Taking Credit: Film title sequences, 1955-1965 / 7: Sex and Typography: From Russia With Love, 1963

Essays by Emily King
4 574 words23 min read

5: Sex and Typography: From Russia With Love, 1963

In the early 1960s London emerged as a newly fashionable focus of activity for both design and film-making. Americans who were already established in both fields migrated there and simultaneously took advantage of and added to the flourishing creative scene. Alan Fletcher, a British designer who was working in the United States in the late 1950s, returned to London at around the same time as American designers such as Bob Gill and Lou Klein were arriving. Fletcher suggests, ‘A lot of the designers came to England because it was like virgin territory. It was beginning here, there was a romance.’ Charles Rosner reported in Graphis of November 1960 that, ‘The reputation of British design as a whole was considerably enhanced in the summer of 1960 when the British Exhibition was held New York’, and went on to cite soaring advertising expenditure and a ‘rapidly growing public interest in the visual arts’ as factors behind this improvement. Throughout the 1950s British advertising budgets had grown in line with disposable income, consumer spending had increased and new potential new markets were being identified and exploited.

While Alan Fletcher remembers London as a ‘grey blanket’ in the 1950s, he suggests that it was a city teaming with an ‘immense number of creative bright people’ by the mid 1960s. Post war affluence hastened social change in a plastic cultural climate. Robert Hewison has argued that anxiety and excitement prompted by the breakdown of long-standing social and political structures led to a shared sense that society was at a turning point. The feeling of being on the edge of a nuclear precipice and on the brink of major social upheaval, in tandem with the facilitation of mass communication through television, was reponsible for what was effectively a transformation of the most visible aspects of British culture and society in the early 1960s.

The American graphic designer, Robert Brownjohn (1925-70), came to London in 1961 at the suggestion of Bob Gill. Brownjohn, who had trained at the Chicago Institute, had already enjoyed a certain amount of success as a partner in the New York design group, BCG. He left the United States because of the breakdown of his working relationship with Ivan Chermayeff and Thomas Geismar (C&G) which was a result of his addiction to heroin, a drug he first took as a student. Like most of the American designers who came over he had no problem finding well paid work, and within a few weeks of arriving in London he was employed as an art director at J. Walter Thompson’s. Katie Homans has suggested that though family connections and a thriving advertising industry made London an obvious choice for Bj, he was motivated most urgently by the fact that ‘heroin and other hard drugs were available by prescription through clinic in England at this time.’

While Britain’s advertising industry was employing some of America’s brightest designers, its film industry was attracting significant dollar investments. Small British studios had been making movies from the earliest days of commercial film production. Having switched largely to turning out propaganda during the second world war, these studios returned to producing entertainment films in the late 1940s and 1950s. American talent or investment played an important role in a large part of post-war British film production. Alexander Walker has argued that in the mid 1950s, because of falling domestic audiences, British film-makers were forced to concentrate on foreign markets and had become ‘more akin to exporters than producers’. In 1954 the film critic John Gillett, reporting on the ‘State of the Studios’, had noticed that ‘there are only four feature films on the floor in British Studios, and three of them are being made by American directors’. While Gillett went on to speculate that ‘a different name on the credits is no assurance of a different line of approach’, with the benefit of hindsight, Walker has suggested that the specifically British character of the films produced under these condition was ‘nebulous’ and that they ‘were sometimes indistinguishable in look and tone from the product turned out by the home studios in California’.

British studios were able to attract American film makers by offering film lots and skilled labour at prices which greatly undercut their Hollywood equivalents. Sydney Cain, who worked in the 1950s as a draughtsman at Warwick films, an important London based company, recalled that he ‘has almost invariably worked for American directors’. Cain observed that as well as lower rents and wages these directors might have been attracted to Britain by the skill of her technicians. Arguing that British crews were ‘put through the mill’, Cain suggested that, unused to working with large budgets, he and his colleagues would exert themselves to produce effective images at the lowest possible cost.

The post-war years saw an Anglo-American film industry established on predominantly American terms. In spite of this, between 1959 and 1967 British independents were able make several films that were notable international successes. These films, as well as earning money for companies representing British interests, also appeared to encapsulate a characteristic Britishness. Ranging from the relentlessly gritty Room At The Top to the costume comedy Tom Jones, these film do not reflect a homogeneous style but their relationship to contemporary British theatre or their ironic humour clearly announced their origins to an international audience. Harry Saltzman (b.1915), who teamed up with Albert Broccoli (b.1909) to make the Bond series, played an important role from the start in the mini-Renaissance of British cinema, finding funds to film Osborne’s Look Back In Anger among other projects. Broccoli had also had several years experience in the British film industry pre-Bond, having co-founded Warwick films he successfully produced a number of movies with the financial help of Columbia Pictures’ international division.

Broccoli and Saltzman, operating as Eon productions, persuaded United Artists to fund the first Bond movie, Dr No, securing a budget of a $1 million to produce the film. The first four films of the Bond series were the most financially successful movies produced by the British film industry in the 1960s. But while they were made by a nominally British company all the interests represented were American. Walker has argued that the Bond films’ self-parodying humour relates them to British films like Tom Jones. It is probably because Bond’s irony differentiates the series from the misplaced, low-budget Hollywood productions of the 1950s that the films have been seen as the commercial heart of the brief 1960s revival of British cinema, rather than as cuckoos in the British nest.

After the box-office success of Dr No, Broccoli and Saltzman had little trouble eliciting a much larger budget from UA to film its sequel, From Russia With Love. Alan Fletcher suggests that Brownjohn was commissioned to design the titles for the second Bond movie ‘because he was part of the scene of the moment’. Saltzman and Brownjohn met at a Chelsea dinner party at a period when designers and film-makers in London ‘all knew each other, and used to meet in the same restaurants’. A friend of Bj’s remembers him as a charismatic ‘youthful crew-cut slim American character who wore sneakers and was quite different to anyone else I'd ever met’. Though he had never worked with film, being a charming mercurial figure at the heart of the closely knit Anglo-American London scene qualified Brownjohn to be offered what, after the success of the first Bond film, had become a prestigious, high budget commission.


Maurice Binder (1918-1991), designer of the titles for Dr No, had already effectively created a brand image for the films. Binder, another American emigre, had met Broccoli and Saltzman through the British branch of National Screen Service, where he had worked designing titles and trailers since the late 1950s. The titles for Dr No, like much of Binder’s work bear traces of the influence of the modern European graphic aesthetic (fig.29). But, possibly because he was trained primarily as a film-maker, Binder appears to have felt free to animate abstract elements, employed in a strictly formal manner by European-influenced graphic designers, to create playful modernistic cartoons. Work by designers such as Noel Martin (fig.30) and Will Burtin (fig.31) must have been the inspiration for the titles of Dr No. But Binder’s dancing dots, which were made by animating price tags, mock the seriousness of these designers. From the outset, Broccoli and Saltzman appear to have conceived eye-catching, suggestively modern graphics as part of the Bond package. Probably this was because by the time the Bond series was being planned film-makers were competing primarily against television for their audience. From the earliest days of television, channels had used screen graphics to introduce and punctuate programs and animated two dimensional designs were becoming increasingly common in television advertisements. Even though Bass had been creating movie title sequences since the mid 1950s, by the early 1960s most people would have become familiar with animated graphics in their living rooms rather than at the movie theatres. However the quality of television transmission was still very poor and screens were usually small, so the exciting Bond lead-ins gave audiences something television offered but could not deliver.

Binder, in cooperation with Brownjohn, topped and tailed the titles for From Russia With Love . Binder’s famous gun barrel sequence opens the film by putting the audience inside the shaft of a gun as the weapon scans the screen. The figure of James Bond appears within the white circle of light that represents the view from that position. Bond crouches and fires, leaving a red stain which runs slowly down the screen (fig.32). This sequence was lifted straight from Dr No and was subsequently used to open every James Bond film. It was remade several times to accommodate a range of James Bonds wearing a variety of trouser widths. While the title sequences were part of the Bond brand image, it was this sequence that became the trademark.

After the roving gun barrel device, the film is introduced with a short ‘hook’ sequence. This structure was borrowed from television. Program-makers hoped that a short dramatic burst of action, usually ending in a car crash or a murder, would stop people switching channels during the credits. Within a film, whose audience has already paid its money, this kind of lead-in is a stylistic, rather than a directly commercial ploy. The action-packed introduction sequences to From Russia With Love and all the following Bond films are further evidence that films were competing against television for their audience. Film-makers were learning that in order to survive they had to adjust to meet the expectations of a predominantly television watching audience, rather than merely compete with what the small screen had to offer.

Brownjohn’s credit sequence begins after the audiences’ thirst for action has been temporarily satiated by a violent murder. After the initial credit, written in white on a black screen, ‘Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli present’, the sequence opens with a belly dancer moving against a black background with a series of coloured lights playing across her body (fig.33). The lights are a projection of the words ‘Ian Fleming’s James Bond in From Russia With Love’ written in multicoloured script, which at this point are entirely illegible. In the second image of the sequence this same credit is projected onto a flat background and the dancers arms play in the light of the projector, she acts as a screen which catches and distorts the type. Throughout the sequence the credits are written in the same brightly coloured sans-serif capitals. In the third image, a woman’s wide staring eyes appear through the double OO of Bond’s OO7 identity. The projection of the coloured numbers is whisked down her body, rests for a few moments on her girating hips, and disappears. The credits of the leading players, Sean Connery and Daniela Bianchi, are projected respectively onto the dancer’s rippling belly and closed thighs, the credits of their co-stars appear upon the her inner thighs and so on so until each part of the dancer’s body has been appropriated by text. The main bulk of the technical credits are either projected onto the undulating back of the dancer or onto her shimmying front. In every case, credits distorted to the point of illegibility by womanly curves are reprojected against a flat background. At the end of the sequence, the names of Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli, the film’s producers, get a prime site within the dancer’s cleavage and Terence Young, the director, gets the last credit on her gently swaying left flank.

‘Sex and typography’ was the title Brownjohn chose to give an article in the British journal Typographica in which he described the ideas and processes behind this sequence (fig.34). Beginning by outlining other ways in which he had employed the female body in his work, Brownjohn suggested, ‘I think I must have become rather obsessed with that particular solution because when, a few months later, I was asked to design the titles for the James Bond film From Russia with Love I extended that idea’. He goes on to rationalise his obsession by explaining, ‘On this type of the film the only themes to work with are, it seems to me, sex or violence. I chose sex’. In fact, rather than focussing in immediately on either sex or violence as the theme of the titles, Bj had originally thought of using the symbol of a chess game within the opening sequence as a metaphor for the film’s storyline. Likening the film’s plot machinations to a complex strategic game would have produced a cool metaphorical solution, similar to those arrived at by Bass during his first phase of title making. By eventually deciding to concentrate on the passive female form Brownjohn established the model that was conformed to in every subsequent set of Bond titles. Brownjohn had correctly identified the semi-clad female as the most important ingredient of the Bond films. From the very beginning, when Venus-like Ursula Andress strode out of the waves wearing only a bikini in Dr No, audiences expected Bond films to be littered with naked female flesh. The 1960s are often looked back on as years of a sexual revolution during which women were liberated by sophisticated methods of birth control and relaxing moral codes. The impression created by the Bond series suggests that rather than freeing women, the sexual revolution merely made them appear the increasingly available object of mens’ fantasies.

The source of Brownjohn’s inspiration for the form of these sexually charged titles has become the subject of myth. John Brimacombe, Brownjohn’s assistant at the time, remembered that Bj had become fascinated with images of still type on moving bodies when people arriving late for one of his lectures had walked in front of the projector. While this may well be true, Brownjohn would first have encountered these kinds of images as a student at the Chicago Institute under Moholy Nagy. In the article ‘Sex and Typography’, Brownjohn wrote, ‘I remembered that, many years ago, Moholy Nagy had proposed projecting advertisements on to the clouds at night’. As a student in Moholy Nagy’s light workshop in the 1940s, Brownjohn would have been encouraged to experiment by projecting light onto not only clouds but a variety of still and mobile forms. In Vision In Motion, Moholy Nagy had even used an image of a women with light projected onto her body, taken from a medical advertisement designed by Lester Beall, to illustrate his thoughts on experiments with light and photography (fig.35).

Brownjohn constantly returned in his graphic work to the ideas that he would have come across during his education in Chicago. Katie Homans has suggested that, like Moholy Nagy, Brownjohn believed that art and life must be integrated. She argued, ‘Brownjohn brought to his work and introduced to his contemporaries an approach to graphic design worthy of Moholy Nagy’s experiment in totality, but in the spirit of cynicism, instead of the optimism of his teacher.’ This theory is borne out by Brownjohn’s photographic article ‘Street Level’ published in Typographica of 1961 (fig.36). As Moholy Nagy had suggested, Brownjohn chose to act as an integrator between design and life. But while Moholy Nagy believed that the integration of life and art implied a progressive attitude and a willingness keeping in step with the latest technology, Brownjohn accepted that poverty and shabbiness were part of modern life at ‘Street Level’ in London. Brownjohn did not identify modernity with the improvement of the human condition. Using the sexually fetishised image of the belly dancer, an object of European fantasy since the nineteenth century whose potency had not diminished a century later, as a screen for a modern typography is similarly an exercise in integrating what cynics could have argued was the true stuff of modern life with the practise of modern design. By the mid 1960s pornography had entered the mainstream through magazines like Playboy, in this context the semi-clad female exposing herself to the voyeuristic male gaze as she dances her way through the From Russia With Love titles was truly an image of its age.


‘He was the original pop artist for sure’, claimed a friend of Brownjohn’s. Brownjohn’s apparently unjudgemental absorption of the images that were current in modern life is possibly more related to the approach of the pop artist than that of the European modernist. Nonetheless the simple, communicative designs he created using these images strongly reflect the ideas of those who taught him at the Art Institute in Chicago. Conforming to the ideals of the modernists, the partners of the design group BCG had shared a belief that ‘if they couldn’t describe an idea over the telephone, it wasn’t simple, clear and direct enough’. The concept behind the titles for From Russia With Love had the advantage of that kind of simplicity. To present the idea to Broccoli and Saltzman, Bj projected the titles onto a screen, took off his shirt and danced in the path of the projected type saying, ‘It’ll be just like this only we’ll use a pretty girl’. But, even though Broccoli and Saltzman were able to grasp the idea immediately, the titles themselves were very complex to produce.

Trevor Bond, who assisted Brownjohn in animating the From Russia With Love titles, recalled the difficulty of keeping the type legible:

The lighting cameraman tried to take a reading from the projected typography and noticed that the needle hardly moved on his Weston master. So the whole thing was shot with a wide open shutter! Its old hat now, but then it was a new frontier. The projector had a 3000 watt bulb and if the dancer moved just a little bit the wrong way the whole thing was out of focus.

In ‘Sex and Typography, Brownjohn told a similar story:

A projector lens has no depth of focus, and another major problem was therefore to make the dancer control her movements in a plane at right angles to the projector without destroying the illusion of dancing. The final result achieved what I now call instant opticals - with everything done in the camera rather than the laboratory.

Brownjohn was the first to exploit this technique commercially and he became celebrated for his ground-breaking work. Brownjohn was awarded the Design and Art Directors’ Club Gold Medal in 1965 for the titles from Goldfinger, the third Bond movie. While in the From Russia With Love titles he had projected still images onto an animated human ‘screen’, in the Goldfinger sequence he created ‘instant opticals’ by projecting moving images onto a gold-painted passive female form.

Broccoli and Saltzman enthusiastically enroled ground-breaking modern graphics into the Bond package, but there was no coherent modern ideology of any kind behind the films’ production. As the series progressed, the range of gadgetry employed by Bond to fight the enemy became increasingly elaborate and fantastical. But, while in some cases these devices were the related to important scientific breakthroughs, such as infra-red gun sights, often they were gimmicks that had more to do with Heath Robinson than the technological cutting edge. It is hard to imagine the British government spending money to develop the parachute sprouting car that appears in Live and Let Die in an earnest attempt to compete in the Cold War. To some extent the Bond films acted as a shop-window for the British manufacturing industry. Although Bond’s cars, boats and planes routinely met their ends at high speed, before these vehicles were engulfed in belching clouds of black smoke audiences would have been made aware of their British origins.

