Ken Adam (Production Designer)

Name: Ken Adam
Date of Birth: 5th February 1921
Place of Birth: Berlin, Germany
Years active: 1948-2004
Profession: Production designer, Visual consultant, Design supervisor, art director, associate art director, draughtsman.
Bond films: 7
Also famous for: Dr Strangelove (1964)

Born in Berlin, Germany to a former military man, Adam's name at birth was Klaus Hugo Adam. In 1934, the Adam family moved to London, UK and 13 year-old Klaus changed his name to Ken.

After schooling at St. Paul's, Adam decided he wished to study to be an architect and attended the Bartlett School of Architecture.


During the war Adam was recruited to the army to assist in the design of ballistic shelters. Despite being a German national, the Army were only too grateful for Ken's skills. He later joined the Royal Pioneer Corps, a regiment that was set up for nationals of the Axis countries that were trusted to serve the Allies. He quickly became one of only two german-born pilots flying for the British and was promoted to Flight Lieutenant and served a successful career with the RAF.

When the war was over, Adam had the opportunity to work as a draughtsman in 1948 on the production of "Third Time Lucky". He served this role on several productions, uncredited for much of the late 1940s. He won a slight promotion to associate art director, assisting the creative team on "Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N.", but still did not win his name in the credits. He earned a break on two big Hollywood adventures, "Around the World in 80 Days" and "Ben-Hur". On the former he worked as an art director for the London shoot and served as assistant art director on the latter.

Above: Ken Adam poses for a still on his amazing $1 million set for "You Only Live Twice".


His first opportunity to helm an art department came with "Soho Incident" (1956), a forgettable crime/drama. Adam moved on from here to "The Rough and the Smooth" (1959) and the daring production of "The Trials of Oscar Wilde" (1960) - where Adam met would-be Bond producer Cubby Broccoli. When Broccoli and Saltzman had done their deal for Bond, Broccoli turned to Adam - still relatively fresh in the industry to production design "Dr. No" (1962). Ken Adam pulled out all the stops - and was remarkably at home in the futuristic and lavish world of James Bond, with Dr. No's interview chamber (in which Dent receives the spider) becoming a lasting icon of the series.

Adam was now impressing the right people, so much so that Stanley Kubrick called upon the designer to helm his art department for spy-spoof "Dr. Strangelove" in 1964. The same year, Adam returned to the Bond films for "Goldfinger" - having missed out on "From Russia With Love".

Adam's name will forever be synonymous with his construction of the $1 million volcano set for the big-budget "You Only Live Twice". A challenge to build in time, light and shoot in, Adam and the entire art team worked tirelessly on its construction from the moment Cubby Broccoli approved the project, to the moment that Lewis Gilbert rolled cameras on the set months later.

In the mid 1960s Saltzman worked with Adam on the gritty Cold War thrillers "The Ipcress File" (1965) and "Funeral In Berlin" (1966).

Adam's swan song Bond adventure would the the, again, larger-than-life "Moonraker" (1979). The 1980s were quiet for Adam, with Peter Lamont taking over his regular role in the Bond family, but his astounding work on "The Madness of King George" (1994) would earn him an Oscar.

Most recently Ken Adam contributed to EA Games' "GoldenEye: Rogue Agent" to help create concept art for their in-game videos and maps.

Moonraker (1979) Production Designer
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) Production Designer
Diamonds Are Forever (1971) Production Designer
You Only Live Twice (1967) Production Designer
Thunderball (1965) Production Designer
Goldfinger (1964) Production Designer
Dr. No (1962) Production Designer

Above: The production designers Peter Murton, Peter Lamont and Ken Adam.

Extended Filmography

  • The Madness of King George (1994) - Buy USA
  • The Doctor (1991) - Buy USA
  • Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) - Buy USA
  • Funeral in Berlin (1966) - Buy USA
  • The Ipcress File (1965) - Buy USA
  • Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) - Buy USA


  • Oscar: Best Art Direction for The Madness of King George (1994)
  • Critics Circle: Technical Achievement of the Year for The Madness of King George (1994)
  • Critics Circle: British Technical Achievement of the Year for Addams Family Values (1993)
  • Oscar: Best Art Direction for Barry Lyndon (1975)
  • BAFTA: Best British Art Direction (colour) for The Ipcress File (1965)
  • BAFTA: Best British Art Direction (B/W) for Dr Strangelove (1964)

Frequently Works With
Peter Lamont, William F. O'Brien, Syd Cain, Harry Saltzman, Michael White

Related Articles
The Art of Production Design by Ken Adam (Extract)
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