Sunday, 15 December 2013

After Bond: On the trail of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Just as some actors never like to see themselves on screen, I don't like to read anything I've written after it's been published, at least not for a while, just in case I spot a typo or factual error. Occasionally, such mistakes slip through, and unfortunately one appeared in my article, 'On the Trail of 007', recently published in MI6 Confidential on James Bond's journey through Kent in Moonraker. In the article, I stated that the M20 motorway, which connects the M25 London Orbital motorway with Folkestone, was constructed between 1975 and 1986. In fact, the first section was opened in 1960, and the final sections were completed in 1993. Well, I'm in good company: even Ian Fleming made mistakes.

I was alerted to my chronological mistake when I was flicking through the original Chitty Chitty Bang Bang adventures. As the story takes the Potts family to some of the same parts of Kent visited by James Bond, I was keen to compare Fleming's descriptions. One obvious difference was that in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (published in 1964), the M20 motorway makes an appearance. Commander Pott lives beside a lake somewhere in Kent in sight of the motorway and about 20 miles away from Dover (near Ashford, perhaps). Naturally when he takes the newly-restored Chitty out for a spin, he chooses to take her onto the motorway. The car reaches 100 miles per hour, passing all the other cars “as if they were standing still.” 

The Farningham bypass in Kent. Bond speeds along this road in Moonraker. The M20, not built in Bond's time, is on the other side of the hill.
Later, when the Potts decide to have a picnic on the coast, they take the motorway again towards Dover, get stuck in traffic, take a detour through smaller roads and into Canterbury, then fly the rest of the way to Dover and out over the sea.

The descriptions of Kent in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang are interesting because they reveal how dramatically the landscape in Kent changed in the nine years since the publication of Moonraker in 1955. The experiences of Caractacus Pott hint at the effect that the construction of the motorway must have had on the residents of Kent and beyond, for example popularising coastal trips and giving greater access to continental Europe, especially France. The descriptions also reveal how changes in the cultural environment were constantly influencing and shaping Fleming's writing. His books may be 'of their time', but this gives them value as historical documents that usefully reflect contemporaneous developments and events.

In my MI6 Confidential article, I speculated that had the M20 been available to Fleming when he wrote Moonraker, he would have taken James Bond onto it and described Bond's appreciation of its almost racetrack-like conditions. That Fleming took Commander Pott onto it just three or four years after the motorway opened supports this view. For Fleming, it seems it wasn't so much the journey that was important, but how one reached the destination.


  1. Edward, as always love the blog. We have had the discussion in the past about folks who have auditioned for JB. Came across this pretty good piece for your review.

    1. Thanks for the link, Jason. Interesting article. I often wonder about Ian Fleming's preferences for actors to play Bond. David Niven is usually cited in such articles, but no quote or souce is ever givenm and some of the names mentioned seem to be self-perpetuating memes with no actual basis. I did come across a quote by Fleming, but I can't remember it off hand. I'll have to remind myself of it. Also, I think there's some dispute about whether Roger Moore was ever in the frame in 1961/2. Roger Moore himself doesn't recall being tested.


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