Onscreen, Desmond Llewelyn has spent the past 36 years as Q, Her Majesty's gizmo guru, dispensing to James Bond cool boy-toys like dart-firing cigarettes and missile-launching leg casts. But truth be told, he can't program his VCR. "I don't like gadgets; they always go wrong," says Llewelyn, 85, whose Bexhill, England, home doesn't have a computer, never mind a cell phone. "I don't understand what I'm talking about with [Bond]. It's the most frightful gibberish."

In what his champagne executive son Justin, 47, calls "one of the greatest pieces of miscasting" in movie history, Llewelyn has successfully bluffed his way through 17 Bond films, from 1963's From Russia with Love with Sean Connery ("kept to himself," he says) through Moonraker with "friendliest Bond" Roger Moore to the newest film, opening Nov. 19, The World Is Not Enough, with "best all-around Bond" Pierce Brosnan. A life of cloak-and-dagger was nearly a life of the cloth for the Welsh-born Llewelyn, whose plan to join the clergy changed at 17 after he spent a religious retreat perusing Film Weekly magazine instead of praying. In 1940 he put his theater career on hold to join the British army and spent five sometimes "ghastly" years as a German POW.

Now Llewelyn faces an even more heart-wrenching battle—watching his wife, Pamela, 86, succumb to Alzheimer's. "She doesn't suffer," Llewelyn says of his spouse of 61 years, "but it's bloody unfair." His other long-term relationship, with 007, helps ease the loss. "I love it," he says. "I'm there as long as the producers want me and the Almighty doesn't."