Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ruined my life, says star
Scots actress’s ‘14 months of lost childhood’
AS a little girl, she had a starring role in one of the best-loved movies of all time.
Now, five decades on, Scot Heather Ripley says being in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang almost ruined her life.
Ms Ripley has been reunited with her former child co-star to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the film’s release – but she has revealed that the magical flying car cast a long shadow over her career.
She played Jemima Potts – daughter of eccentric inventor Caractacus Potts – alongside Adrian Hall, who played her screen brother Jeremy Potts.
Both former child actors are now 59 and gave up acting long ago. Ms Ripley is a massage therapist and unmarried mother of two living in Scotland, while Mr Hall is principal of the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts in Wigan, and a twice-divorced father of four.
They met again recently, along with some of the film’s crew, at Pinewood Studios, Buckinghamshire, where Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was made.
With a screenplay by Roald Dahl, the film is loosely based on 007 author Ian Fleming’s novel Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: The Magical Car, published in 1964.
Posing with a lovingly recreated replica of the car – the original from the film is owned by director Peter Jackson and in New Zealand – Ms Ripley and Mr Hall spoke about the 14 months they spent rehearsing, filming and promoting the film internationally prior to its release in December five decades ago.
Ms Ripley said: ‘It’s 14 months of my childhood which will never be replaced. My mother and father broke up, which I’ve always blamed on the film. It put me off travelling until I was 50. I honestly don’t have fond memories of it, and because that’s clouded my view of it I haven’t quite understood why so many people love it so much.
‘So I’ve written a book now which took endless research, and I’m beginning to get how great it was and how many incredibly talented people were involved.’
She was paid £7,000 for her role, money which was held in trust for her until she was 18. Ms Ripley recalled how she had got the part by ‘complete random chance’ after appearing in a play at Dundee Rep, where her mother was a wardrobe mistress. She was spotted by a talent scout then met producer Cubby Broccoli and director Ken Hughes. She said: ‘The first question he asked was, “How old are you?”, and I said, “Seven and three-quarters!”. They just fell about laughing.
‘Ken almost immediately said, “I think we’ve found Jemima, but what are we going to do about the Scots accent?”. Cubby said, “Oh don’t worry, we’ll fix that”. I worried that was going to involve surgery.” Mr Hall recalls the film with more affection. He said: ‘I had it so much easier than Heather. I lived 20 or 30 minutes away so, at the end of a day, a car took me home and I went out on my bike. Poor Heather was stuck 500 miles from home.
‘For me it was a good experience... I am grateful to the film.’
‘My mother and father broke up. I’ve always blamed the film’
REUNITED: Adrian Hall and Heather Ripley – Jeremy and Jemima Potts in the film