BBC BLOGS - Gomp/arts
« Previous | Main | Next »

A nasty case of sequelitis

Will Gompertz | 09:00 UK time, Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Who'd a thought it; they've only gone and turned Chitty Chitty Bang Bang into a camper van.

What's more, Truly Scrumptious has had to take a back seat while the Tooting (geddit) family hit the road and surf the sky. It wasn't like that in my day.

Joe Berger's illustration of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

But that was before sequelitis, a highly contagious condition that publishers, literary estates and movie moguls are particularly prone to. None more so than those responsible for Ian Fleming's estate, who have succumbed to repeated outbreaks, most notably around their James Bonds. Now it has spread to their Chitty Chitty Bang Bangs, hence the camper van.

I should explain. In November an all-new Chitty story will be published by Macmillan Children's Books, which carries on where Ian Fleming left off.

It has been written by Frank Cottrell Boyce - who, after scripting 24 Hour Party People, can do pretty much whatever he wants in my book - and has been given the disappointingly unadventurous title, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again (a post modern gag?).

Chitty joins a long list of literary "brands" to be given a facelift by someone other than their creator. Winnie-the-Pooh, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, and Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca have all been given the treatment.

Why? I suppose because the public like new stories that take well-liked characters on new adventures while creating a nostalgic link with times past. Literary estates like them because they are in effect brand extensions, a way of making their core asset sweat. And publishers like them because it reduces the inherent risk of fiction publishing.

Of course the movie business has been at it for years. There's an old story about a new owner of a Hollywood studio commissioning some very expensive research to find out which films were the most profitable. Many millions of dollars later they got their answer: sequels. Books are no different, there's a formula to these things. A star actor is an important ingredient for a film sequel; a star writer is generally required in the book world.

Personally, I can't help but feel a little squeamish about the whole thing. The characters that we have come to know and connect with are the product of an individual author's imagination. No other writer or computer programme can capture the magic, because in many cases it has bubbled up from an unconscious mind sitting in front of a blank page.

There is certain magic to creating memorable characters and stories, which most authors will attest to. Turning the process into a hand-me-down franchise seems to devalue what is a truly remarkable human faculty.


  • Comment number 1.

    "The characters that we have come to know and connect with ...."

    You speak for yourself, ducky.

  • Comment number 2.

    Agree completely. However, the drive to part consumers from their cash will never stop. Still, it can also help to encourage a new generation to seek out the originals: For many of us, our first introductions to characters such as Winnie the Pooh or Dracula was through the screen, rather than the page, but we later went on to read the original stories.

    And it isn't always bad: Chuck Palahniuk, author of "Fight Club", is on record as saying that the film of his novel is better than the novel itself.

  • Comment number 3.

    You don’t think it’s anything to do with shoring up trademarks and copyright then? It strikes me that a lot of sequels, TV series to film remakes etc. are more about that than telling a new story.

  • Comment number 4.

    While I liked the original, I also don't mind the concept of a sequel where did the idea of transfering the engine bring about the transfer of all the other magical stuff? In the original the Pott guy discovers an old racing car in a scrap yard, takes it home and repairs it - admitting he is unsure of what some of the bits are. He discovers what they are during the journey. Surely the most likely outcome was that the car was left in the shed after the Potts chap died, it was rediscovered, repaired and took to the road again? Transfering the engine from a racing car into a camper van is just a weird idea and implies magic where as the original implied more of a gadget filled car with a brain.

  • Comment number 5.

    As a rule, most literary sequels tend to be sub-par - the aforementioned Hitchhikers being a prime example - but some of interest slip through the net. William Horwood's series continuing 'The Wind in the Willows' was excellent, with superb illustrations. I heard good things about the Winnie-the-Pooh sequel, too, so perhaps best not to write off the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang one just yet (at least wait until it's published).

  • Comment number 6.

    We're back to entertainment on this arts blog. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Winnie the Pooh or Dracula whether in their original form or sequel are popular entertainment, not art.
    Now, if there was to be a sequel to the film by Satyajit Ray based on Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay's brilliant Bengali book, Pather Panchali, we would have something to discuss. But Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?

  • Comment number 7.

    Sometimes the original author can't recapture the magic for a sequel but it doesn't ruin the original. Although this one does seem to be more like Herbie than Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

    As regard Ian Fleming sequels I've alway thought that Christopher Wood did the best ones with his novelisations of the films "The Spy Who Loved Me" and "Moonraker". I would have liked to have read an original Bond book by him.

    ( And as a VW anorak I can't resisting pointing out that the aircooled flat four in the 'buses is related to the Porsche flat six and it is not an uncommon transplant.)

  • Comment number 8.

    I wanted to thank you for a stimulating interview this morning.
    Your last paragraph - about the truly remarkable human facility for inventing characters -gave me a real jolt and a blast of adrenalin that got me through the morning’s work (on some short stories of my own)
    BTW - there are no actual characters carried over from Fleming’s original into mine. Maybe mine is the poorer for that - but they really did all bubble up in front of a blank page.
    Thanks for helping me treasure that!

  • Comment number 9.

    If ever made it to the DVD/Silver Screen, what would Disney Corporation say?, too much like Herbie/The Love Bug perhaps??.

  • Comment number 10.

    I loved 'The Original Chitty' so many great characters. The story was a famous racing car crashed and ended up in a scrap yard (Desmond Llewllyn aka Q as the owner).

    The Potts children would play in the car, then the news it would be put into The Firy they asked their Father to save it. He seemed to use anything he could get his hands on, (a rowing boat became the boat tailed passenger section with a dicky seat if I remember correctly), as it drove it backfired, and made a unique sound. hence Chitty Chitty Bang Bang....

    At that point you have to watch the film carefully, Caracticus tells them a story about a magical car, then story and reality blurr somewhat.......a really great story.

  • Comment number 11.

    I see no reason why Chitty can't be updated. Fleming's family have sanctioned this, so I'm sure he himself would've approved. It's not like Chitty's going to be a Skoda, is it?

    And L A Odicean - why can't popular entertainment also be "art"?

  • Comment number 12.

    It's nice to be reminded of old classics - even if it is through a new 'sequel'. I haven't thought about the original Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for many years, and I'm looking forward to reading the new series of books - who knows, I may dig out my original books/ film and show my kids... isn't that the point? Life moves on, and surely having an appreciation of the new and old is what counts?

  • Comment number 13.

    I think that along with most things, sequels can be good or bad. Often the better ones are the ones that are planned as a series in the first place. Take James Bond, Lord of the Rings or Indiana Jones.
    Speaking of George Lucas though - Original 3 Star Wars good, new Star Wars not so much. It all depends on the creators's passion and quality of the end product.


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.