Peter Lamont (1929-2020)
18th December 2020
Oscar-winning production designer and longest-serving Bond crew member Peter Lamont has died
Academy Award-winning production designer, Peter Lamont, who worked on a total of 18 James Bond films has died following a short illness. He was 91. Lamont enjoyed a successful career spanning six decades, which culminated with his final 007 picture, 'Casino Royale', in 2006.
"Peter Lamont was a much-beloved member of the Bond family and a giant in the industry," producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli said in a statement. He was "inextricably linked with the design and aesthetic of James Bond since ‘Goldfinger’".
Peter Curtis Lamont was born on 12 November 1929. He grew up just a stone's throw from Pinewood Studios where his father, Cyril Lamont, found work as a signwriter, “I looked up to my father, and as I got older I started to draw at home. He’d bring old scripts back from work and I’d use them as sketch pads.”
He visited his father at Denham Studios and stepped onto the set of Powell and Pressburger’s ‘One of Our Aircraft is Missing’ (1942). Lamont had aspirations to join the camera department but instead began his career as an assistant print boy and runner delivering set drawings to the workshops and stages. He was soon handed an adjustable set-square and a drawing board and in 1947, began work on his first production, ‘Captain Boycott’.
Following National Service in the Royal Air Force, Lamont returned to his position at Denham as a junior draftsman. He worked on films such as ‘The Woman In Question’ (1950) starring Dirk Bogarde, ‘Hotel Sahara’ (1951) with Peter Ustinov, and Walt Disney’s ‘The Story of Robin Hood’ (1952).
Lamont was promoted to draftsman and by the early 1960s a set dresser. He worked notably on the lavish production ‘Cleopatra’ and Lindsay Anderson’s kitchen sink, Woodfall Films drama, ‘This Sporting Life’ both 1963. That same year he received a call from Art Director Peter Murton asking him to join the third James Bond film, 'Goldfinger'. It was a move that introduced him to the film series that would dominate his career for the next forty-plus years. Lamont had followed the James Bond comic strips in The Daily Express but recalled in his 2016 memoir, The Man With The Golden Eye, “I hadn’t actually seen the first two films in the series, but I found out that 'From Russia With Love', was currently playing in Slough. I joined the queue at the Granada cinema and settled down to see what all the fuss was about.”
He reported to production designer Ken Adam who handed Peter a bundle of photographs of Fort Knox, the US government’s bullion depository in Kentucky. Lamont spent the next month drawing the façade and exterior of the bank, which was to be built on the lot at Pinewood. His work impressed Adam and he was invited to join him on Harry Saltzman’s next venture, ‘The Ipcress File’ (1965).
“I was on The Ipcress File and Ken Adam breezed into the office at Pinewood one day and said, ‘Children, somebody better learn to swim underwater, we’re doing 'Thunderball'.’’ So, I joined the Slough Sub-Aqua Club, and by the time I got to the Bahamas I’d been fully certified.” Lamont served as Chief Draughtsman on 'Thunderball' and when asked to plan the sets for the Vulcan bomber his experiences in the RAF came in useful. He gathered as much technical literature as he could but was eager to catch a glimpse of a real nuclear weapon, “One night, Ken Adam and I, were invited for supper at RAF Strike Command down at Naphill. The Squadron leader, Dennis Mountford, said, ‘We are prepared to open the bomb bay for you. We went into the Holy of Holies. There was this huge world map. There was a safe right in the middle. There was this huge display at the top and the last button really sent shivers down my spine. It said, “Liftoff.” I had to memorise everything Ken and I were seeing, so the wording on each of our prop bombs would be exactly how it should be. It was my first time, witnessing the power of James Bond…the doors these films could open.” Lamont’s scuba diving skills came to good use when he was asked to double Sean Connery for an insert shot of 007 removing the dog tags from François Derval’s body, “Although I am not hairy like Sean, I played James Bond for a second!”
Following the sudden death of David Ffolkes during early production of 'You Only Live Twice' Lamont was promoted to set decorator and was assigned Blofeld’s vast volcano lair. “The demands of the set were enormous: the rocket platform, the helipad, and the inclined roof, which was one of Ken’s signatures. I went up to Roald Dahl’s house with Ken to discuss the set and the action that was to unfold inside.” Lamont also visited Wing Commander, Ken Wallis’s workshop to measure and photograph Little Nellie, as he was required to make the various prop components and parts you see in the film when the autogyro is supposedly delivered in a series of suitcases.
Lamont was credited on screen for the first time on Peter Hunt’s 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service'. Following the fantasy of 'You Only Live Twice''s centrepiece volcano, Peter was this time tasked with preparing a spectacular real life location: an alpine room summit built atop the Swiss mountain, Schiltorn, in Switzerland. The building had been under construction when first discovered by Art Director Syd Cain and Harry Saltzman. The location offered a spectacular 360 panoramic view of the Eiger and Lamont set to work to complete the interior design ready for Hunt’s crew.
