In the course of an occasionally star-studded journalistic career (I'm exaggerating) I've had the chance to bump into the odd childhood hero. Iron Maiden specifically - their guitarist once offered me a lift home. I've never interviewed a Bond, but I did once do an interview with a very pleasant man who designed two of Alton Towers' most famous rides: Nemesis and Oblivion. His name is John Wardley, and those in the know reckon he's largely to thank for bringing Disney-style theme parks to the UK. He told me during the course of our chat that he first started out in stage management in the 1960s. Which lead to movie work.
Live And Let Die was released in the early summer of 1973 to generally positive reviews and, I'll wager, an upsurge in the popularity of the name 'Solitaire' for newborn baby girls. John worked on that very film.
For the record, Live And Let Die is hands-down my favourite Bond movie. I love those menacing scenes shot in New York when the city was at its seediest; I love the conveniently-aligned alligators and the mental boat chase in Louisiana. Throw in a bit of voodoo, a portly man called Whisper and an on-form Wings outdoing themselves with that uncharacteristically rocking theme song; it's nigh on perfection.
John Wardley was part of the Live And Let Die special effects team, and he told me all about it when I interviewed him about rollercoasters a few years ago. Because it was slightly off-topic, most if it didn't make it into print. So here, in honour of the 40th anniversary of The Greatest Ever Bond Film (go ahead! Write in!), is the rest of it. This is how Bond movies work. Well, two bits of one Bond film four decades ago, anyway...
"I worked on quite a lot of the Bond films. One effect I did that everyone remembers is Live And Let Die where James Bond is trying to get away from the police in Jamaica and the double-decker bus drives under a low bridge and the top deck of the bus is sheered off. It was incredibly involved; there were three separate sections to the stunt. First we took a bus and removed the top deck and then on the floor of the upper deck put what I can only describe as a sliding drawer-runner. Into this slid the fake upper deck. The whole thing was spring-loaded like a giant catapult using bungee rope and an explosive release mechanism. We made six sacrificial fronts that would hit the bridge and crumple. When the front of the bus hit the bridge, the top flew off. The second part of the effect was another fake upper deck, this time suspended from a crane with a quick-release mechanism on it that could drop onto the police car as a separate shot. The third bit was a lightweight top deck that could be fitted to the police car so it could carry on driving down the road. Oh, and it was an actual London Transport bus driver that was shipped in to Jamaica for the filming.
"In the same film, which proved to me what a cool guy Roger Moore was, is a scene in a bar called the Filet Of Soul, run by the villains. There is a table that disappears into the ground once Bond sits at it. This mechanism was quite a sturdy piece of equipment and the director insisted that the sliding floor should come across rapidly as the table disappears. It whistled across your forehead and slammed shut. We designed this contraption and all in all there was about three tons of steel in it.
"The director said to Moore, 'Whatever you do, you must not flinch', at which point Moore turned to me and said, 'I'll do one take - but I want to see him', pointing at me, 'do it first.' So I did, and it was pretty frightening. He then did it, and he did not bat an eyelid."
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