Ken Adam

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Sir Ken Adam
Adam in 2012
Klaus Hugo George Fritz Adam

(1921-02-05)5 February 1921
Berlin, Germany
Died10 March 2016(2016-03-10) (aged 95)
EducationSt Paul's School, London
Alma materUniversity College London
Years active1940–2003
Known forRoyal Air Force pilot, production designer
Maria-Letizia Moauro
(m. 1952)
AwardsBAFTA 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)
Military career
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch Royal Air Force
Years of service1941–1947
RankFlight lieutenant
Service number187137
UnitNo. 609 Squadron
Battles/warsWorld War II

Sir Kenneth Adam OBE RDI (born Klaus Hugo George Fritz Adam; 5 February 1921 – 10 March 2016) was a German-British movie production designer, best known for his set designs for the James Bond films of the 1960s and 1970s, as well as for Dr. Strangelove and Salon Kitty.

Adam won two Academy Awards for Best Art Direction. Born in Berlin, he relocated to England with his Jewish family at the age of 13 soon after the Nazis came to power. Together with his younger brother, Denis Adam, he was one of only three German-born pilots to serve in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War.

Early life[edit]

Adam was born in 1921 in Berlin to an upper-middle-class secular Jewish family, the third child of Lilli (née Saalfeld) and Fritz Adam, a former Prussian cavalry officer who had served with the Zieten Hussars.[1] Fritz had been awarded the Iron Cross Second Class and the Iron Cross First Class for his service in the First World War.[2]

Fritz co-owned a well-known high-fashion clothing and sporting goods store called S. Adam (Berlin, Leipziger Straße/Friedrichstraße) together with his three brothers, George,[dubious ] Siegfried and Otto Adam.[3][4] The company had been established in 1863 by Saul Adam. Klaus (Ken) had two older siblings, Peter, Loni and a younger brother Dieter (1 February 1924 – 17 October 2018).[5][6]

The family lived an almost idyllic, privileged existence until the Nazi Party came to power.[3]

His older brother Peter was good friends with Gottfried Reinhardt the son of theatre and film director Max Reinhardt and they would often take the young Klaus out with them. As a result, he got to know Max Reinhardt and many other people in the German theatre. Gottfried Reinhardt later became a film director and producer.


The combination of his brother Dieter at the age of nine having a fight with a playground bully wearing a Hitler Youth uniform and the increasing discrimination against Jews convinced their parents to send Klaus and Dieter to Craigend Park boarding school in Edinburgh.[7] Upon arrival Klaus anglicised his name to Kenneth and eventually Ken while his brother Dieter changed his to Denis. Their oldest brother Peter was at the time studying law at the University of Clermont-Ferrand in France and decided to move to England and complete his studies there.

The rest of the Adam family stayed in Germany as Adam's father felt that the Nazis were only a temporary aberration and they would wait it out. Things however continued to deteriorate with Jewish stores being boycotted and targeted for attacks in April 1933.

During the summer of 1933, Max Reich, a senior employee of the family business, and then Fritz Adam were arrested. Reich was a member of the SS and leader of the business's Nazi cell. Reich was eventually released and Fritz Adam was released and put under house arrest for three days.[4] Inquiries determined that a former employee who had been dismissed for dishonesty had accused the two men of unfair dismissal and conspiring to maintain undeclared funds in Switzerland. It took two weeks to disprove both allegations and no charges were laid against either man.[8] Reluctantly coming to the conclusion that Jews had no future in Germany, Fritz, Lilli and Loni, as well as some of Ken's aunts and uncles, fled to England in the summer of 1934.[9] The family eventually settled in the Hampstead area of London the following year.

The family were declared refugees on their arrival to England and identified as "friendly aliens" with the exception of Denis who was too young to be classified. The family arrived in England with nothing other than some gold coins Lilli had smuggled out.[10] His mother who had never previously worked in her life used the little money they had to establish and run a boarding house. His father struggled with his change in status and starting over in a new country. His father started an import-export business selling gloves but his health deteriorated and he died in 1936 when he was 56 years old.[4]

Adam left the boarding school in Edinburgh to rejoin his parents in London and continued his education at St. Paul's School in London. At his mother's boarding house Adam became increasingly interested in cinema after coming into contact with a number of artists among the Jewish refugees who were boarding there. He was introduced to Vincent Korda, a Hungarian art director, when he was working on Knight Without Armour at Denham Film Studios. Korda not only nurtured Adam's passion for films, but encouraged him to train as an architect if he was interested in becoming a production designer.[1] Leaving school he became an apprentice at the firm of CW Glover & Partners (which specialized in making bomb shelters) and he signed up for evening classes at the Bartlett School of Architecture at University College London.[11][failed verification] Among his tutors was a part-time teacher who had been an assistant of famed German architect Erich Mendelsohn from whom Adam learned valuable architectural drawing techniques.[1]

World War II[edit]

When World War II began, Adam was working on designs for air-raid shelters and illustrated books on air-raid protection and gas masks. As German citizens, the Adam family could have been interned as enemy aliens, but in October 1940 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.

