Monday, 17 July 2017

Edge-Lit 6, Derby, 15th July 2017

I was really looking forward to Edge-Lit 6 (organised as ever by Alex Davis) for several reasons - it’s always good to meet up with old friends, I like the event a lot (you can read about Edge-Lit 4 here and 5 here), I like the venue and, this year, my new collection Things We Leave Behind was being launched by Dark Minds Press.
from left - Peter Mark May, Richard Farren Barber, me, James Everington
I picked Sue Moorcroft up and we set off, busy catching up since she’s been away in Italy for a fortnight at Atre Umbria, teaching (for the first week) and writing (23k words!) her new novel (for the second week).  In fact, we were talking so much (and trusting the Sat Nav system, which I hadn’t set up for myself in my new car) that by the time both of us were saying “I don’t remember this bit of road” we were some miles away from our target and heading for Uttoxeter.  Turning around and paying slightly more attention, we got to the Assembly Rooms car park at 11.15 and were crossing the square to the Quad soon after.  Lisa Childs was the first friendly face I saw, looking out of the window and giving us a big wave and then Peter Mark May joined in, so all was well.
me, our publisher Ross Warren and Laura Mauro
Pixie Puddin was on the reception desk and looked fantastic, healthy and happy.  We hugged (both commenting there was so much less of each other), caught up, I bought (lots of) raffle tickets and then got signed in.  In the bar, our gang had taken over the far corner and we quickly joined them.  It was good to see Steve Harris, John Travis, James Everington and Lisa again (we’d last seen them a couple of months back, at Steve’s 50th which we spent in Wolverhampton), along with Ross Warren (publisher of Dark Minds Press), Pete and Richard Farren Barber.  Steve Bacon came along a little while later, as did Dion Winton-Polak and Angeline Trevina who also looked happy and healthy.  Laura Mauro and her husband Rob (from then on called Mr Mauro by just about everyone, including himself) came over to join us and it was good to see her again.  As well as my collection, Dark Minds Press were launching her novella Naming The Bones (which is excellent, I reviewed it here) and Ross got us to sign pre-orders, handed over our advances and also gave us both a gift - Laura got a signed photo of Krycek from The X-Files, I got a carded Stormtrooper in a presentation pack.  Equally thrilled, we decided that a similar deal would now be part of any future publishing agreements - she gets an autograph of her favourite actor, I get a carded Stormtrooper.  We discussed plans for our section of the launch then Sue & I ordered lunch and ate it chatting and catching up with people (and I managed to off-load most of my chips to Steve H and John).
Me, Ross and Steve Bacon
At 12.45 we trooped upstairs to the Box.  The small press launch was split between Dark Minds, Quantum Corsets and The Sinister Horror Company, with Laura & I leading the charge.  I suggested we swap books to read from and, as she’d already told me she loved my story What We Do Sometimes, Without Thinking, she agreed.  As we sat down I suddenly realised the Box, usually half full at best for a launch, was packed, with people standing at the sides too.  No pressure then!  I spotted Jay Eales & Selina Lock and had a quick chat with them, saw they were sitting one seat on from Susan Sinclair from my writing group so I introduced them all, said hello to Penny Jones and then saw Kevin Redfearn & Hayley Orgill, always a treat.  Also saw Gary McMahon and Mark Morris, but didn’t get to say too much to them, more’s the pity.

Mr Mauro is in the bottom picture, leaning forward with glasses
At 1pm, we went to the podium and with Ross deciding to stay behind the book table, I introduced the session and then us two.  Laura read first, the car park sequence from my story (it was an interesting experience listening to someone else read it) then I read the opening few pages of her novella, before we got a good round of applause and went to sit down for the others to take their turn.  When they had, we authors and editors sat behind the table and a nice long queue formed - we signed and chatted with buyers until all the copies Ross had brought along were sold!  Laura & I were both well chuffed, taking great delight in calling each other “sellouts!”
The queue for buyers and signings
Back at the bar (I didn’t manage to get to any of the panels at all!), we took over a table and saw and spoke to a whole range of people - Steven Chapman (finally, after a couple of years of not seeing him at all), Daniel Hooley, Martin Roberts & Helen Hopley, Graeme Reynolds, Ben Jones, Ole Andreas Imsen, CC Adams (who flicked his pecs to get me and Steven to his table), Fiona Ní Éalaighthe (and her fabulous ear), Theresa Derwin, Andrew Hook (thanks for the Bond book!) & Sophie Essex, Adele Wearing (got several hugs!), Charlotte Courtney-Bond, Georgina Bruce, Gary Couzens, Steve Shaw and Terry Grimwood.  Conversation was wide, varied and always thoroughly entertaining and I even managed to (kind of) hold my own (very briefly) in a comics chat with Jay & Selina.
Steve, Pixie Puddin and me (and even more raffle tickets)
Having bought even more raffle tickets from Pixie (she’s so hard to resist!), we went up for the raffle where I finally saw and said hello to Kathy Boulton (though in long-standing Con tradition, we didn't get to say much else)!  Ross (who never knowingly under wins) & I sat together on a bench seat, which was fun and while he won (typical), I didn’t get anything.  At all.  Ho hum.
Losing at the raffle but still smiling...
Back to the bar (when it suddenly dawned on me, with horror, that I hadn’t led a delegation to the 2nd hand book stall in Eagle Market and by then it was too late), we got everyone together and trooped over to Ask Italian for dinner.  As always, we picked up extra people on the way and the restaurant couldn’t accommodate all twelve of us on one table so we were spread out, which was a shame but were still fairly close together.  Dinner was fun, the food wasn’t bad but the conversation was excellent and the bill was relatively reasonable too (though, of course, hardly any of us had the correct change).
Look at those lovely books!
All too soon it was time to leave and we hugged and shook hands and chatted, then hugged and shook hands again.  Plans were made to meet up before FCon (there really is something special about spending time with friends who love reading and writing as much as you do) before we headed off our respective ways.  Sue & I walked back to the Assembly Rooms car park with Ross & Lisa and Steve H & John so we all paid, hugged once more and then went to get our cars (whereupon I realised I’d left my Stormtrooper in the bar, so had to drive round to get it).

