Flight Lieutenant Ken Adam: 609 West Riding) Squadron

Ken Adam was born Klaus Hugo Adam in Berlin in 1921, to a Jewish family, the son of a former Prussian cavalryman. His father and his uncles owned a successful high-fashion clothing store, so the family was well-off. He 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 and that same year the family’s shop was forced into bankruptcy by SA Brown Shirt harassment. So a part of the family relocated to England when he was 13 years old and he went to St. Paul’s School in Barnes, and then attended University College London and Bartlett School of Architecture, training to be an architect.

When the Second World War started, the Adam family were German citizens and could have been interned as enemy aliens. But Adam joined the Pioneer Corps, 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 applied to join the Royal Air Force as a pilot but there were complications and it was only due to his sheer determination and persistence that he was finally accepted for service over a year later and he started training, eventually being commissioned in the RAFVR. He also changed his name to Kenneth. He and his brother Denis were the only two German-born pilots serving in the RAF.

Sergeant Adam joined 609 Squadron of the Auxiliary Air Force at RAF Lympne on 1 October 1943, flying the Hawker Typhoon. The Squadron was employed intercepting ‘hit and run’ raiders on the south coast, as bomber escorts and also for raids across the Channel attacking all manner of targets. In early 1944 emphasis turned to building up for D-Day as Allied Air Power systematically dismantled the road, rail and waterway infrastructure, the bridges, and radar stations in Normandy and further inland. In July 1944, 609 Sqn deployed into France and conducted close air and ground support missions throughout the campaign in North-West Europe until the end of the war. Ken was commissioned in 1945 by which time he had flown with 609 throughout, he only served on one Squadron. Shortly after the end of hostilities he secured his release from the RAF to resume his civilian career.

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 and he made his name with his innovative, semi-futuristic sets for the early 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).

He returned to work with Kubrick on Barry Lyndon, for which he won his first Oscar and 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. He died in March 2016.


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