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M (James Bond)

James Bond character
First appearance Casino Royale (1953)
Last appearance Spectre (2015)
Created by Ian Fleming
Portrayed by
Occupation Head of MI6
Nationality British

M is a fictional character in Ian Fleming's James Bond book and film series; the character is the Head of the Secret Intelligence Service—also known as MI6. Fleming based the character on a number of people he knew who commanded sections of British intelligence. M has appeared in the novels by Fleming and seven continuation authors, as well as appearing in twenty-four films. In the Eon Productions series of films, M has been portrayed by four actors: Bernard Lee, Robert Brown, Judi Dench and Ralph Fiennes, the incumbent; in the two independent productions, M was played by John Huston, David Niven and Edward Fox.


  • Background 1
  • Novels 2
  • Films 3
    • Eon Productions films 3.1
      • Bernard Lee: 1962–79 3.1.1
      • Robert Brown: 1983–89 3.1.2
      • Judi Dench: 1995–2015 3.1.3
      • Ralph Fiennes: 2012– 3.1.4
    • Non-Eon films 3.2
      • John Huston: 1967 3.2.1
      • David Niven: 1967 3.2.2
      • Edward Fox: 1983 3.2.3
  • Outside the regular Bond-continuity 4
  • References 5
  • Bibliography 6


Rear Admiral John Henry Godfrey, Fleming's superior at the Naval Intelligence Division and a basis for M.

Fleming based much of M's character on Rear Admiral John Godfrey, who was Fleming's superior at the Naval Intelligence Division during the Second World War. After Fleming's death, Godfrey complained "He turned me into that unsavoury character, M."[1]

Other possible inspirations include Lieutenant Colonel Sir Claude Dansey, the deputy head of MI6 and head of the wartime Z network, who achieved different interpretations of his character from those who knew him: Malcolm Muggeridge thought him "the only professional in MI6",[2] while Hugh Trevor-Roper considered Dansey to be "an utter shit, corrupt, incompetent, but with a certain low cunning".[2] A further inspiration for M was Maxwell Knight, the head of MI5, who signed his memos as "M" and whom Fleming knew well.[1] The tradition of the head of MI6 signing their name with a single letter came from Mansfield Smith-Cumming, who would sign his initial "C" with green ink.[3]

Another possibility for the model of M was William Melville, an Irishman who became the head of the Secret Service Bureau, the forerunner to both MI5 and MI6: Melville was referred to within government circles as M.[4] Melville recruited Sidney Reilly into government service and foiled an assassination plot against Queen Victoria on her 1887 Golden Jubilee.[5] Fleming's biographer John Pearson also hypothesised that Fleming's characterisation of M reflects memories of his mother:

There is reason for thinking that a more telling lead to the real identity of M lies in the fact that as a boy Fleming often called his mother M. ... While Fleming was young, his mother was certainly one of the few people he was frightened of, and her sternness toward him, her unexplained demands, and her remorseless insistence on success find a curious and constant echo in the way M handles that hard-ridden, hard-killing agent, 007.

John Pearson, The Life of Ian Fleming[6]


Fleming's third Bond novel, KCMG;[8] Messervy had been appointed to head of MI6 after his predecessor had been assassinated at his desk.[9]

A naval theme runs throughout Fleming's description of M and his surroundings, and his character was described by journalist and Bond scholar Ben Macintyre as "every inch the naval martinet".[8] Macintyre also notes that in his study of Fleming's work, Kingsley Amis outlined the way Fleming had described M's voice, being: angry (three times); brutal, cold (seven times); curt, dry (five times); gruff (seven times); stern, testy (five times).[10]

Over the course of twelve novels and two collections of short stories, Fleming provided a number of details relating to M's background and character. In On Her Majesty's Secret Service it is revealed that M's pay as head of the Secret Service is £6,500 a year, (£121,561 in 2016 pounds[11]) £1,500 of which comes from retired naval pay.[12] Although his pay is good for the 1950s and 1960s, it is never explained how M received or can afford his membership at Blades, an upscale private club for gentlemen he frequents in London to gamble and dine. Blades has a restricted membership of only 200 gentlemen and all must be able to show £100,000 (£1,870,162 in 2016 pounds[11]) in cash or gilt-edged securities.[13] Kingsley Amis noted in his study, The James Bond Dossier, that on M's salary his membership of the club would have been puzzling.[12] As a personal favour to M, the staff at Blades keeps a supply of cheap red wine from Algeria on hand but does not include it on the wine list. M refers to it as "Infuriator" and tends only to drink it in moderate quantities unless he is in a very bad mood.[14]

