Quotulatiousness

May 29, 2017

Mark Steyn on the career of Roger Moore

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

On the weekend, Mark Steyn posted an article discussing the late Sir Roger’s pre-Bond roles:

Roger Moore played 007 in seven Bond films – although it seemed like more at the time. He was a rare Englishman in a role more often played by Celts and colonials – Connery (Scots), Lazenby (Aussie), Dalton (Welsh), Brosnan (Irish)… Any Canadians? Yes. Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell). For some Ian Fleming fans, Moore was a little too English for a role that benefits from a certain chippiness toward his metropolitan masters. Yet he bestrode the era like a colossus whose legs wee almost as unfeasibly long as they are on the Octopussy poster and whose trouser flares were almost as terrifyingly wide as on the Man With The Golden Gun poster.

[…]

But The Saint, for six years in the Sixties, was a hit of an entirely different scale, and made Moore the first UK TV star to become a millionaire (hence, in the Seventies, the tax exile). Leslie Charteris had created the Saint in the Twenties, and the books are very much of their day. But Moore’s version planted Simon Templar firmly in the Swingin’ Sixties with a lot of Continental dolly birds to give it some Euro-cool. Lew Grade, bored by running a local telly franchise in Birmingham, had his eye on the global market and gave The Saint a rare style for the British TV of its day. It started with the stylized graphics and theme tune, and then, upon the initial reference to Simon Templar’s name, the animated halo appearing over the character’s head, at which Roger Moore would glance amusedly upwards – perhaps the first conscious, and most iconic, deployment of his famous eyebrows.

True, if you paid close attention from week to week, the passenger terminal helpfully labeled “Nice” or “Monte Carlo” or “Geneva” looked remarkably like East Midlands Airport, but Moore’s tuxedoed aplomb held it all together. He was almost too dishy in those days – his beauty spot, for one, seems far more prominent in monochrome – and he sensed that he didn’t have to do too much but stand there looking suave. Everything he would do as Bond he did as Simon Templar: the quips, the birds, the sports cars. But he did it, more or less, for real. He co-owned the series, which eventually made over a third of a billion pounds (which back then, pre-devaluation, wasn’t that far shy of a billion dollars), and he took it seriously enough to serve as producer and director – although, on the one occasion I met him, he characteristically pooh-poohed the idea that he had any talents in either field. The series became less of a mystery-solver and more of a spy caper as it progressed, and indeed in one episode Simon Templar is actually mistaken for James Bond. Sean Connery had been whinging about his Bond burdens since at least Thunderball in 1965, and Roger Moore fully expected to get the call.

[…]

Moore belonged to the last generation of British thespians for whom it was assumed that acting meant presenting as posher than one’s origins. Unlike Lord Brett, young Roger didn’t go to Harrow but to Battersea Grammar School. He dad was a policeman who went to investigate a robbery at the home of Brian Desmond Hurst, a prolific director whose films include the all-time great, Alastair Sim version of A Christmas Carol. Constable Moore mentioned that his boy Roger quite fancied being an actor, and Hurst hired him as an extra for Caesar and Cleopatra (1945) and then paid for him to go to RADA. That’s where he met a young actress called Lois Hooker from Kitchener, Ontario, who changed her name to Lois Maxwell and became the defining Miss Moneypenny. Young Lois and young Roger both poshed up at RADA – although, as snootier critics with more finely calibrated class consciousness were wont to observe, from his Saint days to Lord Brett to Bond he was Lew Grade’s and Cubby Broccoli’s idea of an English gentleman rather than the real thing.

September 29, 2016

QotD: Christopher Lee’s roles

Filed under: Humour, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Before he was an actor, he was an intelligence officer, and had, as they used to say, a good war, attached to the Special Operations Executive, or the “Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare”, responsible for espionage and sabotage in occupied Europe. Afterwards, Lee stayed on to hunt down Nazi war criminals. Back in London in 1946, he lunched with a Continental cousin, now the Italian Ambassador to the Court of St James’s, and confessed he had no idea what to do next, except that he had no desire to return to his pre-war job as a switchboard operator at the pharmaceutical company Beecham’s. “Why don’t you become an actor?” suggested the Ambassador. So he did. Two years later he was a spear carrier in Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet, in which he met another up-and-comer playing Osric, Peter Cushing.

