The cover is soft and silky, the innards have a new extra libel-cleared chapter – and the paperback is out now! In fact, I’m reading extracts from it all over town at the moment. What started out as a labour of love turned into something oddly different, and I’m thrilled that it’s doing so well. Who knew there were so many Film Freaks out there?
I had intended to write a book about English film, but I found it hard to do so without discussing the ways in which we saw them, the times, ages and locations, in short the circumstances of viewing certain films. And then it turned into a story about a very offbeat relationship. I’m still not sure that it delivers what I had intended, but last night I made a bookshop owner cry. He’d just finished the book and was caught out by the tragic ending. So is it a film book or not? You tell me.
Here’s a taster from one of the chapters on one Mr James Bond…
‘You know the thing I hate most about the Bond scripts?’ Barbara Broccoli told me. ‘Passageways. In every Bond script 007 and the villains walk or run up and down tunnels and corridors, so we have to design and build them, tile them, then put in the flooring and the lighting, and they’re always the first thing the director cuts out.’
Barbara was feisty and smart and took no prisoners. We needed to win her over a little. ‘Here,’ said Jim, ‘I noticed you’re a smoker.’ He handed her a gift, a portable ashtray that folded into your pocket. She loved it.
On shoots you can’t smoke or call out on your mobile, especially if there are electronically-detonated explosives on the set. An 007 film has the reverse problem to most films – they need to prevent publicity, not encourage it, because so many hacks are fighting to get information that you have to keep it under control. Everything was done to keep the plot under wraps, from coding the scripts and never letting them out of head office to banning all outside communication during shoots, and yet information sometimes leaked out from unscrupulous employees bribed by the press.
We had worked in different capacities on several Bond films, and were now producing one hour documentaries that usually aired on Boxing Day. Jim and I were fascinated by the size of the production, an army on the march headed by the producers at Cubby Broccoli’s old company, Eon, who negotiated deals at government levels. Want to borrow a Stealth Battleship? Ask the French Navy. Want to film at a satellite station? Get in touch with Nasa. Locations were scouted and stunts planned before scripts were finalised, so that if one location was not available in time for shooting, it could be offlaid into the next film.
In the basement of Eon’s HQ was a treasure trove worthy of Bond himself; a huge set of electronically-operated shelves that opened to reveal everything about Bond, from gadgets and toys to scripts and scores. Sorting through the material was like being a child again.
The Bond films were famous for shooting their stunts in camera and not relying on computer graphics. Effects and model sequences from Derek Meddings and Chris Corbould were among the best in the film world. One of the stuntmen, Wayne Michaels, pitched an idea; he said he could bungee-jump from a helicopter and release his cord close enough to the ground to step onto it, but this seemed a step too far even for Bond, and the plan was reluctantly put on ice. However, the stuntman made a record-breaking jump from a dam in the opening sequence of ‘Goldeneye’, with the help of a small GCI cheat – a crane that allowed him to be suspended away from the sloping dam wall was digitally erased.
The stuntman Vic Armstrong had become the go-to stunt co-ordinator and second unit director for blockbusters. He was the kind of guy dads admired, talking you through the physics of stuntmanship, then jumping from bridges, riding runaway trains and motorbikes, crashing through walls and getting blown up. I remember watching him climbing into a helicopter camera-rig after a night of rabble-rousing, getting ready to film cars careening around hairpin bends from above. One of the crew told him his eyes were bloodshot. ‘You want to see them from my side,’ he said, taking off. Who wouldn’t want a dad like that?