RogerBW's Blog

The Many Faces of M's Office Door 25 May 2021

Inspired by someone's passing comment on M's office in the James Bond films having a "green baize door", which I was fairly sure was wrong, I thought I'd go and check.

Generally this has been implied to be a double door, presumably for sound insulation. In the early days it was red buttoned leather, and had entrance lights outside. Dr. No (1962):

From Russia with Love (1963):

A couple of years later the lights had moved but the door looked the same. (I assume the set was rebuilt for each film.) Goldfinger (1964):

Thunderball (1965):

Because I'm being a completist, one of the two notable exceptions, an unnamed submarine in You Only Live Twice (1967):

Back to the leather door for the next film, On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969).

Then they tried to change things up a bit; in Diamonds Are Forever the briefing is in a different office, and Live and Let Die it's in Bond's flat. But we're back to the red leather in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974).

The first major change to the office comes along in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977); I call this version the "overstuffed sausage casing". This is the first time we get a good look through the door; presumably before this M's office and Moneypenny's antechamber were separate sets, but this one seems to have been constructed with an eye to allowing more variety of camera angles. Leather on the inside, wood panel on the outside:

Moonraker (1979):

M was left out of For Your Eyes Only (1981) because of the death of Bernard Lee, and there's a temporary extra office for the Minister, but it's the usual setup when Bond is brought in.

Octopussy (1983) (new M, played by Robert Brown who'd had a small part as Admiral Hargreaves in Spy, but same office):

Never Say Never Again (1983) obviously didn't have access to the standard sets, but they really don't seem to have tried very hard. (And the visual grammar is wrong: M's office is on the left, it's the launch point for the story, and Bond leaves rightwards to go first to Moneypenny and then to the outside world.)

Back to the regular set with A View to a Kill (1985):

The other "special", the back of a C-130 in The Living Daylights (1987).

Licence to Kill (1989) doesn't have much in Whitehall, but there is this brief shot of what seems like the same outer door, and this seems to have been the last time this set was used at all.

Then they changed things around again. GoldenEye (1995) starts with a briefing room:

But while Judi Dench is without doubt the best actor to play M, her actual office looks like a generic modern hotel room that's been built on the cheap and is trying to be flashy. Only without the bed, presumably because you show 007 a bed and he stops being able to think about anything else.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) doesn't use the office, but has a briefing on the move.

Then it's back to the hotel room for The World Is Not Enough (1999) and Die Another Day (2002).

I haven't seen any of the more recent films, but a quick scan suggests that the briefing scene isn't part of the template any more.

(I don't spend a lot of time in the James Bond headspace, but I recently had a very good experience trying out the RPG, and there are two separate podcasts that have been going through the films with a modern sensibility: Of Human Bondage, an offshoot of Pex Lives that has no separate page, and Kill James Bond, an offshoot of Trash Future.)

Tags: film

  1. Posted by Shim at 11:16am on 25 May 2021

    One thing about those offices is there's never any obvious reason why they're so big. Presumably just a perk of seniority. The lack of just about everything you see in an office is a bit jarring though. They only ever seem to have a single folder and a pen.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 11:36am on 25 May 2021

    In my headcanon, the books seen behind M's desk (sometimes with rolling steps for getting at them) are not Jane's or the London Gazette (that's what underlings are for) but the truly timeless references. It's all in Plato, all in Plato…

  3. Posted by Chris Bell at 11:42am on 25 May 2021

    It isn't just the size; it's the fittings.

    For reasons I won't go into I once had occasion, many years ago, to make an unusual inquiry of the Ministry of Defence; its nature was such that several juniors didn't know how to deal with it, and I was passed up the chain of command, as it were, until I reached someone with the power unequivocally to say a simple "No".

    As I went from one office to the next it became obvious how you told the seniority of someone in that organisation. They went from small rug under feet behind the desk, to larger rug with the whole desk on it, to fitted but poor-quality carpet; and the obligatory potted plant started out as a rather sad rubber-plant with few leaves, to a cheese-plant with few leaves, to a flourishing cheese-plant with healthy, shiny leaves and plenty of them. (I had visions at the time of Minions moving someone's cherished plant into the office of someone of higher grade because it was now unsuitable to his lowly status, and how a junior might mourn the plant he had cared for as he looked sadly at the one his senior had been allowing to die.)

    And each desk was less cluttered as I went up the ranks. The last office didn't even have a filing-cabinet in it!

  4. Posted by RogerBW at 11:44am on 25 May 2021

    I assume that, Eric Blair-style, you come in one day to find you have Less Carpet and that's how you learn that you've been demoted…

  5. Posted by John P at 02:05pm on 25 May 2021

    Was that the James Bond RPG by Victory Games? I've got that somewhere but never actually tried it out.

  6. Posted by RogerBW at 02:43pm on 25 May 2021

    That's the badger. Mike and I talked about it in podcast episode 101: I found it an interesting combination of advanced mechanics and traditional-game baggage.

  7. Posted by Dr Bob at 03:55pm on 25 May 2021

    When I did my "welcome to the civil service" induction day, they did a semi-humorous talk about what our department used to be like in Ye Olden Days (pre 1990s, and possibly pre-1970s). They told us that when you rose to a certain grade you got an office with carpet, and at a more senior level you got to choose the colour of said carpet!

    There was also a shriek of "What?!" from an audience member when we were told senior civil servants used to be able to have 1st class rail tickets to go to meetings.

  8. Posted by Brett Evill at 02:36pm on 26 May 2021

    According to the text of the novel Moonraker there is a green baize door at the top of the steps that lead to the basement in the MI6 headquarters building, and another on the ninth floor "that led to the offices of M. and his personal staff". Bond "pushed through the green door and walked into the last room but one along the passage". That got him into a room when Moneypenny sat at her typewriter, with another door leading on into M's office.

    The text is available here: https://gutenberg.ca/ebooks/flemingi-moonraker/flemingi-moonraker-01-h.html

  9. Posted by RogerBW at 02:41pm on 26 May 2021

    Fascinating! Fleming would certainly have been aware of the symbolism, though whether he's deliberately trying to make a point, copying a detail from his own time at the Admiralty, or simply making stuff up, is probably not resolvable at this distance.

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