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Sleuth: the third star of the film


Working with Joe Mankiewicz on Sleuth
Ken Adam Artist
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Sleuth was offered to me by Joe Mankiewicz, who was one of the most fascinating directors and intellectuals I ever was lucky enough to work with, and Joe said to me, ‘Ken, I want you and Letitzia to come and stay in Bedford, New York, at my house for about six to 10 days, and I will explain to you exactly how I see the film, and you can argue with me, you can talk to me, but once that has been settled I'll leave you completely in peace and you will never hear any more from me’, and I think he... he was very sarcastic.

At one time he said ‘And you know, when the film is good I, as a director, get the credit, and... and when the set doesn't work, you get the blame’, he said. But there were only two actors, as you'll remember if you ever saw the film, Michael Caine and Lord Olivier, and they were quite a team.

And I had designed a sort of baronial hall type of country house. I had actually toured, with the help of the National Trust, about a third of England to try and find a place which could be the exterior, and I... though I found some of the most sensational stately homes I finally settled on a place called Athelhampton because it had the right sort of oriel window because Michael Caine has to climb through that, so I settled on that, and then designed the interiors for Pinewood, for one of the big stages at Pinewood, and the idea was that Joe and Ossy [Oswald] Morris, who was the cameraman, could move all the time without my having to strike part of the set and so on, so I built it in sections out of fibreglass and on pulleys so that all the flats would move very easily, and so that worked extremely well.

And Ossy Morris was one of… a brilliant cameraman and I'd worked with him before, and we had a great relationship, and when Joe came over here he... he said, ‘What I want you to… you and Ossy to do; to leave me alone for two... two days, sitting on the set. I may want a prop man, but that's all, and I want to think by myself how I'm going to shoot this and all that, and after two days I'm ready to shoot and we can go on shooting then’, and that's exactly what happened.

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: National Trust, Athelhampton, Pinewood Studios, Joe Mankiewicz, Letizia Adam, Michael Caine, Laurence Olivier, Oswald Morris

Duration: 4 minutes, 28 seconds

Date story recorded: December 2010 and January 2011

Date story went live: 11 November 2011