The journey home (we didn’t trust it to the Sat Nav) was quick (and scary at one point, when an idiot drove onto a roundabout at full speed just in front of us) and filled with conversation, a lovely end to a cracking day.

Edge-Lit 6 was, for me, another resounding success - old friends, talking about books and the pleasure of sharing launch space with Laura.  What more could you ask for?

Roll on FantasyCon!
You write this, you get this...

Monday, 10 July 2017

The Spy Who Loved Me, at 40

The Spy Who Loved Me, the tenth James Bond film in the official EON series (the third to feature the late, great Roger Moore in the lead role), opened in the UK on 20th July 1977, following its premiere on 7th July.  It was directed by Lewis Gilbert, produced by Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and written by Richard Maibaum and Christopher Wood.  Ken Adam was the production designer, Derek Meddings supervised the visual effects and Marvin Hamlisch wrote the score.

In early 1975, there was discord in the James Bond camp and EON Productions.  The Man With The Golden Gun (1974) had received a lacklustre response from audiences (it eventually took $97.6m worldwide, following the $161.8m taken by Live And Let Die (1973)) leaving the producing team of Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman trying to figure out what to do next.  They decided to go big, doubling their efforts to produce an epic and with an agreed budget of $13m (making it the most expensive Bond film to date and almost double what Golden Gun had cost), The Spy Who Loved Me had to be a success.

The source novel itself, first published on 18th April 1962, was a problem.  Ian Fleming himself was never happy with the plot - it’s told from the first-person point of view of a young Canadian woman and Bond doesn’t appear until two-thirds of the way through.  Fleming permitted EON to use the name but nothing of the actual content (for this reason, for the first time, his name was moved in the credits to above ‘James Bond 007’ rather than the title) so Broccoli and Saltzman had to come up with their own story, making this the first wholly original Bond film.  In the end, however, they did take an element from the story as it features two thugs named Sol Horror and Sluggsy Morant - Horror has steel-capped teeth and Sluggsy a bald head, matching the film characters of Jaws and Sandor.

Cubby Broccoli, Roger Moore, Barbara Bach
The second problem was Harry Saltzman.  In attempting to finance other productions and personal projects, he found himself hugely in debt to various Swiss banks and this situation was exacerbated when his wife developed terminal cancer, pushing him into clinical depression.  His shares in EON were his collateral and, although friends battled to save him from bankruptcy, it was all to no avail and he knew he’d be forced to sell them.  Interest was shown but Saltzman and Broccoli were keen that the future of 007 didn’t fall into the wrong hands, so Saltzman declared himself bankrupt, closing EON for a while.  After some time, the shares were bought by United Artists for $20m, leaving Cubby Broccoli the primary shareholder in EON and holder of the Bond film rights.  Sadly, the experience caused a huge rift in the men’s friendship which wasn’t repaired until Topol suggested Broccoli invite Saltzman to the premiere of For Your Eyes Only (1981), as I wrote about here.  For now, the fate of James Bond lay solely in Broccoli’s hands.

Three-time Bond director Guy Hamilton was invited back and he remained attached to the project for a while but left after being offered the chance to direct Superman (1978) - Richard Donner eventually directed it.  Broccoli approached Steven Spielberg, then in post-production on Jaws, but he wanted to wait and see “how the fish picture turns out.”  Wanting a safe pair of hands, Broccoli turned to Lewis Gilbert, who’d previously directed You Only Live Twice (1967) and he agreed to come onboard.  With a director finally secured, Broccoli turned to getting the script sorted.
The script went through a number of revisions as Broccoli commissioned, amongst others, Stirling Silliphant, Ronald Hardy, Anthony Burgess, Derek Marlowe and John Landis (who, on his downtime, discovered the mini-cinemas around Piccadilly Circus that showed up in An American Werewolf In London) and Lewis Gilbert later brought Christopher Wood on board to complete the script.  It was longtime Bond screenwriter Richard Maibaum who provided the first screenplay and the initial villain was proposed to be Blofeld until Kevin McClory, who owned the film rights to Thunderball, brought an injunction on EON against using the character or his organisation, SPECTRE.  As this added a further delay to the film, Broccoli told Wood to remove Blofeld altogether and he was replaced with Stomberg.

