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 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:
|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
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).
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 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.
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:
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.