The James Bond support character of Q was inspired in part by Charles Fraser-Smith, a real-life gadget-maker who built spy gear for British intelligence operatives during World War II. Fraser-Smith's work included cameras disguised as cigarette lighters, hairbrushes that contained hidden saws, and steel mesh shoelaces that doubled as garrote wires. Fraser-Smith famously dubbed these items as Q gadgets, which prompted Fleming — who was aware of Fraser-Smith's work — to name his own fictional spy's gadget-maker Q.
The Q gadget nickname wasn't original to Fraser-Smith. He cribbed it from Britain's Q-Ships, World War I naval battleships mocked up to appear as civilian freighters. This notion of disguising offensive equipment as relatively innocuous counterparts thus became synonymous with the Q prefix, at least in British intelligence circles. Fleming merely carried on the tradition in his own British spy franchise.
While a handful of actors have portrayed Q, the late Desmond Llewelyn is most identified with the gadgeteer after appearing as the character in 17 films over the course of 36 years. No matter what the latest Q, Ben Whishaw, brings to the role, he'll be compared to Llewelyn's version. Of course, the apparently callow Whishaw shouldn't be assumed as inferior. After all, if Q has taught us anything, it's that seemingly ineffectual items can conceal much more dangerous content.
That's not just some savvy cinematic symmetry; it's a cleverly concealed construct of Geek Trivia.
Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can also follow him on his personal blog.