Academic Paul Stock argues that M's office is a metonym for England and a stable point from which Bond departs on a mission, whilst he sees M as being an iconic representative of England and Englishness.[15]

In the first post-Fleming book, Colonel Sun, M is kidnapped from Quarterdeck, his home, and Bond goes to great lengths to rescue him.[16] The later continuation books, written by John Gardner, retain Sir Miles Messervy as M, who protects Bond from the new, less aggressive climate in the Secret Service, saying that at some point Britain will need "a blunt instrument".[17] In Gardner's final novel, COLD, M is kidnapped and rescued by Bond and finishes the book by retiring from MI6.[18] Continuation Bond author Raymond Benson's 1998 novel The Facts of Death continued Messervy's retirement, where he still resides in Quarterdeck.[19] The book also introduces a new M, Barbara Mawdsley.[20]


Eon Productions films

Bernard Lee: 1962–79

Bernard Lee, who played M from 1962 to 1979

M was played by Bernard Lee from the first Bond film, Dr. No, until Moonraker (1979).[21] In Dr. No, M refers to his record of reducing the number of operative casualties since taking the job, implying someone else held the job recently before him. The film also saw M refer to himself as head of MI7; Lee had originally said MI6, but was overdubbed with the name MI7 prior to the film's release. Earlier in the film, the department had been referred to as MI6 by a radio operator.[22]

A number of Bond scholars have noted that Lee's interpretation of the character was in line with the original literary representation; Cork and Stutz observed that Lee was "very close to Fleming's version of the character",[23] while Rubin commented on the serious, efficient, no-nonsense authority figure.[24] Smith and Lavington, meanwhile, remarked that Lee was "the very incarnation of Fleming's crusty admiral."[25]

Lee died of cancer in January 1981, four months into the filming of For Your Eyes Only and before any of his scenes could be filmed.[26] Out of respect, no new actor was hired to assume the role and, instead, the script was re-written so that the character is said to be on leave, with his lines given to either his Chief of Staff Bill Tanner or the Minister of Defence, Sir Frederick Gray.[27] Later films referred to Lee's tenure as head of the service, with a painting of him as M in MI6's Scottish headquarters during the 1999 instalment The World Is Not Enough.[23]

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Robert Brown: 1983–89

Robert Brown, who played M from 1983 to 1989

After Lee's death in 1981, the producers hired actor Robert Brown to play M in Octopussy. Brown had previously played Admiral Hargreaves, Flag Officer Submarines, in the 1977 film, The Spy Who Loved Me. Bond scholars Steven Jay Rubin, John Cork, and Collin Stutz all consider Admiral Hargreaves would have been appointed to the role of M, rather than Brown playing a different character as M.[29][30]

Pfeiffer and Worrall considered that whilst Brown looks perfect, the role had been softened from that of Lee;[31] they also considered him "far too avuncular",[32] although in Licence to Kill they remarked that he came across as being very effective as he removed Bond's double-0 licence.[33] Continuation author Raymond Benson agrees, noting that the M role was "once again under written, and Brown is not allowed the opportunity to explore and reveal his character traits";[34] Benson also considered the character to be "too nice".[35]

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Judi Dench: 1995–2015

Judi Dench, who played M from 1995 to 2012

After the long period between Licence to Kill and GoldenEye, the producers brought in Dame Judi Dench to take over as the new M. The character is based on Stella Rimington, the real-life head of MI5 between 1992 and 1996.[36][37] For GoldenEye, Dench's M is cold, blunt and initially dislikes Bond, whom she calls a "sexist, misogynist dinosaur, a relic of the Cold War."[38] Tanner, her Chief of Staff, refers to her during the film as "the Evil Queen of Numbers", given her reputation at that stage for relying on statistics and analysis rather than impulse and initiative.[39]

Dench continued playing M for the 2006 film Skyfall, she is the subject of a public inquiry when MI6 loses a computer hard drive containing the identities of undercover agents around the world.[41] Skyfall marks Dench's final appearance as M, where she is targeted by Raoul Silva over a perceived betrayal. She is shot and killed in the film, making her the only M to be killed in the Eon Bond films. M (played by Judi Dench) makes a cameo appearance in Spectre in a video will.

