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The first Bond sets


Shark-sized goldfish
Ken Adam Artist
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When I came back to England I got all the construction personnel together and said, I don’t want them to use any of the normal film construction materials, because I felt we had to reflect the... age of computers and technology that we were living in, and they said… they were fantastic to me, they said, ‘Anything you come up with we can do’.  So I really let myself go.  I didn’t feel... and I didn’t have anybody looking over my shoulder and saying, well, you can’t do this or you can’t do that. So I spent... it must have been several weeks... the only set where I had some help was the nuclear water reactor, because I didn’t know what a nuclear water reactor was, and I got two young scientists from Harwell who advised me, and they said, when I showed them the sketch, it was perfectly all right.  I always found, and later, obviously, that wherever I went, and said, ‘Can you do this?’ they said, of course we can do that, you know. 

So that was the only set I had some help on, the nuclear reactor, but then I built this sort of... gigantic hall with the nuclear reactor in one corner.  And on all the other sets, like Dr No’s underwater apartment... in order to get the effect I wanted I used some of our antique furniture for a dressing, but also sort of, had dead trees inside it and a big glass panel, because it was supposed to be underwater.  And we didn’t have any money, remember, so I got some stock footage for the fish swimming behind the glass, and when we projected it the first time we all were horrified, because you had goldfish-sized fish enlarged to small sharks or something like that, so they had to put in some line of dialogue – if you see the film again – in which, I think, Dr No says or... Sean says…  Well, no, Dr No says it, but you see, I had this magnifying glass, you know, to adjust that, because we didn’t have time or money to get different footage in, and so on.

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: Harwell, Dr No, Sean Connery

Duration: 3 minutes, 31 seconds

Date story recorded: December 2010 and January 2011

Date story went live: 14 October 2011