ladies man’, ladies gun’
Those words sneeringly signaled the end of the fifteen-year affair between James Bond and his .25 Beretta. After a Court of Inquiry concluded that he nearly got himself killed because of his choice of that very pistol, the head of British Intelligence, M., ordered it confiscated. From then on, his star agent was to be outfitted with a new gun. And so began the storied association of James Bond and the Walther PPK, an association born in the pages of Ian Fleming’s sixth novel, Dr. No (1958).
But what of Bond’s affection for the much-maligned Beretta? Despite the Secret Service Armorer’s clinical distaste for a gun he believed better suited to the ladies, the Beretta had reliably served 007. It never jammed. It was easy to conceal. And most importantly, the bullet went where directed—with life-saving dependability. That the inquiry found the gun contributed to mistakes a double-0 agent can ill afford to make did nothing to convince Bond of its shortcomings. As he saw it, the mistakes made could have happened with any gun. (What did happen was that he caught its silencer in his clothing, failing to draw fast enough to kill the Russian, Rosa Klebb, before she slashed him with a knife dosed with lethal nerve-poison.)
The fact is most experts and collectors would agree with M. and the Armorer. The Beretta is a weapon with little stopping power, even less so with a silencer, and a little too “fancy-looking” for its own good. Perhaps Fleming was influenced in his choice of weapon because of his familiarity with the Browning .25s. This was the pistol he was issued while serving as a Naval Intelligence Officer during World War II. And whatever the experts’ reservations about a double-0 agent arming himself with a .25, it can’t be denied that many a Cold War assassin or spy carried one just like it. It is not inaccuracy or literary laziness on Fleming’s part to so arm his fictional hero.
Even then the author was not satisfied leaving it at that. There were some modifications made. Off came the plastic grip-plates on either side. This exposed the metal frame of the gun, and gave it what he called “skeleton grips.” And since the Beretta was designed with a grip safety (i.e., the gun could not be fired until it was gripped firmly in hand), Bond taped it down, overriding it. Last, it had a sawn barrel, though anyone familiar with the gun could see there was little barrel to saw. Presumably these modifications were made in the service of faster handling and easier concealment.
Remember this was the Cold War, not the Crack Wars. Your foil likely carried the same, and stealth was paramount. Today, as drug lords and terrorists arm themselves with unimaginably heavy weaponry, Bond’s favorite pistol is a foolish choice indeed.
Even in 007’s day there were some already calling into question the prudence of so light and modified a choice. Famous firearms expert, Geoffrey Boothroyd, dashed a letter off to Fleming expressing concern that Bond was dangerously under-gunned. Fleming took it seriously. Not only did this lead to the famous scene in Dr. No where the Beretta is confiscated, but also Fleming, in cheeky appreciation, ended up naming that very Armorer, Major Boothroyd.
The Beretta, whatever its inadequacies, real or imagined, still has a small but devoted following. For our hero, however, it was designated for the literary dustbin. After a thorough dressing-down for botching the previous job, 007 stubbornly took to the Walther. He never looked back.