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When Roald Dahl Spied on the United States

When Roald Dahl Spied on the United States


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Before he gained fame putting pen to paper, Welsh-born Roald Dahl served as a World War II fighter pilot in Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF). During one non-combat mission in September 1940, the novice flier was forced to crash-land his Gloster Gladiator biplane in an Egyptian desert when he found himself lost and short on fuel as darkness approached. Although the violent landing fractured his skull and knocked him briefly unconscious, the young pilot managed to push open the cockpit canopy and escape further harm from the explosion of the plane’s fuel tanks and the subsequent hail of machine-gun fire unleashed by the heat.

After months of convalescence, Dahl returned to the cockpit in 1941 and flew combat missions in a Hawker Hurricane over Greece, but the crippling headaches and periodic blackouts he continued to suffer as a result of the crash made it too dangerous to fly. With his wings clipped, Dahl was reassigned in 1942 to a diplomatic post at the British embassy in Washington, D.C. As an assistant air attaché, he was tasked with public relations, dealing with the press, delivering lectures about his wartime exploits and using “his experiences as a wounded fighter pilot to help tie the Americans ever more closely into the British war effort,” according to biographer Donald Sturrock, author of “Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl.”

Barely a week after his arrival in the United States, British novelist C.S. Forester came into the air attaché’s office seeking to write the story of Dahl’s plane crash for the Saturday Evening Post. The previously unpublished Dahl, however, had found that writing had offered him a sanctuary from his headaches, and he wanted to take a crack at penning the piece first. Forester was so impressed by the result, which took Dahl five hours to write, that he passed it directly onto the Saturday Evening Post. The resulting article—“Shot Down Over Libya”—showed the budding writer’s creative imagination at work as the fictionalized account was a flight of fancy that embellished and altered the true circumstances of his plane crash.

The crash that had nearly taken Dahl’s life now launched his life as a writer. The 1943 publication of his first children’s book—“The Gremlins,” based on mischievous creatures that were part of RAF folklore—raised his public profile. He met in person with Walt Disney, who purchased the film rights, and dined at the White House with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who read the book.

It may have been around this time that Dahl was recruited as an undercover agent by the British Security Coordination (BSC), a covert espionage network established in the spring of 1940 by Britain’s MI6 intelligence service to spy on its greatest ally—the United States. Spearheaded by Canadian industrialist William Stephenson from an office in New York City’s Rockefeller Center, the BSC had more than 1,000 agents at its peak. Originally tasked with planting pro-British and anti-Nazi stories in the American press in the hopes of rallying a reluctant United States to join World War II, the spy network worked after the bombing of Pearl Harbor to counter the significant isolationist sentiment that still remained in the country and ensure the United States remained in the fight.

Dahl’s connections with prominent power brokers and his charismatic personality that charmed the cocktail party circuit were valuable assets for the BSC, although Sturrock writes that it’s not entirely clear how Dahl stumbled into the world of espionage. “Official records suggest that he had little contact with the intelligence world until some months after he arrived in Washington,” the biographer writes.

Through his political connections, Dahl kept his ear to ground for any anti-British sentiments that might be circulating at the highest levels of the American government. In 1943 he spent a weekend with President Franklin D. Roosevelt at his Hyde Park, New York, home and submitted a 10-page report with his insights on the American leader. Of particular concern to the British were the anti-imperialist views of Vice President Henry Wallace, with whom Dahl socialized and played tennis. Dahl passed along information in 1944 that the United States was planning to “emancipate” a large part of the British Empire after the conclusion of World War II, not to mention beginning an effort to land a man on the moon. Some of the writer’s reports landed on the desk of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, including unsubstantiated and likely false gossip that Roosevelt was having an affair with a Norwegian crown princess.

Dahl befriended politicians, journalists and corporate tycoons, but the tall, handsome attaché had a particular knack for wooing some of America’s most wealthy and powerful socialites and reporting back on their attitudes toward Great Britain. “The war had created a shortage of eligible young men in both cities, and the dashing 27-year-old RAF officer and author found himself constantly in demand as a guest,” Sturrock writes. A ladies’ man in the vein of fictitious British spy James Bond, the suave secret agent reportedly had affairs with oil heiress Millicent Rogers, French actress Annabella and congresswoman Clare Boothe Luce, wife of the owner of Time and Life magazines. Dahl hoped that he could persuade Luce to become more pro-British in her political leanings. “I hope to be able to make her change her views a little and say something better next time she speaks,” he told his mother.

Following the end of World War II, Dahl returned to England and continued his writing career. Along with authoring some of the most popular books of the 20th century, the former spy put his experience to work on a most appropriate project—adapting Ian Fleming’s novel “You Only Live Twice” into a screenplay for the 1967 James Bond movie.


10 Famous People Who Were Secretly Spying On Us

All our heroes get up to naughty deeds every now and then. Still, we tend to forgive them. These little things don&rsquot bother us. So what if a celebrity was rude to his fans? So what if one gets his ideas from drugs? So what if one conspired with Heinrich Himmler to bring England under Nazi rule?

In the 20th century, a strange number of extremely prominent people famous for their works of art or invention were actively conspiring against us. It&rsquos mystifying that people in the forefront of the public eye were actively working on conspiracies that mainly amount to treason&mdashbut they did. And in most of these cases, they got away with it.


Primary Sources

(1) Roald Dahl, The Times (30th November, 1990)

When you are born you are a savage, an uncivilised little grub, and if you are going to go into our society by the age of ten, then you have to have good manners and know all the do's and don'ts - don't eat with your fingers and don't piss on the floor. All that stuff has to be hammered into the savage, who resents it deeply. So subconsciously in the child's mind these giants become the enemy. That goes particularly for parents and teachers.

(2) Jennet Conant, The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington (2008)

When he climbed into the open cockpit of a Tiger Moth for the first time and took his seat on the regulation parachute pack, his entire head stuck out above the windshield like some kind of cartoon character. But he was not easily deterred. The war had just begun, pilots were in demand, and in the end the RAF was not too fussy to take him.


What to Know About Children's Author Roald Dahl's Controversial Legacy

T o many, Roald Dahl is the genius behind some of the world’s most beloved children’s books, including Matilda, James and the Giant Peach and The BFG. But since his death in 1990, a dark side of the author’s personal life has raised questions about his life’s work and legacy.

Dahl’s collection of fantastical children’s stories have brought joy to millions of readers for decades, and continue to inspire new adaptations and reboots. In January, Warner Bros. announced that it had set a release date of March 17, 2023 for Wonka, a movie prequel to Dahl’s 1964 book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that will center on “a young Willy Wonka and his adventures prior to opening the world’s most famous chocolate factory.”

Netflix, which reportedly paid the Roald Dahl Story Company at least $1 billion in 2018 for the rights to 16 of the author’s works, also has two animated series based on the world and characters of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in development. Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok, Jojo Rabbit) is writing, directing and executive producing both shows. Of course, this isn’t the first time one of Dahl’s books has been adapted for the screen. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has twice previously been made into a movie&mdashonce in 1971, with Gene Wilder starring as the titular candy man in the much-beloved Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and again in 2005, with Johnny Depp taking up the Wonka mantle for Tim Burton’s take on the classic. Big-screen versions of The Witches (1990 and 2020), James and the Giant Peach (1996), Matilda (1996), Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) and The BFG (2016) have also found success.

Despite Dahl publicly admitting he was anti-Semitic in an interview shortly before his death at age 74, in addition to a number of reports of his alleged misogyny and racism, for a long time it seemed that the immense popularity of his books, and their accompanying adaptations, overshadowed concerns regarding his reputed prejudices.

In recent years, some have sought to shine a brighter light on the troubling nature of Dahl’s personal views. In 2018, The Guardian reported that the British Royal Mint had rejected a proposal to mark the 100th anniversary of Dahl’s birth with a commemorative coin due to the fact that he was “associated with anti-Semitism and not regarded as an author of the highest reputation.” In response to the Royal Mint’s decision, Amanda Bowman, vice president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, also spoke out against Dahl. &ldquoThe Royal Mint was absolutely correct to reject the idea of a commemorative coin for Roald Dahl,&rdquo she said. &ldquoMany of his utterances were unambiguously anti-Semitic. He may have been a great children&rsquos writer but he was also a racist and this should be remembered.&rdquo

In December 2020, it came to light that the Dahl family and Roald Dahl Story Company, in what some saw as a preemptive move to deflect criticism of forthcoming projects, had issued an apology for Dahl’s history of anti-Semitism on the official Dahl website. It’s unclear exactly when the statement first appeared on the site.

“The Dahl family and the Roald Dahl Story Company deeply apologize for the lasting and understandable hurt caused by some of Roald Dahl&rsquos statements,” it reads. “Those prejudiced remarks are incomprehensible to us and stand in marked contrast to the man we knew and to the values at the heart of Roald Dahl’s stories, which have positively impacted young people for generations. We hope that, just as he did at his best, at his absolute worst, Roald Dahl can help remind us of the lasting impact of words.”

In a statement obtained by TIME, the Roald Dahl Story Company also noted that the company and Dahl’s family “have apologized unreservedly for the hurt and suffering caused by Roald Dahl&rsquos anti-Semitic comments. Those prejudiced statements are in marked contrast to the values of kindness and inclusivity at the heart of Roald Dahl&rsquos stories.&rdquo

Due in part to the controversy surrounding transphobic comments made by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling over the past year, news of new Dahl projects has come amid a period of increased scrutiny of writers’ personal views and whether those views can be separated from their work. Dr. Seuss Enterprises recently announced that it would cease publication of six of the author’s books that have racist and insensitive imagery, a move which some critics, including Donald Trump, Jr., chalked up to “cancel culture.” But as Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League at the time, wrote in a 1990 letter to The New York Times following Dahl’s death, “Talent is no guarantee of wisdom. Praise for Mr. Dahl as a writer must not obscure the fact that he was also a bigot.”

