James Bond has had his fair, fire-powered share of memorable gun-toting moments. Like Sean Connery skewering a henchman with a Jaguar Speargun in Thunderball. Or Roger Moore shooting a sniper with a Holland & Holland Royal shotgun in Moonraker. Even Daniel Craig made an impression at the end of Casino Royale, casually resting a Heckler & Koch UMP-9 in the crook of his arm.
But one gun keeps slipping back into Bond’s holster; 007’s choice weapon of choice for over 60 years. With a short grip, double-action trigger mechanism and reduced magazine capacity, the Walther PPK is, by far, the most famous and prolific of James Bond’s many sidearms.
Every time Bond has been rebooted, the PPK has been reloaded — and it remains the only weapon carried by all six official screen bonds, not to mention Ian Fleming’s original literary character. So why did the author choose the Walther PPK — and where did the gun come from?
When was the Walther PPK first made?
Released in 1931, the Walther PPK was a smaller variation on Walther’s existing PP model — itself launched in 1929. ‘PPK’ stands for ‘Polizepistole Kriminal’, or ‘Police Pistol; Detective Model’.
The gun, produced by German firearms manufacturer Carl Walther GmbH, was designed to be more concealable than the larger PP, and featured a two-piece wrap-around grip panel and seven-round capacity. Popular among European police forces, undercover agents and even civilian enthusiasts, the gun had several famous proponents before Bond picked it up.
Elvis Presley, for one. The King had his own silver-finished PPK, with ‘TCB’ (‘taking care of business’) inscribed along the handle. The musician, long a fan of Walther’s firearms, even gifted his friend and actor Jack Lord a gold-plated PPK with ivory handgrips. Lord would go on to play CIA agent Felix Leiter alongside Sean Connery in Dr. No.
The PPK also holds a grisly record for dictatorial deaths. South Korean despot Park Chung-hee was assassinated at a state banquet (by the director of his own intelligence agency) with a PPK in 1979. And, before that, Adolf Hitler died by his own hand (and PPK) in the Führerbunker at the close of the second world war.
So how was James Bond introduced to the Walther PPK?
007 didn’t start out with a Walther PPK. In 1953’s Casino Royale — Fleming’s first Bond novel — the author equipped his spy with a Beretta M418. The Beretta was a small pocket pistol, designed in 1919 and worn by Bond in a soft, chamois leather shoulder holster. He used this gun in the first five Bond novels, paired with a silencer and with the side grips stripped off.
In 1956, however, after the publication of Diamonds Are Forever, a Glasgow-based firearms expert named Geoffrey Boothroyd wrote to Fleming:
“I have, by now, got rather fond of Mr. James Bond. I like most of the things about him, with the exception of his rather deplorable taste in firearms. In particular, I dislike a man who comes into contact with all sorts of formidable people using a .25 Beretta. This sort of gun is really a lady’s gun, and not a really nice lady at that. If Mr. Bond has to use a light gun he would be better off with a .22 rim fire; the lead bullet would cause more shocking effect than the jacketed type of the .25. May I suggest that Mr. Bond be armed with a revolver?”
Fleming was won over. He wrote back to Boothroyd, thanking him for his “splendid letter” and assuring the expert he had been “entirely convinced” of the need to change 007’s sidearm. “As Bond’s biographer,” wrote the author, “I am most anxious to see that he lives as long as possible and I shall be most grateful for any further technical advices you might like me to pass on to him.”
Boothroyd and Fleming became friends. The expert taught the author everything he needed to know about weapons and, in From Russia, With Love (Boothroyd helped design the iconic modified Smith & Wesson that appeared on the book’s cover), Fleming almost killed Bond when his Beretta snagged on the inside of his holster.
This paved the way for the arrival of ‘Major Boothroyd’, AKA ‘Q’, in the sixth Bond novel, Dr. No — Fleming named the character after his new friend to show his gratitude. Dr. No also saw the arrival of the Walther PPK into Bond’s arsenal.
When has James Bond used the Walther PPK?
After Fleming decided on the Walther PPK, it became 007’s weapon of choice for eight out of 15 Bond books — from 1958’s Dr. No to 1965’s The Man with the Golden Gun.
On the big screen, the Walther PPK is the only gun used by every actor to play James Bond in the Eon film franchise. In Dr. No, the first film in the series, a cinematic Major Boothroyd (Q) succinctly sums up the gun’s considerable benefits:
“Walther PPK. 7.65 mm, with a delivery like a brick through a plate glass window. Takes a Brausch silencer with very little reduction in muzzle velocity. The American CIA swear by them.”
And, from Dr. No to GoldenEye (with the exception of Octopussy — and the reviled, non-Eon Never Say Never Again) Bond holstered up his trusty PPK. Curiously the most famous image of early-Bond, that of Connery with a long-barrelled gun across his chest, uses not a PPK but rather a Walther LP53 — a gun that doesn’t appear in any Bond film.
Legend has it, the prop manager on Connery’s official 007 photoshoot forgot the gun, and the photographer, David Hurn, had to use an LP53-style air pistol he owned.
Pierce Brosnan’s Bond decided to switch to the Walther P99 for his second film, despite it being bulkier than the character’s classic choice. And, although the PPK featured in Casino Royale’s opening sequence, posters and promotional materials, it wasn’t until Quantum of Solace that it was reinstated as Bond’s first-choice firearm. In Skyfall, it was fitted with a biometric palm reader by Q Branch and, in Spectre, Daniel Craig decided to wear his Walther in literary Bond’s preferred shoulder holster.
The gun will return in No Time To Die, in a film that will see 007 also use Browning Hi-Power and a SIG-Sauer P226 pistols, an M16 rifle and a Beretta ARX-160 assault weapon with grenade launcher.
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