The Definitive Guide To Bond’s Hardware

Ian Fleming went to great pains over the technical and geographical background to Bond’s adventures, and during the writing of the books he would consult – in his own words – ‘innumerable experts’ to ensure that the details were correct. In turn he was equally pained when ‘correspondents from all over the world have been equally enthusiastic in writing to point out errors.’

On the other hand in a Playboy interview published in 1964, Fleming said, ”Quite honestly, the whole question of expertise in these matters bores me. Obviously, I want to know the facts. If a Gaylord holster is better than a Berns-Martin, I want to know about it, but there my interest rather ends. However, I’m not a bad shot; in fact, I shot for Sandhurst against West Point at one time. And just to see that my hand isn’t trembling too much. I like to have a shot at a tin can or something now and again.’ This was in response to the question, ‘Would you, for example, go out of your way to meet Chic Gaylord of New York, who makes custom-tailored revolver and pistol holsters for the New York City police and the FBI?’

It was not errors per se that led to the the gun expert Geoffrey Boothroyd (1925-2001) writing to Fleming in May 1956. Instead it was what he considered to be the poor choices in Bond’s use of hardware, starting with the Beretta .25 pistol (with a skeleton stock where the side panels are removed from the handle.) The pistol was small and flat, fitted neatly under the armpit but Boothroyd referred to it as a ‘ladies gun’ and claimed it was lightweight in more ways than just the literal weight – primarily lacking in what is known technically as the muzzle energy. With the Beretta it was 63ft/lbs. Unless Bond shot accurately and hit the heart dead-on or the centre of the forehead, it would do little to injure the victim. In fact even Bond admitted as much in From Russia With Love (published 1957), ‘Bit on the light side, but it’ll kill if you put the bullets in the right places.’

Beretta .25

Nor, Boothroyd argued, was a pistol the right weapon for a secret agent. He preferred the revolver. His argument was simple and two-fold, ‘you don’t have to fiddle about with safety catches, and they are more powerful weapons.’

Excuse the dreadful pun. A 1950s ad from the US for the Berreta range of weapons. Bond’s gun was .25 cal.

He recommended Bond use the .38 Smith & Wesson Centennial Airweight, with three times the muzzle energy at 260ft/lbs. The Airweight was also hammerless and so did not catch in clothing and it was, as he described it, a real man-stopper.

The revolver – they were called this literally because the cylinder revolves.

It wasn’t just the guns that Boothroyd had a problem with but also the holster worn by Bond, and the use of silencers. Until Boothroyd’s interjection, Bond wore a ‘well-worn chamois leather pouch under his left arm that has become almost part of his clothes, and he will be loth to make a change, though here again M may intervene’ was Fleming’s retort.

Boothroyd told Fleming that while such a holster could carry a small pistol like the Beretta it would be useless if Bond had to draw a proper weapon in a hurry. His suggestions was a Lightening Berns-Martin Tripe Draw holster, which held the revolver by means of a spring, and could be worn both as a belt or shoulder holster. When used as a shoulder holster, the gun was actually held upside down but kept in place by that spring mechanism. The gun could be drawn with a single downwards movement. ‘Good holster makers put much effort into the design and they should be made of stout leather,’ he told Fleming. He also suggested that Fleming write to SD Myers Saddle Co, 5030 Alameda Blvd, El Paso, Texas for their latest catalogue. He could also write to Jack Martin in Clahoun City, Mississippi who was described as a ‘first class chap and a true gunslinger.’

Boothroyd’s preferred holster carrying the Airweight.

Silencers, according to Boothroyd, only appeared in books and films. They were useless when attached to a pistol as they were ponderous, rarely worked and severely compromised the hardware’s accuracy. The Beretta would need to be adapted to hold one, he noted, and the muzzle energy would be so low the bullet might only graze the intended victim. Fleming said there were times when – for a secret agent – they were a needed (but he then refrains from featuring them).