After eight months service in the Pioneer Corps, Adam's application to join the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve as a pilot was accepted. After initial flight training on de Havilland Tiger Moth biplanes in Scotland, he was sent to Canada and the United States for additional training. Among his instructors was British actor Michael Rennie.

Flight Lieutenant Adam joined No. 609 Squadron at RAF Lympne on 1 October 1943.[12][13] He was nicknamed "Heinie the tank-buster" by his comrades for his daring exploits.[14] The squadron flew the Hawker Typhoon, initially in support of USAAF long-range bombing missions over Europe.[13] Later they were employed in support of ground troops, including at the battle of the Falaise Gap, in Normandy after D-Day. In 1944, his brother Denis joined No. 183 Squadron, joining Adam in No. 123 Wing. There were four squadrons in the wing: 164, 183, 198 and 609.[15]

Together with his brother Denis, Adam was one of three German-born pilots to serve in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War,[14] the third being Peter Stevens.[16] As such, if they had been captured by the Germans, they were liable to execution as traitors rather than being treated as prisoners of war.[17]

Following the end of the war Adam was the Allied officer in charge of German labour rebuilding Wunstorf Air Base.[1] Adam naturalised as a British subject on 27 December 1946 and left the RAF upon his demobilisation in 1947.[18][19]

Film career[edit]

Adam designed the War Room set for Dr. Strangelove (1964).

Adam entered the film industry as a draughtsman on This Was a Woman (1948) at Riverside Studios in Hammersmith.[1] His first major screen credit was as production designer on the British thriller Soho Incident (1956). Working in 1952 for art director Paul Sheriff on the Burt Lancaster film The Crimson Pirate, Adam designed an 18th-century hot-air balloon, a flame-throwing tank, and a rowing boat that transformed into a submarine.[1]

In the mid-1950s, he worked (uncredited) on the epics Around the World in 80 Days (also 1956) and Ben-Hur (1959), directed by William Wyler.

In 1956 he assisted art director Edward Carrere with the sets for Helen of Troy.[1]

His first major credit was for the horror film Night of the Demon (1957), directed by Jacques Tourneur, and he was also the production designer on several films directed by Robert Aldrich. The first public knowledge of his expertise came when he won an award for the sets of The Trials of Oscar Wilde at the Moscow Film Festival in 1960.[1]

He was hired for the first James Bond film, Dr. No (1962). Adam did not work in the second James Bond film, From Russia with Love (1963), because he was working on Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove (1964). His work on this film was described by the British Film Institute (BFI) as "gleaming and sinister".[5][20] Steven Spielberg even called it "the best set that's ever been designed".[21] He turned down the opportunity to work on Kubrick's next project, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), after he found out that Kubrick had been working with NASA for a year on space exploration, and that it would put him at a disadvantage in developing his art.[5]

This enabled Adam to make his name with his innovative, semi-futuristic sets for further James Bond films, such as 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 constructed in the largest soundstage in the world at the time. Adam claims it was lit by Stanley Kubrick in secret.[22] His last Bond film was Moonraker (1979). Writing for The Guardian in 2005, journalist Johnny Dee claimed: "His sets for the seven Bond films he worked on [...] are as iconic as the movies themselves and set the benchmark for every blockbuster".[23]

Adam's other film credits include The Trials of Oscar Wilde (1960), the Michael Caine espionage 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).[20][24] He was also a visual consultant on the film version of Pennies from Heaven (1981), adapted from Dennis Potter's television serial.[24]

Adam returned to work with Kubrick on Barry Lyndon (1975), for which he won his first Oscar. The BFI noted the film's "contrastingly mellow Technicolor beauties" in its depiction of the 18th century.[20][25] He also designed the famous car for the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), which was produced by the same team as the James Bond film series.[25] During the late 1970s, he worked on storyboards and concept art for Star Trek: Planet of the Titans, then in pre-production. The film was eventually shelved by Paramount Pictures.[26]

