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Sir Ken Adam shares his Cold War experiences

08-Nov-2009 • Bond Style

Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Britons are offering personal accounts of how the Cold War affected them, as part of an online exhibition.

Created by the Imperial War Museum, it brings to life the dilemmas people faced during those nervous days of stand-off between the Western and Eastern blocs.

What Lies Beneath: British Experiences of the Cold War uses 20 personal stories to illustrate themes such as ideology, nuclear threat, science, espionage and the Iron Curtain.

Sir Ken Adam
Best known for designing the sets for James Bond classics including Dr No, Goldfinger and Moonraker, Sir Kenneth Adam's "War Room" in Dr Strangelove is an enduring Cold War image. Sir Ken Adam shares his story with the BBC.

He had arrived in Britain aged 13 in 1934 when his Jewish family abandoned their native Berlin after the Nazis took power in Germany.

When World War II broke out, Sir Kenneth was studying architecture in London. He designed air raid shelters, so avoiding internment with many other German Jewish refugees.

He later joined the Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps, which gave logistical backing to the Army, before serving as an RAF fighter pilot.

After the war, he got a job with a production company and went on to design sets which housed the spies, villains and megalomaniacs of the James Bond series.

But it was his work on Stanley Kubrick's Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb that best represented the Cold War era.

He believes the film's humorous approach to nuclear annihilation was "the only way... to sell it to the audience".

"You can't do a film about the destruction of the world, unless you do it the way we did as a black comedy, I think. It was too horrifying," he says.

However, he admits the film was still "very frightening in many ways, even though we made fun of it all the time".

During its production, life was imitating art: "It was during the Cuban Missile Crisis [when, in 1962, the US confronted the Soviet Union over its nuclear weapons on the island]. We were really scared."

One of his best known sets for Dr Strangelove was the "War Room". It was so realistic that former US President Ronald Reagan asked to see the room when he was being shown around the White House.

"He really believed there was such a thing," says Sir Kenneth.

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