Sunday 8 March 2015

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: from film to book

I popped into a charity shop (thrift store) the other week and saw an audio book version of Ian Fleming's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I can't remember the last time I listened to an audio cassette, but I had to buy it, as I couldn't leave a Fleming-related object forlorn on the shelf. Interestingly, the audio book was read by Lionel Jeffries, who played Grandpa in the 1968 film version. Another point of interest was the inlay card, which showed a drawing of the magical car. The drawing was clearly inspired, not by John Burningham's illustrations that accompanied the original publication of the children's book, but by the car that appeared in the film.

That Lionel Jeffries narrates the audio book (published in 1982) is curious given that his character in the film, Grandpa Potts, doesn't appear in Fleming's story. Indeed, if Roald Dahl, who wrote the screenplay, had stuck more closely to his first draft, then Lionel Jeffries might not have appeared in the film at all; Roald Dahl wrote the character of Grandpa into the second draft.

As for the image on the inlay card, the illustration doesn't precisely copy the film car (designed by Ken Adam), but the essential traits or memes of that car are there: the passenger section that re-uses a wooden boat, the long silver cylindrical (or slightly cone-shaped) bonnet secured with a leather strap, the gold-rimmed radiator grille and gold headlamps, and the red-and-yellow-striped wings. The Potts family (actually, the Pott family in the book) in the car looks towards the viewer in a similar arrangement to that shown on the film posters and other publicity material, the only difference being that the family on the inlay card isn't waving. In other respects, however, the families are identical, even down to the clothes.
Covers from the audio book (left) and the 1968 novelisation
It's a similar case with other editions of the novel. In 1968, Collins published a young readers' edition of the book in its 'Beginner Books' series (which includes some Dr Seuss classics). The story was Fleming's, but the car was that of the film. This is not particularly surprising; the film had just been released and Cubby Broccoli's Warfield Productions, which made the film, co-owned the copyright to the edition.
Chitty as shown in Collins' Beginner Books edition
More recently, the illustrations of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang accompanying an edition published by Galaxy in 2002 looked to the film, giving the car a cone-shaped bonnet, the same wing arrangement as Ken Adam's design, and a boat-derived passenger section.
Chitty in the 2002 Galaxy edition
The boat-derived passenger section is also seen on the Chitty that appears on the front cover of a 2005 edition published in the US by Yearling.
Chitty,Yearling edition (2005)
Think of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and chances are that the car designed for the 1968 film will spring rapidly to mind. It seems that artists illustrating editions of Ian Fleming's story have been no less susceptible to the influence of the film car, whose attributes have repeatedly found expression in subsequent artwork. However, as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang finds new readers with Frank Cottrell Boyce's sequels to Fleming's original book, it will be interesting to see whether Joe Berger's illustrations, which owe more to Burningham than Broccoli, change people's perceptions of the magical car.

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