The National Archives
Search our website
  • Search our website
  • Search our records

The interactive parts of this resource no longer work, but it has been archived so you can continue using the rest of it.



Artist Picture


(Frederick) Rowland Emett was a cartoonist and inventor who designed machines for the 1968 film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Educated at Waverley Grammar School, Birmingham and Birmingham School of Arts and Crafts he aspired to become a landscape painter, and in 1931 his ‘Cornish Harbour' was hung on the line at the Royal Academy.

During the 1930s he worked for advertising agencies until the Second World War interrupted his career. It was during the war that he perfected his gift for drawing cartoons, first contributing to Punch in 1939.

Soon after World War II at the age of 42, Emett was already being described as ‘a national institution', with devoted followers everywhere from Britain and the Commonwealth to the USA, largely thanks to the success of his cartoon creation ‘Nellie' the locomotive.

Although Emett never entirely gave up drawing, he lost interest in cartoons, and devoted his energies to designing and naming new inventions. In 1967, Emett was commissioned by United Artists to design eight machines for the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang including ‘a veteran car that could can fly and think for itself'.

More than any previous work, this project established Emett's fame and reputation in every corner of the globe. He and his team made another thirty-seven copies of the original ‘magical car' and another seven machines which went on the worldwide promotional tours during 1969-70.

The Queen Mother, Prince Philip, Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon and Neil Armstrong were among his most enthusiastic fans. In 1978 he was awarded the OBE for service to art and science.