What If? - The James Bond Extended Universe


With no announcement yet over who will play James Bond going forwards, Steve Taylor-Bryant takes at look at what could happen elsewhere in the Bond universe...


There has been a lot of talk recently in our office, trying to pre-empt what the new Amazon/ MGM/ Broccoli James Bond franchise will look like going forwards. Some are still of the opinion that Idris Elba should play the titular title. Those people are, of course, wrong because they’ve already announced the age group that are looking at, and I honestly think Idris would make a great M. Someone who shall remain nameless [hint: Begins with an S, ends with an Usan – Ed] thinks James Bond should go back to the 1960’s and become a period piece. Once the laughter and placing of fish in her office had died down, we politely explained that Bond has always been of its period and is the undisputed champion of product placement. Putting Bond back in the 1960’s would drop half the audience and those valuable dollars from watch/car/tech firms would diminish. However, the period drama idea didn’t leave me alone. Whilst using a past time era for the main franchise is most definitely deserving of mackerel-scented stationery, there are vast parts of the Bond and Bond creator Ian Fleming mythos that could be explored using the entire-ish of the twentieth century.

A few years ago, I read a non-fiction espionage book about Maxwell Knight, M: Maxwell Knight, MI5’s Greatest Spymaster by Henry Hemming. Take a look at the synopsis, I’ll be back in a minute, the office windows need opening…


Maxwell Knight was perhaps the greatest spymaster in history, rumoured to be the real-life inspiration for the James Bond character "M." He did more than anyone in his era to combat the rising threat of fascism in Britain during World War II, in spite of his own history inside this movement. He was also truly eccentric--a thrice-married jazz aficionado who kept a menagerie of exotic pets--and almost unqualified for espionage.

Yet he had a gift for turning practically anyone into a fearless secret agent. Knight's work revolutionized British intelligence, pioneering the use of female agents, among other accomplishments. In telling Knight's remarkable story, Agent M also reveals for the first time in print the names and stories of some of the men and women recruited by Knight, on behalf of MI5, who were asked to infiltrate the country's most dangerous political organizations.

Drawing on a vast array of original sources, Agent M reveals not only the story of one of the world's greatest intelligence operators, but the sacrifices and courage required to confront fascism during a nation's darkest time.


Sounds incredible, doesn’t it? Matt Charman, who wrote Bridge of Spies and Suite Fran├žaise, thought so and a few years was a developing a biopic of Knight. So, what if we took Maxwell Knight and his life story, fictionalise it a little bit and use it to start telling the story of the other famous name from the James Bond Franchise, M? 

My thoughts are, due mainly to how Amazon pretty much nail everything television wise these days, two short seasons per time period, telling the story of the espionage boss title M and how each person in that seat of power got there and what they did to forward spying in their era. 

Season one and two will be the building of MI5 and the invention of the M position using Maxwell Knight as inspiration. A series that concentrates on the bringing down of fascism in Britain just before the Second World War, espionage during the war, and that post war/start of the Cold War period in the late 1940’s that leads to M creating the 00 division of elite agents with a License to Kill. To make this both historically accurate and exciting I am keeping the idea of Matt Charman as main writer and bringing in Susanne Bier as director for the entire run of this period of the show. Charman writes compelling characters and has a grasp of what the spy genre can look like when it's not all speed boats and explosions and Bier did such a fantastic job on The Night Manager back in 2016, making slow burn television look epic and yet staying on topic to produce incredibly addictive viewing.


I want big names to bring an aura to the position of M that may be lacking from the main franchise, and have ideas for both more mature and perhaps slightly younger actors to take the role in future era seasons, but to begin with I am stealing a casting idea from one of the best spy book adaptations ever made. My Maxwell Knight inspired M, the weird and yet highly intellectual agent who redefines what MI5 could be and invent a new way of being agents has to be none other than Gary Oldman. Oldman brings a gravitas to every role and when he is on point and committed to something he knows is good he without peer and I think two years of about 12-14 episodes would allow Oldman to give the administration of espionage a platform that would interest even the most hardened action fan. For future eras/seasons I have ideas which include Hugh Laurie as M during the 1950’s and Cillian Murphy as a younger incumbent in the ever changing 1960’s, which I plan to be a longer 3 season run because the 60’s is the biggest era of change in spying. A return to old white men stability for the 1970’s to match the era sees me bring in a gruffer M in the form of either of the Glenister brothers before a more female accepting 1980’s sees massive changes in the office with M portrayed as the smart yet stern Emma Thompson.

To tie into the main franchise more, I envision a musicality that has nods to Bond via the theme or notes here and there and each era of the show would have a Bond-style theme song. For the main composer, though, I am bringing David Arnold back to the idea of British spying. My thoughts behind this were after a conversation with my father about the chord structure of the main Bond theme. I wanted to use the four chords that are underneath the dun dun dun der dun dun bit. Those chords, by the way, aren’t as simple as my drummer brain thought they would be but, for your musical types, I have copied my Dad's email at the bottom.

So, there we have it, a period-piece James Bond show with no Bond, no reliance upon product placement, using real life events and personnel as a source for fascinating characters and excellent storytelling.

Follow Steve on Twitter @STBwrites  

Steve’s Dad's email…

The chords are:

Em Em(b6) Em6 Em(b6): or

E minor flattened 6th
E minor 6th
E minor flattened 6th
E minor

The leading voice uses the upper notes of the chords B C C# C

It is a modal progression switching between Aeolian and Dorian Modes

Hope this isn’t too technical



Images - Top - adapted from a photo by Cottonbro via pexels, others - IMDb, Amazon



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