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Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

The famous musical fantasy film, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, about an amazing flying car, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The occasion is being marked by theatre productions of the show across the UK, and the kids of the 1960s who enjoyed the first showing of the film will be able to watch it again on TV with their grandchildren.

It's hard to believe it's half a century since families everywhere marvelled at the antics of the retired Grand Prix racing car, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, while singing along to the catchy title song.

Based on the 1964 novel of the same name, the film was written by Ian Fleming - best-known for his series of James Bond 007 stories. Produced by Albert "Cubby" Broccoli, who regularly co-produced the James Bond movies, the musical extravaganza couldn't have been more different from their usual action adventure films about the suave secret agent!

The film premiered in London in December 1968. With an all-star cast, it grossed $10 million worldwide at the box office, with a further $7.5 million made in video rentals.


The plot

Set in the early 20th century, beginning with the Grand Prix of 1907, the film is about one spectacular car that wins every race, right through to 1909. However, during the 1909 season, the car crashes and burst into flames, ending its career in Formula 1.

It ends up in rural England, abandoned in a garage. Two local children, Jeremy Potts (played by Adrian Hall) and his sister Jemima (Heather Ripley) have fallen for the car and ask their widowed father to buy it, to save it from being scrapped.

Their inventor dad, Caractacus Potts (played by American actor, singer and dancer Dick Van Dyke), and their grandfather Bungie Potts (Lionel Jeffries) don't have a lot of money, so they start thinking up ways to save the car.

The children meet a beautiful, upper-class lady, Truly Scrumptious (played by Sally Ann Howes) whose father, Lord Scrumptious, owns a sweet factory. When Caractacus invents a machine that makes musical sweets, he tries to sell his idea of "Toot Sweets" to Lord Scrumptious.

All is going well, until the sweet's high-pitched, flute-like whistle attracts a pack of excited dogs! Eventually, Caractacus earns enough money to buy and rebuild the car by joining a carnival song and dance act. The car becomes known as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang due to the noises it makes as it drives along, taking the family and Truly Scrumptious on plenty of adventures.


Memorable scenes

As they picnic on the beach one day, Caractacus tells the children all about evil Baron Bomburst, the tyrannical ruler of Vulgaria. They don't realise the tide is coming in, and they find themselves stranded.

Suddenly, Bomburst's pirates attack them - only for Chitty to magically transform into a boat and whisk them to safety! As a result, Bomburst sends his henchmen to capture the car, but instead, they kidnap Lord Scrumptious and Grandpa Potts, wrongly believing they created Chitty.

Some of the ensuing scenes scared children half to death, as the Baron's ally, the wicked Child Catcher, kidnaps Jeremy and Jemima. The image of the wizened and creepy character, with his white face, black garb and black top hat, hunting down children and bundling them into his caged wagon, will haunt generations of kids for the rest of their lives!

Interestingly, the character wasn't in the original Fleming book, but was created especially for the film. He was played by ballet dancer Robert Helpmann, who was very athletic and could swing out of his carriage and literally skip across vehicles, according to Dick Van Dyke.

Of course, it's a happy ending, with Chitty literally flying off into the sunset, Caractacus proposing to Truly, and Lord Scrumptious eventually offering to buy the Toot Sweets, so money will no longer be a problem.


Where are they now?

Fifty years after Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was released, fans have been wondering what has happened to the cast. Dick Van Dyke is now 92 years old and is still a major Hollywood star, living in Malibu, California. He is set to appear in the Disney sequel, Mary Poppins Returns, after appearing in the original 1964 film as Bert opposite Julie Andrews' Mary.

He has won a Tony Award, a Grammy Award and five Primetime Emmys. In 1995, he was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame. In 2013, he received the Screen Actors' Guild's highest accolade, the SAG Life Achievement Award. He was also given his own star on Hollywood Boulevard's Walk of Fame and has been given Disney Legend status.

Sally Ann Howes is now 87 and lives in St John's Wood, London, with her husband, Douglas Rae. She has enjoyed a career in musical theatre, including in the West End and on Broadway and she has also appeared in many films, television series and musicals, including The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1972 and Judith Krantz's mini-series, Secrets, in 1992.

Adrian Hall, now 59 and living in Staines, Middlesex, made only a handful of other appearances after playing Jeremy in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. He starred in The Man Who Had Power Over Women in 1970 and made a guest appearance in the TV series, Jason King, in 1971. He is now principal of London's Academy of Live and Recorded Arts.

Heather Ripley is now 59 and following her career as a child star, she left the world of show business behind. After playing Jemima, she said the pressure of being a child star adversely affected her. She became an environmental activist and took part in many campaigns, including one against Scotland's Faslane nuclear submarine base.

To celebrate Chitty Chitty Bang Bang's 50-year anniversary, a number of amateur productions have been licensed. Theatre groups across the UK and Ireland will be staging the show throughout the year, delighting audiences old and new.

Coruba provides a superb range of vehicle rubber matting – fit for flying cars, if you happen to have one! Rubber matting helps to protect your vehicle form wear and tear and it can easily be removed for cleaning. Please contact us for further details of our range of products.

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