Ken Adam

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Sir Ken Adam

Boulevard der Stars 2012 Sir Kenneth Adam (cropped) (cropped).jpg
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.

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 was arrested. Reich was the 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) he signed up for evening classes at the Bartlett School of Architecture at University College London.[11] 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 a traitor rather than being treated as a prisoner 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 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 sound stage in the world, at the time. 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]


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]


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.[34]

He was also nominated for Academy Awards for his work on Around the World in 80 Days, The Spy Who Loved Me, and Addams Family Values.[36]

He received the Art Directors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001.[37]



  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". 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. 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". 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. Baseline & All Movie Guide. 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. ^ a b "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.
  34. ^ a b c "BAFTA Awards Search: Ken Adam". British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Retrieved 11 March 2016.
  35. ^ "The 67th Academy Awards (1995) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 5 August 2011.
  36. ^ "The 66th Academy Awards (1994) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 4 August 2011.
  37. ^ "6th Annual Excellence in Production Design Awards". Art Directors Guild. Archived from the original on 4 March 2012. Retrieved 11 March 2016.
  38. ^ "Roll of honour (by year) – I edizione 2003". Ischia Film Festival. Archived from the original on 11 March 2016. Retrieved 11 March 2016.


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

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