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Barry Lyndon: working with Kubrick again


Minimal design, maximum impact
Ken Adam Artist
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We shot it all in the real locations, and I found this... was really Victorian interior in Grosvenor Place, or somewhere, not far from here, and there was a lovely room with three tall windows, which was supposed to be the office of the MI5 head. And, Harry came to me and he said, 'Ken, whatever you want, computers, I will get it for you'. I said, 'Thank you, Harry, let me think about it'. And I didn't sleep all night and... because I had this design of that room in front of me all the time, and the next morning I came up... you know I had the universe... and I talked to Sid Furie and I said 'I had an idea. Sid, what... what do you think if instead of the Head of MI5 having all sorts of gadgets or gimmicks, he sits behind a trestle table, he has a camp bed on one side, and he doesn't even have a chair for somebody who comes in, and maybe he's got a bust of Caesar or the Duke of Wellington, and that's it?' And Sid said, 'Let me think about it for five minutes and I'll let you know'.

Well, after five minutes he came back and he said, 'It's a brilliant idea. We'll shoot it that way, get rid of all the other stuff'. And about an hour later, Harry comes on the set and he sees this bare set, and he went ape. He started screaming at me and, you know, I... when people like Harry or... screams around, I always had to laugh, I couldn't take it seriously. And he said, 'You're trying to get between me and the director', and so on, and I said, 'Well, I discussed it with the director'. And, of course, for the unit it was great fun because they always enjoyed a big fight going on, they all disappeared all over the place. And then Harry came back about two hours later, as though nothing has happened, and he was, you know, approving of it. But those were continuous things that happened on these pictures.

Sir Kenneth Adam (1921-2016), OBE, born Klaus Hugo Adam, was a production designer famous for his set designs for the James Bond films of the 1960s and 1970s. Initially, he trained as an architect in London, but in October 1943, he became one of only two German-born fighter pilots to fly with the RAF in wartime. He joined 609 Squadron where he flew the Hawker Typhoon fighter bomber. After the war, he entered the film industry, initially as a draughtsman on This Was a Woman. His portfolio of work includes Barry Lyndon and The Madness of King George; he won an Oscar for both films. Having a close relationship with Stanley Kubrick, he also designed the set for the iconic war room in Dr Strangelove. Sir Ken Adam was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2003.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Grosvenor Place, MI5, Harry Saltzman, Sid Furie

Duration: 2 minutes, 55 seconds

Date story recorded: December 2010 and January 2011

Date story went live: 11 November 2011