DESIGNS ON BOND
by Paul Mount
Photo by Kristian Williams - taken at STARBURST International Film Fest
Peter Lamont is, quite simply, a legend in the world of filmmaking. Across a career spanning six decades, Peter’s name has become virtually synonymous with the exploits of 007 himself – as draughtsman, set decorator, art director and ultimately production designer, he worked on eighteen of Bond’s extraordinary adventures. He has also collaborated extensively with James Cameron on films such as ALIENS, TRUE LIES and, of course, the box office-busting TITANIC, which finally won him an Oscar for his incredible work recreating the iconic doomed ocean liner. As a new book chronicling his life and work, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN EYE: DESIGNING THE JAMES BOND FILMS is published, STARBURST spent some time with Peter and took a trip through sixty years of Bond and beyond…
STARBURST: Your professional CV - your career - reads pretty much like a definitive guide to working in the film industry and you’ve been involved in some of the most loved feature films ever made. How did your amazing behind-the-scenes journey begin
Peter Lamont: During the Second World War, I didn’t get the 11-plus - as it was then - but I won a 13-plus scholarship and went to High Wycombe Technical Institute. They had four institutes: the commercial one for girls, typewriting and all that, engineering, building and art. I went to their junior art school and there were only twenty of us in the form; occasionally I still see people now who were there at that time with me. I did three years there as the war hadn’t quite finished when I finished school. My Dad was a sign writer at Denham Studios and he knew someone at Pinewood, so I went along and they offered me a job as assistant print boy runner to Edward Carrick, whose father was Lord Craig, a great stage designer. Teddy gave me a drawing board and I got to like it so I decided to stay with it. I then went into the Air Force for two years, did a flight mechanics course and then came out of the Services.
Was it easy to return to your career after you left the Air Force?
Yes, because at the time when you came out you had to be reinstated in your old job irrespective and as I’d worked at Pinewood, they had to take me back. I got the great sum then of £7 and ten shillings a week! My first film was Captain Boycott, which starred Stewart Granger, and as the years went on I worked with the likes of John Box, Jack Stephens, Ernest Archer, and Jack Maxsted on pictures such as The Woman In Question and The Browning Version. Then we went to Denham Studios and did Robin Hood and His Merry Men and The Importance of Being Earnest. I gradually started working with other people including a fellow called Bernard Robinson, who did Reach for the Sky and Carve Her Name With Pride, and I became his draftsman. One day, he said he’d promote me to assistant art director and he gave me a piece of advice which I’ve never forgotten: “If you go on the soundstage and anybody asks you a question, think about the question, make your decision and whether that decision turns out to be right or wrong, always stand by what you’ve said.”
Photo: Peter with ice palace on Pinewood backlot, Die Another Day (© Eon Productions)
1964 saw the beginning of your long association with the James Bond series when you found yourself working on Goldfinger. How did you become involved with the world of 007?
I was working for Independent Artists at Beaconsfield Studios in Buckinghamshire in the early 1960s on things like the comedy Strictly For The Birds and the TV series The Human Jungle starring Herbert Lom. But just afterwards the money dried up at Independent Artists and they closed Beaconsfield - although it’s since reopened as the National Film and Television School. I was out of work then and Peter Murton, who I had known for a long time and who was the art director on Goldfinger, said “Look, we’ve got a set decorator but why don’t you’d come and draught for us?” So I went just across the road to Pinewood and Ken Adam [production designer] came in with his big cigar and gave me a big buff envelope full of photographs of the exterior of Fort Knox. Not even the President is actually allowed into Fort Knox; the only person from the Government who gets in is the secretary from the Treasury. Ken told me the Fort Knox set was a major build and there was a possibility it was going to be built in Portugal, but in the end they decided to do it in the studios. So over the next four weeks I did a model, drew it up, did all the details, sent it to be estimated by accounts and it came to about £67,000 and I thought ‘Jesus Christ, I’m going to get fired for this!’ Harry [Saltzman], Cubby [Broccoli] and Guy Hamilton [Goldfinger director] came in one day and they decided to rationalise it by cutting it back and getting another estimate which came in at £45,000 and then they said ‘OK, do it”. We had to lay roads down, we went into Black Park [the country park area adjacent to Pinewood Studios], we moved trees into the correct places, and we created Bullion Boulevard, which is where Fort Knox is actually situated. Guy came in with Ken one day and said ‘What do you think the gold vaults look like?’ and I made some enquiries - there was no Internet back then so you couldn’t just look it up! I went to Illustrated London News where you can see the Bank of England vaults and it’s full of small rooms full of bars of gold on trolleys. Ken and I then came up with this bloody cathedral of gold which appeared on screen.
Photo: OHMSS (Peter far left, in black)
A Bond baptism of fire! Presumably by this point you were already aware of the growing phenomenon of the Bond series?
To tell you the truth, we used to have the Daily Express as a broadsheet in those days and in the back there was a cartoon strip of James Bond. I always used to look at it - I remember the Octopussy strip that was running at the time. Anyway, Dr. No had already been out and I wasn’t much interested in that but From Russia With Love had just come out so my wife and I went to Slough and we queued up and went to the Grenada and watched it and I thought ‘Wow, the props are good, the action is good, there’s a lot going on here’, so I thought I wanted to get in with this lot!
Bond called again with Thunderball, which was the first of four 007s where you were a set decorator. How did that come about?
Harry Saltzman called me into his office and said ‘Look, we’ve got a big production coming up, have a two-week holiday on us and then we’re going to start The Ipcress File’. That was an entirely different deal but then Ken breezed into the office and said ‘children, somebody had better learn to swim underwater, we’re doing Thunderball.’ So I took him at his word, went to Slough Sub-Aqua Club and did a crash course. I got involved with the submerged Vulcan aircraft and went all over the place looking at Vulcans and collecting bits and pieces because we had to build one in the Bahamas. I went to the Bahamas for two weeks and came home fourteen weeks later! The first time I went down, there was the Vulcan bomber underwater and the whole unit was down there with the bomb carrier and so on.
