Frank Boyce selected by Ian Fleming's family to pen story
NEW YORK (AP) — Most cars are just that: Four tires and an engine. And then there's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the flying version born of Ian Fleming's imagination and the namesake of the James Bond creator's only book for children.
That's a big driver's seat to slide into, especially when you add Dick Van Dyke in a wildly popular movie written by Roald Dahl, a Broadway musical and a generation or two of Chitty-lovin' parents.
So why did the Fleming family pluck Frank Cottrell Boyce, of Liverpool, to revive the story nearly 50 years after the original was published? And why now?
He has no idea.
"I never asked, in case it was a mistake," he said by telephone ahead of last week's U.S. debut of his "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again," from Candlewick Press.
Cottrell Boyce was being modest, of course. He's a known children's writer in England, where the first of three sequels he plans was released in October.
Fleming wrote the original story in three slim volumes for his son, Caspar, only to die of a heart attack on the boy's 12th birthday just before it was published as one book in August 1964.
The hard-living Fleming began the adventure while convalescing in 1961 at a seaside hotel on the south coast of England after an earlier heart attack. He was denied a typewriter to discourage him from working, so he wrote it in longhand on a pad of paper, said niece Kate Grimond.
Chitty was based on a real race car built by a thrill-seeking count, Louis Zborowski, in his attempt to break the world land-speed record in 1921. The car, and others conceived by Zborowski, was nicknamed Chitty Bang Bang for the racket it made, Grimond said.
Born into a wealthy family, Fleming once stayed in the country house, Higham Park, where Zborowski built the cars near Canterbury in Kent, she said.
"A colleague of Ian's grandfather was a banker and bought the house and moved in," she said. "The count died at age 26 while motor racing. His father had been killed while motor racing as well. Ian adored cars and knew of these exploits and it just remained in his imagination."
Fleming made up stories about Chitty for Caspar, his only child. Caspar committed suicide by drug overdose in 1975 at age 23 after years of addiction and depression.
The 1968 Chitty movie has notable changes from Fleming's book. There's a different ending, a kidnapper called the Child Catcher and Truly Scrumptious, a hottie love interest for Van Dyke's widowed, nutty inventor, Commander Caractacus Potts. The family's name was "Pott" in Fleming's book, which includes a wife for Caractacus and mother for their 8-year-old twins.
The movie offered a nod to Fleming's 007. In the cast was Desmond Llewelyn, who played gadget genius Q in Bond films just hitting theaters as Fleming's health declined, and Gert Frobe, who was Auric Goldfinger, the namesake of the third Bond film.
Why now for the long-dormant Chitty book is apparently a puzzle for Grimond as well. The family, including Grimond's sister Lucy, holds literary rights.
Fleming himself envisioned additional installments for Chitty beyond the three merged into one, but he died before he was able to write more, she said.
"It's one of those things that has been in the backs of people's minds for a long time," Grimond said. "Other than that, I don't quite know why now."
It might have something to do with publishing's penchant for brand extensions, including numerous authorized Bond books by other writers. Kingsley Amis (as Robert Markham) and John Gardner were among them.
Children's books are no exception. The first authorized Winnie the Pooh sequel, "Return to the Hundred Acre Wood," was released in 2009, and the first all-new Madeline story, "Madeline and the Cats of Rome," by John Bemelmans Marciano, the grandson of Ludwig Bemelmans, was published in 2008.
There have been many other extensions for classic children's books after the death of their creators, including the Babar, Wizard of Oz and "Little House on the Prairie" books.