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The Trojan horse


Helen of Troy: the attack on the walls of Troy
Ken Adam Artist
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Raoul Walsh was a sort of ‘press-on-regardless’ director, really tough guy, and I had to supervise, or I was his Art Director to... for the attack on the walls of Troy, we had to build enormous towers, which were set alight. And we had, sort of, built scaling ladders, which had something like a 9-inch tree trunk on either side, but to be sure that they fell in the same place we used to sink concrete blocks into the ground, and hinged these enormous [ladders]… so that they all would fall in the same direction. But they didn't.

And... well, it was a disaster in many ways because the heat given off by these blazing towers, attacking tower, the camera crews just went off, you see, and there was general panic, and the ladders came down and some of them, most of them, fortunately, where they were supposed to, but some didn't, and some poor Italian extras were very badly hurt, so we had a continuous ambulance service.

And there were also political things, they didn't like an American director. There were immediately sort of demonstrations and so on, and it wasn't very pleasant, but having said that we... I learnt a lot. I loved working with all these architects in... at Cinecittà. And... so I had really a... a very good time.

But it didn't end that well because we had six fire engines from the Rome Fire Department standing by when we were doing all those flames, shooting, and to be there when we were having lunch, you know, and we had lunch at the Commissariat at Cinecittà, and in the middle of lunch somebody came racing in, and said, 'The set is on fire'.

So... the fire engines had also their lunch, and so had to rush out, you see, and try and extinguish... it was... and, the heat given off, I mean you could see it in Rome, was unbelievable, and the whole bloody set was burned down! Fortunately we... we had finished most of the sort of first unit shooting and I had to build some sort of cutting piece, as I didn't have to rebuild the whole set, but it was a very good experience.

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: Troy, Helen of Troy, Italy, Cinecittà Studios, Rome, Raoul Walsh

Duration: 3 minutes, 41 seconds

Date story recorded: December 2010 and January 2011

Date story went live: 14 September 2011