Philip Hensher: A sucker for the 007 experience

Click to follow
The Independent Online

"I don't know about you," I said, through quite a decent mouthful of veal schnitzel. "But I could honestly sit and look at an Alpine peak for days on end without thinking for a single moment that what it could really do with in the way of improvement was a revolving restaurant on the top." Zav nodded, up to the chops in his own Swiss speciality, as first the Eiger, then the Jungfrau sailed past the windows for the second time.

We are terrible suckers for a tourist trap with a restaurant attached. Show us a paddle steamer going to the far end of even the most dismal and malarial lake, and we'll be at the front of the queue, dinars in hand. Laborious as the trip up to the Schilthorn proved to be – a train, and then three absolutely terrifying cable cars which had me making my peace with a succession of deities, just to be sure – we absolutely had to do it. It wasn't just that Interlaken had proved an unexpected dump, well worth getting out of. It was mainly because the Schilthorn, which we'd never heard of, turned out to be the prime location of a deeply favourite movie. To drop into tourist German for a moment, it was the site of Das James-Bond Experience, with revolving restaurant attached, and has never got over its moment of fame, 40 years ago, in On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

This week, anticipation over the new Bond, Quantum of Solace, received a fillip with the news that Alicia Keys is going to sing the theme tune. That one has all the hallmarks of A-ha's "The Living Daylights" rather than Shirley Bassey's "Goldfinger". But it's extraordinary how these ridiculous films have shaped our sense of the world. The first time I went to Istanbul, I couldn't get "From Russia with Love" out of my head. It quite ruined that ancient underground spectacle, the Yerebatan cistern with its gloomy lake and forest of pillars.

I suppose On Her Majesty's Secret Service is one of the worst films in the series; the lack of chemistry between Diana Rigg and the one-off Bond, George Lazenby, is manifest even in stills like the one that adorns this page Still, the villain's airy lair, with its helicopter landing pad and circular dwelling, is the quintessence of 1960s glamour. The padded interiors, with a hell of a lot of chicks lying about in conversation pits and giggling, is pure Austin Powers. But who cares? We had to go, and though the giggling bimbos seemed to have been replaced with some motherly Swiss waitresses and a cake trolley, I would recommend it to anyone.

What has come to seem rather odd, when you watch the old films in the series, is their evident assumption that you, the punter in the Odeon, are not going to visit any of these places. It was clever of the producers to spot the just-completed restaurant on the Schilthorn in 1968 as a good location. But, just like the Caribbean settings in Dr. No or the Istanbul of From Russia With Love, it is paraded before you like an empty promise.

Nowadays, of course, everyone goes everywhere, and the winter break in Thailand is a treat rather than an adventure. We don't look to geography for our dreams any longer, but just to unattainable money and untouchable celebrity. That seems a shame, and it was rather nice to sit in something as silly as a revolving restaurant, 10,000 feet up, and watch the tawdry old spectacle of 20 Alpine peaks one more time. I can tell you, we almost had a martini.

We must stand up for Gary

Gary McKinnon, a British hacker who broke into the Pentagon's computer systems, has lost his appeal against extradition to the United States. He faces, if extradited, a sentence of up to 70 years in the human-rights hell-hole of an American prison.

I don't get it. No doubt he did something very naughty and wrong. But are we really going to accede to the request of any old foreign government that a British citizen who sees their secrets, or does anything disobliging to that government while living in his native country, should be extradited to face the full force of their justice?

If a British writer, say, publishes material in England about China which is suppressed in China, is he now subject to requests for extradition from the Chinese authorities?

Publicising the nefarious activities of foreign governments, including our allies, has always been a minor hobby of the British. I don't see why we should be threatened into forgoing this historic pleasure because some people have no sense of humour.

Could a Manilow musical be box-office magic?

One person who won't have been in the running to sing the new James Bond theme is dear old Barry Manilow. That isn't down to his lack of popularity, however. Famously, whenever old Bazzer comes out of one of his lavishly appointed estates to sing a song or two, the box offices of the world can hardly cope with the frenzied demand. His appeal has always slightly escaped me, since his song about the nightclub called the Copacabana always, in my youth, evoked a shed on the road to Chesterfield, rather than anywhere glamorous. But he has his myriad admirers, and now a musical of his greatest hits is about to be moistened, perfumed and launched on the world. If it actually had Barry in it, it could sell out the Palladium for year after year. But it's got someone called Chesney Hawkes instead, so it's happening in Bromley.

Is there no back catalogue safe from the attentions of musical mongers? Can't they write their own songs? Madness, Abba, The Proclaimers, Queen, The Smiths and Take That have all been done. The Sex Pistols can only be days away, and anyone with an hour to spare could sketch out a plot to cover the Blur backlist. As for Barry, I make the following prediction. It will be set in a nightclub. The barman will have ambitions to make it as a singer. The love interest will be called Lola, and will almost certainly be employed as a showgirl. And the nightclub, I imagine, will be called – oh, do it yourself.

Comments