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July 5, 2013 6:19 pm
It may be more than 40 years since he played James Bond but George Lazenby still knows a thing or two about making an entrance.
Along with an eclectic bunch of 007 fanatics, local worthies and the British ambassador, I was waiting for the actor last weekend on top of the Schilthorn, a 2,970m-high mountain in the Swiss Alps. The peak, high above the village of Mürren in the Bernese Oberland, offers wonderful hiking, and skiing in winter, but we were here on account of another claim to fame. At the summit is the Piz Gloria, a revolving restaurant which doubled as the lair of Bond’s arch-enemy Ernst Stavro Blofeld in the 1969 film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The restaurant’s owners have always relished its big-screen appearance – the name is taken from Blofeld’s hide-out in Ian Fleming’s original novel – but have now decided to up its appeal to 007 fans with the launch of Bond World, a high-altitude tourist attraction based on the film.
As we waited, a series of explosions suddenly sent smoke scudding across the mountain top. The air was filled with the pounding of rotor blades and Lazenby touched down in a bright yellow helicopter, a nod to the aerial assault that marks the film’s denouement.
The smoke had barely cleared before the actor was regaling those assembled with his memories of the six – by all accounts fairly riotous – months spent shooting the Swiss scenes of the film, which marked Bond’s sixth outing on screen.
“As a very heterosexual male, I remember the girls,” began Lazenby, in a suitably Bondesque vein. “I didn’t see the mountains for the first three days.”
That is saying quite something. In good weather, the summit of the Schilthorn offers visitors a breathtaking view of some of the Alps’ most majestic peaks. To the east, the Eiger and the Jungfrau, towering masses of snow and rock, rise sheer into the sky. To the southwest, Mont Blanc glints in and out of view.
We, however, had no such luck. Although the valley below was dappled with sunshine, above 2,500m the clouds had drawn in. At the Schilthorn’s summit, there was nothing to be seen but an impenetrable veil of white.
One of Bond World’s aims is to persuade tourists to ascend the peak – which, for those without a helicopter, is accessible only by a series of cable cars – even on grey days such as this. The attraction, which cost SFr800,000 (£556,000) to set up, has a range of exhibits designed to recreate elements of the film.
One simulator lets visitors try to land a helicopter on the mountain-top landing pad. Another gives them the chance to duck and weave with Bond as they hurtle down the notoriously dangerous bob-sleigh run in Mürren. Tucked away in a corner room, a small cinema screen shows various 007-related clips, while back in the main exhibition, aspiring superspies can be photographed as Bond. Aspiring villains can see how they would look as Blofeld, in a faintly ridiculous pair of outsize yellow ski-goggles worn by Telly Savalas, the actor who portrayed him.
There are also a host of anecdotes, recounted both in film and print, about the making of the movie, including interviews with some of the Swiss ski champions who managed to combine shooting daredevil downhill chase scenes with some pretty dedicated carousing.
One stuntman cheerfully recalls turning up for work and needing to be strapped firmly into his skis to be able to stand upright. “Alcohol,” muses another. “That was a bit of a problem.”
However, perhaps the most popular attraction is one of the simplest. In a corner of one room stands a hat-stand, where guests can try to match 007’s knack of landing his hat on the hooks in one smooth shot.
Lazenby claimed to have been the only Bond who could hit the hook in one go. With one or two honourable exceptions, the gaggle of guests waiting to try their luck took a rather more scattergun approach.
After the hat-throwing, dinner was served in the rotating restaurant, which had been decked out with blackjack and roulette tables for the evening. Fortunately for those without Bond’s knack at cards, however, there was not time to lose too much money.
The last cable car left the mountain-top at the rather un-Bond-like hour of 10.30pm and before long the party was gliding smoothly back down to the valley below.
See www.schilthorn.ch; admission is free. A return cable-car ticket to the Schilthorn summit from the valley station at Stechelberg costs SFr98 (£68).
James Shotter is the FT’s Switzerland correspondent
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