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Thunderball: working under water


The Bond gadgets
Ken Adam Artist
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[Q] Are you the person who's responsible for the Bond gadgetry, really? I mean you say about the DB5, and that was the first...

Yes, well, when... when you say responsible, yes, I come up with most of the ideas, but we had the most brilliant special effects engineer, really, Johnny Stears, who worked on those films, and then unfortunately died, and later on we had Derek Meddings on the later Bond films, who was also brilliant, and also, unfortunately, died. But it would have been impossible for me to work without them, and without the team around me, you know, and whereas, from my past, having been a fighter pilot, and trying to race cars, and so on, all this appealed to me, and I could think up of, you know, things: cutting the tyres, or the wheels on the car or machine guns – which was the obvious thing – or the flamethrowers, or... but we had Johnny who made them all practical. He was a brilliant engineer. I mean he didn't make a practical machine gun, thank God, but as near as damn it, and we also had a functioning ejector seat.

Martin-Baker I think it was who did the ejector seat, which, when the car chase… and we... we filmed part of the car chase at the Pinewood studios, exterior – night shooting – and the driver of the Aston Martin was a stuntman called Bob Simmons, who was a great friend of mine and a great stuntman, and I had built a phoney wall outside, but it was just about 10ft in front of a concrete, a real concrete wall, at the back of it. So I said to Johnny, 'Listen, Johnny, you've got to start braking really early because the phoney wall has no resistance at all, but 10ft behind it, or 15ft, but... there is a real wall'. So he said, 'Don't worry'. And, of course, he didn't brake early enough and went straight into the other wall. And the damage... and we had the whole crew working through the night and the next day to get the car back into shape again. So these things happened too.

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: DB5 Aston Martin, Johnny Stears, Derek Meddings, MartinBaker, Bob Simmons

Duration: 3 minutes, 23 seconds

Date story recorded: December 2010 and January 2011

Date story went live: 14 October 2011