Designer created the fantasy sets for the James Bond series

Ken Adam.
Ken Adam.

NEW YORK • Ken Adam, an Oscar-winning production designer whose work on dozens of famous films included the fantasy sets that established the look of the James Bond series, the car in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) and, for Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove (1964), the sinister war room beneath the Pentagon, died last Thursday at his home in London. He was 95.

His death was announced by a James Bond Twitter account run by MGM Studios and Eon Produc- tions.

Adam was hired by producer Albert Broccoli, known as Cubby, to design the sets for the first Bond film, Dr. No, released in 1962. (The two worked together on the 1960 film The Trials Of Oscar Wilde, with Peter Finch and James Mason.) With a budget equivalent to about US$300,000 (S$412,000) today, Adam delivered the title character's sleek, futuristic headquarters, his extravagant living room with wall-size aquarium and his creepy, grotto-like laboratory.

The combination of futurism and fantasy became a trademark of the Bond franchise.

"Dr. No started a new approach," Adam told The Guardian in 2002. "I think they realised that design, exotic locations, plus a tongue-in- cheek element were really successful, and so it became more and more that way."

In Goldfinger, the third movie in the series released in 1964, Adam put Bond, played by Sean Connery, into an Aston Martin equipped with an ejector seat. He envisioned Fort Knox as a cathedral of gold.

Dr. No started a new approach. I think they realised that design, exotic locations, plus a tongue-in-cheek element were really successful, and so it became more and more that way.

KEN ADAM on the combination of futurism and fantasy becoming a trademark of the Bond franchise

With You Only Live Twice, the fifth Bond film released in 1967, Adam had more than half the total budget at his disposal. He spent US$1 million of it building a volcano that contained a secret military base operated by the international terrorist organisation Spectre.

"He was a brilliant visualiser of worlds we will never be able to visit ourselves," Christopher Frayling, the author of two books on Adam, told the BBC in an article posted last Friday. "The war room under the Pentagon in Dr. Strangelove, the interior of Fort Knox in Goldfinger - all sorts of interiors which, as members of the public, we are never going to get to see, but he created an image of them that was more real than real itself."

Adam - who was also production designer for The Ipcress File (1965), Funeral In Berlin (1966), Sleuth (1972), The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976), Agnes Of God (1985) and many other films - won an Oscar in 1976 for his work on Barry Lyndon, his second collaboration with Kubrick. He shared the award with Vernon Dixon and Roy Scott. He won his second Oscar, with Carolyn Scott, in 1995 for The Madness Of King George.

Klaus Hugo Adam was born on Feb 5, 1921, in Berlin, where his father, Fritz, a former Prussian cavalry officer, helped run S. Adam, a famous sporting-goods store. The family, which was Jewish, emigrated to London in 1934.

In London, he became entranced by German expressionist films, which he had not watched in Berlin.

"They were so theatrical, these artists who dreamt up fantastic dream-like environments, and it struck a note with me," he told The Sunday Telegraph in 2008.

He studied architecture as a way of breaking into production design, heeding the advice of Vincent Korda, a brother of film producer Alexander Korda and a resident of the Hampstead boarding house run by Adam's mother, the former Lilli Saalfeld.

In 1943, after World War II started, he took his place as a pilot flying long-range bombing missions over Europe.

He was hired as a draftsman on his first film, This Was A Woman, in 1948. His uncredited work on Around The World In 80 Days, a 1956 film that won an Oscar for Best Picture, elevated him to production designer for Curse Of The Demon (1957) and The Angry Hills (1959).

His Bond portfolio, along with his work on Dr. Strangelove and two spy thrillers with Michael Caine based on books by Len Deighton, Funeral In Berlin and The Ipcress File, qualified him as one of the great Cold War image-makers.

Adam was awarded a knighthood in 2003. He is survived by his wife, the former Maria Letizia.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 14, 2016, with the headline 'Designer created the fantasy sets for the James Bond series'. Print Edition | Subscribe