M (James Bond)

M (James Bond)

M is a fictional character in Ian Fleming's James Bond series, as well as the films in the Bond franchise. The head of MI6 and Bond's superior, M has been portrayed by three actors in the official Bond film series: Bernard Lee, Robert Brown and since 1995 by Judi Dench.



Ian Fleming based much of M's character on Admiral John Godfrey, Fleming's superior in British Naval Intelligence during World War II. After Fleming's death, Godfrey complained "He turned me into that unsavoury character, M." Other possible inspirations are Claude Dansey, deputy head of MI6, and Maxwell Knight, head of MI5, who signed his memos as "M" and whom Fleming knew well. Biographer John Pearson also hypothesised that Fleming's characterisation of M reflects memories of his mother:[1]

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.[2]

The third Bond novel, Moonraker, establishes M's personal initials as "M**** M*******". M's first name is also revealed in Moonraker when a character calls him Miles. In The Man with the Golden Gun M's true identity is revealed as Admiral Sir Miles Messervy; this may be where the M comes from, but does not explain the films because there has been more than one M (although the director of the real MI6 is known as "C", nominally for "chief" but actually the result of the first director, Sir Mansfield Smith-Cumming, signing his documents with the last initial of his name, in green ink).

In the novels and almost all films, all characters holding the title of M have been aided by Miss Moneypenny (personal secretary) and Bill Tanner (Chief of Staff).


In Ian Fleming's novels, M's real name is Vice Admiral Sir Miles Messervy KCMG; the name, hinted at throughout the series, was finally revealed in The Man with the Golden Gun, Fleming's final novel.

In the novels, M bends the rules for Bond on several occasions. For instance in the short story "For Your Eyes Only", Bond agrees to carry out a private assassination for M, while in The Man with the Golden Gun, Bond attempts to assassinate M himself; this is as a result of extreme Soviet brainwashing and M insists that Bond be rehabilitated rather than punished. In the first post-Fleming book, Colonel Sun, M is kidnapped from Quarterdeck, his home, and Bond goes to great lengths to rescue him. In the later books, written by John Gardner, M protects Bond from the new, less aggressive climate in the Secret Service, saying that "sometime this country will need a blunt instrument." In the films, their relationship is similar.

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, £1,500 of which coming from retired naval pay (by comparison, Bond makes £1,500). 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 in cash or gilt-edged securities.

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 – as evidenced in The Man with the Golden Gun – only drinks it in moderate quantities unless he is in a very bad mood.

In John Gardner's novel, Win, Lose or Die, it is stated that M has one daughter who married and produced two children, whom M adores.

Later Bond novels by John Gardner retain Sir Miles Messervy as M, and Raymond Benson's 1998 novel The Facts of Death show that Messervy has retired to his estate of Quarterdeck. He remains a close friend of Bond and refers to him by first name, though Bond has a difficult time calling him anything but "sir."


Eon James Bond films

In the films, only his first name, Miles, was revealed (in The Spy Who Loved Me by General Gogol, his opposite number in Russia), and he also holds the rank of Rear Admiral which his insignia suggests in You Only Live Twice.

Bernard Lee as M (1962–1979)

M (Admiral Sir Miles Messervy)
Character from the James Bond franchise
Bernard lee.jpg
Affiliation MI6
Portrayed by Bernard Lee

M was played by Bernard Lee from the first Bond movie, Dr. No, until Moonraker (1979). 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. As a result of his death, the character was written out of it, with his lines given to either his Chief of Staff or the Minister of Defence, Sir Fredrick Gray.

