Entering the take away restaurant they instantly catch my eye. On the wall there are two photos of a yet unknown geographical nature. One depicts a tall bridge crossing a brown coloured river and the other shows a jungle, somewhere. They are not particularly photographed well, angles are peculiar, lighting is soft and its focus unclear. They must serve as decoration, but to what?
In all its unclarity however my sympathy begins to grow for the photos and I start wondering where these pictures might have been taken. They definitely don’t hold any reference to the place where I am now, there are no jungles like that and I can’t remember ever crossing such a bridge before in my immediate surroundings. These thoughts come to me in a mere split-second as it was clear to me to what I was doing here, getting some food of the exotic kind, some warmth in cold times.
It’s proper jerk chicken and from the place where I am still observing the peculiar decoration pictures, I can see the fumes of the authentic wood fired BBQ stove, a central part in the magic process of preparing jerk chicken. The owners of this place should get a gold award only for having the stove fitted in the high residential neighborhood in the West End of Glasgow, as the ambition to be authentic is often leveled by ‘health and safety’ regulations involved in ones lives, certainly thick fumes of BBQ smoke will be hard to accept for immediate neighbours. But, they must have succeeded, since business is running like mad.
I have been here before. It must have been 1960 or ‘61 if I am not mistaken and it was my first big trip outside the UK as an intern for Eon Productions. We were all very excited, since the company just started out and the fresh team that found itself in Jamaica was ambitious and eager to start out. We came to Jamaica to scout for locations for Eon’s first big film production. I was at the time not aware of the scale or nature of the business, since I was fresh out of school and got the job through a friend of my father’s who had worked as a photographer for London based film production companies before. I was twinned with the big man himself, Albert, highly unusual a presence this early in the process. It was great. We stayed at the Queens Club in central Kingston and there I learned more about Albert’s obsession with James Bond, our main character in the film. We would often have evenings at the club where Albert was expressing his fondness for conspiracy theories, government fuck ups, girls and everything else Mr Bond seemed to embody. Although invented by someone else, Bond quickly became Albert’s obsession too. He saw it as his own personal opportunity to secure a good enough position within the film industry for Eon Productions. He saw potentiality, however, Bond was to be discarded as soon as his commercial goal was reached. I had the sense that Albert had a plan beyond Bond always and it made us working in the future, never feeling attached to Jamaica whilst we were there.
I was to assist Albert in his search for locations to shoot this spy film. Jamaica it was, since its writer had lived there and everything about James Bond was coming from this tropical island. It seemed good to start there. For the next three weeks it was hard work, we saw over a hundred locations throughout the Kingston area and in the end came back to a dusty road close to the airport where we landed and the hotel where we stayed. The film became a huge success and I kept working for Eon’s Bond productions for another fifty odd years. Skyfall would become my retirement.
I was reunited with Jamaica though in a peculiar way through a freelance job whilst not working for Eon. Walt Disney’s production company had asked me to come on a tour throughout the Caribbean to spot locations for a new pirate themed film series. Forty-five years I was back in Jamaica at the same hotel we used for Dr No.
Arriving at Port Royal is not the most exciting experience. They say it used to be the largest pirate hideout and a safe have for every troublemaker in the region. A wealthy place where families would live and fortunes spent on property, repairing ships and luxurious lives. None of that seemed to remain at the time. I remembered eating at a restaurant where we had to go through a dirt road stepping into a foot deep puddle that not only contained rainwater but much more obscure liquids as well. This completely made us sad and added with the numerous interviews we had with local people in Port Royal it was clear this could never be a film spot. Not only because of the unimaginative derelict house, hospitals and military camps from the real pirate times, but also because these buildings, or what was left of them was controlled by an obscure brotherhood through which we had to arrange everything. It would be impossible to get equipment here, to have the actors stationed and live and work. We had to abandon the place, we could thrive on our ‘inspiration’ for now and forget about this place, its history and its current people. Film is a pretty ignorant industry.