[ Early Experience ]
Wanderlust was part of John Burningham’s life from early on. During the war, he travelled the country in a caravan with his parents and sisters, setting up camp in idyllic rural spots in Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Yorkshire.
These peripatetic years, while idyllic, did not leave him suited to conventional academic success and he left school without qualifications and at 17, registered as a conscientious objector and joined the Quaker Friends’ Ambulance Unit.
It did though fuel his spirit of adventure and found him building schools in southern Italy, chopping down trees for the Forestry Commission and working in the Glasgow slums. Later he travelled to Israel, where he made models and created puppets for Yoram Gross’s animated film Joseph the Dreamer.
After ‘Central’, I went back to Israel. I drove my Lambretta accross France to Marseille where I caught an old Turkish liner, which took six days to get to Haifa.
From top left: The Car Cruiser caravan with John’s father, sisters Margaret and Elspeth, Mother and John. Hitching to Denmark. Working in Calabria Southern Italy 1956. First motorcar, an Austen Seven Convertable with vulture puppets. This vehicle is the inspiration for Mr Gump’s Motor Car.
Like Miles in Motor Miles and Air Miles, John loved to be on the move. His contemporary at The Central School of Art, the illustrator John Lawrence, recalled with great affection Burningham’s wicked sense of humour and that, unusually for the time, he always had transport of one kind or another, initially a Vespa scooter and later a military jeep. “He was always dashing off somewhere. He would roll up and say ‘I’m just off to Salisbury Plain, John, do you want to come?’”
It is no wonder then that in 1968, John was chosen to create the images for what would become the most beloved car in English fiction, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
From top left: The Car Cruiser caravan with John’s father, sisters Margaret and Elspeth, Mother and John. Hitching to Denmark. Working in Calabria Southern Italy 1956. First motorcar, an Austen Seven Convertable with vulture puppets. This vehicle is the inspiration for Mr Gumpy’s Motor Car.