There have also been brief references to M's family:[42] in GoldenEye, she responds to Tanner's "Evil Queen of Numbers" jibe by telling him that when she wants to hear sarcasm she will listen to her children.[43] Quantum of Solace director Marc Forster suggested that Dench's casting gave the character maternal overtones in her relationship with Bond,[44] overtones made overt in Skyfall, in which Silva repeatedly refers to her as "Mother" and "Mommy" [sic].[45] In Skyfall she is also revealed to be a widow.

Unlike the M played by other actors, Dench's M was never referred to by name on-screen. However, a prop from the final scene of Skyfall, where M bequeaths some of her possessions to Bond following her death, revealed that her character was given the name "Olivia Mansfield".[46] As the character was never directly referred to by this name, its canonicity is unresolved.[47]

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Dench also appeared in six James Bond video games:

Ralph Fiennes: 2012–

Ralph Fiennes, the incumbent actor in the role

After the death of Judi Dench's M at the end of Skyfall, she was succeeded by Gareth Mallory, played by Ralph Fiennes. Mallory had been the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee prior to heading up MI6, and is a former lieutenant colonel in the British Army,[53] serving in Northern Ireland with the Special Air Service during the Troubles, where he had been held hostage by the Irish Republican Army for three months.[54]

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Non-Eon films

John Huston: 1967

The 1967 satire Casino Royale featured not one but two Ms. The first is played by John Huston, who also co-directed.[55] In this film, M's real name is McTarry and he is accidentally killed when, in order to get Bond out of retirement, he orders the military to fire mortars at Bond's mansion when the retired spy refuses to return to duty. The first quarter of the film features Bond's subsequent visit to McTarry Castle in Scotland, on a quest to return the only piece of M's remains recovered after the attack—his bright red toupée.[56]

David Niven: 1967

Subsequently, Bond—played by David Niven—becomes the new M[57] and proceeds to order that all MI6 agents, male and female, be renamed "James Bond 007" in order to confuse the enemy.[58]

Edward Fox: 1983

Edward Fox played M in Never Say Never Again

In 1983's Never Say Never Again, Edward Fox played M as a bureaucrat, contemptuous of Bond—far removed from the relationship shared between Bernard Lee's M and Sean Connery's Bond;[59] academic Jeremy Black notes that the contempt felt for the 00 section by Fox's M was reciprocated by Connery's Bond.[38] Fox's M is also younger than any of the previous incarnations.[60] Academic James Chapman notes that whilst M considers Bond to be an out-dated relic, the Foreign Secretary orders the 00 section to be re-activated.[61]

Outside the regular Bond-continuity

Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comic series establishes that the 1898-era League (led by Mina Murray) was directed by Campion Bond (James Bond's grandfather), who served under a master called M. This M was later revealed to be none other than James Moriarty in disguise, using the League to win a gang war against Fu Manchu. After the death of Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes's older brother Mycroft Holmes assumed the role of M.[62] In the sequel volume The Black Dossier, set during a moribund and dystopian 1950s post-war Britain, the head of the British secret service, M, is Harry Lime, from Graham Greene's The Third Man.[63] In the final volume of Century, spanning from 1910 to 2009, the M of 2009 is an elderly Emma Peel from The Avengers.[64] In the 2003 film adaptation of the series, M is once again Moriarty, and played by Richard Roxburgh.[65]


