From Dr No To Dr Strangelove: The Amazing Film Sets Of Ken Adam

By Stuart Black Last edited 23 months ago
From Dr No To Dr Strangelove: The Amazing Film Sets Of Ken Adam
Featured image of the War Room is from Dr Strangelove, photo via Creative Commons.

It’s sad to hear that iconic production designer Sir Ken Adam died on Thursday at his home in the capital, aged 95. Best known for his work on the early James Bond films and with director Stanley Kubrick, the two time Oscar winner came to define a particular supervillain chic for the 1960s that is still incredibly influential today.

Perhaps his most striking design was on Dr Strangelove (1964) where he created a War Room so convincing that Ronald Reagan is said to have asked to look at it when he arrived at the White House.

Adam's two Oscars came for his elegant 19th century style mansions in Barry Lyndon (1975) and royal residences in The Madness of King George (1995). But he is perhaps most fondly remembered by fans today for his series of increasingly outlandish minimalist lairs in seven of the earliest (and best) 007 outings.

Sir Roger Moore wrote on Twitter this morning: "Sir Ken Adam — a friend, a visionary and the man who defined the look of the James Bond films." It’s a look that director Sam Mendes pays clear homage to in his recent Spectre with the computer-filled bunker presided over by resurrected baddy Oberhauser/Blofeld.

Adam's Bond designs started off at a pretty high level of maniacal madness with the bug-eyed structure submerged in the ocean for Dr No (1962) where the eponymous metal-handed malefactor watches his henchmen being fed to the sharks.

Then in Goldfinger (1964), Adam not only created the best baddy bachelor pad ever (complete with rotating pool tables, yes), but also imagined the interior vaults of Fort Knox so convincingly that most people still think they are the real thing.

In You Only Live Twice (1967), he came up with a staggering set for Blofeld costing a cool $1 million to cause trouble from, namely an extinct volcano HQ in Japan (though actually built on an outdoor lot in Pinewood, where Adam was a frequently employed and where there is still a studio block dedicated to Bond to this day).

Adam also worked on Thunderball (1965) and Diamonds Are Forever (1971) and contributed the giant Liparus set for The Spy Who Loved (1977) — a supertanker able to wolf down whole submarines. And with his final Bond film designs — for the deliciously campy Moonraker (1979) — he went so mad they had to head into space.

Adam also worked on several of Michael Caine’s Harry Palmer movies and also the adaptation of Ian Fleming’s children’s story Chitty Chitty Bang Bang envisioning the accoutrements of a Child Catcher who was at least as terrifying as anyone Bond ever faced.

Adam was born in Berlin in 1921 then came to London as a refugee from the Nazis, having watched the Reichstag burn down (hence perhaps why he was so well suited to depicting architecture dreamt up by rogue fiends bent upon world-domination).

He was schooled at St. Paul's School then attended University College London and the Bartlett School of Architecture, living in the capital until his death.

Last Updated 15 March 2016