Back in the pioneer days of racing driving, there was a real Chitty Bang Bang.
Count Louis Zborowski, born in 1895, moneyed and distantly related to the Astors, nevertheless did not mind getting his hands dirty. He was in love with trains and automobiles, and built four of his racing cars himself.
And the first two of these were named Chitty Bang Bang.
You have to hand it to these people: who fall in love with an idea and then just make it appear large as life, in front of your eyes. There it was: Chitty Bang Bang, large as life, jousting with all the best motor cars of the day. It wasn’t, incidentally, Zborowski’s only triumph; the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch railway, a little masterpiece of small-gauge railway building which traverses the Romney marshes out to Dungeness – that was partly his creation too.
Making it happen in real life. Some people just have a knack for it.
I was standing next to the cinematic Chitty Bang Bang yesterday, parked in pride of place at the National Motor Museum, in Beaulieu, a luscious corner of the New Forest in Hampshire.The car is a hero of mine. And as I stood silently adoring I noticed a detail I had never seen before. The horn is a great serpent which winds up onto the front wheel arch.
Such an extravagant detail! And the whole car is a confection for the imagination.
But it is nothing, really – nothing, compared to some of the fantastical inventions of the man who made this beautiful car.
Rowland Emett. A man with a pedigree: his father was a businessman and amateur inventor, his grandfather was Queen Victoria’s engraver. Grammar school educated, he found his feet creating wondrous cartoons for Punch magazine from the end of the thirties.
But 3D beckoned. First he began to create for theatre sets for what is now the Gielgud Theatre (The old Globe) and then delighted Festival of Britain Crowds with a fantastical railway at Battersea called the Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Branch Railway.
He would draw impossibly spindly and intricate contraptions, and then seemed compelled to make them happen in real life. No vision was too bizarre. Emett would draw it and then make it leap out of the page into space.
He was internationally renowned, showing his work all over the world at prestigious venues including the Smithsonian Institute. And all over England there are still sculptures and pictures that remind us of the man who was so adept at making the weird and wonderful a reality. Try the Nottingham city clock, or Aqua Horological Tintinnabulator, or the The Featherstone-Kite Openwork Basketweave Mark Two Gentleman’s Flying Machine at the Merrion Centre in Leeds.
Each work is a piece of whimsy made to utterly delight.
Pathé have terribly long and intrusive trailers but you really should watch this: Emett at his best.
Look at what he does; peer again at the detail on that famous car of his; and know that however impossible or ridiculous your vision seems to you, it is probably possible to create in. In 3D.
In real life.