Q Lab’s Gadgets

Q Lab’s Gadgets

At the heart of the James Bond series is the interplay between science and imagination. At times inspired by cutting-edge technology, at others the product of pure flights of fantasy from the filmmakers, gadgets run the gamut from customised vehicles (the Aston Martin DB5, the submersible Lotus Esprit) and costumes (a sky jacket that transforms into a zorb) to covert weaponry (an exploding pen) and pure spy craft (x-ray shades). The brainchild of Q Division – also known as Q Branch – whatever form they take, these gizmos always provide invaluable assistance to 007 in the field.

After being issued with a Walther PPK in Dr. No, Bond (Sean Connery) receives his first bona fide gadget in From Russia With Love when Q (Desmond Llewelyn) presents 007 with a briefcase that is a veritable box of tricks. It contains an AR-7 Folding Sniper Rifle with an infrared telescopic site with ammunition, a flat throwing knife and currency (fifty gold sovereigns) concealed in hidden compartments that are accessible from the outside of the case.

Yet the case’s secret weapon is a safety mechanism that will detonate a tear gas cartridge (disguised as talcum powder) if opened incorrectly. The case comes in useful when Red Grant (Robert Shaw), who has Bond captive, sets off the trap aboard the Orient Express.

Goldfinger (1964) introduced Q’s lab in the basements of MI6 to the series as Bond, expecting to see his beloved Bentley, is introduced to the iconic Aston Martin DB5 and given the lowdown of the special features by an increasingly exasperated quartermaster – “I never joke about my work, 007”.

“I remember my contribution was the revolving number plate, ’cause I was getting a lot of parking tickets at the time and I thought it would be absolutely marvellous to collect a parking ticket and then juggle the number plate, drive off, not be worried,” Guy Hamilton, director of four James Bond films, has said of the Aston Martin. “For the smoke, we simply put smoke canisters inside. We had a wonderful prop man, he was small, and he hid in the boot with a little radio to tell him when to let the smoke off.”

Before he meets the iconic car, Bond passes a tear-gas emitting parking metre, a machine gun proof raincoat and a grenade flask. This initiated a key element of the Q Lab scenes which provide a series of imaginative gizmos not to be used by 007 but adding entertaining colour and comic relief to the briefing scene. From the tea tray guillotine and hookah pipe gun in The Spy Who Loved Me, exploding bolas and sleeping man gun turret in Moonraker, the plaster cast rocket launcher and phone booth trap seen in GoldenEye and the bagpipe which transforms into a machine gun and flamethrower in The World is Not Enough, the most innocent items are brought to life as killer machines.

“For me, Q’s like Merlin,” Pierce Brosnan has said. “The last person Bond sees before he goes out on a mission: ‘Pay attention, Bond, these are your tricks’.”

And there have been surprises for the cast on the set too. “In the workshop in the film there is an ejector seat,” Desmond Llewelyn said of filming in Q Lab in GoldenEye. “A girl is sitting at the desk and suddenly she is ejected. And of course, nobody told me anything about this and I had a hell of a shock. I was trying to remember lines and suddenly there was a whoosh and this girl disappeared from the scene.”

Released in 2002, Die Another Day includes easter eggs referring to many of 007’s most memorable gadgets, including the Duck Disguise wetsuit (Goldfinger), the Bell jet pack (Thunderball), the Little Nellie gyrocopter (You Only Live Twice) and the crocodile submarine (Octopussy).

“It was the 20th Bond movie and 40th anniversary, so we got gadgets from the previous movies out of EON’s archives, like the briefcase and Rosa Klebb’s shoe from From Russia with Love,” Die Another Day director Lee Tamahori has revealed. “Aficionados might spot them all and love it. We thought we’d give it a touch of nostalgia and a touch of history.”  

Even as the series became more grounded in realism during the Daniel Craig era – “One of the running jokes of the film is that the old technology is obsolete now, and there are hardly any gadgets for Q to give to Bond,” Ben Whishaw said of Skyfall – science still plays a vital role, from an explosive key chain in Casino Royale and a souped up Aston Martin DB10, replete with a flame thrower and an ejector seat fitted with a parachute in Spectre.

From the rich history of 007 hardware, we rummage around Q’s workshop to showcase a cool gadget used by each Bond….

Gadget: Miniature Rebreather
Film: Thunderball
Bond: Sean Connery

Q (Desmond Llewelyn) gifts Bond a miniature rebreather that can provide an emergency air supply for up to four minutes. It comes into play when Bond infiltrates Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi)’s lair by swimming through a shark infested pool. In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, when clearing out his desk after resigning, Bond picks up the rebreather along with Red Grant’s garotte wristwatch (From Russia With Love). An updated version of the rebreather appears in Die Another Day as 007 sneaks into Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens)’ Iceland HQ.

Gadget: Safe-Cracker
Film: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Bond: George Lazenby

Needing to crack the safe of Swiss Solicitor Gebrüder Gumbold (James Bree), Bond uses a small device consisting of a flexible cable ending in a grapple that can be fitted to a combination lock. The machine could examine the lock, work out the combination and open the safe. In true Q department fashion, the safe-cracking device also doubles as a photocopier, allowing 007 to capture the secret correspondence that established a link between Blofeld and the College of Arms.

Gadget: Wetbike
Film: The Spy Who Loved Me
Bond: Roger Moore

The wetbike is a speedy aquatic vehicle that 007 receives on board the USS Wayne. Arriving in parts, once assembled, Bond rides it to Atlantis, the hideout of Karl Stromberg (Curt Jürgens), who is holding Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach) hostage. The vehicle was a precursor to the Jet Ski.

Gadget: Dentonite Toothpaste
Film: Licence To Kill
Bond: Timothy Dalton

When Q (Llewelyn) hands Bond a tube of a plastic explosive disguised in a tube of Dentonite Toothpaste, he warns it is to be used “sparingly”. The toothpaste comes in useful as Bond prepares to assassinate Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi). Sneaking onto the ledge outside Sanchez’s office window, he lays out the toothpaste on the bulletproof glass. Taking up a position in the building opposite, Bond detonates the explosive using a receiver concealed in a packet of cigarettes.

Gadget: Ericsson JB988
Film: Tomorrow Never Dies
Bond: Pierce Brosnan

The Ericsson JB988 cell phone is a Q department speciality, a small gizmo that contains multiple functions. It’s a fingerprint scanner, an aerial that acts as a lock pick and a remote control for Bond’s BMW 750IL via an LCD Display and trackpad that is used to outmanoeuvre Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce)’s henchmen in the Atlantic Hotel parking garage. It is also a weapon that can administer a 20,000 volt electric shock. Held captive by Carver’s heavy Dr. Kaufman (Vincent Schiavelli), Bond hands the assassin the phone and tricks him into tasering himself to gain an advantage in a fight.

Gadget: Omega Seamaster Explosive Watch
Film: Spectre
Bond: Daniel Craig

“Does it do anything?” Bond asks Q (Ben Whishaw) after being handed an Omega Seamaster watch. “It tells the time,” responds Q. “It might help with your punctuality issues.” Q also warns 007 that the alarm is “rather loud”, a sly reference to the watch’s special function: a timed explosive. The gadget comes into its own, when Bond and Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) are held captive by Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), and Bond sets the timer for Madeleine to throw the watch along the floor, blowing Blofeld off his chair. “Tempus fugit,” says Bond.  

007 Science: Inventing the World of James Bond, the very first exhibition focussing on the technology of 007’s 25 adventures is open at The Griffin Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Read more here

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