Gilbert and Wood, both fans of Fleming, were keen to get Bond the way he was in the books - “very English, very smooth, good sense of humour,” said Gilbert and he felt the previous Roger Moore films had made the mistake of trying to have him act tough like Sean Connery.  To assist, Broccoli brought in Tom Mankiewicz, who’d worked on the previous three Bond films but he didn’t receive credit because of Eady Levy rules.

Curt Jurgens with the delectable Caroline Munro
Script conferences produced the basic plot - Stromberg plans to destroy civilisation by capturing British and Soviet nuclear submarines and having them fire intercontinental ballistic missiles at two major cities (essentially recycled from Gilbert’s You Only Live Twice) - and the supertanker came out of a session involving Michael G. Wilson (Broccoli’s step-son, who would go on to write later Bond films).  Gilbert had heard of an underwater ‘city’ being developed in Japan, called the Aquapolis, which he thought could be used as the exterior set for Atlantis, Stomberg’s Marine Research Laboratory.  Built in Hiroshima and moored in Okinawa, it was capable of partially submerging but when the team went to look at it, Ken Adam - the production designer - felt it lacked the right creative elements to work on screen.  In the end, Derek Meddings created the base as a large-scale miniature in the Bahamas.

Curt Jurgens, who Gilbert had worked with before, was brought in to play Stromberg and Caroline Munro was cast as Naomi after Broccoli saw her picture as part of the Lambs Navy Rum campaign.  She has a small but pivotal role (I loved her in it then and still do today) and is the first woman to be killed by Bond in the series.  Catherine Deneuve let it be known she was keen to play Anya Amasova (even willing to cut her normal fee of $400,000 to $250,000) but Broccoli was adamant he wouldn’t pay more than $80,000.  She withdrew and Barbara Bach - who thought she was auditioning for a minor role - was cast with just weeks to go before principal photography began.
Production design drawings by Ken Adam
Once Ken Adam’s designs had been approved, the production searched across Europe to find a soundstage large enough to accommodate the three submarines required for the interior of Stomberg’s supertanker, the Liparus.  When none were found, Broccoli gave the go-ahead to construct one at Pinewood Studios and the set and stage were built at the same time.  Costing $1m in 1976, the 007 Stage (as it was named) was 334ft x 136ft and 40ft high with a total maximum floor space of 45,424 sq ft.  It also included a 297ft x 73ft tank which was almost 9ft deep and had a capacity of 1.2m gallons.  The 007 stage, as a permanent structure, was rented to other productions but burned down during the filming of Legend (1985) on 27th June 1984.  Re-built as the ‘Albert R. Broccoli 007 Stage’ in January 1985, it had to be re-built again in 2007 after another fire (on the Venetian piazza set built for Casino Royale (2006)).  It remains the biggest stage in Europe.

In the DVD documentary, Ken Adam mentions he was having trouble trying to figure out how to light the set and called on his old friend, Stanley Kubrick.  “So I called Stanley up and asked him down to Pinewood to give me ideas. At first he said I was out of my mind but eventually he agreed to come on a Sunday when only security were around.  He spent three or four hours with me telling me how he would light the stage. And of course the whole thing being in secret appealed to Stanley's sense of drama.”
Ken Adam, Cubby Broccoli and Lewis Gilbert on the completed 007 Stage
Atlantis also allowed Adam to experiment with curved shapes, as he felt his previous set designs were “too linear”.  For Gogol’s office, he wanted to contrast with M’s restricted office space and drew inspiration from Sergei Einstein to create a “Russian crypt-like” set.

For the exterior of the Liparus, the production had been planning to use a real supertanker and Shell confirmed they would have one empty, on a return trip, that EON could have for free so long as they covered the cost of insurance, at $60k per day.  The combination of cost and how dangerous the fumes on board could be led to the decision to have Derek Meddings and his team build their own tanker and film it in the Bahamas.
Michael G. Wilson saw a Canadian Club Whisky magazine advert of a man ski-ing off Mount Asgard in Canada and, inspired, suggested it could be part of the pre-credits sequence.  He met the skier, Rick Sylvester, who admitted the ad had been faked - he’d actually jumped off El Capitain Peak in Yosemite Valley - but said it could be done for real and Broccoli signed off on the sequence, though scheduled it for the start of filming in case it didn’t work successfully.  In July 1976, a second-unit crew led by John Glen went to Baffin Island, Canada, with Sylvester, who was paid $30,000 for the stunt.  Numerous tests produced excited responses from London but a storm around Mount Asgard meant that filming was delayed and costs quickly rose.  When the weather finally cleared - they needed there to be no wind - the shot was captured in one take with five cameras covering the stunt though only one took Sylvester off the mountain and down, zooming in to capture everything with no cuts.  The Union Jack parachute, which Lewis Gilbert said “always brought the house down” was devised by Christopher Wood.  The sequence ended up costing $500,000, making it the most expensive single movie stunt at that time.
Nearing production, manufacturers were keen to get their product featured when they heard EON were looking for a new Bond car.  Don McLaughlan, then head of public relations at Lotus Cars, drove a prototype Lotus Esprit to Pinewood - with all the branding taped over - and parked it outside the production offices.  Once the car had attracted an appreciative crowd, he drove away without answering any questions and, as he’d anticipated, the producers were desperate to know the model.  When he found out, Broccoli was on the phone the next day to strike a deal.  Ken Adam later said the car’s shape lent itself perfectly to the concept of a submarine.
Photocall at Pinewood with the Lotus Esprit
Principal photography began on 31st August 1976 at Pinewood, filming the office of General Gogol and continued with the scenes in M’s office.  Richard Kiel quickly had issues with his metal teeth, which he could only wear for less than a minute at a time as they caused a great deal of discomfort.  His stunt double, Martin Grace (who also doubled for Roger Moore), had to make do with a piece of orange peel wrapped in tin foil.

