BBC website prior to the Opening Night: 16th April 2002

~The Chitty legend ~

Michael Ball leads the new stage version

A flying car is the West End's latest weapon to entice families to London's theatreland - as lavish musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang opens. BBC News Online looks at how the film became a worldwide success.

This latest musical extravaganza to hit the West End has not come cheap - it is costing £6.2m, with the flying car alone costing £750,000.

Unsurprisingly, backers are hoping that Chitty Chitty Bang Bang will boost the capital's musical scene, which has been hit by the closure of Starlight Express and the forthcoming end of Cats.

Producers say audiences are in line for a treat - with the car soaring above their heads during the production.

The Chitty story is loosely based on a series of three stories by Ian Fleming, better known for his James Bond books, first published between 1964 and 1965.


The central character is Caractacus Potts, a widower who loves gadgets and all things mechanical.

He and his children rescue an old car, and convert it into one which can fly and float.

But Baron Bomburst, the monarch of Vulgaria, a small but wealthy principality, kidnaps Potts' children and it is up to Caractacus Potts to rescue them.

Set in England, Dick Van Dyke took the lead role as Potts, while Heather Ripley and Adrian Hall played children Jeremy and Jemima. Sally Ann Howes played Truly Scrumptious.

Bond producer Albert "Cubby" Broccoli spared no expense on the $10m (£6.9m) production, hiring author Roald Dahl to working the screen play, with Ken Hughes directing.

Mixed feelings

Hughes, who died last year aged 79, had mixed feelings about the film's success.

"I didn't enjoy making it. The film made a lot of money, but that doesn't really make me feel better about it," he said.

Songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman were drafted in fresh from their Academy Award success with Mary Poppins, and their efforts earned Chitty Chitty Bang Bang an Oscar nonination in 1968. The soundtrack was also nominated for two Golden Globes.

A host of British stars played parts in the film, including another Bond name, Desmond "Q" Llewelyn as well as Arthur Mullard, Benny Hill, Barbara Windsor, Stanley Unwin and comedian Max Wall.

But the youngsters chosen to play Jeremy and Jemima stayed out of the limelight.

Adrian Hall is now a drama teacher, while Heather Ripley is now a mature student, after spending time as an anti-nuclear and environmental campaigner - which once saw her arrested outside the Faslane nuclear submarine base near her Dundee home.

The pressure of her fame, she says, contributed to her parents' divorce in the 1970s.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Star car

But it was the car itself that was the star of the film.

Production designer Ken Adam - who later won an Oscar for The Madness of King George - is said to have been determined it should be a real car, and the finished product weighed two tons and was 17 feet long.

The wheels were moulded in alloy to replicate timber wheels which would have been used in the early 20th century, while brass fittings were taken from old Edwardian models. The alloy dashboard plate came from a World War I fighter plane.

The car still has its GEN11 - spelling out the Latin "genii", meaning magical being - number plate, and is owned by Pierre Picton , who looked after it during filming. It still undertakes regular promotional appearances across the UK.

A spare vehicle and two dummy cars were also constructed.

There is just one car in the new musical - but producers are keeping exactly how it works a tightly-guarded secret.

But at 1.7 tons, it is hydraulics, not wires, which ensures it flies above the audience at the Palladium

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