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Caractacus Pott is one of the main characters in Ian Fleming's novel Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang and its film adaptation. He is an eccentric inventor who lives with his wife and twin eight-year-old children, Jeremy and Jemima, on the Potts' hilltop farm. In the film version he does not have a wife, but he and his children live with Grandpa Pott; the family surname is altered from "Pott" to "Potts".
Caractacus is an inventor who sells a sweet he has invented, Toot Sweets, to sweets magnate Lord Scrumptious. He later turns an old racing car (originally named the "Paragon Panther") into the flying, floating motor-car of the title. He is named after a British chieftain who fought against the Romans under the emperor Claudius. The name "Caractacus Pott(s)" is also similar to "crackpot", a derogatory term for someone who is eccentric.
Caractacus Pott of the book
In the original 1964 book, Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang: The Magical Car, Caractacus Pott's wife and the mother of his children is alive and a part of the story; her name is Mimsie. Caractacus is a Commander in the Royal Navy, which is reflective of Fleming's own history as well as that of Fleming's James Bond character.
Caractacus Potts of the film
The filmmakers, including screenwriter Roald Dahl, altered a good deal of the book's details when crafting the 1968 film musical version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, in which Potts is portrayed by Dick Van Dyke. Pott's name was changed to Potts and it was felt that a burgeoning romance would serve the story better, and so the character of Mimsie was written out of the story. Caractacus' film character was written as a widower who develops a romantic relationship with Truly Scrumptious, the daughter of the sweets magnate, Lord Scrumptious. The film also did not carry over the Naval Commander part of his life and there is no hint of it in any of the set design, dialogue or behavior. Potts' other inventions as seen in the film were designed and created by the craftsman Roland Emett, and have been on display at Mid-America Science Museum for many years.
In the movie the plotline is Caractacus's wife is revealed to have died leaving him as guardian of their two children Jeremy and Jemimah but in poverty. The daily routine is that while Caractacus invents stuff to sell for his and his children's food to keep them alive, Jeremy and Jemimah either walk to go to school or go to play in a garage owned by a neighbor, Mr. Coggins. One day the kids grow fond of a broken rusty rapidly decomposing racecar that blew up on fire in a race, but are told by a frequent customer of Coggins, a junkman, that he and his business will buy the car from Mr. Coggins to turn into resellable scrap metal unless the kids can get the money for the car themselves in three days. The kids are dismayed about the idea but realizing they cannot change Coggin's mind on selling the car they go home to ask their dad to buy it, but they run into a woman from a posh family named Truly Scrumptious who assumes that the kids have illegally skipped school. They take a liking to her immediately, and she offers to take them home under the hope that she can correct their father's ways of raising them and their supposedly ditching school. But Caractacus reveals their poverty, takes her words offensively and angrily dismisses her despite her protests that she means well. He claims that he does not need a woman to help him raise his kids but through a song "You two" it shows he does (they wash their hands without soap and use their used filthy clothes as dry towels, they play with dishes, they play with tablecloths, and they don't use silverware in a civil manner etcetera). At the same time it introduces Caractacus's only living relative besides his kids; his father or, for the kids, Grandpa Potts as an imaginative, silly, funny relative who spends a lot of time treating the household as if he was still in the army. Grandpa gives several hints to the world that he fought on the African continent during the British Colonial wars and loves to spend his days imagining himself traveling the globe in his "Laboratory," a hut outside near their farm. The kids ask Caractacus to buy the car before the junkman, but he is unable to because of not having enough money for any hobbies or entertainment. So wanting to see his kids happy despite this fact, Caractacus decides to sell his new invention; a sweet that can be played like a flute, to legendary sweet maker Lord Scrumptious. Caractacus and the kids learn that Truly is the Lord's son and realizing what Caractacus wants to do, Truly decides to support Caractacus in his attempts to get wealthy by singing to the workers about buying the candies named "Toot Sweets". But just as Lord Scrumptious is about to write a check for the sweet a stampede of dogs enters the factory and messes it up, causing Lord Scrumptious to get angry and throw Caractacus out. Then Caractacus tries to make money by starting a stand for his automatic hair-cutting machine at a carnival, but when he is about to be paid and attract other customers, he controls the machine too fast and thus his first customer's hair burns off, rendering him bald. The enraged customer chases Caractacus, forcing him to flee and hide by joining a song-and-dance act singing "Me Ole Bamboo" and the cheering crowd throws tips, thus earning Caractacus the money to buy the car just in time. Caractacus buys the rusty car and takes it home to his cheering kids. For 3 days Jeremy and Jemimah spend a great deal of time watching their father work on fixing the car, and on the fourth morning they see him walk out with a beautiful clean, rebuilt version of the car. They name the car Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for the noises that it makes, and invite Truly for a picnic at the beach. She accepts, although Grandpa rejects their invitation for his own army hobbies at his man-cave.
After a fun day, Caractacus is asked by Truly, Jeremy and Jemimah to tell a story about pirates. Just when he thinks of one, he sees a real giant ship coming for them. He is worried because he recognizes the boat as the one owned by a famous evil foreign ruler named Baron Bomburst, and since his kids will be scared if he tells them about the evil ruler he introduces him to the kids humorously. He says Baron Bomburst rules a country called Vulgaria and while this story is being told Bomburst sees Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and reveals a desire to steal the car for himself. Bomburst and his men charge at the beach and Caractacus has Chitty turn into a boat for them to escape in. They successfully outrun Bomburst's ship, flee back home and invite Truly for another picnic the next day, unaware that Bomburst has landed spies that have heard their new plans. The next day the four go on another picnic and avoid several failed traps (dynamite which blows up next to the spies rather than at the car; they turn into another intersection of road from a trap that results in them being captured in a hauler). On their way home the group sees Baron Bomburst's dirigible flying off from England and hear cries of help; they realize that Bomburst has mistakenly identified Grandpa Potts as Chitty's inventor and are kidnapping him by towing him in his man-cave with them to Vulgaria.
Truly suggests getting help from the British government, but the group rejects that idea and pursues the dirigible. When they drive off a cliff accidentally, Chitty grows wings and flies them in the sky. However the dirigible is too fast for Chitty and vanishes in the distance. After a few nights of flying they land in Vulgaria and realize that Grandpa is being held hostage in the country's castle dungeon, and ordered to make a car like Chitty in 24 hours for the Baron. They are forced to flee when Bomburst and his government officials see the car and order the army to follow them. They investigate the country in the Vulgarian village near the castle and hide in a friendly toy-maker's home. The Toy-Maker reveals to them that he is widowed also, he works on making toys and items also under duress for the Baron who acts like a 5-year-old although he is grown up; the Baron and his wife Baroness Bomburst are a cruel, unfriendly, ruling couple and the government's staff bans children from the country on the request of the Baroness. During a search by the Baron's military the group except for the Toy Maker hides by disguising themselves as jack-in-the-boxes; but Chitty is captured and given to Baron Bomburst.
The Baron's Child Catcher searches for Jeremy and Jemimah since the Baroness spotted them on Chitty when the Baron had his army follow them; although he fails to find them, the Child Catcher does not give up and decides to perform a trick. When Caractacus and the Toymaker go to get information about the castle to find Grandpa and Truly goes to search for food, the Child Catcher tricks Jeremy and Jemimah into getting into his cage car, kidnaps them and subjects them to jeers and mockery by the Vulgarian Government. The Baron and Baroness realize the two are foreign, order a national cover-up in the kidnapping and order the kids to be executed the next day on the Baron's birthday. Truly, who witnesses the kidnapping, informs Caractacus about this and the village. In retaliation, Caractacus decides that next to Chitty being stolen the kidnapping of his two kids was the final straw of his hostility to the Baron; he, Truly and the Toymaker gather the slaves/villagers together with their hidden kids and plot to enter the castle the next day on the Baron's birthday, throw him out of rule and regain the village for themselves.
The next day, the Toymaker brings Caractacus and Truly in the castle disguised as the Baron's new toys; Caractacus is dressed as a clown doll and Truly as a music box doll. By dancing and singing, they distract the castle's staff from the kids, planting weapons and setting booby-traps around the castle. When the booby-traps are ready, Caractacus and the others give a signal and the kids ambush the staff as Caractacus frees Jeremy, Grandpa and Jemimah in the dungeon to help fight. The Baron is carried into the air by kids in the castle attic because Caractacus plants a hook in his belt tied to a rope the kids are holding above. During the battle between the kids and staff the Baroness summons the Child Catcher and military, but expecting this result the villagers attack the charging armies with the kids and the villagers successfully trick Bomburst into "escaping" by sliding into the child catcher's cage car just as the staff did to Jeremy and Jemimah. After a long battle with the Baron couple locked up, the staff of the country checkmated, the Child Catcher hanging on a net in midair the army signals surrender to the town and the town's citizens wins over the country. Caractacus then takes Chitty back for the Potts family, bid farewell to the citizens, and the Toymaker, promises to visit on occasion and flies back to England with Grandpa, Jemimah, Jeremy and Truly.
Then after the unexpected adventure ends the Potts family spreads their story to the globe and go back home where Truly's father Lord Scrumptious is there; he is revealed to have been Grandpa Potts' partner in the British army, he changed his mind about the sweets and offers to buy the Toot Sweets from them for dogs to eat. Getting wealthy Caractacus marries Truly when realizing it was destiny that they met and they go on a honeymoon by flying off in Chitty.
A stage musical based on the film premiered in London's West End in 2002, with Caractacus Potts played by Michael Ball. In the 2005 Broadway theatre production, Raúl Esparza played the role. In the 2012 Australian national production, David Hobson played the role.