Saturday 10 March 2012

Greys and browns ...

Sir Ken Adam at The Museum of London
That was the colour palette which Ken Adam, production director, chose for Harry Saltzman's The Ipcress File to reflect the dreariness and earthy nature of 'sixties London and provide a counterpoint to the glamour of Bond.

This was just one of the anecdotes shared by Sir Ken Adam OBE in his talk before a special showing of the film as part of the Museum of London in Docklands' regular monthly film screenings.

Now a sprightly 91 years old, Ken shared his remembrances with over 70 people assembled in one of the former dockside warehouses now surrounded by the modernity of 'Docklands'. Already having worked to great esteem on Cubby Broccolli's sets for Dr. No and Goldfinger, Ken was brought onto The Ipcress File by Harry Saltzman to create "a poor man's Bond". But Ken and director Sidney Furie had a different creative approach, and fought the notoriously short-tempered Saltzman to film the movie for what it was, rather than what it wasn't.

One of the secrets of the film, Sir Ken said, was that 95% of it was filmed entirely on location, much of it in one of the grand buildings on Hobart Square, near to Victoria Station. This was a new experience for him, but what it allowed him to do was to emphasise the "greys and browns" of everyday London office life. The building on Hobart Square was used not just for Dalby's offices (the cleaning agency front) but to create Michael Caine's flat, and Colonel Ross's office. This move away from the traditional studio apparently caused friction, not least with the producer.

Harry Saltzman was insistent that Major Dalby's offices should be full of the latest computers and monitoring equipment. In contract, Ken Adam and Sidney Furie felt that the offices should have an authentic military feel - desk, camp bend, desk lamp, gas fire, and a bust of Churchill. This bare look was more barrack room than nerve centre, deliberately so. Yet later in the day Saltzman arrived on set with a truck full of computers, determined to have his way. Cue his breaking into an almighty temper, accusing Adam of trying to destroy the relationship with his director. The film unit, Ken said with a wry smile on his face, "loved these rows". Two hours later, it was all forgotten by the producer.

Sid Furie's lead cameraman on the set was Otto Heller, a Czech photographer and camera man who was old enough to have filmed the funeral of the last Habsburg Emperor, Franz Josef, Ken revealed. He never used a light meter and was the person responsible for many of the classic shots through keyholes and over Harry Palmer's shoulder. Apparently, while a perfectionist Heller never bothered to look at the final cut of the film. Ken called him "one of the greats".

Sitting in a converted warehouse in Docklands, Ken recalled how he used a warehouse nearby to film the sequences in 'Albania'. Furie, a Canadian, was not that experienced but outside on location, he had bags of energy and enthused the whole team to think creatively and embrace the cliched shots for which everyone remembers the film. In fact, they gave the film Adam believed the unique atmosphere that has made it a classic.

I asked him about the role of Len Deighton on the film. He revealed that Deighton was around on set and did share his views on the relationship to the story in the book. More practically, he was - famously - on the set of Harry Palmer's kitchen and taught Michael Caine how to crack eggs with one hand (though Caine eventually left it to Deighton to do this and it is his hands which appear in the final film!).

Having worked on both Bond and the "anti-Bond", Adam shared some interesting perspectives on the two. During a break in filming, Adam and Michael Caine went to the Bahamas, where Bond was filming, but Cubby Broccoli apparently would not allow Caine on the set alongside Sean Connery [perhaps, like when matter and anti-matter are combined, the space-time continuum would split!]. When filming had finished, that year Ken was invited to both Saltzman's and Broccoli's tables at the Bafta awards - both had booked the biggest tables in the venue. Cubby was sure that Adam would win him a Bafta for his work on Goldfinger - instead, he got it for Ipcress File. Cue stormy looks from Broccoli, who didn't talk to Ken for the next two months.

Having been warmed up with a view from one of the key creative forces behind The Ipcress File, I saw the film in a new light. And it is still a London classic!

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