Moving to Egypt, the sequence with Fekkesh at ‘The Sound And Light Show’ was originally intended to be filmed on location but, in the end, only the Sphinx could be lit sufficiently.  The pyramids were filmed later, as a combination of miniatures and matte paintings, supervised by Alan Maley.  During the sequence where Jaws is trying to find a hidden Bond, the optical effects team realised the first unit hadn’t filmed Roger Moore behind a wall.  Maley advised Robin Browne, the cameraman, to find a still photograph of Moore in a suitable pose and that’s what was included in the final shot (and once you know, it’s very obvious).

None of the crew were happy with the location, due to the heat and poor food, so Broccoli arranged for a refrigerated truck of provisions to be brought from England.  When it arrived, according to Lewis Gilbert, it was empty so Broccoli drove to the nearest town, bought up as many tomatoes and pots and pans as he could and arranged for pasta to be flown in from Cairo.  The production then took over a local restaurant and Broccoli himself cooked up spaghetti bolognaise for the full cast and crew, served by him and Roger Moore.  After this, according to Gilbert, Cubby could do no wrong with the crew and the restaurant had a sign painted on it -  ‘Trattoria Broccoli’ - which is apparently still there today.

A representative of the Egyptian government was on set throughout the shoot to ensure the country wasn’t portrayed in a negative light and for the scene where Jaws is buried under the collapsing scaffolding, Roger Moore mouthed “Egyptian builders” and dubbed it back in England.
One of the fantastic shots from the chase sequence, the camera crew were in the boot space of the second Esprit
The production moved to Sardinia, where it was based at the Hotel Cala Di Volpe, shown in the film.  Work began on the chase between the Lotus and Stromberg’s helicopter and the initial shots weren’t as exciting as was hoped, with the stunt driver having difficulty making the Esprit skid since it held the road so well.  At one point, the crew asked Roger Becker, a Lotus employee on hand to look after the car, to drive it up the hill.  He did so at speed, skidding dramatically around corners and making a 180-degree turn in the gravel at the top.  From that point on, he became the stunt driver and reported that the only scary moment was when he had to drive under the helicopter.  In order to capture some of the shots, the stunt team realised they needed another Esprit to keep pace but only two were available in the world.  Art Director Peter Lamont knew the Lotus chairman, Colin Chapman, had the other car and asked if they could borrow it.  A thrilled Chapman agreed.
The Lotus was pulled out of the water by a hidden cable and wasn't watertight, hence Roger Moore "driving" without his shoes
The beach sequence, where the Lotus surfaces, was filmed on 5th and 6th October at Capriccioli and while Broccoli wasn’t keen on the shot where Bond hands over the fish - which both Roger Moore and Lewis Gilbert loved - he was persuaded to keep it in.  The little boy who points at the car is Richard Kiel’s son, Richard George and the scene also introduced an in-joke - a wine-drinking man - played by Italian assistant director, Victor Tourjansky who made similar brief appearances in Moonraker (1979) and For Your Eyes Only (1981).
Some of Derek Meddings' excellent work - large scale miniature Liparus and two miniature submarines, filmed on location
The second unit (led by Ernest Day) and Derek Meddings’ miniatures unit went to Nassau in October to work on the underwater sequences.  The Liparus tanker model was built in three sections at Pinewood, flown out by cargo plane and reassembled on location.  "The reason we built it so large,” Meddings says on the DVD documentary, “was because we had to deal with submarines in the same shots [where the tanker swallows them].  Water is always a problem when you’re dealing with miniatures because you just can’t scale it, you’ve got to be clever enough to shoot it the right way at a very high speed - the secret is to make certain you don’t create a splash which is, of course, going to produce big globules of water on the screen and immediately give the game away. Even though our tanker was sixty-three feet long, it would only create a bow wave and wash that was in scale with a sixty-three-foot launch, which is nothing like what a supertanker with its vast displacement of water would create.  Only the aft section was actually built like a boat, the rest was like a catamaran built on two floats. We had a huge 175 horsepower marlin engine in it which gave us a terrific wake though, of course, nothing near a real tankers.”  The oversized Atlantis model was also filmed there.

