James Bond's boss M was originally played by Bernard Lee from the first Bond movie, Dr .No, until Moonraker (1979) and remains the series greatest M. In Dr. No, M refers to record in reducing the number of operative casualties since taking the job, implying someone else held the job recently before him. The film also saw M refer to himself as head of MI7; Lee had originally said MI6, but was overdubbed with the name MI7 prior to the film's release. Earlier in the film, the department had been referred to as MI6 by a radio operator.
A number of Bond scholars have noted that Lee's interpretation of the character was in line with the original literary representation; Cork and Stutz observed that Lee was "very close to Fleming's version of the character", whilst Rubin commented on the serious, efficient, no-nonsense authority figure. Smith and Lavington, meanwhile, remarked that Lee was "the very incarnation of Fleming's crusty admiral."
Bernard Lee died of cancer in January 1981, four months into the filming of For Your Eyes Only and before any of his scenes could be filmed. Out of respect, no new actor was hired to assume the role and, instead, the script was re-written so that the character is said to be on leave, with his lines given to either his Chief of Staff Bill Tanner or the Minister of Defence, Sir Frederick Gray. Later films referred to Lee's tenure as head of the service, with a painting of him as M in MI6's Scottish headquarters during the 1999 instalment The World Is Not Enough.