Envisioning Espionage

‘I would like to see the underground War Room’

The guide hesitated, ‘Sorry it doesn’t actually exist.  It was a film set’

‘Are you sure’

‘Quite sure Mr President’

A disappointed Ronald Reagan continued his tour of the White House.

After seeing the first James Bond film, Dr No, director Stanley Kubrick wanted the visionary set designer to work for him.  A former World War II pilot Ken Adam had a very slim budget and no time to present sketches.  He took a risk in using new materials and the resulting set, with its extraordinary angles, led Kubrick to employ him for his iconic film, Dr Strangelove.  In Adam’s War Room a circular table, some 22 feet across sits in the centre of a jet-black floor and is lit from above by a ring of white light. The starkness and sobriety of Adam’s design creates an intense atmosphere in which the generals and politicians are playing with the world as though it were a game of poker.  Adam’s War Room has been repeatedly copied and referenced in other movies and Steven Spielberg called it ‘the best set that’s ever been designed’.

Adam would work with Kubrick again on the film Barry Lyndon and his designs saw him awarded his first Oscar, but it had been hard won as Kubrick had been a very demanding director and Adam ended up in hospital following a breakdown.  The two men remained friends but Adam vowed never to work with him again.   He also produced further visionary sets for another six Bond films, which included the challenge of designing something no one, not even the Presidents of the United States had ever seen, the inside of the US Treasury’s bullion store at Fort Knox for Goldfinger.  Adam built a cathedral of gold and, he said in one interview, they developed a special lacquer finish for the gold ingots that made them look better than the real thing.   In a departure from hi-tech fantasy Adam created the sets for another Fleming novel, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  One of his most difficult tasks, he said, was to design a car from the early 20th century which was also sexy.    Among his other film credits are the Michael Caine espionage thrillers, The Ipcress File and Funeral in Berlin, as well as Sleuth, Addams Family Values and The Madness of King George for which he won his second Oscar.  Adam was knighted in 2003, the first for a film production designer, and appointed a Royal Designer for Industry six years later.  He enjoyed a long life and died in 2016 at the age of 95.

I wrote this for a competition on the theme of ‘Vision’

The Society of Arts and the Encouragement of Mineralogy and Geology 1754-1900

On 9th November 2017 I will be contributing to an all day conference, organised jointly between the William Shipley Group for RSA History and the History of Geology Group at the Geological Society.   I will open the meeting with a brief overview of the Society’s encouragement of these new earth sciences through its members, awards and lecture programme.   For fuller details and booking information see here

Royal Designers for Industry represented at the 1946 Britain Can Make It exhibition.

To mark the 70th anniversary of the 1946 Britain Can Make It exhibition the University of Brighton Design Archives has provided an online version of the catalogue. On behalf of the William Shipley Group for RSA History, I have provided this online resource on the RDIs represented at Britain Can Make It exhibition, to complement the digitised catalogue.

Talk: The Royal Designers for Industry and Liberty at Fashion and Textile Museum on 23rd October 2015

Liberty storeThe RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) has a long association with Liberty London. Susan Bennett traces the influence of the RSA, the department store and its founder in sharing powerful ideas about design and cutting-edge research.

In 1883, Arthur Lasenby Liberty was elected a member of the then Society of Arts where he played an influential role in sharing ideas on contemporary design. Liberty was represented on the Society’s powerful Applied Art Section Committee, with G.F. Bodley, Walter Crane, Sir Thomas Wardle and Cyril Davenport, among others. The talk touches on Arthur Lasenby Liberty’s research into ‘The Industrial Arts and Manufactures of Japan’ (1890), ‘English Furniture’ (1900) and ‘Pewter and the Revival of its Use’, plus his contribution to the discussion of ‘The Design and Architectural Treatment of the Shop’ in 1913.

Liberty London has also collaborated with some of the RSA’s Faculty of Royal Designers for Industry including C.F. Voysey, Lucienne Day and Vivienne Westwood. The title ‘Royal Designer for Industry’ (RDI) is the highest accolade for designers in the UK and is awarded annually by the RSA to designers of all disciplines who have achieved ‘sustained design excellence, work of aesthetic value and significant benefit to society. Lucienne Day was approached by Liberty’s to design a linen dress fabric to celebrate the Queen’s coronation in 1953 – Tudor (also known as Coronation) Rose and the following year Liberty’s commissioned the furnishing fabric design ‘Fritillary’. The talk will be illustrated with examples of the RDI designs that have featured in the store.

Talk is free but requires entrance ticket to exhibition. http://www.ftmlondon.org/ftm-whats-on/royal-designers-for-industry-liberty/

Almost Forgotten: The International Exhibition of 1862 – just published

Very pleased to see the papers from the WSG 2012 conference published thanks to the Decorative Arts Society and to the Royal Commissioners for the Exhibition of 1851, Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art and Giles Waterfield for their generous financial support.    203 pages with many colour illustrations. Copies can be obtained for £25 from Richard Dennis Publications, The New Chapel, Shepton Beauchamp, Ilminster, Somerset TA19 0JT. Tel: 01460 240044 / email: books@richarddennispublications.com

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