I started out writing on what I would call fanzines, which were small fan-produced booklets that were usually devoted to science fiction subjects and were photocopied. Progressing further I then wrote for a fan-produced though professionally printed telefantasy magazine called Time Screen and after that folded, I started my own publication that featured articles and features on cult television series that involved me being both the editor and a writer and this was called Action TV. Moving on, I decided that I wanted to write a book on The Avengers television series and this became Bowler Hats and Kinky Boots that was published in 2014. I had always been fascinated by Charles K Feldman’s Bond spoof Casino Royale and so I set about researching the background of this movie and how it ran out of control during production, which resulted in another book The Making of Casino Royale 1967 and that became available in 2015.
Great work! I added links to our past interviews above. Mike, both of us have been developing books about spy entertainment for a long time, and from different angles. For readers who don’t know about your new book, what was your general approach overall? What aspects did you decide to cover?
Guns, Girls and Gadgets: Sixties Spy Films Uncovered is the factual reference book I have always wanted to read to expand my knowledge on sixties spy and secret agent movies, but as the years went by no one produced such a volume I thought, ‘I’ll write it myself.’ When starting out at the planning stage I felt that I needed to include every film in all the big sixties spy movie franchises, which meant James Bond, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Matt Helm, Harry Palmer, Derek Flint and Bulldog Drummond and these make up half of the book.
Generally the chapters start with a brief teaser of the storyline and then spotlight the source material, such as being adapted from a novel and then various drafts of scripts written by different writers. Early casting considerations that were not followed through and the ones that were, which leads into pre-production, principal photography, filming locations, special effects, stunts, behind the scenes and censorship requirements. Each chapter concludes with cast and credits (including uncredited cast and credits), information regarding original spin-off merchandise including vinyl records, paperback tie-in novels, plus production dates and the original UK cinema release date. I really left no stone unturned in my research of the 50 movies that are represented in this tome and as they are in production order, the reader can see how this genre of feature films developed and progressed throughout the decade.
I know fans are discussing the list of films you chose, what made the cut and what didn’t. How did you come to your final list?
The other films I chose to cover were mainly ones that I used to watch on TV during the seventies and eighties, which on the whole (with the exception of the sixties Bond movies) are now hardly ever screened on UK television channels. While I was researching and writing the book, friends recommended Hot Enough for June and A Dandy in Aspic, of which I had not actually seen, but after viewing both I decided to include them. Likewise, I thought that spy novelist John le Carré should be represented and so The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and The Deadly Affair were added. Another couple of spy adventures that were completely new to me were The Million Eyes of Sumaru and a Eurospy Bond film without Bond, but with Sean Connery’s brother Neil playing the lead, called Operation Kid Brother and having been impressed with both I decided to incorporate them as well.
Originally I was planning to have 60 chapters, hence 60 films, then as time went on and progress seemed slow, but the wordcount kept rising I realised that I would have to settle for a maximum of 50. I considered the three Charles Vine films Licensed to Kill (aka The Second Best Secret Agent in the Whole Wide World), Where the Bullets Fly and Someone’s Stolen Our Russian Spy (aka O.K. Yevtushenko), but wanting to watch them for reference purposes I found that only the first two were available on DVD. The Limbo Line was another one where I was unable to locate a review copy, but then about a year later someone told me it was on YouTube. When trimming back the amount of films the easiest decision came about with three movies that were filmed in 1969, but not actually released in cinemas until the seventies and these were When Eight Bells Toll, The Executioner starring George Peppard and Mrs Pollifax-Spy. Further to this, I also inspected two comedy espionage films in The Last of the Secret Agents and Salt and Pepper, before deciding against both, the latter mainly because it has a sequel that is not actually a spy movie.
What was on the B-list? Might those become a volume 2 someday?
Even though I had already written a book on the sixties Bond spoof Casino Royale, I thought that I would still like to include it in Guns, Girls and Gadgets: Sixties Spy Films Uncovered. I spent quite some time condensing and rewriting my notes to create a chapter devoted to Casino Royale, but when I was only halfway through with double the wordcount of the You Only Live Twice chapter, I realised it was not going to work. At around four times longer than the average chapter, Casino Royale would have been just too big and out of place alongside the other films and this resulted in me abandoning plans to include it.
One of the initial reactions I have had is that the Raquel Welsh film Fathom is missing, though I consider this a sophisticated crime movie rather than an espionage adventure. I did a little research on Fathom before I decided against its inclusion and I discovered that some location filming had taken place in the village of Maro in Spain, where incidentally footage was also captured for Operation Kid Brother.