Adam was a jury member at the 1980 Cannes Film Festival and the 49th Berlin International Film Festival.[27] 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.[5]


Adam died on 10 March 2016 at his home in London, following a short illness. He was 95 years old.[28]

Personal life[edit]

He met his wife Maria-Letizia Moauro while filming The Crimson Pirate on location on the Italian island of Ischia and they married on 16 August 1952.[1][5]


In September 2012, Adam handed over his entire body of work to the Deutsche Kinemathek. The Ken Adam 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.[29][30]

The Ken Adam Building, a large lot at Pinewood Studios's Buckingham location, bears Adam's name and houses multiple theatres and businesses as well as the Kodak Film Lab and an office of the trade union Bectu.


Adam was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the 1996 New Year Honours for services to the film industry and Knight Bachelor in the 2003 Birthday Honours for services to film production design and to UK–German relations.[31][32] Adam was appointed a Royal Designer for Industry in 2009.[33]


Year Title Role Notes
1948 This Was a Woman Draughtsman
Brass Monkey Uncredited
1949 Third Time Lucky Uncredited
The Queen of Spades Uncredited
Dick Barton Strikes Back Assistant Art Director Uncredited
Obsession Uncredited
Golden Arrow Draughtsman Uncredited
1950 Your Witness Assistant Art Director Uncredited. Released in U.S. as Eye Witness
1951 Captain Horatio Hornblower Associate Art Director Uncredited. Known in U.K. as Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N.
1952 The Crimson Pirate
1953 The Master of Ballantrae Assistant Art Director Uncredited
The Intruder Uncredited
1954 Star of India Credited as Kenneth Adams
1956 Helen of Troy Assistant Art Director to Edward Carrere
Around the World in 80 Days Art Director Uncredited, for the London sets
Soho Incident
Child in the House
Soho Incident Production Designer
1957 The Devil's Pass Art Director Credited as Kenneth Adam
Night of the Demon Production Designer
1958 Battle of the V-1 Set Designs
Gideon's Day Art Director
1959 Ben-Hur Assistant Art Director Uncredited
The Angry Hills Production Designer
Ten Seconds to Hell Art Director
Beyond This Place
The Rough and the Smooth Production Designer/Art Director
1960 In the Nick Art Director
Let's Get Married Production Designer
The Trials of Oscar Wilde
1962 Sodom and Gomorrah
Dr. No
1963 In the Cool of the Day Credited as Kenneth Adam
1964 Goldfinger
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Woman of Straw
1965 Thunderball
The Ipcress File
1966 Funeral in Berlin
1967 You Only Live Twice
1968 Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
1969 Goodbye, Mr. Chips
1970 The Owl and the Pussycat Design Supervisor
1971 Diamonds are Forever Production Designer
1972 Sleuth
1973 The Last of Sheila
1975 Barry Lyndon
1976 The Seven-Per-Cent Solution
Salon Kitty
1977 The Spy Who Loved Me
1979 Moonraker
1981 Pennies from Heaven Visual Consultant/Associate Producer
1985 King David Production Designer
Agnes of God
1986 Crimes of the Heart
1988 The Deceivers
1989 Dead Bang
1990 The Freshman
1991 The Doctor
Company Business
1993 Undercover Blues
Addams Family Values
1994 The Madness of King George
1995 Boys on the Side
1996 Bogus
1997 In & Out
1999 The Out-of-Towners
2001 Taking Sides
2004 GoldenEye: Rogue Agent Production Designer/Art Director Video Game


Year Award Category Movie Result Notes
1957 Academy Awards Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color Around the World in 80 Days Nominated Shared with: James W. Sullivan, Ross Dowd
1965 BAFTA Awards Best British Art Direction (B/W) Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb Won
Best British Art Direction (Colour) Goldfinger Nominated
1966 The Ipcress File Won
Thunderball Nominated
1968 You Only Live Twice Nominated
1974 Best Art Direction Sleuth Nominated
1976 Academy Awards Best Art Direction-Set Decoration Barry Lyndon Won Shared with: Roy Walker, Vernon Dixon
BAFTA Awards Best Art Direction Nominated
1978 Academy Awards Best Art Direction-Set Decoration The Spy Who Loved Me Nominated Shared with: Peter Lamont, Hugh Scaife
BAFTA Awards Best Production Design/Art Direction Nominated
1994 Academy Awards Best Art Direction-Set Decoration Addams Family Values Nominated Shared with: Marvin March
1995 The Madness of King George Won Shared with: Carolyn Scott
1996 BAFTA Awards Best Production Design Nominated
2002 Art Directors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award Won
2013 Contribution to Cinematic Imagery Award James Bond Franchise Won Shared with: Peter Lamont, Allan Cameron, Dennis Gassner
2018 Hall of Fame Won


