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Ken Adam

Sir Ken Adam
File:Boulevard der Stars 2012 Sir Kenneth Adam.jpg
Adam (right) with Klaus Wowereit, 2012
Born Klaus Hugo Adam
(1921-02-05) 5 February 1921 (age 99)
Berlin, Germany
Nationality British
Ethnicity German Jew
Education St. Paul's School, London
Alma mater University College London
Years active 1940–2004
Known for 22x20px Royal Air Force pilot
Production design
Religion Judaism
Spouse(s) Maria Letitzia (m. 1952)
Awards BAFTA for Dr. Strangelove (1964)
BAFTA for The IPCRESS File (1965)
Academy Award for Barry Lyndon (1975)
Academy Award for The Madness of King George (1994)

Sir Kenneth Hugo "Ken" Adam, OBE (born Klaus Hugo Adam; 5 February 1921) is a German-born British motion picture production designer most famous for his set designs for the James Bond films of the 1960s and 1970s.


Childhood in Germany

Adam was born in Berlin, Germany to a Jewish family, the son of a former Prussian cavalryman.[1] His father and uncles George and Otto owned a successful high-fashion clothing store, so the family was well-off. The company S.Adam (Berlin, Leipziger Straße / Friedrichstraße) was established in 1863 by Saul Adam. Adam was educated at the Französisches Gymnasium Berlin (Berlin French school), and the family had a summer house on the Baltic.[1]

In 1933, the Nazi Party rose to power. Adam watched the Reichstag fire from the Tiergarten.[1] That same year the family's shop was forced into bankruptcy by Brown Shirt harassment,[2] causing part of the family to relocate to England in 1934.[1]


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

RAF service

When World War II started, the Adam family were German citizens and could have been interned as enemy aliens. Adam was able to join the Pioneer Corps, a support unit of the British Army open to citizens of Axis countries resident in the UK and other Commonwealth countries, provided they were not considered a risk to security. Adam was seconded to design bomb shelters.[2]

In 1940, Adam successfully applied to join the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve as a pilot. He was one of only three German-nationality pilots in the wartime RAF (along with his own brother, and Peter Stevens).[2] As such, if he had been captured by the Germans, he was liable to execution as a traitor rather than being treated as a prisoner of war.[2]

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

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


Adam first entered the film industry as a draughtsman for This Was a Woman (1948). He met his Italian wife Maria Letitzia while filming in Ischia, and they married on 16 August 1952.[1] His first major screen credit was as production designer on the 1956 British thriller Soho Incident. In the mid-1950s he worked (uncredited) on the epics Around the World in 80 Days and Ben-Hur. His first major credit was the Jacques Tourneur cult 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. He turned down the opportunity to work on 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, and that would put him at a disadvantage in developing his art.[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. It was lit by Stanley Kubrick in secret.[5] His last Bond film was Moonraker (1979).

Adam's other notable credits include the Michael Caine cult spy thriller The Ipcress File (1965) and its sequel Funeral in Berlin (1966), the Peter O'Toole version of Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969), Sleuth (1972), Salon Kitty (1976), Agnes of God (1985), Addams Family Values (1993) and The Madness of King George (1994). He was also a visual consultant on the acclaimed BBC-TV adaptation of Dennis Potter's Pennies from Heaven (1981).[6]

Adam returned to work 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 produced by the same team as the James Bond film series. During the late 1970s he worked on storyboards and concept art for Planet of the Titans, a Star Trek film then in pre-production. The film was eventually shelved by Paramount Pictures.

Adam was a jury member at the 1980 Cannes Film Festival and the 49th Berlin International Film Festival.[7] In 1999, during the Victoria and Albert Museum exhibition "Ken Adam – Designing the Cold War", Adam spoke on his role in the design of film sets associated with the 1960s through the 1980s.[1]

Adam was naturalised as a British citizen, and was awarded the OBE for services to the film industry. In 2003, Adam was knighted for services to the film industry and Anglo-German relations.[4]

Ken Adam Archive at the Deutsche Kinemathek

In September 2012, Sir Ken Adam handed over his entire body of work to the Deutsche Kinemathek that will make the collection accessible in an online inventory in summer 2015. The collection comprises approximately 4,000 sketches for films from all periods, photo albums to individual films, storyboards of his employees, memorabilia, military medals and identity documents as well as all cinematic awards, including Adam's two Academy Awards.


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.[9]

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



  1. ^ a b c d e f g Harrod, Horatia (28 September 2008). "Ken Adam: the man who drew the Cold War". The Sunday Telegraph. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Phillips, Martin (25 April 2009). "Sir Ken Adam". London: The Sun. Retrieved 25 April 2009. 
  3. ^ Ken Adam's Protected Mode (Pt. I)
  4. ^ a b c d "Ken Adam". No. 609 Squadron RAF. 2002. Retrieved 25 April 2009. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ Ken Adam at the Internet Movie Database
  7. ^ "1999 Juries". Berlinale. DE. Retrieved 28 January 2012. 
  8. ^ "The 67th Academy Awards (1995) Nominees and Winners". Oscars. Retrieved 5 August 2011. 
  9. ^ "The 66th Academy Awards (1994) Nominees and Winners". Oscars. Retrieved 4 August 2011. 

Further reading

  • Smoltczyk, Alexander (2002). James Bond, Berlin, Hollywood - Die Welten des Ken Adam (in German). Berlin: Nicolaische Verlagsbuchhandlung. ISBN 978-3875840698. 
  • Christie, Ian; Adam, Ken (2012). "Architect of Dreams". Patek Philippe International Magazine III (7): 56. 

External links

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