As the months go by and No Time to Die‘s release date continues to be pushed back, many 007 fans are finding themselves going back to watch the previous James Bond movies in order as they look to make up for the lack of new action.
While each of the 24 films released in the Bond canon so far has its pros and cons, they all have a few things in common – pulsating action, incredible gadgets, and some extremely memorable characters.
Aside from Bond himself, and perhaps a couple of the more well-known antagonists, one of the most iconic of those characters is undoubtedly M – Bond’s superior and the head of MI6.
Over the years, four actors have played different versions of M in the official Eon productions – read on for everything you need to know about them, including what M stands for and the real names of each of the individual incarnations of M.
What does M stand for?
M is the head of MI6 and stands for for “Missions” – to identify that the incumbent is the head of the Missions Department. M is not one character, but rather a role that has been held by various characters across the 25 films.
The first actor to appear as M was Bernard Lee, who played the first incarnation of the character between 1962 and 1979 – appearing in a total of 11 films in that time.
This incarnation of M is perhaps the closest in line with the original version created by Bond creator Ian Fleming in his novels, with the character presented as tough and no-nonsense in his approach to espionage.
Indeed he even has the same name as the version that features in the books, with his first name revealed to be Miles in The Spy Who Loved Me. (The character in the novels is called Miles Messervy).
After Lee’s death in 1981, no new M was brought in for the next film For Your Eyes Only as a mark of respect, with the character instead said to be on leave.
Then, for 1983’s Octopussy, Robert Brown – who had previously played the character Admiral Hargreaves in The Spy Who Loved Me – was cast as the new M, a role he went on to play for the next four films until Licence to Kill in 1989.
There is some debate as to whether Brown’s M is intended to be the same character as Lee’s M, or whether he is still playing Admiral Hargreaves and has been promoted to the role of M – something which is never cleared up in his films.
The next actor to take on the role was Judi Dench, who started playing M in 1995’s GoldenEye and appeared in the next seven films until Skyfall in 2012 (although she also appears briefly in a video will in Spectre).
This version of the character was said to be based on real-life MI5 head Stella Rimmington, and originally has a strained relationship with Bond, whom she famously refers to as a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur, a relic of the Cold War” in her first film.
As the film’s progress – and especially when Daniel Craig took over as 007 – she begins to develop a better relationship with Bond, and her final performance in Skyfall sees her take centre stage before she is shot, becoming the first M to die on-screen in Bond history.
After her death, her real name is revealed as Olivia Mansfield, with that name appearing on a gift box that is given to Bond at the end of the film.
Judi Dench’s M was directly replaced by Ralph Fiennes’ Gareth Mallory, who had appeared throughout Skyfall as Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee.
He went on to appear in Spectre and will once again feature in the upcoming No Time to Die.
While there have only been four official Ms, a number of other actors have appeared as the character in the two non-canonical James Bond films.
John Huston originally plays the role in 1967’s Casino Royale (his real name is given as McTarry), before he is replaced by none other than Bond himself, played in the film by David Niven. Meanwhile in 1983’s Never Say Never Again, Edward Fox plays M.
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