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
Fleming’s Bond books are perhaps the most popular and iconic thriller series ever produced. There remains some attraction in identifying with the character and his lifestyle – how many men don’t secretly desire to be Bond at least in some small way! The James Bond “product” has generated all manner of associated gadgets and memorabilia, yet a Bond first edition book holds genuine authenticity and cudos over other merchandise. It would be hard to believe there are any around the world not proudly displayed in cabinets or on shelves.
With the launch on Monday 26th October of the new James Bond film, Spectre, focus on the collecting Ian Fleming’s first edition Bond books will be re-ignited. They have always remained consistently appealing to collectors of modern fiction but here are some interesting facts for the novice.
Ian Fleming only published fourteen James Bond novels so collecting them is a manageable task. Anyone starting off a collection already has some boundaries set so there is no chance of getting carried away and going off piste!
Identifying the novels is relatively straightforward and so is an ideal way to start off collecting modern literature. Jonathan Cape published all the UK versions of the novels so recognising the publishing details are relatively clear. They should all say Jonathan Cape on the title page. Also they should state “First Published …” with the correct year on the back of the title page. Any second or later impressions will be clearly stated.
Ideally a good collection will consist of books with their original dust jackets and some of the fun in collecting them is to seek out such books. Beware of jackets from later editions being placed on original books. As a rule of thumb, knowing the sequence of books in the series and then checking to make sure a later book is not mentioned on the jacket of an earlier book, should help determine whether it is the correct jacket for the book or not. Identifying a first edition dust jacket can also be done by checking that no reviews from newspapers or journalists are included on the dust jacket flaps. Later impressions of the book will naturally have these reviews included. Those that have retained their pricing on the front flap are called ‘not price-clipped’ and will be more valuable. The only other point to note is that “Live and Let Die” had three ‘issues’ of the first edition, first impression. The first and most valuable edition has no reference to the jacket designer at all; the second edition has the reference centered in the white space below the text on the inside front flap of the jacket; for the third edition it is placed just below the text. They are all valuable books but decrease in cost from first to third.
James Bond novels can be relatively affordable especially for the later books. It is certainly best to start with the more recent and affordable publications. First editions become more expensive as you start moving toward the earlier books in the series. Of course, as ever, condition is the key but even poor condition copies of the earlier books can fetch a reasonable sum. Fine and pristine copies can be worth several thousand pounds but it is perfectly possible to build up a good collection of reasonable books priced at a few hundred pounds each.
James Bond books remain a beautifully designed set of books which look great on the shelf. Everyone has their favourite jacket design. The dust jacket designs by Kenneth Lewis, Pat Marriotand, of course, Richard Chopping, all have special attributes that set them apart from each other. Choppping’s Trompe L’Oeil style was distinctive and menacing. He could even make a toad with a captured dragonfly seem menacing as he did for “You Only Live Twice.”
Collecting James Bond novels is especially fun when a new Bond film comes out! The release of the Casino Royale film in 2006 considerably increased the sales of the book of the same name. What was additionally great for book collectors was that the dust jacket for the book inspired the opening sequence of the film.
Adding to the fun of collecting Ian Fleming’s novel is the hunting down of the earlier copies of the Bond novels. These earlier titles were initially published in smaller quantities. The first novel, Casino Royale, had a print run of only 4,700 copies. Many of these went to libraries so were well used and invariably lost their jackets. The later books, such as Octopussy, had a run of 50,000 so great copies of these editions are more easily affordable.
Once started, a first edition collection of Ian Fleming books can become compelling! Finding a finer and better copy of a James Bond book is the new challenge. The subtleties of the condition of the book and dust jacket become more intense and it becomes a little like building up a fine wine collection! If you start on the quest of collecting Ian Fleming books we wish you good luck in your adventure! Rare and Antique books holds the complete collection of James Bond books. See more Ian Fleming novels here.
Christmas gifts – how about a book? We all like a good read. Although the Kindle continues to gain popularity, especially as an alternative to holiday suitcases brimming with books, there’s still nothing quite like the tactile indulgence of a real book. To be able to view the cover, take time over admiring its size and pagination, to physically turn the page or perhaps simply to smell the real thing, is somehow so much more satisfying.
But choosing a book as a gift specifically for a book lover is certainly not easy or straight-forward. It’s akin to buying a woman a perfume she’s not tried before. Almost certain to be a disaster because, like a book, it is highly personal and very tricky to second guess.
But an old book, a rare book or a first edition of a favourite author, character or series, could very well prove to be a big hit. Whether it’s to read, to admire on the bookshelf, or simply to reminisce over as a childhood favourite read, a well chosen old or rare book as a gift is certain to bring a smile and genuine happiness to the recipient.
At Rare & Antique Books almost all our books are first editions. Most are either famous children’s favourites such as Alice in Wonderland, The Hobbit, The Jungle Book or sets like Winnie the Pooh and Chronicles of Narnia.
Many are modern first editions from popular authors. These include H.G Wells’ The Time Machine or War of the Worlds, Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, or Ian Fleming’s Bond books.
Our beautifully illustrated books by Arthur Rackham dating from the end of the nineteenth century to the 1930’s are especially unique.
So this year, try a rare book as unusual Christmas gift. It might just prove to be the best present ever!