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Confessions of a Screenplay Writer

Christopher Wood – who died in 2015 – was one of the more intriguing and erudite figures to have been associated with the writing of the James Bond film series – in an interview conducted in 2011 and now published for the first time. LUKE G. WILLIAMS put the questions and Wood supplied the answers, in his characteristically witty and inimitable fashion.

Lambeth-born, the Cambridge educated Christopher Wood enjoyed an eclectic life and career, encompassing historical fiction, humorous erotica … and James Bond.

An advertising executive turned writer, Wood’s screenwriting work on the Roger Moore/Lewis Gilbert epics The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Moonraker (1979) is, for many Bond fans, secondary to his polished and impressive work on the novelizations of these two films, the accomplished and ‘Fleming-esque’ style of which puts many of the 007 ‘continuation’ novels by more ‘reputed’ authors to shame.

Kingsley Amis, whose excellent COLONEL SUN stands, in this writer’s estimation, just ahead of Wood’s JAMES BOND, THE SPY LOVED ME as the finest continuation novel, reviewed Wood’s work on this book thus in The New Statesman:

Mr. Wood has bravely tackled his formidable task, that of turning a typical late Bond film, which must be basically facetious, into a novel after Ian Fleming, which must be basically serious. To this end he has, by my count, left out nine silly gadgets and sixteen silly cracks which were in the script. He has also left out, to my surprise, a marvellous fight on a train that challenges comparison with the one in ‘From Russia With Love’. The heavy concerned, a seven-and-a-half-footer with steel teeth, name of Jaws, is the best thing in both book and film. Mr. Wood is not always exact: Bond, out skiing, muses that you “can lay for a long time in the bottom of a crevasse” – I doubt if even Bond could manage more than a brief lay in such circumstances. But the descriptions are adequate and the action writing excellent.”

Kingsley Amis | JAMES BOND, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME first edition dust jacket artwork by Bill Botten

ABOVE: (left) Kingsley Amis (1922-1995) author of COLONEL SUN (1968) reviewed Christopher Wood's JAMES BOND, THE SPY LOVED ME very positively in The New Statesman in 1977. (right) Wraparound dust jacket artwork by British illustrator, designer and artist Bill Botten (born 1935) for the hardcover first edition of JAMES BOND, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977) published by Jonathan Cape.

From a harsh critic such as Amis the above comes close to a rave review. Indeed, when he came to review John Gardner’s LICENCE RENEWED a few years later, Amis was in particularly vituperative form.

Aside from his work on the Bond films, Wood is probably best remembered for his work on the hugely successful ‘Confessions’ series of humorous erotic novels and films, under the pseudonym Timothy Lea.

Due to his high-profile association with James Bond and the ‘Confessions’ series Wood’s literary output has often been overlooked, but it certainly deserves a reappraisal, particularly his rollicking 2004 effort California, Here I Am, set in Hollywood, and his second novel, 1970’s ‘Terrible Hard’, Says Alice, which was inspired by Wood’s time doing national service in Cyprus.

Wood’s account of his time on the Bond series, James Bond. The Spy I Loved (2006) is also an extremely entertaining read, chock-full of witty one-liners e.g. “The telephone rang and, grateful for the exercise, I reached out and answered it.”

Confessions of a Window Cleaner/Seven Nights in Japane

ABOVE: (left) The UK quad-crown poster for Confessions of a Window Cleaner, a 1974 British sex comedy directed and co-written by Val Guest (1911-2006), who had earlier been one of the five directors (and additional sequences) of the 1967 James Bond spoof Casino Royale. Confessions of a Window Cleaner was the first of a series of four films chronicling the erotic adventures of Timothy Lea, based on the novels written under that name by Christopher Wood. Like the ‘Carry On’ series, the ‘Confessions’ films were cheap to produce but commercially successful at the box-office, featuring a host of fading British character actors at the end of their careers. The poster was painted by English designer Vic Fair (1938-2017), whose 1985 design (painted by Brian Bysouth) of Roger Moore as James Bond in a white tuxedo with a stylized illustration of May Day (Grace Jones) was deemed unsuitable to promote A View To A Kill, and only issued as a commercial poster. (right) Seven Nights in Japan (1976) is a largely forgettable British drama about fictional British Royal Prince George, who travels to Japan and falls in love with a local female tour guide named Sumi. Directed by Lewis Gilbert, the film features several James Bond film alumni including Charles Gray, James Villiers, and Anne Lonnberg, who played the Venice museum guide – one of Drax's girls – in Moonraker (1979). John Glen was the editor, William P. Cartlidge the Associate Producer, and featured the final screen performance by Val Guest's actress wife Yolande Donlan (1920-2014). The UK poster art was by Italian designer Arnaldo Putzu (1927-2012), who also painted Roger Moore (seen in the header at the top of this page) for the cover of several issues of the popular children's magazine Look-In.