On 'Diamonds Are Forever' Lamont spent time in Las Vegas and later dressed Blofeld’s penthouse apartment built at Pinewood. He chose the furniture and furnishings carefully, “Blofeld’s desk was lit by a pair of Arco floor lamps based on a classic Italian design from the 1960s. I don’t have to look far to be reminded of this film because when production was complete I bought one of the lamps and took it home. It’s still in my living room.” Lamont had also eyed up the leather sofas but they were snapped up by Harry Saltzman.
In 1972 Lamont was promoted to Art Director on Roger Moore’s debut, 'Live And Let Die'. He prepped the locations in and around the Louisiana bayous for the ambitious speedboat chase sequence and before shooting commenced, oversaw the preparation of twenty-nine vehicles at the Glastron Boat Company in Austin, Texas. Later Lamont worked on the opening scenes of the movie in New York. One sequence required Bond to be dumped by Mr. Big’s heavies amongst derelict buildings in Harlem. Guy Hamilton noticed a number of wires hanging between the buildings and wanted to include them in shot. Lamont’s team cut the cables and dressed the set accordingly only to discover a team of angry telephone engineers arriving soon after. “We maintained an embarrassed silence as they climbed the ladders to begin their work.”
'The Man With The Golden Gun' took Peter to the exotic but remote location of Phuket in the Fat East where he spent seven months preparing Scaramanga's island hideaway. It was primitive and undeveloped at the time. “Believe me, the Bonds have always been first in these places. Telephones didn’t work. Telexes took three days, and a letter – God knows where it went. The accountant used to get off the plane, give us our per diem and get back on the plane again.” Although the jewellers, Colibri, are credited with making the golden gun, what they fabricated was unusable and did not have the required look. Lamont was tasked with producing a practical prop. Christopher Lee was trained to assemble the gun by Peter, who practiced putting it together in front of the television at night.
1977’s 'The Spy Who Loved Me', once again saw Lamont working under Ken Adam as Cubby Broccoli, now sole producer, steered the series back to the epic and gargantuan style of earlier Bonds. In fact, the interior of the Liparus supertanker was so big it required the construction of a brand new soundstage to house it. Lamont was on hand to oversee the build, although it began to cause friction in his relationship with Adam. ‘Spy’ introduced Bond’s Lotus Esprit and Peter was instrumental in securing a relationship with the British car manufacturer and enough vehicles required to make the film. “The Lotus Esprit S1 was launched in June 1976, a couple of months before principal photography started, but I’d already shown Ken a photo of the car in a magazine. The script called for a vehicle that Bond could take underwater, and I told Ken that I thought this could be just what we were looking for.” Adam, Lamont, and his fellow art director, Hugh Scaife were nominated for an Academy Award for their groundbreaking work on 'The Spy Who Loved Me' but lost out to ‘Star Wars’ (1977).
Under the Anglo-French co-production agreement, put in place to produce 'Moonraker', Ken Adam could only take one British art director to Paris. Much to Lamont’s regret, Adam chose Charles Bishop. However, following the intervention of director, Lewis Gilbert, Peter was hired as ‘visual effects art director,’ and remained at Pinewood working with Derek Meddings on the incredible space station miniatures shot on the 007 Stage which was draped entirely in black velvet.
The budget for 'Moonraker' had reached $36 million and fingers had been pointed at Ken Adam for going over budget, who had perhaps, been a little too extravagant. By the time Broccoli came to make 'For Your Eyes Only', a new regime had been ushered in at a reduced cost. Director John Glen recalled, “Peter was in the wings. He was also very well qualified. He was reaching a stage in his career where we were either going to promote him to production designer or he was going to leave the fold and do his own films for someone else because he was that good you couldn’t ignore him anymore.”
Lamont understood he was stepping into some big shoes: “Ken was my mentor. I worked on eleven films with him in all positions. He’s a different animal to me. I’m not an artist like Ken, he’s very flamboyant with his FloMaster and all that. I read the script first and then broke it down into sets, locations. I prefer models, when you have a model everybody knows what you’re going to do.”
Lamont’s family soon joined his team with brother, Michael, son Neil and nephew Simon becoming Bond regulars. For his production design debut, Lamont produced some notable designs including the underwater ruins of an ancient Greek temple complete with Grecian columns. The set was built at Pinewood and put together like a puzzle in 60ft of water near Coral Harbour in the Bahamas.
By 'Octopussy' Lamont was in his stride and inspired by the Indian locales, produced some refined designs, such as Octopussy’s ceremonial barge and Kamal Khan’s palace. He also created a Kremlin War Room where General Orlov outlines his radical plans to his fellow comrades. He told journalist Richard Holliss, “I modeled it after the Palace of Congress. We built a hammer and sickle design into the floor and an elliptical table on a moving floor. It was possible to swing it around to face a giant war map, listing all the Eastern bloc tank visions, illuminated via back projection.”
Disaster struck the pre-production of the fourteenth James Bond film, 'A View To A Kill', when the 007 Stage burnt down following an accident on Ridley Scott’s fantasy epic ‘Legend’ (1985). Seeing the smoke billowing into the sky from his Pinewood office, Lamont likened the sight to that of the infamous burning airship, Hindenburg. When the smoke had cleared Peter had just one question for Cubby, “Do you or don’t you want to rebuild the 007 Stage?’ And [Cubby] said, ‘I do.’” Twelve weeks from the site being cleared, Lamont had overseen the construction of a new bigger, and better stage. The designer then remarkably built Max Zorin’s Main strike Mine set complete with railway lines, streams, bridges, rolling stock, wooden office sheds, and a myriad of tunnels and shafts without delaying the schedule.
