BBC Radio 4 Extra, 3 April 2011
Fleming's charming tale of a crazy inventor Caractacus Potts, his two children Jeremy and Jemima, and a remarkable car that can not only talk but possesses a mind of its own, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was filmed in 1968 with Dick van Dyke and later turned into a successful stage musical with Michael Ball.
Charlotte Riches' production was narrated by Chitty herself (Imogen Stubbs), a jolly-hockey-sticks type figure who knew precisely what would happen next, and how to respond to any given situation. Despite the fact that Caractacus (Alex Jennings) drove the car, Chitty told him what to do and berated him - usually by means of a flashing message on the dashboard - if he reacted too slowly. The idea of a woman on top might have been anathema to Fleming, a gentleman of the old school who believed in the patriarchal status quo, even in the fast-changing world of the post-1945 era. However Riches stressed that the story was nothing more than a fantasy; a childlike world peopled with innocent children and black-hearted villains.
In structural terms, Riches' production resembled a road movie, as the Potts clan piled into Cuitty, drove to the seaside and became unwittingly involved in a plot to rob Paris's most celebrated chocolateer M. Bonbon (Eric Potts). A road movie normally represents a voyage of discovery for those involved as they leave their homes and embark on a journey into the unknown. Chitty paid some lip-service to the genre as the two children (Bertie Gilbert, Kerry Ingram) learned to fend for themselves when kidnapped by two blackhearted villains (David Fleeshman, Eric Potts).
However Riches was far more concerned to communicate a patriotic message: British pluck and ingenuity inevitably triumphs over Gallic sophistry. Fleming would have heartily endorsed this view - as the creator of James Bond, he upheld British values, especially when compared with those of other countries.
This Chitty proved an enjoyable romp, with Stubbs' central charater bearing a strong vocal resemblance to Joyce Grenfell. Jennings' Caractacus came across as an absent-minded professor, so preoccupied with his work that he took little heed of anything and anyone around him. It was up to Chitty to effect a change of character within him, as she guided him successfully through a series of obstacles on his crazy journey until restored eventually to his children. Fleeshman made a hissable villain with the proverbial heart of gold; one could not imagine him harming the children in any way, even while holding them in captivity.