For the sequences with the Esprit in the water, a combination of three elements were used - full-sized versions for various transformations (the production went through seven bodyshells), miniatures and a full-sized submarine.
“We built a special rig to fire the car down the jetty when it was being pursued by the helicopter,” Meddings says on the documentary, “it was traveling at fifty miles per hour when it left the rig.  The sinking car is a miniature and the change from car to submarine involved five underwater model cars with each one being used to represent a different part of the transformation process, such as the wheels retracting, the fins popping up, the motors coming out the back, etc.  We also did the sequence where the rocket comes out of the back of the car... and explodes the helicopter, which was a radio-controlled model.  For the sequence where the Lotus sub approaches the base of Atlantis, which is like an oil rig structure, we again used models.”  To generate air bubbles, the team put Alka-Seltzer tablets inside the model.

The full-sized submarine, nicknamed ‘Wet Nellie’ after ‘Little Nellie’ from You Only Live Twice, was custom-built for the film by Perry Oceanographic Inc, in Florida.  It was a ‘wet sub’ (ie, not sealed) and required a crew of two, with the interior of the bodyshell consisting of a platform for the divers and the equipment required for operation.
The first unit moved back to the UK, filming briefly at the Faslane submarine base before re-locating to Pinewood.  Roger Moore was injured during the scene in Stromberg’s dining room, when he didn’t get out of the exploding chair quick enough.  Alison & I saw him on tour (which I wrote about here) where he told the amusing anecdote, ending with “where most people have one hole, I had two.”  With the 007 Stage now complete, work began on the Liparus interior - it was such a huge set, Claude Renoir, the director of photography, couldn’t see to the end of it due to his deteriorating eyesight.  When principal photography ended, the 007 Stage was formally opened by former Prime Minister Harold Wilson on 5th December 1976.
Filming on the 007 stage
The film marked the first appearance of General Gogol (played by Walter Gotell) and he would go on to re-appear in the next five.  It also introduced the “wetbike” (now better known as a jet ski) to the world, with Bond using the prototype designed and built by Spirit Marine that went into production in 1978.

John Barry, the series regular composer, was unable to work in the UK for tax reasons and Marvin Hamlisch was approached in his place.  His soundtrack was very contemporary (and included a disco-version of the theme called ‘Bond 77’ which is used in the chase scene) and also uses several pieces of classical music, which was a new approach.  Bach’s Air On A G String plays whilst Stromberg’s secretary is fed to the shark while the opening section of the second movement, Adante, of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21, plays as Atlantis rises from the sea.  Two pieces of film score (both by Maurice Jarre) are also used - the Doctor Zhivago theme plays on Anya’s music box and the theme from Lawrence Of Arabia soundtracks Bond and Anya as they walk across the desert.

The theme song, Nobody Does It Better, was composed by Hamlisch with lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager and sung by Carly Simon.  The first song in the series to not share a title with the film (though it’s mentioned in the lyrics), it was nominated for the Best Song Oscar and was very successful, going on to become the unofficial anthem for the series.  It stayed on the US chart for twenty-five weeks (peaking at number 2 in July 1977), becoming a Gold-certified single in the process and hit the UK chart on 6th August, peaking at no. 7.

The gun-barrel opening sequence had to be re-shot for the film, to match the 2:35/1 aspect ratio and was the fifth version to be used overall (the second with Moore) and marked the first time Bond wore a tuxedo.  The end credits state “James Bond Will Return In For Your Eyes Only” but another film launched in 1977 - Star Wars - soon put paid to that.
The Spy Who Loved Me opened with a Royal Premiere at the Odeon, Leicester Square on 7th July 1977 (all the 7’s), moving to the rest of the UK on 20th July.  Reaction to the opening sequence and the Union Jack parachute was very good, as EON executive Charles Juroe reported after attending a screening with Prince Charles - “I have never seen a reaction in the cinema as there was that night. You couldn't help it. You could not help but stand up. Even Prince Charles stood up.”

Critical reaction was generally positive and even though Janet Maslin, on the New York Times, felt it was “half an hour too long”, she praised Moore's performance and the film's “share of self-mockery”.  Roger Moore said in numerous interviews it was his favourite of his own Bond films and Cubby Broccoli told the Hollywood Reporter in 1982 that it - along with From Russia With Love (1963) and Goldfinger (1964) - made up his three favourites.

Since the screenplay had nothing to do with Fleming’s original novel, EON authorised Christopher Wood to write a novelisation based on the script (the first regular Bond novel to be published since Colonel Sun in 1968).  Wood’s novelisation is quite different in places (it features the spy organisation SMERSH and has Bond suffering an unpleasant bit of torture) and creates a good backstory for Jaws, though he dies at the end.

Corgi Toys produced a line of die-cast models and enjoyed great success with them.  The Lotus Esprit had a button that, if pressed, extended fins and there was also a rocket firing mechanism on the back (though I imagine most missiles quickly disappeared behind the sofa, never to be seen again - or was that just me?).  In the Corgi juniors range, there was a submarine-only version of the Lotus which was sold on its own and it was also included in a pack with Jaws' telephone van (which wasn't a Sherpa, as in the film), a speedboat, the Ford Taunus (or Cortina, as we called it in the UK) and Naomi's helicopter.

Lotus also experienced an unprecedented demand for white Esprit's and new customers were placed on a three-year waiting list.

The film was nominated for the Best Art Direction Oscar (Ken Adam, Peter Lamont and Hugh Scaife) and the BAFTA for Best Production Design/Art Design.  Marvin Hamlisch was nominated for the Best Song and Best Original Score Oscars, the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score, Grammy Award for Best Score for a Motion Picture and the BAFTA Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music.

