The fact that Bond has a superior called M is another ingredient in the famous formula of the James Bond films. In The James Bond Bedside Companion, Raymond Benson suggests that the character was probably based on Rear Admiral John Godfrey, the British Director of Naval Intelligence, whom Ian Fleming worked for during the Second World War. However, the idea is clearly influenced by the fact that the real director general of the Secret Service is known as C (after Mansfield Cumming, the founder of MI6 and its original director general). In his biography of Fleming, John Pearson suggests that the choice of M was inspired by the fact that this was what a young Fleming called his mother.

To date three actors have played the part of M, the head of the Secret Service - Bernard Lee, Robert Brown and Judi Dench. GoldenEye made it clear for the first time that M was the designation for a position rather than one particular person, with Dench playing a new M. This approach was previously used in the non-EON film Never Say Never Again where Edward Fox played a new M.

It is clear that Bernard Lee's character, the original M, was intended to be the M of Fleming's novels, who was named as Admiral Sir Miles Messervy in "The Man With The Golden Gun". This is confirmed in the films in You Only Live Twice (M wears an Admiral's uniform), On Her Majesty's Secret Service (in which Bond visits Quarterdeck, M's home, and is directed towards "the Admiral") and The Spy Who Loved Me (in which General Gogol calls the character Miles). The first of these films is interesting since it is the only time that we have seen M off-duty. We discover that he has a butler, Chief Petty Officer Hammond, and collects butterflies.

Due to illness, Lee was almost absent from Live and Let Die, and Kenneth More was apparently set to resume the role. However, Lee recovered and continued until his death in 1981, prior to For Your Eyes Only. As a mark of respect the part was not immediately recast and M was said to be on leave. Then Robert Brown made his first appearance in Octopussy. There is an interesting debate as to whether Robert Brown's M is still intended to be Miles Messervy (in the way that Bond and Moneypenny have been played by different actors) or is actually a different character who has now been designated M. Indeed, it is has been speculated that the new M is in fact Admiral Hargreaves, the character that Brown played in The Spy Who Loved Me.

There is little evidence to point in either direction. For Brown's first appearance in Octopussy there is no dialogue to indicate a new M and it is all business as usual. This fits with the press material for the film which apparently stated that Brown was intended to be the same character as Lee. There appears to be some useful evidence when Brown's M is referred to as "Admiral" by General Gogol in A View to a Kill. Unfortunately, since both Messervy and Hargreaves were Admirals this evidence isn't particularly conclusive! As a final point on this issue, it is worth noting that in the literary continuity of the novels penned by John Gardner and Raymond Benson, it is made clear that it is Miles Messervy who is replaced by a female M.

Following the hiatus in the series between Licence To Kill and GoldenEye some changes were made to the role of M. Inspired by the fact that MI5, one of Britain's security agencies, was headed by a woman (Stella Rimmington) respected stage actress Judi Dench was cast as a new M. The character also reflected modern concerns in initially being considered more of an accountant than her predecessors, concerned more with budgets than her staff, again reminiscent of the Edward Fox character in Never Say Never Again, although Bond and the new M have a more stable working relationship by the time of Tomorrow Never Dies.

In his original Bond novel "The Facts Of Death" Raymond Benson names this M as Barbara Mawdsley. In GoldenEye it is mentioned that she has children. Early drafts of the script for that film also implied that Bond and M had had a relationship at some point in the past. However, we have learnt a little about the most recent M in the movies: both GoldenEye and The World Is Not Enough make reference to the fact that she has children, and the latter film reveals that she studied law at Oxford where she met Sir Robert King.

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.

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