It took Hammer horror films to make both men stars, albeit B-movie stars. Lee was a very suave and seductive Dracula trying to stay one step ahead of Cushing’s van Helsing while leaving a trail of blood-drained totty behind. As a teenager, I loved the Hammer movies, although I had a mild preference for the lesbian-vampire ones with Ingrid Pitt, Pippa Steel, Yutte Stensgaard et al. The bottom seems to have dropped out of the whole lesbian-vampire genre. No doubt, in these touchy times, it would be a fraught business reviving it. But Sir Christopher’s count holds up pretty well. Aside from bloodshot eyes and stick-on fangs, there weren’t a lot of special effects: Today you’d do it all with CGI, but back then there was nothing to make the horror but lighting and acting. You can see, in middle age, all the techniques that would give Lee an enduring cool well into the Nineties: the mellifluous voice; the flicker of an eyebrow – and then suddenly the flash of red in the eyes and the bared fangs, the ravenous feasting on some dolly bird’s neck, and all the scarier for emerging from Lee’s urbane underplaying.

He was upgraded to Bond nemesis Francisco Scaramanga, The Man With The Golden Gun – and a supernumary papilla, which is to say a third nipple. Lee was a cousin of Ian Fleming, who’d offered him the chance to be the very first Bond villain in Doctor No twelve years earlier. It would have been fun to see Lee and Sean Connery together, but, role-wise, he was right to wait. He’d known Roger Moore almost as long as cousin Ian: They’d first met in 1948. Golden Gun is a mixed bag for Bond fans, what with the somewhat improbable presence in Thailand of redneck sheriff J W Pepper and the other Roger Moorier elements. But Britt Ekland runs around in a bikini, and Lee’s Scaramanga is a rare opponent who is (almost) the equal of 007. Landing at Los Angeles to promote the film on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, Sir Christopher had his golden gun seized by US Customs and never returned – a reminder that these guys were pulling this nonsense long before the TSA came along.

Mark Steyn, “Fangs, Light Sabers and a Supernumary Papilla”, Steyn Online, 2015-06-13.

June 14, 2015

From SOE to Hammer horror to LOTR, Christopher Lee’s remarkable career

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Mark Steyn looks back at the real life and cinematic exploits of Sir Christopher Lee:

Before he was an actor, he was an intelligence officer, and had, as they used to say, a good war, attached to the Special Operations Executive, or the “Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare”, responsible for espionage and sabotage in occupied Europe. Afterwards, Lee stayed on to hunt down Nazi war criminals. Back in London in 1946, he lunched with a Continental cousin, now the Italian Ambassador to the Court of St James’s, and confessed he had no idea what to do next, except that he had no desire to return to his pre-war job as a switchboard operator at the pharmaceutical company Beecham’s. “Why don’t you become an actor?” suggested the Ambassador. So he did. Two years later he was a spear carrier in Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet, in which he met another up-and-comer playing Osric, Peter Cushing.

It took Hammer horror films to make both men stars, albeit B-movie stars. Lee was a very suave and seductive Dracula trying to stay one step ahead of Cushing’s van Helsing while leaving a trail of blood-drained totty behind. As a teenager, I loved the Hammer movies, although I had a mild preference for the lesbian-vampire ones with Ingrid Pitt, Pippa Steel, Yutte Stensgaard et al. The bottom seems to have dropped out of the whole lesbian-vampire genre. No doubt, in these touchy times, it would be a fraught business reviving it. But Sir Christopher’s count holds up pretty well. Aside from bloodshot eyes and stick-on fangs, there weren’t a lot of special effects: Today you’d do it all with CGI, but back then there was nothing to make the horror but lighting and acting. You can see, in middle age, all the techniques that would give Lee an enduring cool well into the Nineties: the mellifluous voice; the flicker of an eyebrow — and then suddenly the flash of red in the eyes and the bared fangs, the ravenous feasting on some dolly bird’s neck, and all the scarier for emerging from Lee’s urbane underplaying.

