Until the most recent incarnation of James Bond, where MI6 took, possibly in a concession to the profile of the actors involved, a far larger role in proceedings, the character has been something of a lone wolf. He moves from mission to mission, reporting in only what he must. His boss, M, is usually there at the start to give him his mission, after some flirty sparring with Miss Moneypenny, his superior’s assistant. After this he will generally go the section’s Quartermaster for some incredibly specific gadgets that will turn out to be exactly what he needs; after which he is on his own, perhaps only meeting a few beautiful women in the exact age category to be of interest to him from which to seek help.
There are, however, exceptions. Sometimes in the field, he will take assistance from someone mission specific or a foreign station head. Such figures occasionally stand-out and become a major part of series lore. Here are the best of these.
Note: the absence of women on this list reflects less upon the quality of female characterisation and is more about the fact that as Bond usually ends up sleeping with them, they start falling into the category of Bond woman, rather than mission ally. A notable exception would be Camille Montes from Quantum of Solace, and the reasons for her omission should be clear to anyone familiar with our look-back at that film. She is less an ally and more a character on a parallel journey – one that ends up drawing attention aways from our hero’s story.
So, in tribute to the few men in the world from whom James Bond sought help, we list them as follows.
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5. Felix Leiter
It’s probably fair to suggest that Felix Leiter would top many lists, and, as such, he is worthy of the most thorough appraisal on this list.
He has appeared in more films than any of the others – 10 entries in the EON series, spanning the entire history, from 1962’s Dr No, to 2021’s No Time to Die, He is the closest thing the book series ever gave us to an equivalent to Bond (outside of his own section), with the character being a blond Texan CIA agent of a similar age to James. His friendship with Bond prompts the first time 007 goes rogue and disobeys his service, and is the main thrust of a film’s plot, with 1989’s Licence to Kill seeing Bond looking for revenge after Felix is maimed, and his new wife, Della, killed by drug lord Franz Sanchez. The intervention of Felix is what keeps Bond from blowing his mission by attacking Le Chiffre prematurely in Casino Royale.
The problem is that Felix has been portrayed by more men that Bond himself, and wildly inconsistently at that. Ask someone to picture the character and it isn’t obvious which version would come to mind: Jack Lord’s reasonably book faithful, but underused debut for the character; Cec Linder’s older, also underused, and nothing-like-Bond version from Goldfinger, Rik van Nutter’s Lord-alike from Thunderball; Norman Burton’s pen-pushing company man from Diamonds are Forever. Or one of the two most famous incarnations, Jeffery Wright from the Craig era, or David Hedison – the only other actor to appear more than once in the role.
The only thing of which we can be sure is no one thinks of John Terry: many will need to look up precisely where he appeared. Bond actors come and go, but they usually get an era of films. Leiter is hurt by the constant changes of actor, usually for one-time appearances, and from having so few characteristics enduring from version-to-version. Despite being the most famous of James Bond’s allies, he is also less memorable than so many of the one-shot appearances from others.
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4. Milos Columbo
Many of the better allies have been morally ambiguous.
Topol’s Milos character spends much of For Your Eyes Only framed as the antagonist. Ferrara’s murder scene features a pin of a dove that links it to his organisation, and the Ferrara recommended Kristatos (more on that below) uses Bond’s trust to paint Columbo as the threat.
When eventually captured by the character, Bond learns that the henchman Loque, who very nearly killed 007, is an employee of Kristatos, and Columbo teams up with the British agent to launch a raid on the newly revealed bad guy’s drug warehouse. It’s a small role for Topol, but it has many of the hallmarks of the better Bond allies as presented in the film series: an older European man, with some moral greyness, often with their own hustles going on, and with charisma to burn.
3. Rene Mathis
Giancarlo Giannini’s Rene Mathis appears twice in consecutive entries.
Although a French station head in the original novel, the 2006 adaptation of Casino Royale reworks him as an Italian contact (with Mathis being a poor cover name, as revealed in Quantum of Solace). As with Columbo, it isn’t clear for some time which side this guy is on.
Where Mathis stands out though is that he has greater agency, guiding a newly minted 00 through his first mission. He is given greater time with the lead before any suggestion arises that he may not be acting in Bond’s interests. He is the audience’s guide to the poker games, and he is portrayed with a detached amusement, as he plays little schemes to frame people for crimes and get the corrupt head of police arrested.
