In which the blogger runs the rule over Frank Cottrell Boyce’s 2013 publication Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Over The Moon.
There’s a sense of being a big kid yourself when you’re a children’s author, the magical element of a Peter Pan refusing to grow up and conform with expected norms and rules.
And the imagination clearly remains King for revered Liverpudlian author Frank Cottrell Boyce, judging by his trilogy following the adventures of the Tooting family and a certain classic car.
For those not yet in the know, I should explain we’re talking about the officially-endorsed sequels to James Bond creator Ian Fleming’s 1964 hit Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: The Magical Car, famously immortalised in film four years later in the hit Roald Dahl and Ken Hughes-penned Sherman brothers-scored musical.
Now, 49 years after Fleming’s success, Cottrell Boyce (let’s call him FCB from here) has completed a third sequel, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Over The Moon, and despite the continued absence of luscious Sally Anne Howes’ character in any of the books, the result is – again – truly scrumptious.
Let’s back up a second, and explain that Frank (forget FCB, I’m going with Frank now) re-imagined the original in late 2011 with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again then again a year ago with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the Race Against Time (with a review of the latter to be found here).
There’s no doubting his suitability for the task either, and I can honestly say his first three novels (admittedly aimed at a slightly older 9/12 audience) are among my favourite-ever children’s novels. But this isn’t about Millions (based on Frank’s own script for Danny Boyle’s film of the same name), Framed (as televised for the BBC) or Cosmic (in production as a film now, I believe), nor his part in scripting so many other hit films or the 2012 Olympic Games’ opening ceremony.
While lesser authors might put less thought into books aimed at a younger audience, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Over The Moon is one that should appeal to children and adults alike, and Frank clearly had a ball writing it, not least through the often OTT situations he finds himself describing (or should that be OTM?).
In a nutshell, Frank has taken Fleming’s chassis and transplanted it into a 21st century mindset, and whereas until now his Chitty Chitty stories have followed the Tooting family from Basildon, Essex, this time we also get to meet the Bond creator’s Pott family too.
Furthermore, there are continuing nightmares in store as evil genius Tiny Jack and his creepy Nanny (maybe not up there with the Child Catcher, but worrying enough) are embroiled in a further outlandish plot involving the audacious theft of Big Ben, the Taj Mahal, Stonehenge and other notable wonders of the world.
Worse still, we start back in 1966, where it appears that clock-napping Tiny Jack’s robbed us of our only World Cup victory too, with Germany turning out to be 3-2 victors.
Three books in, we know how the Tooting family roll now, their inventive Dad and arguably more street-wise Mum often outwitted by their children. That’s surly and dificult yet gifted and sassy teen Lucy, and her brother Jem, Chitty’s navigator, co-engineer and all-round deep thinker. And this time – while perhaps growing weary of time travel – the family know they can’t go back to their old life until they’ve safely found their kidnapped youngest family member, dinosaur-loving adventurer Little Harry.
We also get to understand how Fleming’s original family tick, Commander Caractacus Pott, wife Mimsie, and their children Jeremy and Jemina. But the car’s the real star, a certain Paragon Panther that has become part of both literary and cinematic history.
The result is another six-cylinder 300hp Maybach Aero-driven adventure that the car’s original playboy owner Count Louis Zborowski would be proud of. And, to paraphrase Mr Tooting, the word today is ‘fasten your seatbelts’.
There’s an added winning element in the evocative illustrations of Joe Berger too, telling part of the story himself, adding effective glimpses of that extraordinary world the Tootings and their new friends find themselves in.
Frank takes that spirit of adventure of the first two books to a whole new level, up into space in fact, and you can tell – as was the case with the wonderful Cosmic – this isn’t something he’s just researched in the last year or so.
For the author is a product of his time – that 1960s era when we really felt space travel was the future and all those scientific achievements were taking us to a whole new world of exploration. But where are we five decades later with all this technology? Well, we have got the internet, which Mrs Tooting explains to the Pott children is ‘a kind of invisible global network that allows people all over the world to show each other photographs of amusing cats’. Touche.
So at 2.50pm on July 30, 1966, the Tooting family find their modern currency means nothing to a Wembley Stadium tout asking two guineas each for tickets to the big match, further suggestions that they’ll just get more money from a hole in the wall bringing increasing bewilderment.
Among all the in-jokes and fun, fun, fun (as Tiny Jack and his Nanny would have it), there are deeper themes too, not least the mind-blowing concept that maybe Chitty Chitty exists in two time zones, its Chronojuster dial switched to brain-overload setting.
For while the rescue of Little Harry is a priority, the bigger crime appears to be Tiny Jack’s continued time travelling villainy, and this from someone who plays Snakes and Ladders with real snakes and What’s the Time, Mr Wolf? with lupine extras.
There are special guests too, not least an Aston Martin DB5 that would have left Fleming purring (‘the word today is British engineering at its finest’, says Mr Tooting), and Her Majesty the Queen, who just happens to know a top-secret route that will take the family between Tower Bridge and rural Essex in super-fast time.
We also get to re-meet the family’s classic ’60s split-screen VW Samba bus that initially took us on this outlandish journey, back at its Bucklewing Corner scrapyard, and visit Commander Pott’s hush-hush workshop, where his inventions include a few that have caught on and many that have not – from square potatoes, anti-gravity paint and burst-proof bubbles ideal for space exploration, car sun domes, edible gramophone records, and mobile phones. I’ll let you decide which are which.
Meanwhile, young Jeremy and Jemina Pott appear to be children of their time, one carrying no end of boy’s own gadgetry and the other happy to make the tea and work on needlecraft while secretly intellectually out-shining most of her contemporaries.
There’s so much more, not least a board game called Destruction, a trip to the North Pole, a return to Tiny Jack’s gargantuan Chateau Bateau private spaceship, and a Marsh of Decay moon landing which bemuses the 1971 US crew of Apollo 15 (not helped by Mr Tooting’s scrawled message: ‘We’re not aliens. We’re from Basildon’).
Then there are the unfathomable questions, not least how long one tank of petrol will last for a super-charged car heading for the stars. But we’re always in safe hands with Frank, and the result is yet another FCB success story.
* Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Over The Moon is published by Macmillan Children’s Books (2013), and available from all good bookshops.