Our fine four-fend­ered friend

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang drove all the way to box of­fice star­dom 50 years ago. MAR­ION McMULLEN looks at the en­dur­ing ap­peal of the fam­ily favourite

Uxbridge Gazette - - Past Times -

WHEN the cre­ative tal­ents be­hind Bri­tish su­per spy 007 and choco­late fac­tory Willy Wonka came to­gether the re­sult was a mag­i­cal car with a mind of its own.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was based on the book by James Bond cre­ator Ian Flem­ing and was adapted for the screen by chil­dren’s writer Roald Dahl.

Roald had pre­vi­ously worked as screen­writer for the 007 movie You Only Live Twice and he added his own dis­tinc­tive twist to the script of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Ian Flem­ing’s orig­i­nal book was writ­ten for his son Cas­par and was an ad­ven­ture about the Potts fam­ily and their fly­ing car com­ing to the res­cue of a French sweet maker plagued by gang­sters. Roald’s imag­i­na­tion came up with the king­dom of Vul­garia and heroine Truly Scrump­tious.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang opened in UK cin­e­mas in 1968 just in time for Christ­mas and quickly proved a box of­fice hit as it promised film lovers: “The most fan­tas­magor­i­cal mu­si­cal en­ter­tain­ment in the his­tory of ev­ery­thing!”

Mary Pop­pins ac­tor Dick Van Dyke signed up to play strug­gling in­ven­tor and father-of-two Car­ac­ta­cus Potts with Sally

Ann Howes as the sweet fac­tory owner’s daugh­ter Truly Scrump­tious.

Dick later said of the cast­ing in a doc­u­men­tary: “They couldn’t have picked a bet­ter Truly Scump­tious than Sally. They came up with Sally Ann and I heard her voice and it was the rich­est con­tralto.

“She au­di­tioned with The Lovely Lonely Man and I thought ‘My God, this girl is great’ and then she was stun­ningly beau­ti­ful. She loved those kids and they loved her – which I think comes across on screen. They just thought a great deal of her and she spent a lot of time with them be­tween shots telling sto­ries and play­ing games dur­ing all those long wait­ing pe­ri­ods.”

Pro­ducer Al­bert R Broc­coli also sang her praises and wrote: “We wanted a typ­i­cal English beauty and, to me,

Sally Ann rep­re­sents that ideal.” Truly Scrump­tious Bar­bie dolls even came out fol­low­ing the movie’s re­lease. The movie cast also in­cluded Bri­tish ac­tor Lionel Jef­fries as Dick Van Dyke’s father Grandpa Potts – although he was ac­tu­ally six months younger than the Amer­i­can star – Bond vil­lain Gert Fröbe as Baron Bom­burst and co­me­dian Benny Hill as the Toy­maker. James Robert­son Jus­tice, who ap­peared as Lord Scrump­tious, suf­fered a stroke af­ter film­ing and later had to give up act­ing.

The mu­si­cal num­ber he fea­tured in, Toots Sweets, took three weeks to film at Kemp­ton Park Steam Mu­seum in Mid­dle­sex and fea­tured 100 dogs, 38 dancers and 40 singers. Scenes were also filmed in Bavaria, Saint Tropez and Pinewood Stu­dios.

Child ac­tors Heather Ri­p­ley and Adrian Hall played young brother and sis­ter Jemima and Jeremy at the heart of the ad­ven­ture.

Sev­eral dif­fer­ent ver­sions of Chitty were built for the movie and the mu­sic, writ­ten by the Sher­man Brothers, Robert and Richard, earned them an Os­car nom­i­na­tion.

Their ti­tle track Chitty Chitty Bang Bang fea­tured the lyrics: “You’re sleek as a thor­ough­bred/Your seats are a feather bed/You’ll turn every­body’s head to­day/Our fine four -fend­ered friend.”

Richard later said: “We write for Grandpa and the four-year-old and ev­ery­one in be­tween.”

The creepy Child­catcher played by Aus­tralian-born bal­let star Sir Robert Help­mann was the stuff of night­mares and is still reg­u­larly voted one of the scari­est film char­ac­ters.

But child star Heather later said: “Robert him­self was the least scari­est per­son I have ever met in my life. There was ab­so­lutely noth­ing about him that was scary. He was a sweet and charm­ing gen­tle­man, but the way he moved could be very scary.”

Help­mann had a lucky es­cape dur­ing film­ing when the horse-drawn car­riage he was driv­ing over­turned. Dick Van Dyke said Help­mann, be­ing a bal­let dancer, was able to swing out of the car­riage and lit­er­ally skip across the crash­ing ve­hi­cle.

Ac­cord­ing to Van Dyke, Help­mann did this with in­cred­i­ble grace.

Dick at­tended the Lon­don pre­miere of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with his wife Margie and also ap­peared with the fa­mous car at many pub­lic events.

He said he no longer at­tempted a Bri­tish ac­cent af­ter his at­tempt at Cock­ney in Mary Pop­pins. “Peo­ple from the UK love to tease me,” he said. “I in­vented a whole new di­alect. I never could do a Bri­tish ac­cent... not even in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”

He once ad­mit­ted: “I will never live it down. They ask what part of Eng­land I was meant to be from. I say it was a lit­tle shire in the north were most of the peo­ple were from Ohio.”

Dick and Sally with the real star of the Film – Chitty Chitty Bang Bang it­self – and, right, talk­ing at the Dorch­ester Ho­tel the day be­fore film­ing be­gan

Dick Van Dyke and Sally Ann Howes with James Robert­son Jus­tice at the start of the Toots Sweets mu­si­cal num­ber

Sally with the Potts Chil­dren played by Adrian Hall and Heather Ri­p­ley – who got on in real life as well as they did on film

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