On its $14m budget it has, to date, grossed over £185.4m at the worldwide box-office, fully proving Cubby Broccoli’s faith in it and the series and garnering him respect in the film industry.  He said, at the time, it “will be an impossible task to out-do the tenth Bond film, for sheer magnitude and roaring success.”

When the film was first broadcast on British Television - 28th March 1982 on ITV - it attracted 22.9m viewers, making it third most watched film ever.

Doing the conga at Pinewood Studios (from left) - Bernard Lee (as M), Roger Moore, Walter Gotell (General Gogol) and Barbara Bach
The delectable Caroline Munro and that wink...
On the 007 Stage, Roger Moore with Curt Jurgens and his wife Margie Schmitz

"Keeping the British end up, sir..."

For me, it remains my favourite film of the series.  There’s so much to like - the pre-credits sequence, that theme song, Roger Moore and his interplay with Barbara Bach and Curt Jurgens, Jaws, the Lotus, Caroline Munro and her unbelievably sexy wink, the effects - and it looks beautiful (especially the sequences in Egypt, with the big skies and the twilight on the Nile).  Everything seemed to click, the humour is nicely judged and the film is exactly what it’s supposed to be - a thrilling adventure.

Happy anniversary, The Spy Who Loved Me and may we share many more years of fantastic viewings!

James Bond wiki
Inside The Spy Who Loved Me - DVD documentary
MI6 - The Making Of The Spy Who Loved Me
Warped Factor - 10 Things You Might Not Know About The Spy Who Loved Me
MI6 - Sir Ken Adam
James Bond wiki - The 007 Stage
Pinewood - 007 Stage
My blog post on Derek Meddings and his Bond connection

Monday, 3 July 2017

Star Wars At 40 (part 7) - The Toys

Mention Star Wars to people who were kids in 1978 and most will instantly think of the toys.  While the current films have the might of Disney behind them (who really know how to put out the merchandise), back in those heady days of the late 70s we had to wait a while, as the success of the film took everyone by surprise.  But the toys did come out and they were spectacular, helping young fans continue the adventures of their favourite heroes until they were able to see the film again.  So, for the seventh entry in the Star Wars At 40 thread, I’m taking a look at the toy line.
George Lucas’ original deal with 20th Century Fox for Star Wars gave him $50k each for writing, producing and directing.  When his second film, American Graffiti (1973), opened to huge success (it’s still one of the most profitable studio films ever, in terms of cost-to-revenue) his agent Jeff Berg re-negotiated.  However, instead of more money, Lucas wanted complete control of the sequel rights and merchandising (he’d fantasised, whilst writing the script, of having R2-D2 cookie jars, Wookiee mugs and wind-up robots) to ensure things were done right.  "I didn't want manufacturers slapping the Star Wars name on everything under the sun and cheapening it," he's reported as saying in Stephen J. Sansweet's Star Wars: From Concept To Screen Collectible.  Fox, who on past experience only saw merchandising as a promotional tool, agreed and after their 15% admin fee was deducted, all revenue would be split 50/50.

Response from licencees was lukewarm at best with several, including Mego Corporation (one of the most powerful toy companies in the 70s with their 8” figure line), passing but Bernie Loomis, president of Kenner, saw an opportunity.  “I liked the name Star Wars [and] I liked the robots,” he said.  Fox executives  sold the company rights to all Star Wars toys in perpetuity, a deal made over Lucas’ strenuous objections.  “We’ve lost tens of millions of dollars because of that stupid decision,” he fumed in 1983 to Dale Pollock, as recounted in Skywalking.  When his lawyer Tom Pollock negotiated Lucas’ deal for The Empire Strikes Back, part of the agreement was that he got all merchandising rights back, so Fox couldn’t sour any new deals.
George Lucas (left) and Bernard Loomis
Kenner Products was founded in 1947 by brothers Albert, Philip & Josepth Steiner and named for the Kenner Street address of their previous operation, the Cincinnati Soap Company.  They were inspired to make toys after watching a boy make bubbles by waving his hand after dipping it in soapy water and their first product was the Bubbl-Matic Gun.  A pioneer in TV advertising (they sponsored the children’s show Captain Kangaroo in 1958), the company was bought by General Mills in 1967 and in the 70s, they had one of the biggest selling toys in the world with their Six Million Dollar Man doll.  The Star Wars deal, costing Kenner $100k a year, wasn’t considered a major investment for the company - back then, with no video or streaming, toy companies preferred to licence television shows which provided constant weekly exposure since films came and went quickly.  No-one expected Star Wars to be different.

With the licence in hand, Kenner began designing the range and Loomis made a key decision which would change the industry forever.  Realising Star Wars would be vehicle dependent and it would be prohibitively expensive to scale the spaceships to a twelve inch doll (the size of Steve Austin’s figure and Action Man), Loomis apparently held his fingers apart and asked “how about that big?”  The measurement - three and three quarter inches - was agreed upon and allowed Kenner to create affordable ships and playsets for the figures.