With such a light touch given to these events by the actor, we immediately forgive these morally ambiguous actions, figuring the people in question probably deserve them. With our learning that Mathis was indeed on Bond’s side, and eventually dying after being murdered purely to frame Bond, he ends up entertaining the audience, amusing Bond, and gaining our sympathy, as it turns out he was a man more sinned against than sinning.
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2. Marc-Ange Draco
MUST-FIGHT-URGE-TO-PUT-DRACO-TOP-JUST-BECAUSE-THIS-FILM-IS-MY-FAVOURITE! Okay, and we’re back. Marc-Ange Draco was portrayed in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service by Gabriele Ferzetti, best known for his role in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in The West.
To start with why he doesn’t top this list – limited screentime: he is in only a handful of scenes and gets only a couple with substantial amounts of dialogue (i.e., anything over a few short exchanges). What an impression he makes though. This time, Bond’s ally is a full-on crime boss, a head of the Union Corse – an organisation with a few legitimate fronts, a bit smaller than SPECTRE. His daughter is Diana Rigg’s Tracy – eventually Mrs Bond. He has vicious henchmen and is clearly no stranger to serious crime. He respects Bond, though, and more than this, he is desperately worried about his troublemaking, often-suicidal daughter.
In seeing Bond as a man who may be able to help, he offers a large personal dowry to James if, in the fullness of time, he was to marry Tracy. He shares the older man filled with detached amusement common to this type, but it is shot through with pain, desperation, but also the power in the character that we know he has considerable reach and influence. Bond wants Blofeld: this guy will find him. Bond needs to launch an unauthorised rescue mission: this man has the resources. He is a genuinely enjoyable experience every time he is on screen, and he makes significant contributions to driving the plot of the finest James Bond film.
1. Ali Kerim Bay
Kerim Bay was portrayed by Pedro Armindariz in the second 007 entry, From Russia With Love.
Two things stand out when considering this character. Some of the better allies owe their existence to Ian Fleming. Kerim Bay is a faithful rendering of the character essayed in the creator’s original book. Second, it isn’t always possible to separate the actor from the part they play. On the first point, Kerim Bay is everything we enjoy from entries 4 to 1 on this list. He is a little roguish, with clearly plenty of his own side-hustles going on, despite being the MI6 station head for Istanbul.
He brings an amused detachment, which allows him to do his job without the feeling he is taking any of it too seriously. At one point, an assassination attempt fails as he was a few feet away from where he should have been – busily womanising. The presence of characters like this pierce tension, give Bond a confidante (a similar narrative device to Robin in the Batman universe, although a very different set of character dynamics), and entertain the audience with a different point of view. As a character of this type, he has never been bettered.
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Some of the attachment fans feel is linked to the second point: the difficulty in separating the actor from the role. Pedro was diagnosed with terminal cancer on the eve of filming yet insisted on continuing with the role to give himself a legacy and his family a payday. During the outdoor camp scenes early in the film he is visibly limping in the long shots, and there are times in the film where the actor is being supported to stand (carefully shot around as not to be obvious). With his scenes placed early in the schedule, Armindariz passed away several months before the film’s release. He leaves, however, a legacy in one of the finest 007 films, as one of Bond’s greatest allies.
Honourable mentions: crap allies.
Luigi Ferrara – Ah, Ferrara, the well-meaning Italian agent from For Your Eyes Only, who genially recommends to Bond the man who turns out to be the film’s bad guy, then immediately gets himself killed. His only substantive action is to show ludicrously poor judgement. Lovely guy: not much of an agent. His murder, however, does lead to Roger Moore’s most vicious moment in the role, as he takes revenge upon the man responsible.
Jack Wade – Whilst somewhat more efficient than the well-meaning Ferrara, Wade is worth an honourable mention for being unbearable. A complete parody of a loudmouth American agent, his first appearance, in GoldenEye, is just about acceptable. By the time he is making jokes about his failed marriages in Tomorrow Never Dies it becomes clear that this is a character that isn’t fit to lace Felix Leiter’s boots, and that he is far too broad for the modern Bond film. Thankfully that was it for his brash, irritating presence.