LONDON (Reuters) – Veteran actor Desmond Llewelyn, who played gadgetry expert Q in a string of James Bond films, died in a car crash on Sunday.
Llewelyn, 85, was driving home from a booksigning to promote his autobiography in East Sussex, south of London, when his car collided head-on with another, police said.
“Mr. Llewelyn suffered massive multiple injuries. He was airlifted from the scene and, along with two others, was taken to hospital, where he died,“ a Sussex police spokeswoman told Reuters.
Llewelyn co-starred with all of the five Bonds in 17 of the 19 Bond films, including the latest, “The World is Not Enough.“ He made the part his own, becoming an institution almost better loved than Bond himself.
He first appeared in the 1963 film “From Russia With Love,“ with the first of his gadgets, a booby-trapped suitcase.
But Llewelyn himself hated contraptions.
“I loathe gadgets,“ he admitted at a promotion for the latest Bond movie. “They always go wrong. I`m just hopeless with gadgets.“
Of the five actors to play Bond, Llewelyn picked Sean Connery as perfect in the part.
“George Lazenby played it straight and well. Roger Moore was much lighter and more jokey. It was a rather camp portrayal, with a lot more emphasis on humor, but it worked,“ he said.
“Timothy Dalton was Ian Fleming`s Bond — a real character. His confidence and surliness were straight from the books. It was brave but people didn`t like it.“
And of current 007, Pierce Brosnan, he said: “He is extremely good. He has the right look and manner.“
Llewelyn`s character was due to be retired from Her Majesty`s Secret Service and written out of the Bond films.
Signing off in “The World is Not Enough,“ he will be replaced by sidekick R, played by John Cleese.
Q was never a character in the Fleming novels — though in the first Bond book, “Casino Royale,“ it is `Q Branch` that supplies 007`s gadgets.
When work started on the film version of “From Russia with Love,“ Llewelyn was offered the role of the equipment expert, and audiences clamored for more.
Q`s character solidified into one of rattled impatience and quiet desperation and the scripts were generous with witty one-liners.
But the role remained little more than a bit part, though with the gadets becoming even more important accessories than the Bond women, Q became the best-loved role.
“What you saw in the films is what he was. He was a kind, very lovable man, and as a father he was great,“ Llewelyn`s son Ivor told Sky Television on Sunday.
“He always wanted to be an actor, from about age 16. He had some opposition from his parents so he tried being an accountant but wasn`t cut out for it — so he went to RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts) when he was 20.
Llewelyn, the son of a Welsh coalminer, was alone in the blue Renault Megane when it crashed.
The two others hurt in the accident, a 35-year-old man and his female companion, were still in hospital with minor injuries.
“Weather wasn`t a factor in the accident,“ the police spokeswoman said, declining to comment on a possible cause of the crash.
Llewelyn endured five years as a prisoner of war in Germany during World war Two.
He is survived by his wife of 61 years, Pamela, mother to his two sons. She has Alzheimer`s disease and lives in a nursing home.
Born in South Wales, UK in 1914, Desmond Llewelyn had a career in the Arts that spanned nearly 60 years, yet was best known for his role as “Q” the gadget man in 17 of 19 Bond films. But if it weren`t for a bit of luck along the way, Desmond may never have been as famous as he is today.
His family was opposed to his interest in theater and tried to prevent him from pursuing that course. An uncle who was a high ranking police officer arranged for Desmond to take the department`s physical exam. He flunked the eye test, he felt because the inspector was drunk with a hangover. He didn`t get the job. He was accepted to RADA (Royal Academy for the Dramatic Arts) in the mid 1930s. The outbreak of World War II stopped his acting career temporarily, and Llewelyn went to fight, eventually becoming a prisioner of war by the Germans.
After the war, Llewelyn was intent on reviving his career. He had a small part in Cleopatra which filmed in Rome. There, he became part of a repatory theater group who were on “call”. If producers had an urgent need to fill a role, Desmond could be counted on. All totaled, Desmond figured he did nearly 50 plays a year back in his theater days.
Luck again played a part in the progression of his career when the original “Q”, Peter Burton, was unavailable to reprise his role in From Russia With Love. Llewelyn, who knew the director, Terence Young, from a film they had worked on together called “They Were Not Divided”, got the call to play “Q”, a role he`s had ever since. The only time he didn`t play Q was in “Live and Let Die”. There are conflicting stories about why, but the most prevalent one is that the producers wanted to tone down the emphasis on gadgets. Fans howled for his return.
Most people would think that with all of Desmond`s accumulated knowledge of gadgets that he`d be good with the real thing. But he`s not. “I`m not very good with gadgets. I really am not” said Llewelyn. “In the undergrounds [subways] in England, you have this ticket that you push into a machine, it comes out and the barrier opens. Well, 10 to 1, mine always sticks! I don`t know why. I watch and everybody goes through and I don`t and then people say, `Well, I thought you would be able to make it work` .
With the enormous success of the Bond series, Desmond`s biggest fear came true: typecasting. “It`s not just the general public, but it`s the directors, casting directors, and everybody else. I`m absolutely stuck as Q and nobody thinks I can do anything else. After all, I am an actor…but I can`t get anybody to realize that.”
Desmond counted among his favorite Bond films License To Kill (because he had his largest role ever) and Tomorrow Never Dies (he made the most money he`s ever made on a Bond film). Desmond counted among his best fans the Germans; “The Germans are absolutely terrific. They sold a million copies of GoldenEye on video there, and eventually they gave me a video Oscar, what for , I don`t know. The Germans are mad about Bond. They really are.”
Desmond was notorious among the Bond family for being the worst at remembering his lines. He once told The Incredible World of 007 “On For Your Eyes Only, I was having difficulty with my script-as usual! John Glen came up and said : “We have a good idea. We`re going to put in a new bit-can you learn this quickly?” I looked at it and said “For God`s sake, this is complicated gibberish! I couldn`t possibly learn all this in time” He said, “Of course you can” I spent the whole of lunch trying to study this bloody stuff and when I finally said I thought I knew it, John and Roger burst into laughter. Roger always took full advantage of my difficulty in learning lines.”
Desmond had spent the past few years basking in the rejuvenation of the Bond series. He filmed a commercial for Playstation`s video game version of Tomorrow Never Dies. He flew to California to promote License To Thrill, the new 007 theme park ride at Paramount. He joined Pierce Brosnan and Jay Leno on The Tonight Show to promote Tomorrow Never Dies, and came back out to California to attend the premeire of The World Is Not Enough. He attended various Bond conventions around Europe and America, as well as book signings of his autobiography. Mr. Llewelyn will be missed not only by family, but millions and millions of fans and well wishers worldwide.