No single character that spans more than twenty films can do it on his or her own, and James Bond is no exception. While James Bond is unquestionably the focus of the Bond films, he is supported by various key characters over the years. Some of these characters have been essential in setting him up on his missions, while others have been there to offer comic relief or general background. While James Bond is the only character who has appeared in every single James Bond movie ever made, certain characters have helped in out in almost every one.
In fact, if you’re talking the legacy of James Bond, some of the actors behind the supporting characters have been featured in the most movies over the years. When the Bond franchise was rebooted in 2006 with Casino Royale, some of these characters were lost completely while others were left to be introduced in later films, but they have been as essential to the franchise as the gadgets, guns and girls that change from film to film
M is Bond’s boss at MI-6, who is often irritated with Bond’s antics, insubordination and attitude. The character was played by Bernard Lee from the original Dr. No until his death after the filming of Moonraker. At that time, Lee held the record for appearing in the most Bond films, and after his death, the character was omitted from For Your Eyes Only, with the mission directives given to Bond by the Minister of Defense.
Robert Brown, who played Admiral Hargreaves in The Spy Who Loved Me, stepped into the role of M for Octopussy. It is unclear from the films whether he is a new character or whether Hargreaves was actually promoted into the position. Brown, who played a softer M than Lee, stayed in the role until the end of the Timothy Dalton era with Licence to Kill.
Currently, the role of M is played by Dame Judi Dench, who assumed the character when Pierce Brosnan started playing Bond in Goldeneye. She is the only actor to continue the character through the Daniel Craig reboot.
Bond would be nothing without his weaponry, which means he would be nothing without his Quartermaster, affectionately known as Q. The character shows up as “the armourer” in Dr. No, played by Peter Burton, and the only gadget Bond is given in that scene is his new Walther PPK pistol. Due to scheduling conflicts, Desmond Llewelyn took over from Burton as the armourer in From Russia with Love. At the time, he is referred to as Major Boothroyd. In subsequent films, his branch is referred to as Q-branch.
With the exception of not being featured in Live and Let Die, Llewelyn stayed in the role of Q until the penultimate Pierce Brosnan film, The World Is Not Enough in 1999 where he makes a final exit to hand the reigns of the character to John Cleese. Llewelyn died shortly after release of The World Is Not Enough.
Cleese officially played Q for only one movie, Die Another Day in 2002. He was credited as “R” in The World Is Not Enough. When the series was rebooted in 2006, Q was left out of the mix, though he is returning in Skyfall, played by Ben Whishaw.
After James Bond and M, Miss Moneypenny is the most recurring character in the entire series. She is M’s faithful secretary, who has a special relationship with Bond. She often flirts with him when he comes in the office to speak with M, and it’s clear she is one of the few women in the world who actually understands Bond. Lois Maxwell played the character from Dr. No through A View to a Kill, spanning the entire Connery and Moore eras.
Caroline Bliss replaced Maxwell as Moneypenny in the Timothy Dalton films, giving her the shortest run in the role. After the six-year hiatus between Licence to Kill and GoldenEye, Samantha Bond was given the role. The character was subsequently left out of the Daniel Craig reboots.
The full history between Moneypenny and Bond is never expressed in the film, though Lois Maxwell developed a backstory that included them knowing each other in their education with possible encounters but no full consummated relationship.
While Desmond Llewelyn and Lois Maxwell are the actors who played their Bond characters for the most movies, Felix Leiter is the most commonly recurring character who has been played by different actors. In fact, the character shows up in nine films and is played by seven different actors. That’s quite a feat, considering Bond himself has only been played by six men.
Leiter is Bond’s CIA liaison. He was first played by Jack Lord in Dr. No, then by Cec Linder in Goldfinger, Rik Van Nutter in Thunderball, and Norman Burton in Diamonds Are Forever. David Hedison is the only actor to play the role more than once before the reboot. He stepped into the role in Live and Let Die and later took a more relevant role in Licence to Kill after his wife is murdered by a drug dealer, which sends Bond on a course of revenge.
Between Live and Let Die and Licence to Kill, the role was played by John Terry in The Living Daylights. The role was returned to Hedison because the chemistry was so flat with Dalton. In later Brosnan films, possibly because Leiter was partially dismembered by a shark in Licence to Kill, the character was retired, and Joe Don Baker showed up as a new, less dignified CIA contact.
Jeffrey Wright stepped into the role when the series was rebooted in 2006. He played Leiter for both Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.
As much as I love the Bond girls, I’ll always have a soft spot for Sylvia Trench. The character is forgotten to many, particularly those who haven’t watched the early Connery films, but she showed a softer side of Bond’s character. Bond meets Trench, played by Eunice Gayson, playing baccarat in Dr. No. They have a playful tryst, and she later shows up in From Russia with Love.
Trench was originally planned to be Bond’s regular girlfriend in the series, but the character was dropped after only two films. At the very least, she’s significant for being a woman who manages to sleep with James Bond without getting killed shortly afterwards or inexplicably disappearing after the credits roll… at least for one film.