Everyone loves the “James Bond” franchise – as evidenced by the fact that it is still going strong for over 50 years. Though James Bond himself may change to reflect the world around him, going from a suave product of the 1960s to the post-Cold War patriot of the Brosnan era right up to the “blunt force instrument” that he is today, one thing has remained the same: everyone’s favorite part of the films is when Q shows up to give him some incredible new gadget that will probably come in handy during the third act.
Played for years by Desmond Llewelyn, Q was one of the few cast members who DIDN’T change – even as Bond himself did. Many people always believed that Q was pure fantasy – some byproduct of Ian Fleming’s wild imagination. Based on that, it might surprise you that there IS a Q in real-life and he’s probably out there building some fancy new spy gadget right now.
Meet Ralph Osterhout
Ralph Osterhout grew up loving Bond like just about everyone does. But the thing that separates him from those millions upon millions of other people is that after becoming obsessed with Fleming’s novels in particular, he dedicated his life to becoming a spy himself. He learned how to shoot like James Bond. How to drive like James Bond. How to fight like him. After studying the gadget-heavy films, he also learned how to build his own weapons and gadgets that would make the prop masters on “The Living Daylights” sit up and take notice.
When Osterhout hit is 20s, he decided to take his passion and his hobby to the next level and turn it into a career. He started his own business, first building state-of-the-art diving gear. He made such an impression on his clients that eventually, the United States government took notice.
The U.S. government was in need of specialty equipment for their Navy SEAL divers – the most elite of the elite. Because Osterhout had been spending some of his free time training SEALs, he seemed like a natural fit. He soon got to work and changed everything we think about real-life spy gear in the process.
First, Osterhout build closed-circuit rebreathers and other protection systems to help keep SEALs safe on underwater excursions. Then, he build a system that allowed SEALs to target nuclear submarines from the Soviet Union – all while going entirely undetected. More of his specially designed equipment was used by the government for the next few decades, particularly in Desert Storm and during the war in Iraq.
Perhaps the high point of his career was when he designed a specialty dive vehicle for the United States Navy that would go on to be featured in not one but two James Bond films: “Never Say Never Again” (which marked Sean Connery’s return to the franchise) and “The Spy Who Loved Me.” In many ways, the circle of Osterhout’s life was now complete. He wasn’t just looking up to Q as he supplied high tech gear to James Bond. He had literally BECOME Q, arming not one but two different Bonds (including the original, and his favorite) with the tech they needed to stop the bad guy and save the world once and for all.
When the Cold War ended, Osterhout adapted – just as his idol James Bond had before him. He pivoted into toy development and was responsible for some of the biggest hits of the 1990s – the TalkBoy and the Yak Bak being just two examples.
The next time you watch a classic “James Bond” film and Desmond Llewelyn scorches across the screen as Q, just remember that while the character may be fictional and the gadgets may seem fantastical – they’re more based in reality than you might think.