Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The REAL-Q-Branch

We've all seen them; those scenes where Bond sneaks off into a disused building, pulls a lamp-shade and the wall slides back - revealing a fully-functional weapons lab staffed by accident-prone white-coat-and-clipboard types. This is Q-branch, secretive lair of 'Q' himself, the government scientist/inventor/armourer who dishes out the goodies.
           Real name Major Boothroyd, Q was played for four decades by Welshman Desmond Llewelyn. In no less than 17 films, Q provided both useful tools (often rather too conveniently) and weapons to various 007s. Sadly, we lost one of the most delightful characters in cinema with Llewelyn's tragic death in 1999, in a road-crash at Lewes (twelve miles from where I sit writing this) in East Sussex, England.
            Some of the gizmos Q dispensed are true movie history; Little Nellie, the Gyro-copter from You Only Live Twice, the Lotus Esprit/submarine from The Spy Who Loved Me - the endless succession of trick watches... but, surely all this is fantasy - real spies wouldn't carry exploding pens and the like. Would they?, well, here's just a few of my favourites from (mainly) the Cold War... Now, pay attention Double-0 Seven...

Hi-Standard suppressed pistol. CIA-Issue for clandestine killing where noise is unacceptable.

Issued by the East German STASI, this lighter is actually a camera, though the size of the lens means the image quality would rely on good lighting conditions.

Bottom Secret? - CIA-Issue from the 1960's -
this container was designed for rectal
concealment, with a fairly comprehensive
escape tool-kit inside. Perfect for, erm, sticky situations.

SOE Suitcase radio - WWII British organisation the Special Operations Executive was the sister outfit to the USA's OSS. Not exactly the size of your average Nokia, these transceivers were revolutionary, allowing agents in occupied territory to communicate with London. 

Tyre-Slasher ring. Both OSS and SOE agents were issued with an alarming range of blades, spikes and blunt instruments. These rings would be used prior to a sabotage attack to prevent pursuit.

Escape and Evasion Map. Printed on silk or   
cloth, these were issued to aircrew and other prone-to-capture troops as weatherproof 
aids to navigation. This one shows France and (neutral in WWII) Spain.

Yes, it's the KGB lipstick gun!, apparently an innocuous cosmetic, this fired a single small-calibre bullet, for either close-range assassination, a diversion or possibly even suicide if compromised.
Femme-Fatale indeed...

The Welrod - designed by the mysterious Station IX near Welwyn Garden City in England, this is still (allegedly) on issue to British Special Forces today. In .32 or 9mm, this single-shot weapon is reputedly the quietest pistol ever made.  

KGB Buttonhole camera. Used from the 1950's, these were a way to covertly photograph Western personnel and materiel. The remote-cable control would be hidden in a pocket for actual use.

OSS Pipe-Gun. The fore-runner of the CIA, the OSS produced some remarkable weaponry, not the least being this gun. If the owner asked you for a light, it might have been the last thing you ever saw...

KGB Microfilm concealment. Disguised as an ordinary coin, pressure on the right place causes the two halves to open. Clever, unless you spend it by accident... 

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