Fleming wanted to see the Airweight but this was not generally available in England. Boothroyd’s suggestion was to visit Thomas Bland and Sons, 4-5 King William Street, or Cogswell and Harrison on Piccadilly, who he thought would be able to help source one for Fleming to look at and perhaps buy.

Press ad’ from Thomas Bland & Sons.

Fleming didn’t heed the advice as in his mind Bond would not use a revolver but something more stylish. He asked for an alternative, and Boothroyd suggested the German-made Walther PPK 7.65mm automatic pistol. (PPK stands for Polizeipistole Kurz.) However for Boothroyd this was a compromise. But Fleming, as he said ‘definitely preferred automatics to revolvers’ but on this he had changed his mind. In Casino Royale (1953), Bond had a .38 Colt Police Positive with the sawn barrel kept under his pillow, and in Live and Let Die (1954) and Moonraker (1955) the Colt Detective Special makes an appearance. (What changed Fleming’s mind is unknown.) Not that Boothroyd was unhappy with the Walther as it ‘gave a very rapid first shot, the one that counts, provided it had a bullet up the snout.’

Not as powerful as the Airweight and with one bullet in the chamber can be fired quickly on the draw. While it had the other issues – as noted in the caption – it was still twice as powerful as the Berreta.

None the less he suggested that Bond carry in his car a S&W .357 Magnum, which could stop an elephant, although Boothroyd was at pains to point out that there was no point shooting at an assailant with the biggest gun that Bond could hold, if Bond missed him. Key was accuracy. Fleming agreed. With these two guns, Boothroyd said that ‘Bond would be able to cope with really quick-draw work, and long range effective shooting.’ However, the Magnum did not appear in the novels.

Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum. This had an effective range of 300 yards, and a muzzle energy of 800 ft/lb.

Boothroyd had also said there were other alternatives to the Walther including the Mauser HSc. 7.65mm, and the Sauer Model 38H in a 7.65 calibre. At the same time he noted that the Japanese Nambu was one of the most accurate guns that had been tested.

Fleming asked Boothroyd what he thought SMERSH agents might use for assassinations: a Luger 8-inch, 10-inch, 12-inch or 16-inch with a detachable shoulder stock, or a Mauser 7.63 automatic with a shoulder stock. Bond, in the film From Russia With Love, uses an Armalite with a support and a telescopic sight.

For personal protection Boothroyd thought SMERSH would deploy a 9-mm Luger (Model 08) with a 4-inch barrel. Other choices might be the Polish-made Randon Model 35, or the Swedish 9-mm Lahti. (At the time, the standard sidearm of the Soviets was the Tokarev Model 30.)

Soviet Russian Tokarev TT-30 Semi-Automatic Pistol, 7.62x25mm calibre with 4.5 inch barrel.

Fleming was impressed with the depth of Boothroyd’s knowledge and told him, ‘if ever there is talk of making films of some of James Bond’s stories in due course, I shall suggest to the company concerned that they might like to consult you on some technical aspects.’

How to introduce the new choice of hardware was Fleming’s next concern but this was not an issue. Already – and by pure coincidence – Bond had suffered problems with the Beretta in From Russia With Love. ‘He tugged furiously at his gun. The silencer had caught.’

Or was it pure co-incidence? Boothroyd had contacted Fleming only after the first draft of the novel had been written and it was some months before they reached agreement on Bond’s hardware. Yet it would seem likely that this still gave Fleming time to insert a couple of lines and plot devices to show the Beretta’s failure. This then gave Fleming the opportunity to make the change in the follow-up novel, Dr No. Indeed Fleming makes sure that this is flagged to the reader as he calls the relevant chapter Choice of Weapons.

“Well, Armourer, what do you recommend?”

Major Boothroyd put on the expert’s voice. “As a matter of fact, sir,” he said modestly, “I’ve just been testing most of the small automatics. Five thousand rounds each at twenty-five yards. Of all of them, I’d choose the Walther PPK 7.65 mm. It only came fourth after the Japanese M-14, the Russian Tokarev and the Sauer M-38. But I like its light trigger pull and the extension spur of the magazine gives a grip that should suit 007. It’s a real stopping gun. Of course it’s about a .32 calibre as compared with the Beretta’s .25, but I wouldn’t recommend anything lighter. And you can get ammunition for the Walther anywhere in the world. That gives it an edge on the Japanese and the Russian guns.”