He was upgraded to Bond nemesis Francisco Scaramanga, The Man With The Golden Gun — and a supernumary papilla, which is to say a third nipple. Lee was a cousin of Ian Fleming, who’d offered him the chance to be the very first Bond villain in Doctor No twelve years earlier. It would have been fun to see Lee and Sean Connery together, but, role-wise, he was right to wait. He’d known Roger Moore almost as long as cousin Ian: They’d first met in 1948. Golden Gun is a mixed bag for Bond fans, what with the somewhat improbable presence in Thailand of redneck sheriff J W Pepper and the other Roger Moorier elements. But Britt Ekland runs around in a bikini, and Lee’s Scaramanga is a rare opponent who is (almost) the equal of 007. Landing at Los Angeles to promote the film on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, Sir Christopher had his golden gun seized by US Customs and never returned — a reminder that these guys were pulling this nonsense long before the TSA came along.

His own favorite film was Jinnah, in which he played the title role of Pakistan’s ascetic founder. It’s very credible, but it’s not why audiences loved him. Lee redeemed almost anything he was in, but had his work cut out when George Lucas signed him for the Star Wars prequels. By then Lucas was a director without peer when it comes to getting bad performances out of great actors. Once upon a time Ewan McGregor was one of the sexiest actors on the planet. Then George Lucas cast him as Obi-Wan Kenobi, and turned him into a souvenir action-figure with no private parts and a flat monotone voice. As Princess Amidala, Natalie Portman couldn’t be Aniduller. The kid who plays Anakin seems like he should be the shy fellow in the back in some passing boy band but instead his agent stuck him with some lousy movie gig in a language not his own. He and Miss Portman roll in the grass like it’s a contractual obligation. The most fully realized characters are the computer-generated ones, like Yoda, the wrinkly midget with the inverted word order that nevertheless sounds less unnatural than the rest of the inert, stilted dialogue.

June 8, 2013

Charles Stross talks about writing The Jennifer Morgue

Filed under: Books, Britain, Business, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:07

If you haven’t yet read any of the “Laundry” books by Charles Stross, you really are missing out on a treat. The Jennifer Morgue was the second in the series and Charles has a blog post up about how the book came to be written:

All stories have several seeds. In the case of “The Jennifer Morgue”, the first seed was the surprising success of “The Atrocity Archives”. The novel my agent initially thought was unsaleable sold to Golden Gryphon, a small but respectable Lovecraftian publisher in the United States. It went gold, going into reprint and becoming their second-best selling title at the time. Then, to everyone’s surprise, the additional novella I wrote for the book (“The Concrete Jungle”) made the shortlist for the Hugo award in 2005. This was a stunning surprise. GG had only sold around 3000 copies of the book; the other novellas on the shortlist had all appeared in magazines or anthologies with four to ten times the number of copies sold! After some hurried email consultation, Gary and Marty at GG agreed to let me put the whole novella on the web, to make it more readily available to the Hugo voters. I don’t know if that’s what did the trick, or if there were additional home-mover effects from the Worldcon in 2005 being held in Glasgow (thus bringing more British voters in than normal) but at the end of August that year I became the dazed and surprised owner of a very shiny trophy.

(And the performance anxiety that had been haunting me for years—”I’m not a real writer, I’m just winging this”—went away for a while.)

