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Learning art direction

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My first film: This Was a Woman
Ken Adam Artist
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The first film was, I think, This Was a Woman, but I only stayed for three… Riverside... there were three studios: Riverside, Southall, and Teddington. They all belonged to the same group, and I was for a week at Riverside on a film called This Was a Woman, and then they sent me to Teddington to work on another film which was called The Brass Monkey – they were great films! And, you know, I worked as a draughtsman, but what happened was really quite incredible: the art director of that film, The Brass Monkey, was somebody called Wally Scott, a nice man, but he couldn't get on with the American director and the Russian producer, so he came into the art department, there were six of us or something, and he said, 'I can't get on with these people. Why, if you want to design the set and so on, do it'.

And I designed the set, not knowing what the heck I was doing, really. It was supposed to be a radio theatre, you know, but I already was playing around with imagination sets and so on, and they accepted my design, so of course they didn't know that I... you know, I was Wally's designer. But the construction manager was a big Irish navvy called Peter Dukelow – he knew that I had done all that, and I think he really helped me more in my career in those days than anybody else in films, because... it was amazing that it should happen on the first film I'm working on that they are, in fact, using one or two of my designs.

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: This Was a Woman, Riverside Studios, Southall Film Studios, Teddington Studios, The Brass Monkey, Walter M Scott

Duration: 2 minutes, 35 seconds

Date story recorded: December 2010 and January 2011

Date story went live: 14 September 2011