Remembering Desmond Llewelyn: My father, the real ‘Q’

desmond llewelyn

Desmond died in 1999 (Image: GETTY)

At home actor Desmond Llewelyn wasn’t quite as practical as he appeared on the big screen – but he did redeem himself by being a dab hand with a paintbrush and roller!

As the current Q Ben Whishaw takes on the role for the third time in No Time To Die, Desmond’s son Ivor has spoken to the Sunday Express to share his treasured memories of his father.

Desmond played the Quartermaster of the MI6 gadget lab in 17 movies from the 007 franchise – from From Russia With Love in 1963 until The World Is Not Enough in 1999, which premiered just three weeks before his death at the age of 85.

But eldest son Ivor, his sole surviving close relative, feels Q is not enough to define Desmond.

And he says it was a sentiment shared by his mother Pamela.

He told us: “My father very much enjoyed being Q, but there was a lot more to him than that character. My mother was never a great Bond fan.

“I think she felt it took over his life and that perhaps he’d have got more jobs if he hadn’t been so identified with Bond, that as an actor he could do better than playing the same part.”

Ivor reveals his father did not share Q’s skills.

“He made it a joke that he was no good with gadgets, but he wasn’t mechanicallyminded and he certainly wasn’t inventing gadgets of his own.

“However, he was perfectly competent with normal household tasks and a firstclass painter and decorator.”

Also unlike Q, Desmond was not an English gentleman – he was born in Newport to a family of Welsh mining engineers. After attending prestigious public school Radley College in Oxfordshire, he trained at the acting school RADA.

Starting out in repertory theatre, Desmond’s early career was cut short by the Second World War. As a Second Lieutenant with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, he got captured by the Germans in France and spent five years as a Prisoner Of War in various camps, “but not Colditz as has been mistakenly documented” says Ivor.

“After the deprivation and poor diet all that time, he didn’t like any quarrelling over quantities of food – that irritated him.”

Desmond wed Pamela Pantlin in 1938, they had Ivor in 1949 and Justin in 1952, and moved to East Sussex in 1959.

Ivor’s three godfathers included fellow Bond film actor Geoffrey Keen.

Desmond Llewelyn

Desmond played Q in the Bond films between1963 and 1999 (Image: PA Images)

He also remembers his parents’ party guests including movie star Jack Hawkins, and meeting superstars Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in Oxford in 1966.

He adds: “When I was at school, I was very pleased when Daddy got me an autographed picture of Sean Connery.”

Desmond’s part as a tank gunner in the 1950 war film They Were Not Divided led director Terence Young to cast him as Q.

“Initially I don’t think they knew how it was going to go. But he was able to make the part [of Q] his own, and it suited him.”

Ivor remembers being taken to the set of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, based on a very different Ian Fleming book, with Desmond portraying the car’s original owner Mr Coggins.

“Dick Van Dyke was among those rehearsing the dance to Me Ol’ Bamboo, and after they did five takes I thought ‘How boring being an actor must be!'”

As for when his father’s films hit the cinemas, Ivor recalls: “We’d go to see them pretty promptly. It was like watching any film. It was nice to see him, but one was used to it.”

As a TV viewer, Desmond was surprisingly a fan of a certain Birminghambased soap opera: “He was very keen on Crossroads. He liked to get back in time to watch it.”

From 1971 to 1973, Desmond featured in the ITV series Follyfoot, as The Colonel whose farm is used as a sanctuary for old and unloved horses.

Ivor loved it and commented: “When Dad started in Follyfoot, they put him on a horse and it suddenly bolted.

“‘You shouldn’t have put me on that horse’ he told them, and they replied ‘You said you could ride…’ “He explained, ‘I’m an actor, of course I said I could ride! Luckily I can’.” However, despite a long list of stage and screen credits, Ivor says: “There were periods when he [Desmond] didn’t do much work.

“When he hadn’t got jobs and was spending a lot of time in the garden, I think he must have been frustrated but he never showed it to us.”

Q’s involvement in the Bond films rarely extended beyond a few minutes, but it was enough to leave a mark in the mind’s of film-goers. Ivor said: “As Dad himself said, for the (short) amount of time he was on screen he was remarkably famous.

“But he was given a lot more to do in Licence To Kill, in 1989 when he was 75, which was fun. Bond really took off for him then.

“That’s when he began doing an awful lot of promotional work around the world, and really benefitting from his position.

Desmond with Pierce Brosnan

Desmond with Pierce Brosnan (Image: GETTY)

“He loved that and found it very interesting.

He liked the travelling and meeting people, and was perfectly happy to talk to them about Bond.” Desmond was devastated when, in the mid-90s, Pamela was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

“It’s a very cruel disease.” says Ivor. “You lose the person you love. Dad found it really awful. For the last two or three years of his life she was in a nursing home.

“In the last year of his life, Dad was not that well. “He had an enlarged heart and other ailments. Yet he never seemed to think ‘I’m 85, I can’t do that’. “He just did things. I’m sure if they’d offered him another Bond after The World Is Not Enough that he’d have done it, but the age he was they might well not have.” On December 19 1999, driving alone in his Renault Megane to a signing event for his biography, Desmond was involved in a head-on collision on the A27 and taken by helicopter to hospital in Eastbourne.

Ivor was by then living in his parents’ detached Regency villa with seven bedrooms, over an acre of land, and a sea view, and still is today.

He remembers: “I was in the garden and I looked up to see two police officers. They told me my father had had an accident, and they took me to Eastbourne. He was still alive so I got to see him, but he was not conscious.

“I held his hand. After he died there was an overwhelming feeling of absence. He was cremated and we buried the ashes here and at our house in Ireland.

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“Roger Moore gave an address at the Memorial Service and Christopher Lee was there too. We never told Mum he’d died. She wouldn’t have understood.”

Pamela passed away in 2001. Justin, UK Ambassador for Tattinger Champagne and a leading equestrian commentator, died in 2012 from a heart attack at 59.

Married father-of-two Ivor, a retired Ministry Of Agriculture, Fisheries And Food civil servant, misses the family they once were.

He treasures a scrapbook of his father’s theatre programmes, adding: “I’ve got some of his clothes including an old sweater I like wearing.

“It has been over 20 years since Daddy died but he’s always there at the back of one’s mind. I don’t ever feel very distant from him.

“My wife says I’m increasingly like him. I miss having him around. He was a generous-spirited, kind man. He was my father.”

Ivor no longer makes a special effort to see the new Bond films. He explained: “Daddy was the main reason why I liked watching Bond and he’s not there anymore.

“I quite enjoy them but I’m not terribly into action movies.”

Desmond gave one of his final interviews to journalist Peter Robertson. It can be found on his podcast The PJRchive: