Wednesday September 19, 2018
Denis Norden, who died today aged 96, was a figure who was instrumental in defining post-war British comedy. His scripts, in collaboration with his writing partner Frank Muir, are masterpieces of humour – and in 1965 he made a short film that is an utter total gem of motoring history.
A Child's Guide to Blowing Up a Motor Car. This mini-epic promoted both Ford cars and the release of Thunderball and commences in grand style with great man driving his 1964 Cortina Mk. I GT “Aeroflow” to Silverstone, where a certain Fairlane 500 Skyliner will meet with an unfortunate fate...
And so, the magic truly begins, for even before the famous stunt takes place we see an ultra-rare Cortina Estate with a Webasto roof, the BSA Lightning and the incredible Rolls-Royce camera car. In the background are Vauxhall Viva HAs, Jaguar Mk.2s, Morris 1100s, Renault 4s, Peugeot 404s and a Commer Walk-Thru catering van.
Naturally there are any number of Fords to please the most demanding of Dagenham enthusiasts from Zephyr Mk. IIs, Zodiac Mk. IIIs, Corsairs, to a Lotus Cortina. There is even - and one double-takes at this point - what has to be one of the very first Ford Transits in the world. To enthusiasts of this iconic light commercial it is a vehicle of far greater significance than a certain DB5.
It goes without saying that the opportunity to witness the staging of the Fairlane v Aston Martin battle is beyond priceless, for this remains one of the finest moments in Thunderball. Any major screen production is, to a certain extent, smoke and mirrors, but you will almost certainly come away from this short feature with even greater resect for the stunt men and women of 53 years ago.
This was film-making of the pre-CGI era; no computers just vehicles being co-ordinated with painstaking skill by Bob Simmonds and his fellow professionals. Incidentally, it was this gentleman who also doubled for Sean Connery in the “Gun Barrell” opening for the first three Bond pictures.
In short, A Child's Guide to Blowing Up a Motor Car is unmissable entertainment, from the sight of an Austin Loadstar fire engine and the Lincoln Continental to – and this is possibly my favourite moment – a cameo of a Citroën DS Safari at speed.
That immaculate looking Transit seems to anticipate the late 1960s for when Thunderball was shot Britain was still largely a nation of grey suits and short back-and-sides. What truly dates this short is a) the ultra-Brylcreemed hairstyles on most of the men and b) the fact that so many of the chaps are sporting a collar and tie.
Above all, there is Norden’s dry voice-over, a reminder of a great talent who always seems to make his achievements seem so easy. But whether you are a devotee of Bond films, classic cars of the 1950s and the 1960s - or wish to pay tribute to the man who co-wrote the line ‘Infamy! Infamy! They've all got it in for me!’ (as borrowed by Carry On Cleo), this is unmissable viewing.