But anyway. This success coincided with a French publisher making an offer for translation rights to “The Atrocity Archives”, which in turn got my agent’s attention. She proposed a sequel, and James Bond was so obvious that I don’t think I even considered any alternatives. It would have to be the Movie Bond franchise, for most people these days don’t grow up on the original Ian Fleming novels (the way I did); the humour would come from the incongruity of Bob Howard in James Bond’s shoes. We decided to auction the new book, along with paperback rights to “The Atrocity Archives”, and ended up cutting a deal whereby Golden Gryphon would publish “The Jennifer Morgue” in hardcover while Ace rolled “The Atrocity Archives” in trade paperback, and eventually in mass market. Which then left me pondering what to write … because every Bond movie (or novel) needs a Bond-sized plot device, doesn’t it?

By this time we were into late October 2005. One evening, we were eating a Chinese take-away in front of the TV, watching a documentary on the Discovery Channel about one of the most bizarre CIA projects to happen during the Cold War — Project Azorian (better, but mistakenly, known to the public as “Operation Jennifer”). Seriously, if you don’t know about it, go follow that link right now; it’s about how the CIA enlisted Howard Hughes to help them build a 63,000 ton fake deep-see mining ship, the Glomar Challenger, as cover for a deep-sea grapple that would descend 4,900 metres and raise the hull of a shipwrecked Soviet nuclear missile submarine, the K-129. (Project Azorian was so James Bond that the engineering crew working on the ship were cracking jokes about the bald guy stroking the white cat in his seat on the bridge. How post-modern can you go?)

November 22, 2012

Creating Aston Martin DB5s to blow up real good

Filed under: Media, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:40

3D printing to the (budget) rescue for 007:

Sean Connery first rocked the iconic James Bond Aston Martin DB5 in 1964’s Goldfinger. That vehicle made a reappearance in this year’s blockbuster Skyfall with Daniel Craig at the wheel.

Spoiler alert: Craig’s DB5 meets an untimely end involving flames. You can’t just take a priceless real DB5 and blow it up on film, so the filmmakers turned to a high-tech prop solution: 3D printing.

Voxeljet, a 3D printing company in Germany, created three 1:3 scale models of the rare DB5. Each model was made from 18 separate components that were assembled much like a real car. The massive VX4000 printer could have cranked out a whole car, but the parts method created models with doors and hoods that could open and close.

October 31, 2012

The science of “shaken, not stirred”

Filed under: Books, History, Media, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:05

Ah, those dedicated researchers at The Register! This time, they’ve got Gavin Clarke looking into the famous dry martini of James Bond:

“A distressingly large amount of rubbish is talked about cocktails,” Noel Jackson, top boffin at the Life Science Centre in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, tells The Reg.

Jackson, a Cambridge-University-educated chemist, has all the straight-up science on alcohol.

“We do a lot of debunking of things that people think are true,” he tells us. “There’s this business of shaken versus stirred. Once you heard it said from people in the cocktail world that shaking ‘bruises’ a liquid! That’s rubbish.”

The Reg, as part of our ongoing celebration of James Bond’s fiftieth year on film, was talking to Jackson about one of the signature elements of the 007 package: the dry vodka martini. Shaken, not stirred.

Jackson comes on the best of recommendations. We were put onto him by the boffins of the UK’s National Physical Laboratory, who have been instrumental in such developments as packet-switched networking and the “Dambuster” bouncing bomb of World War II fame.

“What he doesn’t know about drinks, doesn’t need to be known,” they told us.

We spoke to Jackson about chemicals and thermal dynamics. We start with flavour, and that means talking alcohol.

October 19, 2012

Why James Bond drove an Aston Martin instead of a Jaguar

Filed under: Books, Britain, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:01

At The Register, John Oates looks at 007’s motor cars over the years:

What car should James Bond really drive? It’s a hotly disputed question.

Our man on film is closely associated with the Aston Martin, the DB5 initially and DBS V12 of late. Clearly the producers of recent Bond outings hope to identify their character with the spirit of an earlier time regarded as iconic and special. And they should, because the DB5 is both of these.