  1. ^ a b  
  2. ^ a b Macintyre 2008, p. 78.
  3. ^ Macintyre 2008, p. 77.
  4. ^ Sharrock, David (2 July 2007). "M: Britain's first spymaster was an Irishman who played patriot game".  
  5. ^ Macintyre 2008, p. 81.
  6. ^ Pearson 1966, p. 235.
  7. ^ West 2010, p. 142.
  8. ^ a b Macintyre 2008, p. 74.
  9. ^ Griswold 2006, p. 47.
  10. ^ Amis 1966, p. 75.
  11. ^ a b UK CPI inflation numbers based on data available from Gregory Clark (2015), "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)" MeasuringWorth.
  12. ^ a b Amis 1966, p. 39.
  13. ^ Comentale, Watt & Willman 2005, p. 153.
  14. ^ Lejeune 1979, p. 63.
  15. ^ Stock 2009, p. 251.
  16. ^ Lane & Simpson 2002, p. 65.
  17. ^ Lane & Simpson 2002, p. 71.
  18. ^ Simpson 2002, p. 61.
  19. ^ Simpson 2002, p. 63.
  20. ^ Lane & Simpson 2002, p. 81.
  21. ^ Rubin 2003, p. 256.
  22. ^ Smith & Lavington 2002, p. 11.
  23. ^ a b Cork & Stutz 2007, p. 154.
  24. ^ Rubin 2003, p. 227-228.
  25. ^ Smith & Lavington 2002, p. 15.
  26. ^ "Obituary: Mr Bernard Lee".  
  27. ^ Pfeiffer & Worrall 1998, p. 98.
  28. ^ "From Russia With Love Tech Info". CBS Interactive Inc. Retrieved 30 January 2012. 
  29. ^ Cork & Stutz 2007, p. 154-155.
  30. ^ Rubin 2003, p. 178.
  31. ^ Pfeiffer & Worrall 1998, p. 136.
  32. ^ Pfeiffer & Worrall 1998, p. 155.
  33. ^ Pfeiffer & Worrall 1998, p. 165.
  34. ^ Benson 1988, p. 236-137.
  35. ^ Benson 1988, p. 137.
  36. ^ West 2010, p. 45.
  37. ^ Rimington 2008, p. 244.
  38. ^ a b Black 2005, p. 100.
  39. ^ Pfeiffer & Worrall 1998, p. 174.
  40. ^ McKay 2008, p. 353.
  41. ^ Miller, Henry K. (26 October 2012). "Film of the week: Skyfall".  
  42. ^ Jütting 2007, p. 91.
  43. ^ Simpson 2002, p. 22.
  44. ^ Nathan, Ian (October 2008). "Quantum's Leap".  
  45. ^ James, Caryn (11 November 2012). "Skyfall: Bond Is Older, Wiser, Better".  
  46. ^ Ellery, Ben (5 May 2013). "M's real name uncovered: 007 fan discovers James Bond's boss is called Olivia Mansfield".  
  47. ^ Mortimer, Ben (21 February 2013). "The Level of Detail in Skyfall's Props". Retrieved 23 February 2013. 
  48. ^ "James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing Review". James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing Xbox.  
  49. ^ "GoldenEye: Rogue Agent". GoldenEye: Rogue Agent PlayStation 2.  
  50. ^ East, Tom (4 November 2008). "Making Of Quantum Of Solace". Nintendo magazine.  
  51. ^ "E3 2010: GoldenEye Reimagined for Wii". GoldenEye 007 Wii.  
  52. ^ "James Bond 007: Blood Stone Review". James Bond 007: Blood Stone Xbox 360.  
  53. ^ Pande, Sophia (9 November 2012). "Skyfall".  
  54. ^  
  55. ^ "Casino Royale (1967)". Allrovi. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 30 January 2012. 
  56. ^ Rubin 2003, p. 187.
  57. ^ Rubin 2003, p. 44.
  58. ^ Chapman 2009, p. 107.
  59. ^ Rubin 2003, p. 148.
  60. ^ Benson 1988, p. 341.
  61. ^ Chapman 2009, p. 186.
  62. ^ Morrison 2011, p. 367.
  63. ^ Vice magazine 2011.
  64. ^ The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 1999" Review""". The Comics Journal. 6 July 2012. Retrieved 2 November 2012. 
  65. ^  


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