Gadget - 'Q' Boat

The DB5, Little Nellie, Wet Nellie, the jet ski Wet bike… and Wet Nellie 2? The MI6 Quartermaster always delivered some fantastic gadgets and iconic vehicles for secret agent 007 and, breaking the usual briefing convention, Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond was able to make use of ‘Wet Nellie 2’ – otherwise officially known as the ‘Q-boat’ – even though an annoyed ‘Q’ shouted that it was not ready yet! It was one of the highlights of a thrilling pre-credits sequence, which took Bond through the heart of London via the famous River Thames.

The welcome re-screening early in the new year on British TV of Now Pay Attention, 007, a moving documentary recalling the life of Desmond ‘Q’ Llewelyn, who tragically died in a car crash in 1999, reminded many British TV viewers about many of the iconic gadgets associated with the EON Bond franchise and, in particular, the character of Major Boothroyd, otherwise known as ‘Q’.

In The World Is Not Enough (1999), his final film in the role of Q, Desmond had some great fun with the idea of retirement and perhaps engaging in a spot of fishing. However, Q would never settle for any old craft to ease him into retirement and, unsurprisingly, his ‘fishing boat’ – lovingly built in his workshop within the inner sanctum of the MI6 HQ – turned out to be the gadget-laiden ‘Q-boat’. Naturally, when Bond is faced with a big crisis and needs to set out in hot pursuit of an assassin, he ‘borrows’ Q’s masterpiece. And what a boat!

The JBIFC takes the opportunity to briefly look back on the River Thames filming for TWINE and the instrumental role played by the now-famous Q-boat.

Live and Let Fly

On the morning of Monday, 29th March, 1999, as busy commuters went to work and the famous red buses whizzed by on the Vauxhall Bridge over the River Thames in London, some onlookers were lucky to catch the TWINE second unit crew setting up what looked like a giant catapault on a ramp on the embankment, just outside the real-life headquarters of MI6. In fact, the security cameras all around the Secret Service building must have given the staff inside a great bird’s-eye view of all the preparations for the latest stunt in the making of the new James Bond adventure. The small, green, but highly distinctive looking ‘Q-boat’ was equipped with a dummy 007 and, when all was ready, it was launched at high speed into the air off the side of the riverside embankment. Meanwhile ‘Cigar Girl’, clad in a maroon outfit, was also filmed firing shots from her sleek-looking white Sunseeker speedboat, which was positioned approx. in the middle of the wide river.

The very next day, on Tuesday 30th March, the second unit – which was based at the Festival Pier near the National Theatre and National Film Theatre on the south embankment near Waterloo Bridge – carried out some further hair-raising filming. Much to the thrill of onlookers sited along the Thames, including some dedicated Bond fans, the Q-boat was back in action, both near Vauxhall Bridge and, later during the day, near the Houses of Parliament just outside Westminster Bridge. Stuntman Gary Powell was filmed taking the Q-boat at high speed along the Thames, the engine of the boat sounding so loud that some MPs in Parliament apparently lodged a complaint and filming had to be temporarily halted!

And this was to be the pattern for the next few weeks, right up to and including 24th May, with the second unit – under the skilful direction of Vic Armstrong (and also with some input from Michael Apted and the first unit) – making extensive use of the Q-boat at various locations along the River Thames, ranging from Vauxhall, via Lambeth, Westminster and Tower Bridges, through to St. Saviours Dock,  Millwall Dock, and right up to the Millenium Dome in the East End docklands area of London, just upstream from the famous Thames Barrier. It was, in fact, a major filming operation, which involved extensive planning and some highly complex stunts, employing both the Q-boat and the Sunseeker, together with special camera support boats and a helicopter.

On Monday, 19th April, Bond star Pierce Brosnan was spotted for the first time. He was filmed getting into the Q-boat and taking it out onto the Thames, taking it up to Vauxhall Bridge and the MI6 building. As he took it at speed under Lambeth Bridge, it was very evident that Pierce was thoroughly enjoying himself in the boat. And who could blame him? Later in the day, the 5th James Bond was also filmed driving the Q-boat down to Tower Bridge for yet more dramatic footage of the powerful jet-powered machine zipping along over the water.

For His Eyes Only: The ‘Q-boat’

In the movie, despite Q’s claim that it was unfinished (but very handily for 007), the Q-boat came equipped with submersible capabilities (allowing 007 to dip it under the water), lethal torpedoes, a rocket booster and even GPS tracking. The film-makers were determined to create one of the most amazing chase sequences ever filmed on the River Thames, and for this they needed a small jet boat for Bond that would be capable of reaching high speeds of up to 40 knots.

The idea for a ‘Q-boat’ was originally conceived by production designer Peter Lamont, but the choice of a suitable boat was down to Simon Crane, the former body-double for Timothy Dalton’s Bond, who had become stunt co-ordinator on Goldeneye (1995), and was now back in this same capacity for TWINE. Crane had seen Bentz boats in a race on TV, and he persuaded the Bond producers that this type of boat was the perfect solution for the ‘Q-boat’ and the Thames chase for TWINE. Rather than being ‘jet’ propelled like a rocket (a nice illusion created for the big screen), the secret to the versatility and speed of the boat was because its engines could take water from the front and rapidly ‘jet’ propel it out of the back, enabling the boat to reach a top speed of 70 m.p.h. After testing the jet boat on Hawley Reservoir, including whether it would be possible to somersault the boat, Crane became confident that – in the right hands – the Q-boat was more than capable of doing great things. Fifteen Q-boats were built for TWINE by Riddle Marine, of Idaho, USA, and four were fully functional, with watertight engines, an ability to ‘skim’ the surface of the water, and a top speed that would give the Sunseeker a healthy dose of competition. Additional ‘extras’ were provided for the Q-boats in the workshops at Pinewood, including its canopy and military-style look.

Try Another Way

Inevitably, during the course of the long Thames location filming, especially given some of the risks involved, a number of mishaps occurred. On Friday, 7th May, for example, when the crew were filming at Millwall Dock, using a small bridge called Glengall Bridge, it proved very challenging getting the Q-boat to half-submerge during speedy run-ups to the Bridge by the stunt drivers (two Q-boats were variously employed for this piece of filming, manned by stunt drivers Gary Powell and Wade Eastwood). Another problem was that, given the power of the boat, the speed required, and the narrowness of the waterway at that location, it was quite difficult to drive the boat in a dead straight line. After numerous takes, the Q-boat finally performed to satisfaction. However, later on in the day, stuntman Wade Eastwood at one point lost his Q-boat completely when it fully sank, complete with its mounted camera. It was eventually retrieved, of course. As Q himself might have said, ‘always have an escape plan’!

In many ways, the Q-boat became one of the star attractions of TWINE, and was used extensively during the marketing of the movie. And it has subsequently become a firm favourite of Bond fans, appearing in various Bond exhibitions over the years. One of the only surviving models from the film is now owned by the Ian Fleming Foundation in the USA.

Goldeneye - Q with the Parker Pen Class 4 Grenade

The late, great Desmond ‘Q’ Llewelyn in action in 1995