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'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' Gets Back On The Road
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'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' Gets Back On The Road

Author Interviews

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News, I'm Scott Simon.

Ian Fleming's much-loved "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: The Magical Car" is back for more adventures. The last time we heard about the car, it was flying off into the distance. Ian Fleming, best known as the creator of James Bond, wrote "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" in 1964 for his son Caspar. It was turned into a movie musical in 1968, starring Dick Van Dyke.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG")

DICK VAN DYKE: (Singing) Chitty Bang Bang, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Chitty Bang Bang, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Oh you, pretty Chitty Bang Bang, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang we love you. And in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang what will do. Near, far...

SIMON: Don't you think it's time for sequel? The family of the late Ian Fleming did, and asked for one of the U.K.'s best-selling children's authors - who's not J.K. Rowling - to do it. So Frank Cottrell Boyce got behind Chitty's wheel and created a new venture, "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again."

Frank Cottrell Boyce joins us from the studios of the BBC in Liverpool. Thanks so much for being with us.

FRANK COTTRELL BOYCE: It's great to be here.

SIMON: So tell us how this approach from the Flemings worked.

COTTRELL BOYCE: Well, they called me up, and I couldn't really understand why, really, that they wanted to - I understood why they wanted to do another book because the book is quite close to their hearts. The Fleming estate is owned by his nieces, so I guess Ian Fleming was their kind of magical uncle who told them all these great stories. So I think the book has a place in their hearts.

And they asked me to write the sequel, and I was really flattered but confused, I have to say...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

COTTRELL BOYCE: ...but really, really thrilled.

SIMON: I loved the Tooting family...

COTTRELL BOYCE: Oh, thank you.

SIMON: ...which unlike some storybook families, utterly real. Describe them for us, if you could.

COTTRELL BOYCE: Well, there's a dad who has just lost his job, and he tries to cheer himself up by restoring an old VW camper van. And in restoring it, he comes across this amazing engine in a scrap yard, which he must have for his camper van. And, of course, that turns out to be the engine of Chitty Bang Bang.

And he's got a daughter who's a bit - kind of gothy and hides in her room a lot, and a son who worships him, called Jam, and this little baby, and a wife who he's in love with, which is actually very unusual in fiction. And actually in children's fiction, the family doesn't really go off on the adventure. It's usual that you kill the parents at the beginning, or there's a war and you all have to be evacuated. Or the child has a disease, or he's sent away to public school.

You have to do something catastrophic at the beginning, to get rid of the grown-ups. And what challenged me about Ian Fleming's book was that the whole family is on the adventure, which - I love that. I love that. It's so rare. It's so fresh. And I've really enjoyed writing the whole family for this one.

SIMON: The car begins to fly around the world. And I want to draw you out on the section set in Paris...

COTTRELL BOYCE: Right.

SIMON: ...which I think is just wonderful. In fact, if I could get you to read a section. We will explain that Chitty Chitty Bang Bang begins to come down over Paris and...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: ...settles on top of the Eiffel Tower. And how do we set this up? Of course, the French police are alarmed.

COTTRELL BOYCE: Well, obviously it's a security alert that they're on top of the Eiffel Tower, which is strictly no parking. So he has to explain why he stopped there. He says...

(Reading) I parked there because I wanted my wife to wake up with Paris all around her. I wanted to spread Paris at her feet like a big Paris-y towel at the end of a long bath. For moment, no one said anything. Then someone started to clap. Then everyone started to clap - except the most important police officer, who wiped away a tear and sniffed and said: I have investigated many crimes of passion. But I have never seen passion like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

COTTRELL BOYCE: (Reading) He said this in French. What did he say? said Dad. He said something revolting, said Lucy. No, what did he say? He said, you and Mom were romantic. It was disgusting. It really upset me.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

COTTRELL BOYCE: (Reading) I actually think that's quite nice, said Mom, and also true. He's obviously a very good detective. He got that right. Kiss her, yelled someone in the crowd. Kiss your beautiful wife. Yes, kissed her, yelled someone else. Kiss her, shouted everyone else. Please don't, said Lucy. Oh, too late. Mom and Dad kissed, and a thousand mobile phones filmed them doing it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

COTTRELL BOYCE: Everyone's nightmare.

SIMON: Are you one of these children's authors who will tell us you don't write for children: you just write the best story?

COTTRELL BOYCE: No, I absolutely write for children.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

COTTRELL BOYCE: I love reading to children. You know, as a children's author, you go to schools a lot, and I just love that. I feel like a magician every time I do. I feel like Homer every time I walk in. It may be to do with the fact I've got a lot of children of my own. And the idea that I'll walk into a room where there are children who want to listen to me is an amazing thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: How do you know, when you're writing, that you've written something that will make a child laugh?

COTTRELL BOYCE: Well, because "Chitty Bang Bang" is a kind of a national treasure, my 11-year-old and my 5-year-old both really loved it, so I did genuinely read to them, at the end of each day, what I'd written that day. And they would tort or laugh or smile, and talk about it a lot 'cause it did feel as though it wasn't my book, that I'd borrowed this national treasure, that the Flemings had lent me this gorgeous car to drive around in. And it wasn't - it didn't really belong to me. I had to make sure that nobody scratched it or burst the tires.

SIMON: After they get off the Eiffel Tower, Chitty and the Tooting family continue to go around the world; they go into Africa. And without giving any plot points away, there is a moment when - how shall I - put it this way, Chitty goes to pieces.

COTTRELL BOYCE: Oh, yes.

SIMON: Which - I won't explain how that happens, or what winds up saying, except to read a quote from Jim – the Tooting family child – who says: a van like Chitty is not just a heap of components. You can take her apart. You can take bits away, but somehow she'll still be Chitty.

COTTRELL BOYCE: Yeah.

SIMON: What is the somehow in there?

COTTRELL BOYCE: Ah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

COTTRELL BOYCE: It's the thing of just, does Chitty have a soul? I think that's kind of ended up becoming the theme, you know.

COTTRELL BOYCE: What - what are we when we take bits of ourselves and when we change? There is still some essence of us still there, I think. We all feel that quite strongly.

SIMON: May I ask - since you are a wide-ranging writer, in addition to what you write for children - do you get to try a James Bond now?

COTTRELL BOYCE: No, I don't think I will do a Bond, actually. I mean, they do have someone writing Bond sequels.

SIMON: Yeah.

COTTRELL BOYCE: But it's Chitty for me, I think. I like the - I was never that into spies. For me, it's the comedy of the car. And dads and cars are just innately funny, aren't they? Because a dad behind the wheel of a car really thinks he's a boy racer.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

COTTRELL BOYCE: And at the same time, he's got all these people in the back who know that he's not. And that's a kind of innately comic situation, I think.

SIMON: Well, Mr. Boyce, thanks so much.

COTTRELL BOYCE: Thank you. It's a real pleasure.

SIMON: Frank Cottrell Boyce, author of the new "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again."

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