You were also around at a time of great seismic change in the Bond series when Sean Connery surrendered the role to new boy George Lazenby. How did you find both actors to work with?
Everybody knew Sean. He was always very professional. But he had a niggle with the producers because when we flew to the Bahamas for Thunderball, Goldfinger was spiralling and, of course, he felt he’d been cheated financially. But if you sign a contract, you sign a contract. It might be good, it might be duff, who knows? But he held it against them and walked. When it came to the next one, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, I saw the tests and George was obviously the choice. But he was an idiot on set, very arrogant. Diana Rigg said to him ‘George, get one under your belt, you’re not James Bond yet.’ He could have carried on for years as Bond and I think he still trades on Bond. He wanted to get his leg over everybody! But OHMSS is a good film; I think if Sean had done it, it would have made more money than all the others.
Having worked closely with all the Bonds, who would you say was your favourite?
Pierce Brosnan was my favourite as both a person and an actor. Like Cubby and Roger Moore, he made a point of knowing everyone’s name. He was always well turned out, he knew everything, and he knew the part. But by the time we got to number four with him they were going back to Casino Royale but as he was already Bond and that’s the picture where he ‘becomes’ Bond they couldn’t really go on with him.
What are your thoughts on Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton?
Roger was a good safe choice, a steady pair of hands. He was a nice man and like Cubby he knew everyone by their Christian names. He was always ready for a laugh. We did the boat chase and the airplane chase for Live And Let Die; he was always up for a bit of fun. After Roger it was going to be Pierce but he was doing Remington Steele for American TV; we found out that his contract was up but if they could fund any more episodes within fifty-six days he could be liable to fulfil the contract. So they did five more episodes and the edict from Cubby was ‘Remington Steele will not be James Bond.’ That’s where Timothy Dalton came in and he was great. He’s one of those ‘What are my motivation?’ actors but he did a very good job, he was a different sort of character, more grounded when perhaps the audience wasn’t quite ready for that yet.
Photos: Thunderball Vulcan prop (© Peter Lamont) / War room in Octopussy (Peter Lamont sketch) / Moonraker (© Eon Productions) / Peter and family, Goldeneye (© Peter Lamont) / Peter on The World Is Not Enough submarine set (© Eon Productions)
It’s fair to say that you were instrumental in the development of the original famous 007 Stage at Pinewood that was created to house Ken’s supertanker designs for The Spy Who Loved Me.
I went up to look at some airship hangars, one of which was used by a fire company who would set fires and put ‘em out. The other hangar was the Royal Air Force’s and they used it for barrage balloons but it was in a sad state - I think it’s all been renovated now. We were told that if we went there we’d have to do everything with copper face tools, as if we caught a spark the bloody lot would go up because of the hydrogen! Ken had been looking at other options and in the end it was decided to make a temporary building in Pinewood for which they had to get planning permission and they built the 007 stage. It took thirteen weeks to build and the film set was being built inside as we were building the exterior. I signed off on the design of the building. Of course, it’s now in its third incarnation because the original and its replacement were destroyed by fire.
Your continued involvement with Bond – by the time of For Your Eyes Only in 1981 you were Production Designer – must have taken you all around the world.
I’ve been out to the Bahamas several times, not only for Thunderball but also for The Spy Who Loved Me and for Casino Royale, the last one I did. I went to Egypt for Spy, India, Nepal, Goa and Berlin for Octopussy, over to America and Paris for A View To A Kill, The World Is Not Enough in Turkey and Azerbaijan and for Casino Royale we went to South Africa and Mozambique. For Moonraker, we went to see the space shuttle Columbia being built. We went along in stretch limousines and people were more interested in us in our stretch limousines than this real working reusable spaceship that was in front of them! Bond has taken me all around the world and back again more than once.
Your fruitful working relationship with James Cameron from the 1980s interrupted your run on the Bond movies when you missed out on Tomorrow Never Dies in 1997 because of a film about a famous maritime disaster which did quite well and earned you your long-awaited Oscar for Production Design. But you returned to Bond for the new era with Daniel Craig in Casino Royale. What do you think of Daniel’s take on Bond and what are you views on the subsequent entries in the series?
Daniel was obviously the right choice because you can’t have a young man if he’s already a full Commander, as you don’t become a Commander in the Navy when you’re 21 so he was fine. I think he was excellent. Casino Royale was a good movie. I didn’t like Quantum-that one just didn’t work. I liked Skyfall, they pulled that one off well. I loved the first sequence in Spectre but felt it was too long and too dark.
Looking back over your career, what would you say are your proudest and happiest moments?
I loved working with Jim and it was wonderful to win an Oscar for Titanic but on the other hand, I love Bond and Barbara, Cubby and now Michael G. Wilson have been lovely to work with. I never made a telephone call or sent a memo, I always went to see them and their response was always ‘Oh Christ, he wants to build another set!’ The secret is to make the effort and go and talk to people. But it’s all been a wonderful experience and I’m proud that when I gave it up I went out on a high with Casino Royale, which relaunched Bond, as it’s a film that everyone seems to really like.
Photo: Peter in Mexico, Licence To Kill (© Eon Productions)
THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN EYE: DESIGNING THE JAMES BOND FILMS by Peter Lamont and Marcus Hearn is published on November 1st by Signum books.
[Source: Starburst Nov 2016, P.68-70. Copyright © 2016 Starburst Publishing Ltd. All rights reserved. Subscribe to Starburst Magazine.]