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Sir Ken Adam 1921-2016


Ken Adam – A Celebration
GRAHAM RYE reports on the private event held in honour of Sir Ken Adam
at NFT1, BFI Southbank, London on Wednesday 1st June 2016.

Sir Ken Adam on the set of Moonraker (1979)

The celebration was presented by writer and broadcaster Sir Christopher Frayling with special guests: Gereon Sievernich, Director of the Martin-Gropius Bau, Berlin; Squadron Leader Jeff Metcalfe, CO of 609 Squadron; Sandy Lieberson, Film Producer; Michael G. Wilson, Film Producer; Peter Lamont, Production Designer; Sir Roger Moore (on film), Actor; Katharina Kubrick (on behalf of The Kubrick Family); Lord Foster (on film), Architect; Sir Nicholas Hytner, Director; Alan Bennett, Writer.

“The War Room in Dr. Strangelove is the
best set in cinema history.”
Steven Spielberg
Sir Ken Adam on the volcano set of You Only Live Twice (1967)

Everyone assembled in NFT1 had come to honour the memory and work of the great man, and Sir Christopher Frayling compèred the event with great style and affection for his friend of three decades, and whom he’d collaborated with on three books, which he remembered on stage punctuated with stills and drawings throughout: “I knew him well for thirty years, as a very close friend, a good-humoured raconteur in the German accent he never lost, as a working production designer as a collaborator on three books. We first met when I invited him to lecture to the architecture and design students at the Royal College of Art. Also Letizia [Sir Ken’s wife]. She sat in the audience, audibly contributing to Ken’s reminiscences, much to the amusement of the students. She was inseparable from him, always at his side, looking elegant and protecting him from nonsense. She had, it transpired, played an active part in his career – helping with props and set-dressing – and that impressed the students too. In one of his talks, Ken Adam shared his then-recent experiences of designing the Berlin Millennium Exhibition Seven Hill – Images and Signs for the 21st Century in the Martin-Gropius-Bau. If only, said one of the postgraduates, he’d been in charge of the contents of the dome in Greenwich...”

“Can I please see the War Room?”
Ronald Reagan, President Elect on entering the Pentagon
Production designers Dennis Gassner, Sir Ken Adam and Peter Lamont, with Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli at the opening of Bond In Motion (London, March 2014)
ABOVE: (L-R) Production designers Dennis Gassner, Sir Ken Adam and Peter Lamont, with Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli at the opening of Bond In Motion (London, March 2014).
“The most expensive thing in the world is Ken Adam
with a blank piece of paper and a charcoal pencil.”

William Cartlidge – Associate Producer, Moonraker
Ken and Letizia Adam

In closing Sir Christopher gave this moving tribute: “I much enjoyed arguing with Ken, over the years, about whether there was a connection between the horrors of his early life and his trademark fuhrerbunkers in which megalomaniacs planned world domination. He’d designed his first bunker for Obsession aka The Hidden Room (1949) – and for his final film Taking Sides (2001) he created an entire Berlin street devastated by obliteration bombing. Was he exorcising the demons of his youth? He always said not – “at least not at a conscious level”. I still think he was. And now I can’t continue our perennial argument. Which is very sad. I used to describe him as “the greatest living production designer”. I can’t get used to the idea those words have become out of date”.

I was very lucky to have spent time over the years with Ken, when I interviewed him on several occasions for 007 MAGAZINE and when he and Letizia attended one of my James Bond themed events I produced at Pinewood Studios in 1996. To have shared time in the company of a genius like Sir Ken Adam remains for me a very special memory; he was many things, but above all he was truly a great man.

“His command of light and space and drama – these great caverns,the spectre literally of evil personified by space.The wow factor – that’s Ken. He’s the architect.”
Norman Foster – Architect
Moonraker sketch and completed set

ABOVE: (left) Ken Adam's original sketch for a Zero Gravity Satellite in Moonraker (1979) and (right) the completed set which was ultimately not used in the final cut of the film.

“As a production designer, you offer a form of
escapism that is often more exciting than reality.”

Ken Adam

Other Bond alumni attending the celebration event and the reception afterwards included: Barbara Broccoli, Letizia Adam, David Arnold, Carole Ashby, Maryam d’Abo and husband, film director Hugh Hudson, Neal Purvis & Robert Wade, Lili Pohlmann (Peter Janson-Smith’s widow), John Cork, William Cartlidge, Steven Saltzman, Sue St Johns (Harry Saltzman's PA), John Glen, John Richardson (SFX), Norman Wanstall, and Greg Wilson.

Dr. No (1962) Spider Room sketch and set

ABOVE: Dr. No (1962) - Ken Adam's sketch and finished set for the sinister yet simple room where Professor Dent is given a spider to kill 007. Costing just £475 the set received a round of applause from the cast and crew, including Norman Wanstall, who saw it revealed for the first time during the screening of the rushes.