In the first Bond film, Dr. No, M boasts about his ability to reduce the number of operative casualties since taking the job, implying someone else held the job recently before him. In the earlier films, he has Bond's field equipment replaced by newer devices, such as replacing his Beretta with a Walther PPK and his Bentley with an Aston Martin DB5. Ian Fleming made a reference to a predecessor by stating in The Man with the Golden Gun "My predecessor died in that chair." Gardner also makes references to M's predecessors in Scorpius, again suggesting that Messervy is not the first. Also, in the film version of Dr. No, M is heard to call himself head of MI7 which actually was the department in charge of propaganda and censorship (the actor originally said MI6, but for reasons unknown was overdubbed with the no-longer-extant MI7 prior to the film's release, the DVD subtitles also state that M is head of MI6); this contradicts later films that state he is in charge of MI6. Curiously, earlier in the film, the department was actually referred to as MI6 by a radio operator. This M refers to Bond by his first name, James, in both The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, and is referred to by his first name, Miles, only in The Spy Who Loved Me.

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Following the death of actor Bernard Lee, M is said to be "on leave" in For Your Eyes Only (1981) but otherwise does not appear in that film. Out of respect, no new actor was hired to take over the role of M. In the film, M's lines were transferred to the Minister of Defence and Bill Tanner, M's Chief of Staff.

A painting of Bernard Lee as M is seen several times in 1999's The World Is Not Enough in the Scottish MI6 headquarters.

The likeness of Sir Miles Messervy is used in the 2005 James Bond video game adaptation of From Russia With Love by EA Games. From Russia With Love is the last James Bond video game that EA marketed before they lost the rights to Activision in 2006.

Robert Brown as M (1983–1989)

M (Admiral Marion Hargreaves)
Character from the James Bond franchise
Robert brown.jpg
Affiliation MI6
Portrayed by Robert Brown

After Lee's death in 1981, the producers hired actor Robert Brown to continue the role in the Bond films. Brown picks up the role in Octopussy. However, it is never explicitly stated on screen whether Robert Brown's character is intended to be the same person played by Lee, if he was intended to be Admiral Hargreaves, the role played by Brown in 1977's The Spy Who Loved Me, or if he is supposed to be another character altogether.

Later Bond novels by John Gardner retain Sir Miles Messervy as M. Raymond Benson's 1998 novel, The Facts of Death is more clear by having Hargreaves present at a party hosted by Sir Miles Messervy. Other films hint that they are not the same character.[improper synthesis?] The World Is Not Enough (1999), for instance, features an oil-painting portrait of Bernard Lee as the original M, prominent on a wall behind Judi Dench, as the current M, in the Scottish MI6 headquarters. In the pre-title credits to The Living Daylights, M's insignia suggests he is a Rear Admiral, which would mean if he is Hargreaves then he has been demoted; since Hargreaves' insignia in The Spy Who Loved Me suggests he is a Vice Admiral. Messervy had previously been established both in print and on film (On Her Majesty's Secret Service and The Spy Who Loved Me as two examples of the latter) as being a navy admiral. In "A View to a Kill", Bond refers to him as an Admiral at the race track.

As played by Brown, M lacks a sense of humour and has absolutely no tolerance whatsoever for Bond's antics. Brown's M wastes no time to revoke Bond's licence to kill in the film Licence to Kill when Bond goes off on a personal vendetta.

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Judi Dench as M (1995–present)

M (Barbara Mawdsley)
Character from the James Bond franchise
M by Judi Dench.jpg
Affiliation MI6
Portrayed by Judi Dench

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 said to have possibly been based on Stella Rimington, the head of MI5 between 1992 and 1996. M's real name has yet to be revealed in the films, but recent Bond novelist Raymond Benson gives her the name Barbara Mawdsley (the name given to her in the GoldenEye screenplay). Unlike the ambiguity surrounding Brown's M, Dench in GoldenEye was clearly a new person, appointed to the position of M, putting to rest a longtime debate over the nature of the character. This was also reinforced later in GoldenEye when Valentin Zukovsky remarks "I hear the new M's a lady." In The World Is Not Enough she mentions having studied law at Oxford.

