Peter Lamont – Film production designer
Born November 12, 1929; died December 18, 2020
Peter Lamont, who has died aged 91, was the man who gave the James Bond film franchise its visual heart. He worked on eighteen Bond films, first as set decorator, then art director, and, from For Your Eyes Only (1981) onwards, production designer.
Taking over from Ken Adam, who he first met after being hired as an uncredited draughtsman on the third Bond, Goldfinger (1964), this put Lamont in charge of each film’s overall visual aesthetic. He continued in this role right up to the twenty-first film, Casino Royale (2006). Lamont worked with every 007 actor from Sean Connery through to Daniel Craig, and became a key member of the series’ ‘family’. With forty-two years almost uninterrupted service to Bond, he also worked on it the longest.
Inbetween Goldfinger and Casino Royale, Lamont embarked on a globetrotting set of Bond adventures of his own. For the former, he designed what turned out to be a £56,000 reconstruction of Fort Knox. For Thunderball (1965), he learnt to scuba dive to help create a submerged Vulcan bomber aircraft in the Bahamas.
As set decorator, he fleshed out Adam’s design of Blofeld’s underground volcano lair in You Only Live Twice (1967), and did something similar for the arch-villain’s mountaintop alpine retreat in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969). In For Your Eyes Only, he constructed a sunken temple rebuilt in the ocean. For Octopussy (1983), he put together a ceremonial barge made out of a couple of abandoned boats he found on the banks of Lake Pichola, in India. When Lamont was a passenger on a Mumbai to Delhi flight held up by a militant gunman in 1982, it may have been a case of life imitating art, but he lived to tell the tale.
The only Bond film Lamont didn’t work on during his lengthy tenure was Tomorrow Never Dies (1997). This sidestep away from the series was due to a clash with him fulfilling a similarly major role on James Cameron’s film, Titantic (1997).
Following Cameron’s instructions that every last detail of the original Titanic should be reproduced, Lamont eventually had a 775-foot replica of the doomed ocean liner built in Mexico. This saw only one side completed, with the other side being duplicated by having everything built in mirror image, then reversed on film.
Despite being Oscar nominated several times previously, including for Cameron’s horror sequel, Aliens (1986), it was for Titanic that Lamont finally won one, shared with set decorator, Michael D. Ford, for best art direction,
Peter Curtis Lamont was born in Borehamwood, north London, one of two sons to Cyril and Mabel (nee Curtis). His father was a sign writer at Denham film studios, which led Lamont to visit there and Pinewood, where he saw film sets in situ. These included the celestial stairway from Powell and Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death (1946). Lamont also began to draw on the back of scripts brought home by his father.
Lamont failed his 11-plus, but won a 13-plus scholarship to High Wycombe Technical College in Buckinghamshire. After getting a start as a runner at Denham through his father, Lamont became an assistant print boy in the art department. Following National Service in the RAF, early work included Captain Boycott (1947), The Woman in Question (1950) and The Browning Version (1951). At Denham, Lamont worked on The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952) and The Importance of being Earnest (1952).
Lamont worked as a draughtsman on a host of British films for Independent Artists studios throughout the 1950s, graduating to set dresser on the likes of The Bulldog Breed and the Lindsay Anderson directed This Sporting Life (1963). With the British film industry in freefall, Lamont was left unemployed, before somewhat fortuitously being invited to work on Goldfinger. This changed Lamont’s working life.
Lamont’s promotion to production designer on Bond came following a period of large-scale extravagance. While he could readily navigate the blockbuster-sized expanse required for the likes of the mines in a View to a Kill (1985) and the ice palace in Die Another Day (2002), he also brought a certain pragmatism to bear. For GoldenEye (1995), his reconstruction of St Petersburg for the film’s tank chase sequence was created with his art director son Neil at Leavesden Studios. The scene looked authentically Russian, despite being filmed in Hertfordshire.
Outside Bond, Lamont’s other film credits included assistant art director on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), and set dresser on Carry on Matron (1972). He was art director on Sleuth (1972), and production designer on another Cameron film, True Lies (1994).
Lamont received several Oscar nominations prior to Titanic. The first was for Fiddler on the Roof (1971), on which he was set decorator. He was also nominated jointly with Adam for The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), as well as for production designer on Aliens.
In 2016, Lamont published a memoir, The Man with the Golden Eye: Designing the James Bond Films. The lavishly illustrated edition showed off the full range of a career that was crucial in bringing one of cinema’s most iconic creations to life.
Lamont is survived by his daughter, Madeline, and son, Neil, both to his wife Ann Aldridge, who he married in 1952, and who predeceased him.
The Herald, January 13th, 2021