“The team which Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman assemble for their first James Bond adventure, Dr. No, 1962, included: director Terence Young, writer Richard Maibaum, cameraman Ted Moore, and Ken Adam who had all previously worked for Cubby’s Warwick Films. Ken had worked in the Art Department on a couple of the films, and was designer for In The Nick and the award-winning The Trials of Oscar Wilde.

Dr. No became a surprise hit and Ken went on to design and define the visual style of a further six Bond films as well as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. As the production budgets increased, Ken’s sets became more adventurous and more expensive. His designs became synonymous with Bond, sparking a whole new vocabulary. To this day, extravagant designs by architects and interior designers are described as “Bondian” or “like a Ken Adam set.”

I first met Ken when we went on location to Fort Knox for Goldfinger. We weren’t allowed to shoot inside the depository, but Ken’s substitute was so spectacular everyone believed it was the real thing! For me it was a great introduction to Ken and James Bond.

A genius and a gentleman, we miss him greatly.”

Michael G. Wilson

Ken Adam with produer Albert R. 'Cubby' Broccoli and Director Lewis Gilbert on the Liparus supertanker set built in the 007 Stage at Pinewood Studios for The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).

ABOVE: Ken Adam with produer Albert R. 'Cubby' Broccoli and director Lewis Gilbert on the Liparus supertanker set built inside the '007 Stage' at Pinewood Studios for The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).

“Ken Adam was not only a key member of the Bond team, he and Letizia were members of our family. My father had worked with Ken since the 50s and ever since I was born. Uncle Ken and Aunt Letizia were a powerful presence in my life. My father worked with Ken all week but never tired of his company. We would spend most Sundays lunching with Ken and Letizia at the various Mario and Franco Italian restaurants, Cubby and Ken recounting tales of their various adventures, peals of laughter breaking through the heavy plumes of cigar smoke. My mother Dana and Letizia were two very strong women, the very height of elegance and glamour – not adornments but equal partners in their husbands’ lives.

It was at this table that I learned what it takes – what it is to do and not just to talk about it – to take risks and to trust your instincts – to fight for your vision and give it your all. This all still remains true today. It’s just not as much fun without them anymore.”

Barbara Broccoli

Brochure produced for the BFI Ken Adam celebration

Sir Ken Adam – Filmography

From Draughtsman to Art Director

1948 This Was A Woman

1948 The Brass Monkey

1949 The Queen of Spades

1949 Third Time Lucky

1949 Dick Barton Strikes Back
[Assistant Art Director]

1949 Obsession
[Assistant Art Director]

1950 Your Witness
[Uncredited Assistant Art Director]

1950 Captain Horatio Hornblower
[Assistant Art Director]

1952 Golden Arrow

1952 The Crimson Pirate
[Associate Art Director]

1953 The Master of Ballantrae
[Associate Art Director]

1953 The Intruder
[Assistant Art Director]

1953 Star of India
[Assistant Art Director]

1955 Helen of Troy
[Associate Art Director]

Art Director

1956 Soho Incident

1956 Child In The House

1956 Around The World In Eighty Days

1957 The Devil’s Pass

1957 The Night of The Demon

1958 Battle of The V-1
[initial designs]

1958 Gideon’s Way

1958 Ten Seconds To Hell

1959 The Angry Hills

1959 Beyond This Place

Production Designer

1959 In The Nick

1959 Ben Hur
[uncredited design research]

1959 The Rough And The Smooth

1959 John Paul Jones

1960 Let’s Get Married

1960 The Trials of Oscar Wilde

1961 The Hellions
[uncredited initial designs]

1961 The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone
[uncredited initial designs]

1962 Dr. No

1962 Sodoma E Gomorra/Sodome Et Gomorrhe/Sodom And Gomorrah

1963 In The Cool of The Day

1963 Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb

1963 The Longships/Dugi Brodvi
[initial designs]

1964 Woman of Straw

1964 Goldfinger

1965 The Ipcress File

1965 Thunderball

1966 Funeral In Berlin

1967 You Only Live Twice

1968 Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

1969 Goodbye Mr. Chips

1969 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
[uncredited initial design preparation]

1970 The Owl and The Pussycat
[Design Supervisor]

1971 Diamonds Are Forever

1972 Sleuth

1973 The Last of Sheila

1975 Barry Lyndon

1976 The Seven-Per-Cent Solution

1976 Salon Kitty/Doppelspiel/Madame Kitty

1977 The Spy Who Loved Me

1979 Moonraker

1979 Star Trek – The Motion Picture
[uncredited pre-production design work]

1981 Pennies From Heaven
[Associate Producer/Visual Consultant]

1985 King David

1985 Agnes of God

1986 Crimes of the Heart

1987 Pu’Yi/L’Ultimo Imperatore/The Last Emperor
[uncredited pre-production design work]

1988 The Deceivers

1989 Dead Bang

1990 The Freshman

1991 The Doctor

1991 Company Business

1993 Addams Family Values

1993 Undercover Blues

1994 The Madness of King George

1995 Boys On The Side/Avec Ou Sans Hommes

1996 Bogus

1997 In & Out

1999 The Out-of-Towners

2002 Taking Sides