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The Crimson Pirate

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How I met my wife Letitzia
Ken Adam Artist
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I was very happy in the South of France, and the art director, production designer on The Crimson Pirate was also a Russian, called Paul Sheriff – Paul Shuvalov; he was a count, and he drew quite nicely, but... and he... but he always worked with Carmen Dillon, who I mean, I don't know if you know all these names of the film industry – in any case, he... I was his art director, and he said to me, I said, 'I don't want to go to Ischia, I've got…' He said, 'Ken, I've been there – there's an unbelievably beautiful blonde there: they call her The Colonel's Daughter'. And so, you know, rest at ease, you wouldn't find anybody like that in here.

So I was looking forward, you know, to getting to Ischia. And Letitzia's story is... is that – you know, I had a bandana, and I was black, burned in the six-hour... six-day trip, and I saw this blonde with her blonde hair down to there… at the jetty when we arrived. And that was it!

[Q]You fell in love?

Yeah, I fell in love, yes. It took me some time, you know, but remember, we were on Ischia for nearly six months, the whole unit, and there was nothing – I mean, it was a beautiful island, and you had a lot of artists there, and William Walton was there, and all – you know, and Larry Olivier, and... And the director was Robert Siodmak – who came from Germany and then went to Hollywood and came back, and he had a famous wife, Bertha Siodmak, and they all fell in love with Letitizia, and so… and the only one who behaved badly, but I shouldn't say that, was Burt Lancaster at the time, but he was trying to make a joke. But in any case, it's unimportant.

So I met Letitzia, and to tell you about our experiences and her family would take another two days, because I never put it in book form, actually. And the following year when, after the Errol Flynn picture, I got married to her in Ischia… and... I had an inferiority complex ever since, because the whole of Ischia said, 'You're robbing us of our sunshine, you know!' And I felt guilty ever since, you know. But she took like a fish to water in... in London, you know.

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: France, The Crimson Pirate, Ischia, Germany, Hollywood, London, Paul Shuvalov, Carmen Dillon, William Walton, Larry Olivier, Robert Siodmak, Bertha Siodmak, Errol Flynn

Duration: 3 minutes, 31 seconds

Date story recorded: December 2010 and January 2011

Date story went live: 14 September 2011