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From the Archive
Issue #22 (Spring 1990)





Praising Cain

James Bond’s life is one long escape from death; much of Syd Cain’s life has been devoted to devising hazards for him to fall into, and ways he can escape them.
Over his years as a production designer
Syd Cain has had his imagination well stretched. But, whatever the predicaments devised by 007’s scriptwriters, Cain, and his budget, get him out of them.

Interview by TERRY ADLAM

Portrait photography by GRAHAM RYE

First published in 007 MAGAZINE Issue #22

Syd Cain photographed at Pinewood Studios by Graham Rye

One of the many reasons that warrant the success of the James Bond films is the incredible production values that cram each scene. Spectacular locations, fantastic sets and action-packed sequences all add up to what must now rank as the most popular series in the history of cinema. One man responsible for adding to the series’ popularity is Production Designer Syd Cain. Syd’s Bond credits include Dr. No, From Russia With Love, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Live And Let Die. In addition to the Bond series he has worked as Production Designer on the Michael Caine/Harry Palmer spy thriller Billion Dollar Brain, Gold and The Wild Geese with Roger Moore, and TV’s The New Avengers to name only a few.

How did you start in the film industry?
I was flight control officer at RAF Tangmere in Surrey during World War II. One day the adjutant rang up and said that there were a couple of ‘chappies’ from the film business here and could they come into the flight control office and have a look around. I said ‘sure’, we weren’t that busy at the time – just shooting up enemy trains in France. It worked out they were making an air force film at Shepherds Bush Studio in London and wanted photographs of the inside of the control tower to reproduce a set back at the studio. So while they were doing this I asked them if they would like me to do a plan and elevation drawing for them. They were a bit amazed that I could, but I was a draughtsman before the war so I was able to do it. Obviously thinking I was going to be in the RAF for a long time, they said that when I was discharged to go along and see them. This surprised me as I didn’t at the time realise that there were draughtsmen in the film industry. In fact I didn’t know anything about the film industry. But at that time I thought I had just been given a whole ‘load of old bull’. Within two weeks of that meeting I was discharged. So I started looking for work in films. As I lived in Ealing at the time I went down to Ealing Studios first. It was there I met a man by the name of Hal Mason, who at the time had no vacancies, but he did give me a list of studio managers to telephone. Now, on this list was Albert Fennell (later to produce TV’s The Avengers), a name I was very familiar with. We had been boyhood friends, great pals, but I had lost track of him during the war. It turned out that he was the studio manager at Shepherds Bush Studios. When I told him that I was looking for work, he there and then offered me a job as a draughtsman. And from there I worked my way up until I became art director on Lolita in 1962.

So how did you become involved with James Bond producers Harry Saltzman & Albert R. ‘Cubby’ Broccoli?
Well eventually I worked for Warwick Films. The company was owned by Harry Saltzman
*, ‘Cubby’ Broccoli and Irwin Allen. I was there for a long time, and it was there that I first got to know them.

*Syd was mistaken here - Harry Saltzman had no involvement with Warwick Films, instead having his own company Lowndes Productions set up in 1958.

Syd Cain's original production sketch for Tee Hee's arm
Roger Moore as James Bond 007 with Julius W. Harris in Live And Let Die (1973)

TEE-HEE’S ARTIFICIAL ARM: One of Bond’s menacing adversaries in Live And Let Die was Tee-Hee, Mr Big’s right-hand-man. One of the more sinister aspects of Tee-Hee is his own right arm: it is artificial, the original having been devoured by a crocodile. Syd Cain found that the arms provided by modern makers of artificial limbs were too sophisticated for the film’s purposes, and he settled for an old fashioned mechanical arm which he designed himself. The claw which acts as a hand had to be delicate enough to pick up a cigarette from a smooth surface, as well as hold a gun. But it also had to allow for Tee-Hee’s downfall: during a fight on a train Bond severs on of the arm’s wires, the claw closes, and thus padlocks Tee-Hee to the window rail, until Bond ‘disarms’ him by throwing him out of the window!

