsign G7W). It was the failure of this procedure that first alerted London to the disappearance of Strangways. It is interesting that the naming of the stations is not consistent; some are named after the country, wheras others are named for cities.

    In addition to these stations, MI6 is also seen to have a number of hidden operating bases. These include one inside the sunken Queen Elizabeth liner in Hong Kong harbour (The Man With The Golden Gun), within an Egyptian temple (The Spy Who Loved Me) and a South American monastry (Moonraker).

    The Bond Film Informant was compiled by Matthew Newton. © Copyright MJ Newton. No part of this site may be reproduced without permission unless otherwise stated.

    Main Page
    The Database