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Sir Kenneth Adam, OBE, (born Klaus Hugo Adam; 5 February 1921 – 10 March 2016) was a German-born British movie production designer, best known for his set designs for the James Bond films of the 1960s and 1970s, as well as for the 1964 black comedy film, Dr. Strangelove.


Childhood in Germany[]

Adam was born in Berlin, Germany to a Jewish family, the son of a former Prussian cavalryman. 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 / Ecke Friederichstraße) was established in 1863 by Saul Adam. Adam was educated at the Französisches Gymnasium Berlin, and the family had a summer house on the Baltic.

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


Adam was 13 years old when his family moved to England. Adam went to St. Paul's School in Barnes, 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. But Adam joined the Royal Pioneer Corps, a support unit of the British and Commonwealth armed forces, which was open to any Axis citizen resident in Britain or the Commonwealth, and not considered a security risk. He was seconded to design bomb shelters.

In 1940, Adam successfully applied to join the Royal Auxiliary Air Force as a pilot. He was one of only two German-nationality pilots in the wartime RAF. 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.

Flight Lieutenant Adam joined No. 609 Squadron at RAF Lympne on 1 October 1943. He was nicknamed “Heinie the tank-buster” by his comrades for his daring exploits. The squadron flew the Hawker Typhoon, initially in support of USAF long-range bombing missions over Europe. 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.


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. His first major screen credit was as 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 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.

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 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).

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. 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.

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.


  • 1964 - British Film Academy Award for Dr. Strangelove
  • 1965 - British Film Academy Award for The IPCRESS File
  • 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.
  • 1975 - Academy Award for Best Art Direction for his recreation of 18th century England in Barry Lyndon.
  • 1994 - Academy Award for Best Art Direction for work on 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.
  • 2003 - Ciak di Corallo - career award for Ischia Film Festival

Designing Bond's World[]


Film Set Designs[]

Further reading[]

Frayling, Christopher; Adam, Ken (2008). Ken Adam designs the movies: James Bond and beyond. London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-51414-3. Frayling, Christopher (2005). Ken Adam and the art of production design. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-22057-6. Frayling, Christopher; Adam, Ken; Sylvester, David William; French, Philip (1999). Moonraker, Strangelove and other celluloid dreams: the visionary art of Ken Adam. London: Serpentine Gallery. ISBN 1-870814-27-4. Smoltczyk, Alexander (2002). James Bond, Berlin, Hollywood. Die Welten des Ken Adam. Berlin: Verlag Ars Nicolai. ISBN 3-87584-068-0.