Ken Adam: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sir Ken Adam
Born Klaus Hugo Adam
February 5, 1921 (1921-02-05) (age 88)
Berlin, Germany
Nationality British
Ethnicity German Jew
Education St. Paul's School, Barnes, London
Alma mater University College London
Known for  Royal Air Force pilot
Production Designer
Religious beliefs Jewish
Spouse(s) Maria Letitzia (August 16, 1952 - present)
Awards 1964, British Film Academy Award - Dr. Strangelove
1965, BAFTA - The IPCRESS File
1975, Academy Award for Best Art Direction - Barry Lyndon
1994, Academy Award - The Madness of King George
2003 - Knight Bachelor

Sir Kenneth Adam, OBE (born 5 February 1921 as Klaus Hugo Adam) is a production designer most famous for his set designs for the James Bond films of the 1960s and 1970s.



Adam was born in Berlin, Germany to a Jewish family, the son of a former Prussian cavalryman.[1] His father owned a fashion retail shop, which enabled Adam to be educated at the Französisches Gymnasium, and the family to have a summer house on the Baltic.[1]

However, in 1933 on the ascent to power of the Nazi Party, Adam watched from the Tiergarten as the Reichstag burned.[1] That same year his fathers shop was forced into bankruptcy by actions of the Brown Shirts,[2] and the family agreed to relocate to England.[1]



Adam's family moved to England in 1934, when Adam was 13 years old. Adam went to St. Paul's School in Barnes, attended University College London and Bartlett School of Architecture, training to be an architect.

RAF service

When World War II started, as German citizens he and his family should have been interned, but Adam had been seconded to design Bomb shelters. He joined the Royal Pioneer Corps, a non-combat support unit that all Axis-citizens who were resident in Allied countries, and deemed not to present a security risk, could join.[2]

In 1940, Adam successfully applied to join the Royal Auxiliary Air Force as a pilot, then the first and only German pilot in the wartime RAF.[2] This was a brave move: if he had been shot down and captured, instead of being sent to a prisoner of war camp, the Germans would have been able to hang him as a traitor.[2]

Flight Lieutenant Adam, nicknamed “Heinie the tank-buster” by No. 609 Squadron colleagues for his daring exploits,[2][3] joined the squadron on 1 October 1943, stationed at RAF Lympne.[4] The squadron flew the Hawker Typhoon, initially in support of USAF long-range bombing missions over NW Europe,[4] and latterly in support of ground troops including at the battle of the Falaise Gap, in Normandy after D-Day.[2]

In 1944 his brother Dennis joined No. 183 Squadron, joining Adam in Wing No. 123.[4]


Adam first entered the film industry as a draughtsman for This Was a Woman (1948), and met his Italian wife Maria Letitzia while filming in Ischia, whom he married on August 16, 1952.[1]. His first major screen credit was as the production designer on the 1956 British thriller Soho Incident. In the mid-1950s he went to Hollywood where he worked (uncredited) on the epics Around the World in 80 Days and Ben-Hur. His first major Hollywood credit was the cult Jacques Tourneur horror film Night of the Demon and he was the production designer on several films directed by Robert Aldrich. He was hired for the first James Bond film, Dr No in 1962. In 1964 he designed the famous war room set for Stanley Kubrick's Dr Strangelove, although turned down the opportunity to work with Kubrick's next project 2001: A Space Odyssey after he found out that Kubrick had been working with NASA for a year on space exploration.[1]

This enabled Adam to make his name with his innovative, semi-futuristic sets for the James Bond films such as Dr. No (1962), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), You Only Live Twice (1967) and Diamonds Are Forever (1971). The supertanker set for The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) was the largest sound stage in the world at the time it was built. His last Bond film was Moonraker (1979).

Adam's other notable credits include the cult Michael Caine spy thriller The Ipcress File (1965) and its sequel Funeral in Berlin (1966), the 1969 Peter O'Toole version of Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Sleuth (1972), Salon Kitty (1976), Agnes of God (1985), Addams Family Values (1993) and The Madness of King George (1994). He also acted as a visual consultant on the acclaimed 1981 BBC-TV adaptation of Dennis Potter's Pennies from Heaven[5].

Adam returned to worked with Kubrick on Barry Lyndon, for which he won his first Oscar. He also designed the famous car for the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which was also produced by the same team that was responsible for the James Bond film series. During the late 1970s he worked on storyboards and concept art for a new Star Trek film that was in pre-production. The film, known as Planet of the Titans, was eventually shelved by Paramount Pictures.

A member of jury at the Cannes Film Festival in 1980, and the 1999 Berlin International Film Festival; in 1999 the Victoria and Albert Museum held an exhibition entitled "Ken Adam - Designing the Cold War" in which he talked about his role in designed film sets so associated with the 1960s thru to the 80's.[1]

Naturalised as a British citizen, having been awarded an OBE for services to the film industry; in 2003 under the Diplomatic Services, Adam was awarded Knight Bachelor for services to the film industry and Anglo-German relations, and knighted in 2003 by Queen Elizabeth II.[4]

He was referenced by Joey Tribbiani in the American sitcom Friends in the episode "The One With The Videotape" where Joey uses the fake name "Ken Adams".


He was also BAFTA-nominated for Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, Sleuth, Barry Lyndon, The Spy Who Loved Me and The Madness of King George.

He was also nominated for Academy Awards for Around the World in Eighty Days, The Spy Who Loved Me and Addams Family Values.

He received the Art Directors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002.

Further reading

  • Christopher Frayling, Ken Adam - "Ken Adam Designs the Movies: James Bond and Beyond" (2008) ISBN 978-0500514146
  • Christopher Frayling - Ken Adam: The Art of Production Design (2005) ISBN 0-571-22057-6
  • Philip French, Christopher Frayling - "Moonraker, Strangelove and Other Celluloid Dreams - The Visionary Art of Ken Adam" (1999) ISBN 978-1870814270


External links


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