What did your job as Art Director on Dr. No entail?
Part of my job on the film was the responsibility of designing and building on location. For example, the design and construction of the Dragon Machine. Bearing in mind that we didn’t have that much money – so that’s why it looked the way it did. Also, I had to build a ramp coming out of the lake for it. Unfortunately I found it necessary to wade into the lake to find a suitable place to construct it. I was helped in this by the late Bob Simmons, who was stuntman on most of the films. We were so keen in those days that we waded straight into the lake. But when the water came up to my chin I gave up. I was sinking in the mud and being bitten by bugs. So Bob, who was taller, went on a few more yards, and between us we found a suitable area to build this ramp. When we came out of the lake we were bitten to pieces by mosquitoes and covered in leeches. But we just put it down as part of our job. Incidentally, my name was accidentally left off the credits of Dr. No by what’s his name (Maurice Binder)! So rather than change all the titles I was compensated by Cubby Broccoli who gave me a solid-gold pen.

Was there any corporate decision to give the film a certain ‘look’? It was very glossy and totally different from other films of the same period?
Not really. The style and look of Dr. No and indeed From Russia With Love was due entirely to the director, Terence Young, who was, and still is, in my opinion, a James Bond figure in his own right. I honestly thought him to be the best director of all the Bond films.

Apparently Terence Young actually modelled some of the cinematic Bond characterizations on himself. His attitude, the way he dressed.
Oh yes. He is a very suave gentleman and a very nice man. So all that is very true.   

The budget on Dr. No was $1 million. Although very modest by today’s standards, did you find that you were restricted in what you could do because of the restraints of the budget?
We were restricted in all departments, not only the Art Department. But when the films increased in popularity so the budgets increased.

BOND’S WRISTWATCH: 007’s timepiece served two useful functions, apart from telling the time. It was both a miniature circular saw and a very powerful magnet. To give it a cutting edge, the bezel on the Rolex watch was sharpened into a number of teeth. Compressed air was then blown through a tube onto some specially connected vanes causing the rim to rise and rotate. In Live And Let Die, James Bond (Roger Moore) uses the watch to cut through a rope tying him up with Solitaire (Jane Seymour), his accomplice. Just in case the watch proved unequal to the task, a wire was threaded through the rope to help the cutting process from the inside.

Click for larger image

Roger Moore as James Bond 007 in Live And Let Die (1973) James Bond's rolex watch in Live And Let Die (1973)
James Bond's rolex watch in Live And Let Die (1973)
James Bond's rolex watch in Live And Let Die (1973)

When you were working on Dr. No was there any hint that the film would be something special?
No, I wish there had been because I was offered a part of it as wages.

During From Russia With Love I heard that you had a few problems with the rats in the Istanbul sequences. What actually happened?
You obviously remember the sequence with all the rats scurrying up and down the sewers. Well, we weren’t allowed to use...wild rats, I don’t know what else you would call them. Anyway, we weren’t allowed to use them in England due to the infection. So we started off with an idea I had of using tame white rats. We coated them in cocoa powder to darken them down, Cadbury’s I think it was. Anyway, the heat of the lamps caused them to slow down and sit there licking off all the powder gradually making themselves whiter and whiter. So then we had to find somewhere else to shoot the whole sequence. Finally we went to Spain, where we were allowed to use sewer rats. So I set up the whole sequence in a large garage. A large sheet of thick armour-plated glass protected all the camera crew. The remainder of the set was then erected as ’rat escape proof’ as we could make it.

