Bernard Lee (1908-1981)
M played by Bernard Lee appears in eleven James Bond films from Dr No up to and including Moonraker. In Dr No, M establishes his superiority over Bond that would last for the next seventeen years.
In the Bond films, Lee’s character, M, is Admiral Sir Miles Messervy (only ever named, besides as ‘M’, as ‘Admiral’ and ‘Miles’ on screen in his appearances), Bond’s irascible boss who sends him out on assignments. He also portrays M along with Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny in the 1975 French comedy Bons baisers de Hong Kong. Lee was succeeded by Robert Brown, though not necessarily playing the same character (Brown had played another admiral in the series previously). Judi Dench, a friend of Lee’s, would later take over the role of a brand-new M, starting in 1995 with some references to her predecessor, including an oil painting of Lee in the role seen in MI6’s secondary HQ (a Scottish castle).
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 after the filming of For Your Eyes Only began. He had been too ill to appear in the film (which was released later in 1981), and 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.