BELOW: Notable works by Christopher Wood – ‘Terrible HardSays Alice (1970); The Further Adventures of Barry Lyndon by Himself (1976) historical fiction: a sequel to The Luck of Barry Lyndon by William Makepeace Thackeray – Christopher Wood's name does not appear on the cover; Fire Mountain (1979), and California, Here I Am (2004).

‘Terrible Hard’ Says Alice (1970); The Further Adventures of Barry Lyndon by Himself (1976) historical fiction: a sequel to The Luck of Barry Lyndon by William Makepeace Thackeray -  Christopher Wood's name does not appear on the cover;  Fire Mountain (1979), and California, Here I Am (2004).

Sadly, Wood passed away in May 2015, aged 79, but just over four years earlier I was fortunate enough to interview him via email about his experiences on The Spy Who Loved Me. For some reason we never followed up, as planned, with an interview about his work on Moonraker, which was doubtless my fault, and which I regret enormously.

Courteous to a fault and extremely witty, Wood struck me – even via such an impersonal medium as email – as being an extremely pleasant and intelligent man.

It's a correspondence and interview that has never before been published – until now…

What follows are the emails we shared, as well as Christopher’s answers to the questions I asked…


Dear Christopher,

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions about The Spy Who Loved Me – and for your Bond movies having given me so much excitement and pleasure over the years! I’ve just spent a very enjoyable day re-reading your novelization of TSWLM – which I have to say I put right up there alongside Kingsley Amis’ COLONEL SUN as the only ‘non-Fleming’ Bond novel worthy of a place alongside the Fleming originals.
Anyway, here are my questions!
Best wishes and thanks again!

Luke Williams.


Dear Luke Williams (Hmn. Good name for an action hero. I might use it one day)
The answers to many of your questions are to be found in the ‘brilliant’, ‘delectable’, ‘essential reading’ – I quote reviews: James Bond, The Spy I Loved (Twenty First Century Publishers Ltd, 2006) by – oh, yes – me.

Anyway I will do my best to respond. Please remember that though it still seems like yesterday it was in fact 35 years ago and my memory may be fading.

As I said before, if you really want more detailed info, read James Bond, The Spy I Loved. I am glad you appreciated the novelization. You are not alone and that gives me pleasure. Good luck with the article. I look forward to reading it.

Christopher Wood.

The Spy Who Loved Me scripts

ABOVE: Scripting on The Spy Who Loved Me began as early as 1975 when the original director Guy Hamilton was still attached to the project. Unable to use Ian Fleming's original storyline, EON Productions approached English novelist Anthony Burgess (1917-1993), American screenwriter Stirling Silliphant (1918-1996), and American filmmaker John Landis (born 1950) among others. All of these drafts proved unsuitable and a number of other writers were commissioned to work on the script, including Lewis Gilbert, who had returned to the series after a 10-year break when Guy Hamilton left the production after he was engaged as the original director of Superman: The Movie (1978). Up to 14 different writers had allegedly contributed to the script when Gilbert chose Christopher Wood to come up with a storyline. Wood's ‘First Draft’ (left) was dated April 22, 1976 – but was further revised by long-time 007 screenwriter Richard Maibaum, who both share credit for the finished screenplay. (centre) The copy of Lewis Gilbert's script with a revised page dated September 20, 1976 showing new dialogue for the scene between Bond and Anya, who share a train compartment as they travel to Sardinia. (right) The original revised final shooting script was dated August 23, 1976, but continued to be changed until filming was completed in January 1977.

How did you get the opportunity to write the screenplay for The Spy Who Loved Me? Were you already a Bond fan when you took on the job?
I wrote Seven Days in Japan for Lewis Gilbert and when casting around for, yes, yet another writer he thought of me. I had enjoyed all the movies and read most of the books.

When you were hired what ideas for the screenplay were already in place? What guidance did EON give you in terms of the tone of the screenplay they wanted?
I think there had been many screenplays and writers and it was desperation time when I came on board. Jaws was there but the story was totally different and, I thought, suffered from trying to be too original. I wanted to go back to basics, to things that Bond fans expect and enjoy.

Yes, there was a lot of pressure, not helped by the Kevin McClory lawsuit (at one point I began to wonder if I had been hired to take the rap. See James Bond, The Spy I Loved) and the fact that United Artists initially preferred the original(s) to the final draft I handed in! However, Lewis Gilbert is a good man to work with, calm relaxed, and an agreeable dinner companion, and ‘Cubby’ and Michael Wilson were never less than supportive regardless of what was going on beyond behind the scenes. I enjoyed it. Being closely involved in a Bond movie is like being Bond. You thrive on the buzz.

