Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: Ian Fleming’s venture into children’s literature
It is well known that Ian Fleming was the author of the action packed adventures of the 007 spy, James Bond. Yet Ian Fleming also turned his hand to writing the children’s adventure story, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: the tale about the magical car and the eccentric inventor’s adventures. This was the book that inspired the successful 1968 Dick Van Dyke film and which remains a popular children’s story today.
It was rather unfortunate health circumstances that led Fleming to veer away from writing adult adventure. He was taken ill with a heart attack in 1963 which necessitated a period of convalescence in Hove. During this time he was given a children’s book by Beatrix Potter to inspire him to think about writing down the bedtime tales that Fleming read to his son, Casper. The stories were of fast motor cars and adventure – very like the James Bond stories. This seemed like an ideal project for Fleming to take on and he attacked the writing with gusto. He loved fast cars – just look at the Bond car pursuits – so it is little wonder that his childhood story would involve action and chase.
Flemings bedtime story was based around Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. This was was a composite car Fleming devised from his own Standard Tourer which he had driven in Switzerland and a 1920’s aero-enginered racing car built by Count Louis Zborwski that Fleming had seen at a racing track. Apparently the sound it made inspired the name of his car.
Fleming wrote three books around Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Preliminary drawings by the Daily Mail cartoonist, Willy Fawkes, were not permitted as many of Fleming’s works were also serialised in the Daily Express. Finally his publishers commissioned the 1963 winner of the Kate Greenway Medal, John Burningham, to illustrate the book. The iconic images of the magical car are now classic.
Fleming’s mantra was “Never say ‘no’ to adventures. Always say ‘yes’, otherwise you’ll lead a very dull life.” He applied this to his Chitty Chitty Bang Bang story as much as he did to his James Bond adventures – with similar success. Unfortunately Fleming did not live to see the publication of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. He suffered a further heart attack on 11 August 1964 and died in the early morning of the following day— on his son Caspar’s twelfth birthday. The book was published two months after his death.
Rare and Antique Books holds the first edition of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – see more here