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Jonathan, Glancey (30 October 1999). "The grand illusionist". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 October 2018.
  2. ^ Adam, page 10.
  3. ^ a b "S. Adam Fashion House". Beuth University of Applied Sciences Berlin. Archived from the original on 11 March 2016. Retrieved 11 March 2016.
  4. ^ a b c Karras, Steven (13 November 2013). "Sir Ken Adam on Designing James Bond Sets and Working With Kubrick". HuffPost. Retrieved 31 October 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d e Harrod, Horatia (28 September 2008). "Ken Adam: the man who drew the Cold War". The Daily Telegraph.
  6. ^ Jewish Telegraph: "THE GREATEST EVER JEWISH FILMS Oy Oy Seven!" retrieved 26 February 2017
  7. ^ Adam, pages 17, 18 and 23.
  8. ^ Adam, page 20.
  9. ^ Madigan, Nick (21 February 2002). "Ken Adam: designer behind 'Bond' movies". Variety. Retrieved 11 March 2016.
  10. ^ Adam, page 21.
  11. ^ Monahan, Mark (14 January 2006). "Film-makers on film: Ken Adam". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 11 March 2016.
  12. ^ Frayling (2005): p. 23-41
  13. ^ a b "Ken Adam". 609 (West Riding) Squadron Archive. 2002. Archived from the original on 5 June 2011. Retrieved 25 April 2009.
  14. ^ a b "Ken Adam: The Man with the Midas Touch". The Economist. 11 March 2016. Retrieved 29 October 2018.
  15. ^ Adam, page 34.
  16. ^ Florence, Elinor (23 April 2014). "The German Jew Who Bombed Berlin". Elinor Florence. Retrieved 29 October 2018.
  17. ^ Vishnevetsky, Ignatiy (10 March 2016). "R.I.P. Ken Adam, production designer for James Bond and Stanley Kubrick". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 11 March 2016.
  18. ^ "No. 37887". The London Gazette. 21 February 1947. p. 862.
  19. ^ "No. 38120". The London Gazette (Supplement). 7 November 1947. p. 5312.
  20. ^ a b c "Adam, Ken (1921–)". BFI. Retrieved 11 March 2016.
  21. ^ "Kubrick recalled by influential set designer Sir Ken Adam". BBC News. 16 August 2013. Retrieved 18 March 2016.
  22. ^ Frayling (2005): p. 131
  23. ^ Dee, Johnny (17 September 2005). "Licensed to drill". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 March 2016.
  24. ^ a b "Ken Adam – Filmography". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. 2016. Archived from the original on 11 March 2016. Retrieved 11 March 2016.
  25. ^ a b Frayling (2005): p. 165-171
  26. ^ Reeves-Stevens, Judith; Reeves-Stevens, Garfield (1997). Star Trek: Phase II: The Lost Series (2nd ed.). New York: Pocket Books. p. 17. ISBN 978-0671568399.
  27. ^ "1999 Juries". Berlin International Film Festival. Retrieved 28 January 2012.
  28. ^ "Sir Ken Adam, James Bond production designer, dies aged 95". BBC News. 10 March 2016. Retrieved 10 March 2016.
  29. ^ Farber, Stephen (14 March 2015). "Production designer Ken Adam looks back at 'Goldfinger,' other films". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 10 March 2016.
  30. ^ Conrad, Andreas (4 September 2012). "James Bonds Chefdesigner". Der Tagesspiegel (in German). Retrieved 10 March 2016.
  31. ^ "No. 54255". The London Gazette (Supplement). 29 December 1995. p. 10.
  32. ^ "No. 56963". The London Gazette (Supplement). 14 June 2003. p. 2.
  33. ^ "Adam, Sir Kenneth (Klaus Hugo), (5 Feb. 1921–10 March 2016), freelance film production designer". Who Was Who. Oxford University Press. 1 December 2007. doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.u10000041.


  • Adam, Denis (1996). Profile of a New Zealander: The Autobiography of Denis Adam. Wellington: Astra Publishing. ISBN 0-473-03742-4.

Further reading[edit]

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