Sunday, 19 October 2014

A CAR FOR ALL SEASONS

1968: the Odeon, Bromley, and I'm sitting eagerly in the circle waiting for the main film to begin –– for the third time that week! Having seen Chitty Chitty Bang Bang once, I'd no choice but to see it again – and again!


I was very far from being car-mad kid (apart from a small collection of vintage Corgi vehicles) and I eventually grew into a non-driver who gave up all attempts to learn to learn the necessary skills when I drove my Dad's car over a revolving sign in a petrol station, during a practice run, and did terrible damage to the gubbins underneath...

However, with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the 'fantasmagorical flying machine', it was love at first sight! And second... and third...

At the time, I not read the original book by Ian Fleming (published four years earlier in 1964), but, of course, I knew Fleming as the creator of the James Bond, and I had read books by the film's screenwriter, Roald Dahl.

But the real excitement about the movie was that it was the next best thing to getting a new film from my favourite fantasy filmmakers at the Disney studio. In fact, it actually felt like a Disney film – especially since it featured so many of the talented folk who, four years earlier, had given us Mary Poppins...

Only later did I discover that producer, Albert 'Cubby' Broccoli – who, after the success of Poppins was anxious to enlist the talents of the Oscar-winning song-writing team of Richard and Robert Sherman – had approached Walt Disney, and invited him to co-produce the film.

Walt declined, but generously released the Sherman Brothers from their exclusive contract with him while they worked on Chitty. Broccoli signed Dick Van Dyke to play Caractacus Potts, unsuccessfully tried to get Julie Andrews for Truly Scrumptious (settling, instead, for Sally Anne Howes who had followed Julie in the role of Eliza Dolittle in the Broadway run of My Fair Lady) and secured the talents of Poppins choreographers, Marc Breaux and Dee Dee Woods as well as Poppins orchestrator and conductor, Irwin Kostal.

The resultant was a charming confection, featuring Disneyesque whimsicality with a decidedly British twist represented by the genius production designer, Ken Adam (Night of the Demon, Dr Strangelove and, of course, the Bond movies) and cartoonist and mad-cap inventor, Rowland Emett, who designed Caractacus' crazy contraptions)...


There was also a great supporting cast of Brit character actors, including Lionel Jeffries, James Robertson Justice, Benny Hill, Stanley Unwin, Max Wall, Gerald Champion, Karl Madden, Richard Wattis, Barbara Windsor and Arthur Mullard.

Then there was that trio of Bond-folk: Gert Frobe (former Goldfinger) as Baron Bomburst, Anna Quayle (Frau Hoffner in Casino Royale) as his Baroness and Desmond Llewelyn (Q) as Mr Coggins the farmer from whom the wrecked Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is purchased.

And... and... and... the shockingly scary Robert Helpmann – one of the 20th century's greatest ballet dancers and choreographers – as the unforgettably sinister Child Catcher...



The film is full of weird moments of dark, Roald Dahl-concocted comedy, counterpointed by a wistful charm and one of the Sherman Brothers' finest scores: from the rambunctious title song to the haunting lullaby, 'Hushabye Mountain'...



Anyway...

All this is but a prelude to a plug for my forthcoming radio feature...

50 Years of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang 
broadcast tomorrow, Monday 20 October, at 4:00 pm on BBC Radio 4


The programme mentions the film (inevitably) but it is mostly a celebration of Ian Fleming's original book and tell the story of the exotic Count Louis Zborowski, who built and drove the famous original racing car 'Chitty Bang Ban'g (note: just the one 'Chitty') and how it inspired Fleming's imagination when he later came to tell bedtime stories to his son, Casper; and, later still wrote them down while recovering from a heart attack.

It's a story of happy memories and sad associations and I am joined in telling it by Fleming's nieces, Lucy Fleming and Kate Grimmond; bibliographer, Jon Gilbert; Alan Winn, Director of Brooklands Museum (where I got to ride in a vintage Bentley); children's writer (and Chitty sequel author) Frank Cottrell Boyce and my old friend, the legendary song-smith, Richard M Sherman – along with an archive snippet from a vintage Sibley interview with Roald Dahl – and a visit to artist, John Burningham who illustrated the original book...


The programme has been broadcast, but remains available to listen again on BBC iPlayer: CLICK HERE



 

13 comments:

Val , Kate, The Cute Kitten ,Razzy, Kepsey,Darwin ,Charon and Echo. said...

I have not seen the film but have really enjoyed the audio book version of the book (as have my kids) looking forward to listening to the programme on Monday. Thanks!

Boll Weavil said...

If you've not see the film, you are missing one of life's great pleasures ! Fantastic songs, a great cast and unforgettable characters.

Boll Weavil said...

Some great memories Mr B. I have my own - listening to the soundtrack in the back of the car going on holiday as was being played on an old tinny cassette recorder, hearing Hushabye Mountain as a dedication on the radio for my sixth birthday and much, much later spending a whole drunken night (pre-internet) in a pub arguing over who wrote it. Those are just snippets of a life-long love of a film that cuts through the senses and goes straight to the heart in a way that few others can.

Brian Sibley said...

Thanks, Boll, we are spiritual brothers, you and I, blood and bone! :)

The film is really about LOVE: Caractacus Potts' love of his two kids and his father and, eventually, Miss Scrumptious and their combined determination to restore love to a loveless kingdom.

And, of course, Chitty's love for the family that rescue her from the scrapheap and enable her to fly!

There are lots of sour stories about Dick Vsn Dyke: that he was heavily 'on the bottle' at the time, that he refused the role again and again until offered so much money that he 'had' to take it, that he only took it on the understanding that he didn't have to try (after 'Mary Poppins') another English accent, that he didn't get on with director, Ken Hughes... But I don't care! He exudes LOVE on screen, is funny and sings and dances with great energy.

'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' with 'Mary Poppins' remain my two fondest cinema-going experiences of my youth and live on in me with great warmth and great affection.

Roger O B... said...

Sally Ann HOWLES? I didn't think her singing was that bad!

Brian Sibley said...

Roger: Ooops!! Duly corrected! :)

Anonymous said...

Isn't the car now owned by Peter Jackson? I seem to remember him bringing it to a children's party during the filming of The Hobbit.

Brian Sibley said...

On my last trip to Wellington, during the filming of The Hobbit, Peter arrived at the studio one morning in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang! It was the day featuring the Great Took's birthday party at which Gandalf had first met the very young Bilbo Baggins.

There were a number of cars (with different capabilities) built for the film.

PJ bought the original GEN II registered car for $805,000 at auction. When I commented on the price, he laughed and said, "Yes! I had to get Fran's OK on that purchase!"

The reg. no.: GEN 11 having already been issued in NZ, it now carries a plate with the close (but, I imagine, annoyingly not close enough) reg: GEN 1L! Full details of the various CCBBs will be found here.

Christopher Sobieniak said...

One of those childhood faves that I recall having saw only on TV, and strangely on a station that had to split it across two nights to run it. Interesting they built more than one of those cars.

Anonymous said...

The programme was full of things to enjoy, though I'll never be able to think of Chitty quite the same way again after learning about its etymology!

Michael Flowers said...

All I really remember is getting into trouble by screaming the cinema down when the child snatcher appeared. I've been trying to live it down ever since! Screaming again when Nancy was murdered by Sikes in Oliver! didn't exactly help!

Brian Sibley said...

Michael: are you safe to take to the pictures nowadays? ;)

Christopher Sobieniak said...

Glad I wasn't that traumatized by this.