The Early Bird Certificate Package (with the boxed four figures that
were sent later)
The success of Star Wars and its attendant high demand for merchandise exceeded Kenner’s expectations by a long way.  Since the company signed its contract just a month before the 25th May release, they faced a big problem - the normal manufacturing cycle was between twelve and eighteen months, meaning the figures wouldn’t be ready for the all-important 1977 Christmas season (and missing it could mean losing out on millions of dollars), though they managed to get some jigsaw puzzles and a board game out for the Autumn.  Loomis’ decision, derided at the time, was to sell what he called an 'Early Bird Certificate Package'.  Essentially an IOU, it was a certificate to be redeemed at a later date for four figures - Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Chewbacca and R2-D2 - a display stand, some stickers and a Star Wars fan club membership card.  600,000 empty cardboard boxes were sent out and even though the media criticised the move and a lot of packages went unsold, it did what Loomis had predicted and kept public interest in the toys.
Top - the Jawa sandcrawler playset
bottom left - the droid factory - bottom right - Luke's Landspeeder
Kenner released the first twelve figures in its Star Wars line in 1978 and set the price-point at $1.97 to encourage sales.  Vehicles were released (Luke’s landspeeder and X-Wing, an Imperial Troop Transporter and Darth Vader’s TIE fighter) along with several playsets (the Droid Factory, a Dewback, the Jawas Sandcrawler and the Cantina) as well as more figures (including four from the Cantina) over the year.
top - the Dewback (figures not included in pack, no doubt)
bottom - the Cantina playset
“It was never particularly 'difficult' to work with Lucasfilm,” Loomis told D. Martin Myatt in interview, “but you have to understand the separate roles that each of us played. We never 'designed' anything for the Star Wars films.”  (I'm assuming he forgot about the Troop Transporter, which didn't appear in any of the films.)  "None of the characters, hardware, or weapons were created by anyone but George and his people. Our job was to execute the items, and add the most we could in children's play value to each product - package them, merchandise them and advertise them.  The royalty rate was 5% and would go to 6% if Star Wars became a TV series.  The following year we volunteered the increase to 6% [and] Mark [Pevers, then executive in charge of licencing for Fox] added one condition: ‘George says, ‘if you do Star Wars, you can't go Close Encounters.’”  Intrigued, Loomis met with Steven Spielberg but decided the story of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind wasn’t ‘toyetic’ (a property being expressible in playable figures and hardware) enough.  Even so, “when the toys went into production, George had us send one of each new toy directly to Steven,” Loomis said.
The Star Wars action figures were plastic, almost all of them 3.75” high (with some exceptions, such as Chewbacca who stands 4.25”).  They typically had five points of articulation (legs, arms, neck) - Chewie and the Stormtroopers didn’t have the latter - and the majority were sold in plastic bubbles on cardboard backing (and if you have a pristine one of these today, they’re worth a lot of money!).  Most characters had variations, ranging from slight differences in paint detail (early Luke has either blond or light-brown hair) to sculpt changes (the original Han had a smaller head - the version I own - which was replaced by a bigger one that looked even less like Harrison Ford).  The original lightsabers wielded by Luke, Ben Kenobi and Darth Vader featured a double-telescoping mechanism which was replaced by a single-telescoping one and the early Jawas had a vinyl cape, similar to Ben’s, that was later changed to a fabric cloak.

Star Wars figures were produced across the world by other companies, many of whom were subsidiaries of General Mills - PBP/Poch in Spain, Meccano in France, Toltoys in Australia, Lili Ledy in Mexico, Glasslite in Brazil, Clipper in Belgium & Luxembourg, Parker in Germany, Harbett in Italty and Brio/Playmix in Scandinavia.  The licence in the UK was held by Palitoy, a name I knew well from Action Man.
ad in Star Wars weekly issue 5, March 1978
The Cascelloid Company was formed in 1919 by Alfred Edward Pallett to produce ‘celluloid and fancy goods’ at Coalville in Leicestershire.  Bought in 1931 by British Xylonite, the name Palitoy was created as the trademark for the companies toy division.  When British Xylonite developed injection moulding in 1941, this efficient method of production allowed Palitoy to produce items more cheaply and, in its heyday, manufactured some of the UK’s most popular toys (original items or licenced products) such as Action Man, Tiny Tears, Pippa, Tressy and Mainline Model Railways.  Palitoy was sold to General Mills in 1968.