All of which is rather odd, because the book that introduced James Bond — Casino Royale — referred to a 4.5 litre Bentley with an Amherst Villiers supercharger. However, this is Bond’s personal car, and hobby, rather than work vehicle. We’re told he bought it almost new in 1933 and stored it through the war.

“Bond drove the car hard and well and with an almost sensual pleasure.”

[. . .] Jaguar’s E-type had set the world on fire that year. It had a slightly smaller engine at launch than the DB5, but was 500 pounds lighter and looked like no other car before it. By 1964 the engine had increased to a 4.2 litre brute not far off that in Bond’s Bentley.

Broccoli supposedly called Jaguar to ask for a couple of E-types — the car had come out the previous year and was welcomed by Enzo Ferrari as the most beautiful car in the world. It cost half the £4,175 an Aston-Martin would set you back.

So Broccoli rang Jaguar boss Sir William Lyons and asked to borrow a couple for the film. Lyons told him to get stuffed. To be fair to Lyons his firm was already struggling to make enough E-types to satisfy the public clamour for the car.

So Broccoli phoned Aston Martin and Bond ended up in a DB5 instead.

December 11, 2011

QotD: Alcohol

Filed under: Books, Humour, Quotations, Randomness — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 20:20

It has been said that alcohol is a good servant and a bad master. Nice try. The plain fact is that it makes other people, and indeed life itself, a good deal less boring. Kingsley grasped this essential fact very early in life, and (so to speak) never let go of the insight. This does not mean that there are not wine bores, single-malt bores, and people who become even more boring when they themselves have a tipple. You will meet them, and learn how to recognize them (and also how to deal with them) in these pages.

In my opinion Kingers — which I was allowed to call him — was himself a very slight cocktail bore. Or, at least, he had to affect to be such in order to bang out a regular column on drinks for the pages of a magazine aimed at the male population. In “real” life, Amis was a no-nonsense drinker with little inclination to waste a good barman’s time with fussy instructions. However, there was an exception which I think I can diagnose in retrospect, and it is related to his strong admiration for the novels of Ian Fleming. What is James Bond really doing when he specifies the kind of martini he wants and how he wants it? He is telling the barman (or bartender if you must) that he knows what he is talking about and is not to be messed around. I learned the same lesson when I was a restaurant and bar critic for the City Paper in Washington, D.C. Having long been annoyed by people who called knowingly for “a Dewar’s and water” instead of a scotch and water, I decided to ask a trusted barman what I got if I didn’t specify a brand or label. The answer was a confidential jerk of the thumb in the direction of a villainous-looking tartan-shaded jug under the bar. The situation was even grimmer with gin and vodka and became abysmal with “white wine”, a thing I still can’t bear to hear being ordered. If you don’t state a clear preference, then your drink is like a bad game of poker or a hasty drug transaction: It is whatever the dealer says it is. Please do try to bear this in mind.

Christopher Hitchens, Introduction to Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis, 2008.

September 10, 2009

Beatlemania? I’ll sit this one out, thanks

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:20

Stephen Robb looks at those poor, unenlightened barbarians (like me) who aren’t just wetting themselves with joy over the release of the remastered Beatles collection:

James Bond apparently hated The Beatles.

In Goldfinger, he advises Jill Masterson that “drinking Dom Perignon ’53 above the temperature of 38 degrees” is “as bad as listening to The Beatles without earmuffs”.

The Bond girl’s own verdict on the Fab Four, unfortunately, is not recorded before her untimely demise on the inside of a coating of gold paint.

That was 1964, when 007 may have felt threatened by that year’s global success of The Beatles’ first movie, A Hard Day’s Night.

I’m not a “hater” . . . there are a few Beatles songs I still like, but of the (quick check on the iPhone) 2254 songs currently residing in my collection, zero of ’em are by the Beatles. If I want to hear ’em, there’s plenty of “oldies” radio stations (real and virtual) offering them on regular rotation.

And I always liked that line from “London Calling“: All that phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust.

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