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Geek Trivia: What's the 'real' reason James Bond's gadget-maker is codenamed Q?

James Bond's gadgeteer Q is often assumed to be shorthand for Quartermaster, but the Q codename is actually a reference to real-life (and historically significant) spycraft.

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.

About

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 a...

14 comments
Alchemist-Joat
Alchemist-Joat

Why do we have to follow a link to the answer? Cannot it fit on the same page?

Bo Tym
Bo Tym

Bond: *picks up sandwich* Q: *quickly grabs it* "Don't touch that!..... That's my lunch!"

swstephe
swstephe

This trivia seemed incomplete. So "Q" is named after "Q branch", which was in turn named after "Q-ships". So what does the "Q" stand for? According to Wikipedia, it stands for "Queensland, Ireland", the home port of those ships.

rocket ride
rocket ride

You've probably heard of a electronic musical instrument called a "Theremin". It was named for its inventor, a Russian named Lev Termin, who Gallicized his name to "Leo Theremin" while he was living in France, during which time he invented the instrument. He returned to the USSR and was drafted by the secret police (I don't quite recall which name it was going by at the time) and, in time, he became the chief gadgetmaker for the organization which most of us recall under the initials "KGB".

CIOandManager
CIOandManager

If you have ever seen the massive size of a battleship, you would realize that it is impossible to disguise it as a merchant ship.... Q-ships were heavily armed merchantmen with concealed weapons used in both WW1 and WW2

sg.stewart
sg.stewart

Q is a quintessential part of the James Bond Mythos that endures to this day.

RipVan
RipVan

A classic. Then again, maybe that just makes me old...

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

you said "According to Wikipedia, it stands for "Queensland, Ireland", the home port of those ships. " The article actually says Queenstown, Ireland.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

taken over by the navy during construction and beefed up to stand up to some serious combat as they were intended to sail with the convoys to take on merchant raiders in a stand up fight. They used the half built merchant hulls as they needed to look like merchant ships, but gave them better engines, more compartments and some side armour. The original q-ships were armed merchantmen designed to take out submarines, but when they built the anti-raider ships they also gave them the Q designation. Then you also get the DEMS as well in WW2 - Defence Equipped Merchant Ships, essential a merchant-ship with a gun or two mounted on it, usually on the stern . The Q-ships were Naval vessels and no cargo while the DEMS were merchant vessels with a navy gun crew on board and a full cargo.

JamesRL
JamesRL

Q ships were merchants that were armed and armoured. They were meant to lure U Boats to the surface, where they would think they could attack with their deck guns. Instead the tables would be turned. But they weren't purpose built for battle.

mikemulren
mikemulren

...so am I. And, wait fer it, we're gettin' older too! And after doin' that for as many years as possible we DIE!!! Who in his/her right mind woulda set things up like that?!!? Ahh, well, watcha gonna do, huh? Tis best to just enjoy it, ya know? Oh, and I agree with you. Mr. Llewelyn was the best Q. I kinda liked John Cleese's version of him too but Llewelyn was the best.

JamesRL
JamesRL

The Q ships were those that pretended to be merchant ships, with hidden guns, and not flying the Naval ensign(until ready to fire). They didn't travel with convoys, they travelled alone, since a U boat wouldn't fear them, and would not waste a torpedo on them. There were also armed merchant cruisers, merchant ships that were refitted, sailed with convoys etc. The Germans also took merchant ships and made "Q" like ships, that could pass as merchants but who were armed liked cruisers. The Kormoran was the most famous of these, managing to sink an Australian light cruiser. They even had scout planes, and torpedo tubes.