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You Only Live Twice: near misses

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You Only Live Twice: the enormous set
Ken Adam Artist
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It was enormous. It was 120ft high and it had a crater lake which had to match the lake on location, which was, what, 70ft diameter on a slant, because it had to open, you see, to let the... the baddies and the goodies in, you see, and also a helicopter had to fly in, and I mean, I was living on valium at the time, I mean, and so were my staff, because I had a wonderful construction coordinator and assistants, and by this time, you know, this was I think the fourth Bond film we did, and we were all a team, but I found that it wasn't normal film construction, and so we had to call in a firm of structural engineers as well to do the various calculations, but they said, ‘Ken, if you had given us to the... the calculations for the Empire State Building in New York it... it would have been easy, but this, with that sliding lake on a slant, you know...’ and I mean, the set, the biggest span of the set was, I think 120ft or more. No, no it was more. The lake was 70ft, I remember.

And, you know, to do all that out of plaster, which we did… took from coal mines because the structure of a coal mine is very is… it looks like real rock if you cast it and... and you know, paint it and so on, and… well, you know, and what I... what is interesting that the bigger the set and the more complicated it is, the more you concentrate on every bit of detail, and normally nothing goes wrong, whereas with a small set or a small… where you don't pay that amount of attention, you suddenly find that somebody shoots a close-up of Sean or Honor Blackman in front of a door which is barely finished or something like that.

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: Empire State Building, Sean Connery, Honor Blackman

Duration: 3 minutes, 8 seconds

Date story recorded: December 2010 and January 2011

Date story went live: 11 November 2011