Superb in a crisis, and blessed with a dry sense of humour, Tanner is Bond's staunchest ally in the Service, and they often enjoy a round of golf when off-duty. A family man, Tanner is envious of Bond's freedom.
In Ian Fleming's novels, Bill Tanner is MI6's Chief of Staff. He appears infrequently in the novels, but is a regular character in the later continuation series by John Gardner. In 1965, Kingsley Amis wrote The Book of Bond or Every Man His Own 007, a tongue-in-cheek manual for prospective secret agents, illustrated with examples from Fleming's novels. For this work, Amis used the pseudonym "Lt. Colonel William Tanner".
In The Man with the Golden Gun, Bill Tanner is only seen briefly in the film and is not mentioned by name until the end credits. He appears in M's office with M and Colthorpe, discussing Francisco Scaramanga, who has sent a bullet to MI6 printed with Bond's ID number. He explains Scaramanga's fingerprints on the bullet were verified by the CIA, and that Scaramanga is attempting to provoke a battle with MI6. This leads to Bond being sent to find Scaramanga. in GoldenEye. In For Your Eyes Only, Bill Tanner is given a bigger role, as Bernard Lee, who played M, had died. Tanner is shown wearing an Old Wykehamist tie. He gives Bond his assignment, which sends him to find Hector Gonzales. Bond is unable to get information from Gonzales later on because Melina Havelock kills him after Bond is captured. Tanner then gets upset at him for not getting any information and letting Melina murder him. Tanner is last seen at the end of the film, when he connects the Prime Minister and Bond by phone. Unknowingly though, Bond is not there and it is merely a talking parrot that ends up "flirting" with the Prime Minister. In Octopussy, the role of M was recast with Robert Brown, so Tanner did not appear. In GoldenEye, Tanner is only briefly seen in the Situation Room when the GoldenEye weapon is set off. Tanner gets scolded here for calling the new M, "the Evil Queen of Numbers" while she is right behind him. As Michael Kitchen was unable to reprise his role for Tomorrow Never Dies, the character of Charles Robinson, was created in his stead. In The World Is Not Enough, Tanner is seen at the Scotland MI6 building debriefing the agents on the murder of Sir Robert King, father ofElektra King. When Bond comes to the conclusion that Renard is behind it, Tanner is seen with them talking about what Renard can do or is planning to do. He is only seen again twice, when Elektra King contacts M to get her to come and see her and finally at the end of the film where R is attempting to find Bond. Tanner had never been considered a regular cinematic character until 2008's Quantum of Solace. He was played by a different actor, Rory Kinnear, giving Judi Dench the distinction of having played opposite two different actors playing the role of Tanner. Kinnear is also the godson of Dench's late husband Michael Williams. Kinnear reprised the role of Tanner in Skyfall and Spectre. Kinnear also voices Tanner and provides his likeness for the 2010 remake of the GoldenEye game and the original games and 007 Legends.