The Star Wars licence allowed Palitoy to extend the Coalville factory in 1977 and by 1978 they were employing a thousand people, seeing sales that year top £20m.  Although most of the figures were identical worldwide, some products were re-designed specifically for the UK market including a cardboard, self-assembly version of the Death Star.  Bob Brechin, the former chief designer at Palitoy (he also created Action Man’s gripping hands!) was told the plastic playset from Kenner was too expensive for the UK market so he designed a card one, which is now hugely collectable.  “I am really chuffed that the collectors, even in the States, are so keen on our design,” he told the BBC.  As well as producing a large amount of figures for the British market, Palitoy also exported stock overseas and General Mills considered them essential in making European distribution work.
A kids toy, made of card - no wonder surviving examples are highly sought-after (and expensive!)
The merchandising side of Lucasfilm was handled by one of its subsidiary companies, Black Falcon Ltd, which was set up in February 1978 and had thirty employees by the end of that year.  “Star Wars licencing and merchandising was going to have to provide the financial base to sustain the company until Empire was released,” Richard Tong, Lucas’ accountant at the time, tells J. W. Rinzler in the excellent Making Of The Empire Strikes Back.  The company managed licences for books, cassettes, bedding, curtains, t-shirts, promotional photographs, a newspaper strip (closely supervised by Lucas himself, who was a comics buff), trading cards (which I wrote about here), sugar-free bubble gum (demanded by Lucas, who is diabetic) and, of course, the toys - which contributed over 70% of the royalty income.
Black Falcon logo developed by Suzy Rice (who also designed the Star Wars logo) and Kathie Broyles
As Tong pointed out, Lucas used the merchandising income to fund development (and part of the production budget) for The Empire Strikes Back.  During the summer of 1978, Black Falcon loaned more than $400k to the Lucasfilm production arm, the Chapter II Company, along with a further $200k to ILM.  Yet more funds were channelled into plans for Skywalker Ranch.  During production, the film ran over budget forcing Lucas to give some rights back to 20th Century Fox in return for funding and in July 1979 Black Falcon loaned Chapter II a further $525k.  With production over (and the second wave of toys due from Kenner), Black Falcon was completely merged into Lucasfilm on 1st December 1979.
The 12-back series
The figures were released on 2 cardbacks, the first (dated 1977) being the ’12-back’ followed by the ’20-back’ through 1978 and 1979.  The 12-back series consisted of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, R2-D2, Chewbacca, C-3PO, Darth Vader, Stormtrooper, Ben Kenobi, Han Solo, Jawa, Sandpeople (Tusken Raider) and Death Squad Commander.  The 20-back series expanded the range with Greedo, Hammerhead, Snaggletooth and Walrus Man (all from the Cantina), Luke (X-Wing pilot), R5-D4, Death Star Droid and Power Droid.
the 12 back card (left) and 20 back (right)
The 20-back set also capitalised on the anticipation surrounding The Empire Strikes Back with a mail-away campaign, wherein kids sent four proofs of purchase from any Star Wars figure and got a sneak peak at a new character.  This turned out to be Boba Fett, who made his first appearance in the (now-legendary) Star Wars Holiday Special.  The original figure came complete with a rocket-firing jetpack but health & safety fears caused Kenner to glue the rocket in securely when it reached production.  Despite maintaining no rocket-firing Fett’s made it out to the public, several figures have appeared and it’s now one of the most valuable - and sought-after - Star Wars toys ever made, selling for upwards of $2,000 on the collectors market.

By the end of 1978, Kenner had sold more than 40 million figures for gross sales in excess of $100m.  Sales in 1979 again topped $100m and the original toys (which ran from 1977 to 1979) were succeeded in 1980 by Kenner’s The Empire Strikes Back line.  In total, there were 20 figures in the original line, 30 were added for Empire (1980-1982), 31 for Return Of The Jedi (1983-1984) and 15 appeared as part of the Power Of The Force line (1985).
The full line-up
When the line ended in 1985, Kenner had sold approximately 250m action figures.  The company was bought by Tonka in 1987 and Hasbro in 1991 and continues to produce Star Wars merchandise.  Hasbro closed Palitoy in 1994 and the 10-acre factory site was sold in July 1996 with outline planning permission for housing.

Bernard Loomis was inducted into the Toy Industry Hall Of Fame in 1992.  The Star Wars action figures were added to the National Toy Hall Of Fame in 2012.

Part of my Stormtrooper army
On a personal note, I only kept two of my original figures - Han Solo and the Death Squad Commander.  As I discussed in this blog post from February 2011, Nostalgia and Stormtroopers, I decided to start collecting Stormtroopers when I found some figures in my friend Joe's Leicester Vintage & Old Toy Shop.  Since then, in addition to a variety of other figures (including Luke, the droids, Chewie, Leia, Hoth Troopers, Scout Troopers and Darth Vader) and vehicles (I finally got a Millennium Falcon and X-Wing!), I have amassed an army of 90 vintage Stormtroopers.  They stand on top of one of my bookshelves in the study and I'm very, very pleased with them.
My original figures, from 1978
Han and Chewie
My three 'best' Stormtroopers
"These aren't the droids you're looking for..."
"Hang on, you're not Ben Kenobi - and hey, we're standing on the wrong side!"

Skywalking, by Dale Pollock
Deadline interview with Tom Pollock
BBC interview with Bob Brechin - Star Wars and Action Man: The rise and fall of Palitoy
The groundbreaking history of Star Wars Toys (io9)
The Hollywood Reporter
Interview with Bernard Loomis by D. Martin Myatt
The Making Of The Empire Strikes Back, by J. W. Rinzler
Star Wars: From Concept To Screen Collectible, by Stephen J. Sansweet

2017 marks the 40th anniversary of Star Wars, which was released in the US on 25th May though it didn't hit the UK until 29th January 1978 (following a 27th December release in London).  I was lucky enough to see it in early 1978 and it remains my favourite film to this day.

To mark the anniversary, I'll be running a year-long blog thread about the film with new entries posted on the first Monday of each month.

May The Force Be With You!

Find all the entries in the thread here