A scruffy youth sits next to him and muses on the inevitability of time. “What do you see?” he asks Bond. “A bloody big ship,” our favourite gentleman thug replies.
And so, in 2012’s Skyfall, we are introduced to the modern Q, Bond’s quartermaster, the lab-coat eschewing cyber boffin in charge of all the technology for the operatives of Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Grumbling at the paltry gun and radio he’s just been handed, the grizzled spy says “not exactly Christmas”. Q replies: “what were you expecting, an exploding pen? We don’t really go in for that sort of thing any more.”
But it wasn’t always like this.
The MI6 of common understanding, thanks to Ian Fleming’s flamboyant characterisation, employs a host of wacky tricks and gadgets such as a bagpipe flamethrower, ticker-tape watches, x-ray glasses and a helicopter in a suitcase.
The real MI6, correctly titled the Secret Intelligence Service or SIS, prefers to think of itself as a much more sober outfit.
But, to be fair, getting caught hiding a listening device in a fake rock hidden in a Moscow park in 2006 does nothing to support the denials that the fact is just as strange as the fiction.
What is less well known however, is that the gadgets actually came not from MI6, but from the espionage agency’s less glamorous cousin, MI9.
The accepted role of MI9 was to help recover service personnel trapped behind enemy lines, or assist those attempting to escape from German custody. MI9 designed special equipment to hide escape aids.
Hidden compartments in pipes, buttons and shaving brushes contained compasses, money was concealed in toothpaste tubes and notes were passed inside playing cards.