I think I’ve picked off the main and most popular sixties spy films for this volume, so I’m unsure regarding the potential that a second volume would have regarding sales. However, I have been asked by people regarding going further and writing a companion book detailing seventies spy films.
Given this book’s length, did you consider doing a series of shorter volumes?
Double printing costs ruled out producing two volumes.
Was it an early decision not to include TV series, as well?
I never really considered adding any television series or TV movies to the book, as I had more than enough feature films to work with.
You included the Man from U.N.C.L.E. "movies" made from TV episodes, but none of the ITC movies made that way (from Man in a Suitcase or The Baron, etc), and not Mission: Impossible vs. the Mob. I'm sure readers would love to hear about those ITC film edits.
During the sixties the UK company ITC amalgamated some two-part television episodes into TV movies for certain foreign markets and these products were also marketed as feature films for others countries. Occasionally individual episode with no connection to each other were edited together and then marketed as TV movies in the United States, which was something that occurred in the early sixties when several Man of the World television episodes became television films. Only two episodes of Secret Agent/Danger Man were filmed in colour, originally planned as the beginning of the fourth season and these would later be distributed in some markets as a movie, after Patrick McGoohan persuaded the head of ITC Lew Grade to allow him to go into production on his concept The Prisoner.
Two-part episodes from The Baron, Man in a Suitcase, and The Saint underwent the process of being put together to create feature films for the European, Mexican and Australian markets. The Baron episodes ‘Storm Warning’ and ‘The Island’ became Mystery Island, with ‘Masquerade’ and ‘The Killing’ emerging as The Man in the Looking Glass, though as looking glass is an American term for mirror it indicates that ITC saw potential sales to the USA. The film that was created from the joining of the two Man in a Suitcase adventures ‘Variations on a Million Bucks’ parts one and two was called To Chase a Million. This approach continued with colour episodes of The Saint, where the two-part escapades ‘The Fiction-Makers’ and ‘Vendetta for the Saint’, were both recut forming feature length presentations.
Also, later in 1983, the current owner of the ITC back catalogue decided to make a TV movie from The Champions series and taking the episode ‘The Interrogation’ as their starting point they produced Legend of the Champions. ‘The Interrogation’ was interspersed with footage from the pilot episode ‘The Beginning’ and unused material originally filmed for the proposed 90 minute version of the pilot, where the three agents discussed informing their superior Tremayne about the powers they had acquired in Tibet, which they eventually decide against.
Thanks for that summary. What was your research process on this project?
I try to research everywhere, on-line archives, websites, blogs, old magazines and newspapers, books, documentaries, interviews, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries, and general observation of the subject matter. The finest source is always official production company and studio documentation and I was lucky enough to locate some of this for several of the films I covered.
Mike, what were the films and TV shows that first hooked you as a fan? What did you love about them?
I got hooked on James Bond and spy films in general after seeing Diamonds are Forever in 1972 and then Live and Let Die and the re-released On Her Majesty’s Secret Service the following year. Then it was a case of catching up with the earlier Bond movies and that began with the first screening of Dr No on UK television in October 1975, though by this time I’m sure some of the sixties Matt Helm films had also undergone TV transmissions and I really liked them, because they were a mixture of action and humour and that appealed to me at the time. My interest in spy and secret agent themed movies just grew from that point forward.
I discovered television spies earlier in the late sixties when The Man from U.N.C.L.E. went out on Thursday evenings on BBC1, before being alternated weekly with The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. for a time. By the early seventies, Mission: Impossible had arrived on BBC2 for early evening transmissions and this made a big impression on me. I did not become enthusiastic about British secret agent TV shows until 1975, when my local ITV region Yorkshire Television did some late-night reruns of the colour Diana Rigg episodes of The Avengers, which was followed by the premiere of The New Avengers in 1976. Initially with both The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Avengers it was the science-fiction elements present in the screenplays that attracted me, as this made these series stand out from the usual crime and police shows that I had been watching previously.
That sci-fi aspect is what hooked me, as well! I’m happy to see the new book coming from Quoit Media. Rick has done so many interesting projects to provide materials and events, not only about The Prisoner but also wider coverage celebrating cast, crew, locations, etc in its orbit. How did you guys develop the book?