What was Sean Connery’s and the crew’s reaction to the rats?
Sean was standing on a chair with the rest of us! But you know how we did the tarantula sequence in Dr. No? It was a sheet of glass erected over Sean, which the spider walked across. Funny enough I thought that the glass shot worked quite well. I wished it had been a trifle shorter, but then again I was looking for it, so I could see that the thing was not crawling over the contours of Sean’s body. For the close-up shots of the spider crawling over Bond’s shoulder we used Bob Simmons who stood in – or laid in – for Sean. We had a doctor standing by all the time, ready with an injection of serum in case Bob got bitten. But back to the rats. The Spanish Rat-Catchers provided us with rats of all shapes and sizes. Some were really horrible. All patchy and – ugh, horrible. Once again under the lamps they became very lethargic and we had to prompt them with sticks and all sorts of things. Lit torches, tapping them with sticks on their backsides. You name it we tried it, just to get them to scamper and run. Of course in the end most of them did escape. I think I was the second one up on a chair when that happened. Cubby Broccoli beat me to it, even though he was much bigger than I was!

So how many rats do you think you had in all?
Oh, I think about two or three hundred. Unfortunately in a way, we had to kill them all in the end to stop them spreading disease, what with them being Sewer Rats.

From Russia With Love was very different in style from Dr. No. Since Dr. No was so successful, why did the producers decide to go for a straight thriller rather than something more in keeping with the first film? ‘Russia’ is often picked as one, if not the best Bond film in the series. What is your view?
Well for one thing it had more story and guts to it than Dr. No. I liked the film, I must say for many reasons. To answer you as to why the change, I don’t know. I think a lot was due to Terence Young again. Also seeing the public’s reaction to Dr. No, discussions amongst the production team had quite a bit to do with it.

Did you at the time see the Bond films going on to the cult status they are today?
I could certainly see them going on, yes. Not to what they are today, but I could see them making more and more and becoming very popular. I think Bond is a figure that most men deep in their hearts would like to be, and most women would like to meet. It’s a fantasy figure that appeals to both sexes.

Can you explain the difference between the terms ‘Production Designer’ and ‘Art Director’?
Ah. I don’t quite know how to start this one because I’ve always had a thing about the term ‘Art Director’ being quite sufficient for the job and a title to be proud of. ‘Production Designer’ was brought in by someone who wanted to be a cut above the ‘Art Director’. Let’s put it that way. In theory ‘Production Designer’ should design the whole look of the film, in other words he should be responsible for the way it’s lit, costumes if it’s a period film, makeup if it’s horror and so on. Which doesn’t happen in actual fact! And now I feel that it’s only an excuse to allow what was once known as an assistant Art Director to be called an Art Director for tax reasons, to be quite honest. You see, anyone below the rank of Art Director is on P.A.Y.E. (Pay As You Earn) now, and Art Directors and Production Designers can be on Schedule D, and this is why you have these titles. Also according to ACTT ruling you can’t have a ‘Production Designer’ without an ‘Art Director’. It’s all very complicated

The Piz Gloria restaurant atop the Schilthorn mountain in the Bernese Oberland district of Switzerland

One set that was ‘built for real’. The Piz Gloria restaurant atop the Schilthorn mountain in the Bernese Oberland district of Switzerland.

Where do you start when designing a set and how long does it usually take?
Well the first thing is to get hold of the script, and as I read I get a mental picture of the action. I do large sketches of what I have in mind and build the set from these working closely with the director. The set is planned out with respect to camera angles etc and the director gives his approval. On a Bond picture you begin in plenty of time, but on average it takes about ten weeks to design and build.

How did you discover Piz Gloria as a location for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service? Presumably the building did not exist when Ian Fleming wrote the novel. (It’s a reasonable assumption that Ian Fleming based Blofeld’s mountaintop headquarters on Adolf Hitler’s ‘Eagle’s Nest’ stronghold – Ed.)
That’s true. When that set was first discussed, Harry Saltzman, who was co-producer, took me to France saying he had discovered the perfect location for Blofeld’s hideaway. He took me to The Maginot Line, which was very interesting. He had made arrangements to have a section opened for us. In case you don’t know, The Maginot Line is made up of sections as opposed to just one thing. Well, they opened it for us and we were given a guided tour. We saw the dormitories and the canteens. They even had water boiling in the kitchens to show us that everything was still in working order. Then we went up in the lifts to the gun turrets, and even they still worked. There is a small train that runs through The Maginot Line and it was while we were riding on this that Harry turned to me and asked my opinion. When I said I could reproduce this on a stage back at Pinewood with help of false perspective sets etc. he immediately asked the driver to turn the train back, and within the hour we were driving back to Paris. So I suggested to Harry it might be better that if instead of going underground, we looked up. He then made another arrangement with the French and we went to the French Alps. But we didn’t have much luck there. We found one mountain that looked good, but we wouldn’t have been able to film all around it, which was restricting. I then went onto Switzerland and found this mountain at Muren which was opposite the Eiger.