In GoldenEye, she is clearly established as different from her predecessors; she is cold, blunt and unabashedly dislikes Bond, whom she calls a "sexist, misogynist dinosaur, a relic of the Cold War." 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. As she herself puts it to Bond: "You think I'm an accountant, a bean counter, more interested in my numbers than your instincts," to which Bond replies, "The thought had occurred to me."

In Die Another Day, she orders her subordinates to disavow Bond after he is taken prisoner in North Korea, and abandons him to be tortured for 14 months, though this is in line with typical attitudes toward captured agents. Although it would appear that Dench's M and Bond don't get along very well, M still has the same high professional respect for Bond that her predecessors had and shows a rising level of affection for him as the series progresses. In The World Is Not Enough, while Bond is attempting to defuse a nuclear bomb, she comments that Bond will succeed if there is even a slight chance of doing so, even going so far as to say "He's the best we have … although I'd never tell him." She plays a particularly prominent role in The World Is Not Enough when she is actually taken hostage by the film's villains as part of their plan (although this abduction is mainly motivated for personal reasons relating to M herself rather than to M's role as head of MI6).

There have also been brief references to M's family: In GoldenEye, she responds to Tanner's "Evil Queen of Numbers" jab by telling him that when she wants to hear sarcasm she'll listen to her children. In The World Is Not Enough, Sir Robert King wishes M the best to her family; later she recalls advising King not to pay his daughter Elektra's ransom, against "every instinct I had as a mother." In Benson's novel The Facts of Death, she is not married, but has a boyfriend who is assassinated by the book's villains. She also was shown to be an acquaintance of Sir Miles Messervy. In Casino Royale an unknown man is briefly seen next to her in bed, while M is woken up by a call. In Quantum of Solace, M is married, and her husband appears onscreen but is not named. He has a short dialogue during M's bathroom scene; she receives a call from HQ and he tells her that it's her line ringing.

Dench again played M for the 2006 film Casino Royale, which rebooted the franchise. In this new continuity, M implies that she has worked for MI6 for decades (muttering, at one point, "Christ, I miss the Cold War"). M begins Daniel Craig's Bond's career, promoting him to double-0 status and sending him on his first mission.

In an earlier scene, when M discovers Bond in her home, the film suggests Bond found out that "M" stands for her real name: "I thought 'M' was just a randomly assigned letter, I didn't know it stood for..." M cuts him short and replies, "Utter one more syllable, and I'll have you killed."

Since Casino Royale is intended as a reboot of the franchise's continuity, it has yet to be established whether, in the new timeline, this M had any predecessors along the lines of Messervy or Hargreaves. In Quantum of Solace, she meets with an unnamed British Foreign Secretary, who refers to her only as "M".

Many, including Quantum of Solace director Marc Forster, suggested Dench's casting gave the character maternal overtones in her relationship with Bond.[3]

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She also appeared in seven James Bond video games:

  • James Bond 007: Agent Under Fire (2001)
  • James Bond 007: Nightfire (2002)
  • James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing (2004)
  • GoldenEye: Rogue Agent (2004)
  • Quantum of Solace (2008)
  • GoldenEye 007 (2010)
  • Blood Stone (2010)

Non-Eon films

John Huston as M

Character from the James Bond franchise
Affiliation MI6
Portrayed by Edward Fox

The 1967 satire Casino Royale featured not one but two Ms. The first is played by John Huston. 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 toupee, referred to as a "hair-loom". McTarry is said to be married with a large number of daughters, although the exact details are muddled since his family are replaced by agents of Dr. Noah (the fate of McTarry's real wife and offspring is not revealed).

Subsequently, Bond (David Niven) becomes the new M (though he is not regularly referred to by that title) and proceeds to order that all MI6 agents, male and female, be renamed 'James Bond 007' in order to confuse the enemy.

