Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: How a Wigan man went from obscurity to stardom thanks to legendary musical
'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, we love you, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, our fine four-fendered friend.'
The words which generations of musicals fans know almost by heart, first heard half a century ago, bring back especially fond memories for the principal of a Wigan drama school.
That’s because Adrian Hall, who runs the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts (Alra) whose northern campus is at Wigan Pier, was a child actor in the unique tale of an eccentric inventor and his flying car, playing the role of Jeremy Potts.
And this year Chitty Chitty Bang Bang has been back in the headlines as it celebrates 50 years since it first hit the screens and charmed
Adrian was plucked from a small drama school in Surrey by the casting team which was touring the country looking for talent to be in the film.
He recalls he had not decided at that age on a career in showbusiness and the experience of finding himself in a major film shoot.
He said: “I had absolutely no idea what it was going to be like. We thought originally it was casting for the Dick van Dyke Show but eventually found out we were making a film.
“I think we had five auditions. We did a screen test at Pinewood and after that we were having lunch and the director came over and said we had the job.
“The shoot was originally going to be about 14 weeks but it ended up taking 14 months. I don’t think anyone realised how massive a job it would turn out.
“Filming is strange when you’re a child because they have to provide schooling during the day and we could only film for four hours a day.
“There is a classroom at Pinewood Studios specially built they use for child actors.
“We would go in there and a teacher was employed for four hours of lessons a day.
“There was lots of location work all over Buckinghamshire as well and we also went to France and Germany for a few weeks.
“That was the best part because we didn’t really bother with schooling when we were over there.
“They did have a big problem with crowd control taking two eight-year-old kids to a beach, though.
“All the Child Catcher scenes were done in Germany in a little village there. We didn’t have a stunt driver and the actor playing him was completely crazy when he was driving that thing.
“Once he got a bit carried away and toppled it over on one of the corners, fortunately when he was rehearsing without us in it. It was a bit hairy and everyone panicked.”
After filming Adrian and the rest of the cast got to attend a glamorous premiere in Leicester Square in London attended by the prime minister along with the Queen and Prince Philip.
He also got an insight into another aspect of the movie industry by travelling around the country opening new
Adrian said: “It was when the first multi-screen cinemas were opening and it was usually us and Herbie they wanted. They were quite glamorous affairs with every town putting on a show for its new cinema.”
The film was not an instant smash hit, although it did well at the box office, but quickly gained itself a place in the nation’s hearts as a fixture of the festive television schedules.
The nostalgia of that, along with the instantly-memorable tunes and the quick-fire wordplay, has made Chitty Chitty Bang Bang a family favourite ever since and Adrian spoke of his pride at being involved in such a British cultural institution.
He said: “For some reason it just became a film that was shown at Christmas. It’s probably because it was quite long and filled the day’s TV schedules. It then became embedded in folklore.
“For quite a lot of people the Child Catcher was probably the first really scary thing they had seen in films and the memories of Christmas afternoon after lunch watching it has made it quite a special thing for a lot of people. I’m thrilled that it happened.
“If it hadn’t I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing now, which I think is the best job in the world. It pushed me into my career.”
The golden anniversary of the film has seen a huge number of Chitty-related events, with a big party for the cast at Pinewood and screenings across the country on the very day 50 years on from the first showing.
Adrian also joined Lord Montagu at the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu to celebrate the film along with the enormous collection of Chitty memorabilia there, including some of the cars themselves.
He said: “The anniversary has been great, although I wish it wasn’t so long ago. We had a lovely day at Pinewood and talking to lots of people there it was clear their memories of it are as happy as mine.
“We also had a day at Beaulieu. They’ve loads of memorabilia and it is nice that it has survived.
“Apparently the Child Catcher’s cages were in a warehouse in storage in Germany where they had been since we finished filming and left. They had been given to a museum but they had never exhibited them because they didn’t know what they were.
“I also stood alongside Lord Montagu in Chitty.
“I have driven the car, the last time was in Los Angeles when we went to the studios to surprise Dick van Dyke.
“It’s actually like driving a tank! The wheels are solid rubber, you feel every bump in the road and there’s no power steering. It’s also very quick and there are no disc brakes because they would look too modern.
“Chitty is part of my history and I would never try to hide it or deny it. It’s a piece of British film history and in the course of my life I’ve met some incredible people and been to some brilliant places, all because of it. It has done nothing but good for me.”