My guidance came from Lewis. We agreed that Roger should not try and be Sean but be himself. Bond should be Roger. I tailored dialogue and situations to Roger’s strengths. I was against him pumping the villain full of bullets at the end of the movie. Sean could do this. It did not seem right for Roger. Roger is a one-bullet man.

Can you recall any ideas that you were disappointed (or relieved!) didn’t make it into the final screenplay?
I think, even then, that Bond on a water ski [sic. jet-ski] seemed a bit hokey.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) Thai poster artwork by Tongdee Panumas

ABOVE: Robert Peak's iconic artwork for The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) was often repainted for use on posters in different countries. In this instance the design has been enhanced with the addition of other characters and action by prolific Thai artist Tongdee Panumas (born 1947), who signs his posters with just his first name.

Can you recall how many drafts of the screenplay you worked on, and how long you were on the film for?
Lots of drafts and tweaks and perhaps two months on the movie. Can’t really remember.

Your novelization of The Spy Who Loved Me is very different from the final film and very close to Ian Fleming’s original writing style. How did you approach writing the novelization? It seems to me you get the tone just right – it’s reminiscent of Fleming without straying into pastiche.
I reread a couple of the Bond books and enjoyed turning myself into a Fleming Bond. EON were not involved and I think the novelization was just another marketing tool as far as they were concerned. I wrote the book pretty quickly over a skiing holiday. I had to.

What scene or character in The Spy Who Loved Me screenplay are you most proud of? What lines of dialogue were you most proud of?
I think the Bond/Anya relationship works well and the scene before she puts him to sleep has charm. I like Bond’s ‘How long can we go on meeting like this?’ and ‘All those feathers and he still couldn’t fly.’ These tumble into my mind after all those years.

JAMES BOND, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME Panther paperback poster and paperback

ABOVE: (left) A poster promoting the Australian film tie-in paperback release of Christopher Wood's novelization of his screenplay for JAMES BOND, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977). (right) The UK Panther Books paperback of JAMES BOND, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME.

At what stage was it decided that Jaws would survive, rather than perish, at the end of the film?
I think it was ‘Cubby’ who, astutely, decided to leave it open as to whether Jaws perished at the end of the movie. Public reaction was positive so… back he came. I had a much darker and one-dimensional vision of Jaws. I think it must have been Lewis who watched the rushes and perceived that this brute had a clumsy, touching, human side that made him a richer character.

What was the most enjoyable aspect of writing the screenplay for The Spy Who Loved Me?
As a screenwriter, you never know whether the movie you are working on will be made – unless it is a Bond movie. I have a shelf full of great characters, words and scenes that will only survive as tightly bound fading print.

Can you recollect how the pre-credits ‘ski jump’ scene came to be written and conceived? Did you meet Rick Sylvester, who performed the legendary jump?
‘Cubby’ saw an ad in which Rick ‘performed’ the stunt. In fact, he didn’t but said that he could. (see James Bond, The Spy I Loved for details). Can’t remember if I met the guy. Obviously, it was not earth moving.

Do you have any memories of Ken Adam and his incredible work on The Spy Who Loved Me?
I saw the ‘Supertanker’ set being constructed. Ken’s sets are great – and expensive – they set the writer a problem. Something that costly must absorb a large amount of screen time to justify the outlay. Thus, the writer is obliged to dream up lots of action in a static environment. Also see the Space Station in Moonraker!

The Spy Who Loved Me Royal World Charity premiere at the ODEON Leicester Square

ABOVE: The Royal World Charity Premiere of The Spy Who Loved Me was held at London's ODEON Leicester Square on the evening of Thursday July 7, 1977. Among the invited guests were [L-R] Screenwriter Christopher Wood, American actress Barbara Bach (who played Major Anya Amasova), Director Lewis Gilbert, and (right) Associate Producer William P. Cartlidge and his wife.

BELOW: (left) James Bond, The Spy I Loved – a 2006 memoir in which Christopher Wood recounts his adventures in the wonderful world of 007. (right) Christopher Wood was one of several special guests who attended the ‘The James Bond British Fan Club International Convention at The Wembley Conference Centre’ over the weekend of 24th/25th April, 1982. Other significant guests included Editor & Director Peter Hunt, James Bond credit title designer Maurice Binder, Production Designer Syd Cain, James Bond continuation author John Gardner, Stuntman Fred (Krilencu) Haggerty and John McLusky – illustrator of the original Daily Express James Bond comic strips.


The Spy Who Loved Me FACT FILE