Edward Fox as M

In 1983's Never Say Never Again, it is clearly stated that there is a new M, played by Edward Fox. This M is concerned primarily with making the books balance and constantly testing agents. He is quite open about his low regard for Bond. Film dialogue establishes that since he took over MI6 from a previous M, he has rarely used the 00-section, and at one point a senior official insists he "reactivate the 00s".

M outside regular Bond-continuity

The novel Son of Holmes by John T. Lescroart establishes that the very first M was Sherlock Holmes' elder brother, Mycroft Holmes.

In Kim Newman's 1992 novel Anno Dracula, the chairman of the Diogenes Club (the de-facto British secret service) was Admiral Sir Mandeville Messervy; this was intended to be an ancestor of Admiral Sir Miles Messervy. The chairmanship of the club (and thus the secret service) rotates; the two other chairman were mentioned as being Mycroft Holmes and "Waverly" (supposed to be an ancestor of Alexander Waverly, the intelligence director from The Man from U.N.C.L.E.).[4] In the sequel, The Bloody Red Baron, the Diogenes Club is now explicitly stated as being the British Secret Service, with its Ruling Cabal consisting of Holmes, Mansfield Smith-Cumming, and Newman's original character Charles Beauregard. Beauregard became the Chairman upon Mycroft's death during the novel. In the second sequel novel, Dracula Cha Cha Cha, Beauregard was stated as having resigned as Chairman after the end of World War II, being succeeded by his protege Edwin Winthrop. Among the new agents cultivated by Winthrop was one Hamish Bond. In the short story "Who Dares Wins", set in 1980, Richard Jeperson has become the Club's Chairman.[5]

Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series establishes that the 1898-era League (led by Mina Murray) was directed by Campion Bond, 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. In the 2003 film adaptation of the series, M is played by Richard Roxburgh (who has also played Sherlock Holmes), and the character's nemesis is played by former Bond actor Sean Connery (the script includes an in-joke reference to this previous association).

In the third The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen 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 – an in-joke reference to Bernard Lee, best known for his portrayal of Bond's M, appearing in the film adaptation of The Third Man. This M heads a sinister Secret Service which had previously operated as the Ministry of Love from George Orwell's 1984. The original M is stated as having been Sir Jack Wilton, the chief intelligencer under Queen Gloriana ('M' came from an inversion of the 'W' of his surname).

M appears in the Sherlock Holmes spoof The Strange Case of the End of Civilization as We Know It, played by Kenneth Benda. In it, he is killed by Mrs. Hudson, who is really the granddaughter of Professor Moriarty disguised as Dr. Watson.

In the 1970s Master of Kung-Fu Marvel comics, Fu-Manchu's daughter is the Head of British Intelligence, therefore ostensibly that era's M, although this dating conflicts with Bond stories set then.

In Xavier Mauméjean's short story "Be Seeing You!", from the second volume of the Tales of the Shadowmen anthology series, Mycroft Holmes is M and is succeeded by Winston Churchill, who also becomes the original Number 1 from The Prisoner.


  1. ^ Macintyre, Ben (5 April 2008). "Was Ian Fleming the real 007?". The Times. http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/specials/for_your_eyes_only/article3652410.ece. Retrieved 8 March 2011. 
  2. ^ Pearson, John (1966). The Life of Ian Fleming. Vintage/Ebury. ISBN 0-224-61136-4. 
  3. ^ Ian Nathan (October 2008). "Quantum's Leap". Empire: pp. 87. 
  4. ^ The Wold Newton Universe: The Anno Dracula Character Guide
  5. ^ Who Dares Wins: Anno Dracula 1980
  • Masters, Anthony (1994). The Man Who Was M: the life of Maxwell Knight. New York: Basil Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-13392-5. 
  • A new novel having James Bond as a main character (but using the name John Macbeth to avoid copyright issue) has been printed in Italy. Angelo Paratico Ben [1]; Mursia, 2010. The character of M is called Sir Merlin Montagu Morley KCMG, GCSI.

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