The kind of large books I write could never be written to a deadline and so I always finish writing them before I start looking for a publisher. I approached Quoit Media and Rick Davy saw potential in the project, which throughout writing I had referred to as The Sixties Spy Film Book, but then a series of emails between Rick, Alan Hayes and myself brought about various title suggestions. Eventually, we decided on Guns, Girls and Gadgets: Sixties Spy Films Uncovered, which we thought described the contents much better. Basically, Rick was very easy to work with and as a result both the book and most of the formatting is exactly how I envisaged it.
You included one Eurospy title (maybe a few more depending on how you categorize British movies), Operation Kid Brother. What led to your decision to include only one?
My forward explains what criteria I followed when choosing the films and mainly this was movies I had watched on UK television during the sixties and seventies. Sixties Eurospy films have generally not been screened by the UK television channels, although I have seen some British movies in books and on the internet such as Deadlier than the Male, Danger Route, and Some Girls Do, referred to as Eurospy movies. It has been said to me that I could do another book devoted to sixties Eurospy films and there would be more than enough of a choice to select 50 movies to cover.
Do you have any particular favourites among all the movies you covered?
Before I saw any Bond pictures, I had read all of Ian Fleming’s novels and as such both Dr No and From Russia with Love are very faithful adaptations, plus I do approve of the spicing up of the conclusion of the second one with the helicopter and speedboat chase. For me, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was the best Fleming novel and likewise I rate this movie as another of my favourites. I have never understood why George Lazenby took notice of his manager and walked away from the role and a very secure financial future.
Going from one extreme to another, I rate The Ipcress File as another excellent spy film with Michael Caine cast as Harry Palmer, an ordinary guy who put himself in extreme danger for queen and country. The central character is nameless in the Len Deighton novels, but wanting a name for the films Caine came up with Harry and film producer Harry Saltzman remembered a boring man he once met called Palmer and the two were amalgamated. By the time Deighton wrote Billion Dollar Brain, he had obviously seen some Bond movies and purposely created a much bigger concept that showed that a third world war might not be started by the Soviet Bloc, but rather by extremists in the west.
Another favourite is The Liquidator that starred Rod Taylor as Boysie Oakes, who is recruited to British Intelligence and then enjoys all the trapping of an expense account, a large apartment and E-Type Jaguar. However, he was then unceremoniously informed that he is the department’s assassin, but unable to kill his targets he subs the work to an amusing private hitman played by comedy actor Eric Sykes. Then while in Monte Carlo, Oakes came to the attention of a cell of Russian operatives who want to know why he is there and their actions will mean that Boysie has to step up to the mark and become a real agent.
A Man Could Get Killed (aka Welcome Mr Beddoes) is a borderline entry as it involves James Garner’s character William Beddoes arriving in Portugal and being mistaken for a spy, who is searching for some stolen diamonds. Garner’s easy-going portrayal against overwhelming odds would pave the way for his similar casual and dry-humoured role in The Rockford Files television series during the following decade.
Despite the NBC network wanting more humour in the screenplays for the third season of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., "The Concrete Overcoat Affair" parts 1 and 2 work brilliantly when some additional material was added for it to become The Spy in the Green Hat. When done correctly this amalgamation of drama, action and camp humour worked so well. The final two in my top ten spy movies of the sixties are pictures that pushed the envelope of secret agent films, being A Dandy in Aspic and Otley. A Dandy in Aspic revolves around British Intelligence knowing that there is a Russian double agent in the department, so they arrange for top agent Alexander Eberlin to discover his identity, little knowing that he is actually the traitor they are looking for.
Otley takes things off in a completely different direction and it is incredibly funny mainly down to the great acting by Tom Courtney as James Arthur Otley, who finds himself in demand by different factions who believe that he has information they want. However, Otley knows nothing and has no connection whatsoever to the intelligence community, but people will not believe him.
That book cover design by our friend, Alan, is amazing.
The cover design by Alan Hayes is absolutely brilliant, it epitomises sixties spy movies. The images of the various major players of the decade’s espionage movies (Bond, Solo and Kuryakin, Palmer and Flint) set inside the crosshairs of a telescopic sight, is as you say amazing.
Now that this one is complete, do you have a new project in mind?
For some time now I have been working on a book about the various ITC film series that Dennis Spooner created and had a hand in producing: The Baron, The Champions, Department S, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), Jason King and The Adventurer.
Thank you, Mike! Please do keep us posted! Spy Vibers can order the new book HERE.
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Sounds like a lot of good information and details went into this book.ReplyDelete