Who Was the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?

Anne Marble
6 min readJan 26, 2023

Many kids were traumatized by the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. You might be surprised to learn about the actor behind that iconic villain.

A ballet dancer. Adored by the children he worked with in the movie. Movie appearances that included a role in The Red Shoes. A state funeral!

A black-and-white photograph of Robert Helpmann when he was younger. His face his pale, and his eyes are prominent. His expression is moody and haunting. He has short dark hair.
Robert Helpmann (circa 1945). (Source: Wikipedia; Angus McBean — National Library of Australia, Public Domain.)

The Child Catcher: Traumatizing Generations of Kids

I grew up in a time when we had few TV channels. So when I was in elementary school, all kids pretty much watched the same shows and movies on TV. And the next morning, we’d talk about the shows we’d seen.

The morning after the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang played on prime time TV, kids talked about how much the Child Catcher scared them.

He freaked me out, too. I was annoyed because the movie didn’t match the original book — a novel by some guy named Ian Fleming. Yes, the guy who wrote the James Bond novels.

Even I knew better than to tell the other kids, “Well actually, the book was better, and the Child Catcher wasn’t in the book.”

And though he wasn’t in the book, the Child Catcher still freaked me out.

A Quick History of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: The Movie

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was a popular movie musical. A gorgeous spectacle. It received good-to-mixed reviews from critics. Roger Ebert liked it. But Leonard Maltin called it “one big Edsel.”

This movie is also remembered for its troubled production. While it made about $8 million, it cost least $10 million to make. So it lost money.

There were other production issues. A difficult time for star Dick Van Dyke. A director (Ken Hughes) who thought it was a good idea to rewrite a script by author Roald Dahl. (Who does that?!)

We didn’t know this when we watched the movie as kids. Nor would we have cared. Hordes of children watched this movie over the years and came to love it.

The Child Catcher

But nobody likes the Child Catcher! We love to hate him. With a name like that, how could you not? That name alone made us shudder.

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Anne Marble

I’m a writer and a copy editor with experience in editing science and engineering articles. Click Lists to find my most popular articles. And hidden gems.