M turned to Bond. “Any comments?”

“It’s a good gun, sir,” Bond admitted. “Bit more bulky than the Beretta. How does the Armourer suggest I carry it?”

“Berns Martin Triple-draw holster*,” said Major Boothroyd succinctly. “Best worn inside the trouser band to the left. But it’s all right below the shoulder. Stiff saddle leather. Holds the gun in with a spring. Should make for a quicker draw than that,” he gestured towards the desk. “Three-fifths of a second to hit a man at twenty feet would be about right.”

“That’s settled then.” M’s voice was final. “And what about something bigger?”

“There’s only one gun for that, sir,” said Major Boothroyd stolidly. “Smith & Wesson Centennial Airweight. Revolver. .38 calibre. Hammerless, so it won’t catch in clothing. Overall length of six and a half inches and it only weighs thirteen ounces. To keep down the weight, the cylinder holds only five cartridges. But by the time they’re gone,” Major Boothroyd allowed himself a wintry smile, “somebody’s been killed. Fires the .38 S & W Special. Very accurate cartridge indeed. With standard loading it has a muzzle velocity of eight hundred and sixty feet per second and muzzle energy of two hundred and sixty foot-pounds. There are various barrel lengths, three and a half inch, five inch…”

“All right, all right.” M’s voice was testy. “Take it as read. If you say it’s the best I’ll believe you. So it’s the Walther and the Smith & Wesson. Send up one of each to 007. With the harness. And arrange for him to fire them in. Starting today. He’s got to be expert in a week. All right? Then thank you very much, Armourer. I won’t detain you.”

Bond takes the Magnum to Crab Key with him and uses it to kill Dr No’s henchmen.

Thereafter, it is the Walther PPK that features in the novels as Fleming decided he did not want Bond to use a Magnum revolver even for heavy long range work. That said, in Moonraker (1955), Bond kept a long-barrel Colt Army Special .45 in his Bentley’s glovebox. In fact Fleming has made a mistake here as the model does not exist although there are other Colts that perhaps Bond used.

*However, Fleming had made another mistake: as noted already, the holster was designed for a revolver but was now going to be used with a Walther – it would not hold the weapon correctly and securely.

In the films, the swopping of the guns takes place at the start of Dr No when Bond is forced to handover his Beretta by M for Boothroyd’s recommended Walther PPK with ‘a delivery like a brick through a plate glass window.’ (However at this point I won’t explore the rather complicated story of the guns in the films.) Bond also retains his soft holster in the films, and, for dramatic purposes continues to use a silencer (a Brausch) from time to time such as when he kills Dent in the film. The PPK is later updated and replaced with a Walther P99 in the 1997 film Tomorrow Never Dies but it then makes an unsurprising reappearance in Daniel Craig’s Casino Royale and the later films.

Boothroyd was not used as a consultant by EON but he did appear in a BBC documentary about Bond’s guns, broadcast in September 1964. It starts with Sean Connery walking out of Fort Knox – well that’s before he explains that it isn’t the real Fort Knox but a set that has been built at Pinewood. Interestingly Connery also goes on to say that ‘I am not James Bond, he is a fictitious character.’ So already here is an indication (referenced a number of times elsewhere in MidCenturyBond), that he was growing tired of being identified as Bond.

Sean Connery outside Fort Knox – the set at Pinewood.

In the follow-on novels Bond’s gun of choice goes through many changes from 1981 onwards starting with the publication of Licence Renewed by John Gardner.


Prime Sources

The Guns of James Bond, Sports Illustrated March 1962.

James Bond’s Hardware, Sunday Times, November 1962.

Dr No, Ian Fleming. 1958. Jonathan Cape

From Russia With Love, Ian Fleming, 1957. Jonathan Cape

Time Out – The Guns of James Bond. BBC. 1964.


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