An enchanting family story about a magical car, EON Productions’ CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. The film was produced by Albert R. Broccoli from the story by Bond creator Ian Fleming, starting life as a series of fantastical bedtime stories to entertain his son Caspar.
Fleming’s novel CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG spins the story of former Naval commander (like Bond) turned inventor Caractus Potts, who restores a magical flying car funded by the proceeds from selling his ingenious whistling sweets. Potts soon christens the car Chitty Chitty Bang Bang — after her loud spluttering engine noises — and Chitty becomes a beloved member of the Potts family, whisking them off to adventures in France featuring gangsters led by Joe the Monster, booby trapped caves and chocolate shop robberies.
Fleming had published nine Bond novels when he turned his attentions to CHITTY. Whilst convalescing from a heart attack in 1961, he put his bedtime stories to paper under the working title ‘The Magical Car’ and sent them to publisher Michael Howard at Jonathan Cape. Ultimately written as three separate instalments and illustrated by John Burningham, ‘Adventure Number 1’ was published on 22 October 1964 and became an instant classic. A film adaptation became inevitable.
It was fitting that Broccoli and EON, as key cinematic interpreters of Fleming’s work, tackled the adaptation, conceiving it as a spectacular fantasy musical. The book was adapted by director Ken Hughes and children’s novelist Roald Dahl, who also contributed to the screenplay for YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967). It was Dahl, renowned for his dark tinged humour and mischief, who introduced the now iconic Child Catcher (Robert Helpmann), a Bondian henchman for the Baroness Bomburst (Anna Quayle) who abhors children.
The film stars Dick Van Dyke as Caractus Potts and Sally Ann Howes as Truly Scrumptious as well as some notable 007 alumni: Goldfinger himself Gert Fröbe played villainous Baron Bomburst and Desmond Llewelyn, 007’s quartermaster Q, portrayed garage owner Mr. Coggins. Key behind the scenes personnel from the Bond films also hopped on board: screenwriter Richard Maibaum who wrote additional dialogue, production designer Ken Adam, special effects supervisor John Stears and ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE director Peter Hunt who supervised CHITTY’s title sequence.
Six Chitty cars were created for the film, designed by Ken Adam and cartoonist-sculptor Frederick Rowland Emmett. The hero car was fitted with a Ford 3000 V6 engine, automatic transmission and a genuine UK registration plate — star Dick Van Dyke quipped it was difficult to manoeuvre “with the turning radius of a battleship”. Other prop cars included a second smaller version for shots on the road, a ‘transforming’ car, a flying car and an engineless version for work on a trailer.
The film’s songs were written by Richard and Robert Sherman of MARY POPPINS fame, the song ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ nominated for an Academy Award. In 2002, the film inspired a West End production starring Michael Ball, the longest ever running show at the London Palladium playing for three years. It transferred to Broadway in 2005, earning five Tony Award nominations. Recognised by the American Film Institute by its ‘AFI’s Greatest Musicals list’, the film remains a fixture on Greatest Ever Children’s Film polls. “Our fine four-fendered friend” continues to delight kids and adults alike.