Although Timothy Dalton’s debut, 'The Living Daylights', did not feature any centerpiece sets Lamont strove to keep the world of James Bond 007 high-tech and ahead of the curve, “For Q’s workshop Philips Electronics supplied us with thousands of pounds worth of extremely high tech computers. The huge video wall of 12 individual screens was very sophisticated back then. That was the first time anything like that had been seen on film.”
For 1989’s 'Licence To Kill', Lamont embarked on an extensive location hunt in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. Upon returning to London, Lamont was called to see Broccoli. “I said, ‘I think if we go to Mexico City we are mad, the facilities are awful.’ He looked at me and he said, ‘If we don’t go to Mexico City we’re not doing the picture.’” Due to the exchange rate against the dollar it was becoming increasingly difficult to make a picture in the UK. In early 1988 Lamont set up shop at Churubusco Studios. The facility had seen better days and Peter spent several weeks refurbishing and building additional workshops. Even the studio floors had to be leveled before set construction could begin. Peter utilised some interesting locations for the film including The Centro Ceremonial Otomi for the explosive finale and Casa Arabesque a palatial villa overlooking Acapulco Bay.
Following 'Licence To Kill', the James Bond franchise fell into limbo, but Lamont continued to work, most notably with visionary filmmaker, James Cameron on the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle, ‘True Lies’ (1994). They had collaborated earlier on ‘Aliens’ (1986). 007’s return, 'GoldenEye', saw Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli now at the helm. New director, Martin Campbell, had approval over the choice of cinematographer and production designer. When the New Zealander met with Lamont he immediately asked Peter what his last picture was. Lamont replied, ‘True Lies’. “He went white. He said, ‘My idol is James Cameron.’ So I was in.”
The central location for 'GoldenEye' was St. Petersburg, where the filmmakers were to stage an ambitious tank chase through the city. After an initial recce, Lamont was concerned by the restrictions placed upon them by the Russian authorities, “United Artists were keen that we didn’t go to Russia because you are really over a barrel, the Mafia is not like the Italian mafia, you get bloody killed.” Instead, Lamont suggested that they take advantage of the vast outdoor space available to them at EON’s new makeshift studio at Leavesden and build a section of the city on the runway. The £1 million cost to build the St. Petersburg set was approved by UA and Lamont built the set in just over six weeks.
Lamont was unable to commit to 'Tomorrow Never Dies', following overruns on Cameron’s ‘Titanic’ (1997) in Mexico but he returned for 'The World Is Not Enough'. Now approaching 70, Peter was enjoying the best years of his career. His work on ‘Titanic’ had recently been crowned with an Oscar win. Returning to the EON fold, Lamont had been designing Bond longer than his mentor, Ken Adam. The producers considered him a crucial member of their team as Wilson once affirmed, “The first thing we do when we start working on the script and we’re thinking about locations and whether we can do this or that, is we call up Peter Lamont.” Director Michael Apted immediately hit it off with Lamont, as the designer’s realism dovetailed nicely with Apted’s documentary eye.
'Die Another Day' saw Lamont return to more fantastical territory under the watch of director, Lee Tamahori. The film’s central design was Gustav Graves’ ice palace, “I indulged myself with a design that evoked the ostentatious style of the early Bond films.” Tamahori felt Lamont’s masterpiece was not being used to maximum effect and while under construction proposed they reconfigure it to house the climax of the car chase. Lamont also created a North Korean military compound and during early pre-production was even set to brave a research trip to Korea to the 38th Parallel.
Although he didn’t know it at the time, the 21st Bond movie, 'Casino Royale', would be Lamont’s last. Working with a smaller budget than he had on 'Die Another Day', Daniel Craig’s first 007 picture was given a classical design which earned Lamont a BAFTA nomination. Much of 'Casino Royale' was shot in around Prague with almost 40 interiors built at Baranov Studios. In the Bahamas, Lamont remembered an abandoned hotel complex, at Coral Harbor on New Providence Island, which he dressed to resemble a building site – the setting for the innovative parkour chase. Back at Pinewood, Lamont oversaw the most complex set of them all, a sinking Venetian villa.
Lamont had hoped to work on 'Quantum of Solace' and in the spring of 2007 met with director Marc Forster. It did not go particularly well. “I sensed that he was wary of working with someone 40 years his senior. Perhaps more seriously, I think he suspected I would be more sympathetic to the producers than to him.”
Lamont was nominated for a total of four Academy Awards and his other notable credits include ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ (1968) and ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ (1971). His outstanding 42-year contribution to the James Bond series made him the longest-serving member of EON's creative team. In his later years, he remained enthusiastic about all things 007 and retained an encyclopaedic knowledge of the films. Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson also said, “He was a true success story proving that with talent and hard work you will achieve your dreams.”
Special thanks to Ajay Chowdhury