It is in their emphasis on these devices that the films depart most radically from the books. Major Boothroyd, a character equivalent to the Bond films’ ‘Q’, does exist in Fleming’s novels. But Boothroyd, primarily an expert in the technology of weaponry, would never have dreamt of replacing Bond’s traditional, battleship grey, Aston Martin DB111, with the conspicuous silver DB5 (with ‘oil slick squirter, wing-mounted machine guns, protruding wheel scythe and ejector seat’) offered to Bond by ‘Q’ in Goldfinger. Despite this comic book vision of modernity offered to audiences, the Bond films hung on to Ian Fleming’s unreconstructed British hero, who consistently raised his eyebrows in weary surprise at the gadgets offered to him by ‘Q’. Bond may have been hero of the modern age but he was not a modern character: he ordered thick cut Oxford marmalade for breakfast and recognised villains by their ignorance of what colour wine to drink with fish. Anti-modern attitudes, that in school-boy tales are purported to have built the Empire, are partnered with the avid consumerism of the 1960s to form James Bond’s unlikely on-screen personality.

Pop modernity and traditionalism coexist as separate strands within the Bond series without any apparent contradiction. It is characteristic of the construction of the Bond package that the producers felt able to pick and choose the elements that make up the films without feeling any obligation to reconcile them into a coherent whole. The conception of the design of the titles for From Russia With Love was completely unrelated to that of the overall film. Sydney Cain, the film’s art director, has no memory of Robert Brownjohn and did not meet with him at any point during the film’s production. Brownjohn would have filmed the titles after the body of the movie had been shot. He came upon the idea of using the belly dancer after having seen some of the sequences from the film while it was being edited. The graphics used to advertise the film were also designed entirely independent of Brownjohn’s titles. The publicity of the film was farmed out to National Screen Service and one of their in-house designers put together the poster. The image on this poster of Bond, played in this case by Sean Connery, draped with women, became a template for subsequent Bond advertising. Therefore, while both the credits and the poster for the second Bond film were instrumental in creating a design format that was adhered to in the following Bond features, the elements that made up this format were arrived at through a series of separate design decisions.

A popular music theme tune was an important ingredient of the Bond formula. The dancer appearing in the credits of From Russia With Love sways to a song written by Monty Norman and performed by Matt Monro, a reasonably well known crooner of the period. The synchronisation between the music and the visual is not close. The sounds and images might have been composed entirely independently of each other, Brownjohn timing his sequence to coordinate merely with the basic rhythm of Norman’s tune. The James Bond themes were intended to be, and invariably became, some of the best known popular music of their day. While traditional film music was composed to accompany already shot sequences of film, the Bond tunes could stand independent of the movies. Since the 1940s film music had been packaged to be sold to people who had already enjoyed the movie, but the Bond themes might have been the first pieces of music that were used to actively market the films. It is through some of the more memorable Bond songs, belted out by chanteuses such as Nancy Sinatra and Shirley Bassey, that many people best remember the series.

After Brownjohn’s prize-winning titles for Goldfinger, Maurice Binder returned to the series to design the titles for Thunderball (1966), the fourth Bond movie, and remained to design every subsequent set. In a lecture at the National Film Theatre in 1991, Binder, who summed up the ingredients of his sequences as ‘guns, girls, smoke and steam’, claimed, ‘They were really the fore-runners of today’s pop videos: the song came first and we’d illustrate it.’ As Binder’s attitude betrays, the Bond titles from Thunderball on, rather than being moving graphics, were elaborate filmic sequences. While Brownjohn’s use of elegant modern design to communicate the Bond theme is far from subtle, Binder delivered the sex and violence message through his ‘videos’ with even less restraint. To open Thunderball Binder had women harpooned underwater, while in License To Kill, the most recent Bond film, he shot them from gun barrels. The elements that make the Bond films unpalatable in the early 1990s are most clearly defined through these sequences. Tom Shone, arguing that in the early 1990s it’s ‘Time To Junk Bond’, suggested the Bond formula, described by the New Statesman in the early 1960s as ‘sex, snobbery and sadism’, ‘was nowhere more lovingly observed than in the films’ title sequences, shot by Maurice Binder: guns, girls and gadgets in slinky slo-mo silhouette’.

Asked why the Bond films were so successful, Terence Young replied, ‘I'll just say they were well timed. What happened was that Ian Fleming turned up in a dead, grey period. London really is the saddest town in the world.’ The widespread popularity of James Bond in the 1960s has been the subject of a number of serious investigations which attempt to analyse the shared fantasies of those living through the Cold War in a time of rapid social change. But whatever it was that made Bond a phenomenon, the credits for From Russia With Love, described by one reviewer as ‘disturbingly smart, clever, jazz and crazy’, fuelled audience expectation, and the opening sequences became anticipated and popular features of the films.