From Russia With Love Storyboards
 From Russia With Love storyboards
On Her Majesty's Secret Service - Blofeld Coat-of-Arms by Syd Cain

Syd Cain’s original design illustration for Blofeld’s Coat of Arms in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969).

Syd Cain with Piz Gloria model from On Her Majesty's Secret Service

Production Designer Syd Cain poses with the model of Piz Gloria, Blofeld’s mountaintop headquarters, which would later be used in the explosive climax of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969).

Wasn’t there an agreement between yourself and the Swiss Government to the effect that the film company would build the structure and hand it over to the Swiss when they had finished with it?
Well yes, in a way. Work had just started on this mountain to, I think, build a ski resort. I then thought that it would suit our purpose if we could take this over and design it to suit the film. It was a helicopter trip, which was the only way we could get to the top of the mountain at this stage. That convinced me it was the ideal location. I almost got out of the helicopter and stood on the peak, but it was far too windy up there. The Swiss Government weren’t too keen on the idea because they thought it might spoil the look of the landscape. When they realised that I intended to incorporate – in the set – a heliport, which I suggested could be used afterwards for mountain rescue, permission was given on condition that the set was a permanent structure. The set, by the way, was built by the same engineers who constructed the Simplon Tunnel. They did an absolutely marvellous job. And twenty one years later it’s still there!

Even though it was blown up in the film!
In fact that was a model shot on the lot here at Pinewood.

It must have been an incredible headache working out all the pros and cons of building a set on top of a mountain. How did you get all the materials and construction crew up there?
It started off with helicopter lifts, then we got a cable-car running which made things easier. The construction crew actually lived on top of the mountain during the build. We built them accommodation and they worked from there. The actual price of the completed building was £60,000 – which is very cheap by today’s standards. The same construction crew were responsible for the build of our version of the ‘Cresta Run’.

Why didn’t you use the existing Cresta Run?
We didn’t use the original run because we didn’t think it was as exciting as we wanted! Plus it wasn’t very practical to use, so I designed our own. The unit built it at the bottom of the mountain and we used a cameraman on skis to get the necessary shots. Incidentally I don’t think he got enough credit for the marvellous work he did for us on that picture, because it was highly dangerous.

Would you put ‘Piz Gloria’ among one of your favourite sets you’ve designed?
No, not really. Each set is fun and exciting to create, but I’ve never really thought about a favourite set. Although ‘Piz Gloria’ was more interesting than most because of the fact it was built ‘for real’, as we say.

Did you make any conscious effort in the Lazenby film and Moore films to move away from the lavish set designs of the earlier Bond films?
Well I’m on tricky ground here. Let me put it this way. I think ideally when you design a set for a film you should only build the particular section you are working on, i.e. the piece that is going to be seen in the movie. I do not see any point in building gigantic rooms which are not strictly necessary and which you are not going to make full use of. That is the main difference between my style and that of the early films.

When you returned to the Bond films on Live And Let Die did you find things had changed with regard the way the films were made? Obviously the budget was considerably higher than the earlier films.
Well that was it! The more the money the more spectacular and bigger you could build the sets. But the production side hadn’t changed a great deal. We still had the usual problems which crop up on most feature films, lack of time and things like that.


Read more about On Her Majesty's Secret Service in



Live And Let Die FACT FILE