Here’s what you need to know about the author’s history of prejudice and how it’s impacting his legacy today.


Roald Dahl and 'The Irregulars', the British spy ring in 40s America

The dashing young officer slid easily into American high society. With his easy-going charm, striking good looks and stories of wartime derring do, the former fighter pilot was a big hit around town, especially with the ladies. But little did these high society bigwigs know that the charming British officer in their midst wasn’t what they thought he was. The man’s name was Roald Dahl, and he was a spy.

Dahl joined the RAF in 1939. After completing six months flight training at RAF Habbaniya west of the city of Baghdad, he was commissioned as a Pilot Officer and deemed fit to engage the enemy in August 1940.

Dahl joined No. 80 Squadron RAF, at the time was stationed in Egypt. Dahl was assigned a Gloster Gladiator, an obsolete aircraft that would be the final fighter biplane used by the RAF in the war. Astonished that he would receive no formal training in either flying Gladiators or engaging the enemy in aerial combat, it was with some trepidation that the newly-commissioned officer set out on the 19th of September 1940 on the first stage of a flight from Abu Sueir in Egypt to his squadron’s forward airstrip thirty miles south of the Egyptian port of Mersa Matruh. Unfortunately, Dahl appears to have been given the wrong directions and found himself lost in the desert. Running low on fuel, he attempted to land his Gladiator, but instead, he crash-landed the aircraft, smashing his nose to pieces and fracturing his skull in the process. He was also left blind. Despite his injuries, he was able to drag himself away from the burning wreckage of the Gladiator and crawl to safety. He was later found unconscious by a search party.

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Dahl wound up in a military hospital in Alexandria where, over the course of the next five months, his nose underwent extensive plastic surgery and his sight slowly returned. It had been a close shave.
In February 1941, Dahl was passed fit for duty and was sent back to his squadron, which by this time was fighting in the Greek Campaign. Now equipped with the nimble Hawker Hurricane fighter plane, Dahl was thrown into frontline aerial combat, notably at the Battle of Athens. Unfortunately, his career as a fighter pilot was cut short in June 1941 when the injuries he had sustained to his skull began to give him severe headaches, even causing him to blackout while in the air. He was invalided back to Britain, much to his annoyance.

Bored out of his brains back on home turf, Dahl set about a new career as an instructor. However, a chance encounter with Major Harold Balfour, the Under-Secretary of State for Air, completely changed the course of his life. Balfour took a shine to Dahl’s conviviality and conversational skills, appointing him as an assistant air attaché to the British embassy in Washington DC. Dahl wasn’t too keen on this idea, but Balfour was finally able to persuade him and he soon set sail for the States.

America stunned Dahl. The privations of wartime Britain were in stark contrast to the bountiful plenty Dahl witnessed in his first weeks in the US capital. The people looked healthier and happier than those back home, and food he had got used to going without back in rationing-hit Britain was all around him in abundance.

Things changed dramatically for Dahl when he met the author of the popular Hornblower novels, C.S. Forster.

Unfortunately, Dahl quickly grew tired of his new job at the embassy. He found the work, which was mainly giving pro-British speeches to audiences unhappy about America’s involvement in the war and hostile to his home country, tiresome in the extreme. He loathed this work, which couldn’t have been more different from whizzing around the skies shooting down German bombers and fighter planes.

Things changed dramatically for Dahl when he met the author of the popular Hornblower novels, C.S. Forster. Forster was working for the British Ministry for Information at the time, charged with spreading pro-British propaganda in the States. Forster thought Dahl’s tales of wartime derring-do would make an exciting – and very pro-British - story for the readers of the popular American magazine, the Saturday Evening Post. Forster turned up at Dahl’s office and asked if he would tell his story. Instead, Dahl offered to write it himself. The subsequent article, ‘Shot Down Over Libya’, caused quite the stir and the handsome young officer soon found himself being invited to parties hosted by some of the leading lights of US high society. This, in turn, brought him to the attention of the legendary British spymaster, William Stephenson.

Stephenson was a Canadian millionaire businessman with interests in steel, aircraft manufacturing and construction. As a result, he had many contacts in industry across Europe and the United States. His European contacts were only too happy to spill the beans on Germany’s secret military and industrial build-up prior to the war, and in 1936 Stephenson began passing on confidential information about the Nazis’ activities to Winston Churchill. Churchill used the information he received from Stephenson in parliament, railing against Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement.

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When war broke out and Churchill became prime minister, he knew Britain’s only chance of winning the war was to get the United States involved in the conflict on Britain’s side. Unfortunately, there was strong opposition to war in the USA, though the country’s president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, secretly sided with Churchill. To turn around anti-British and anti-war sentiments, Churchill charged Stephenson with changing the country’s mind. The urbane Canadian jumped at the chance.

Working from an office in New York’s Rockerfeller Center, Stephenson quickly built up a network of spies tasked with the job of turning American opinion round, as well as discrediting pro-German propaganda and using any means necessary to discredit businessmen and politicians who were strongly anti-British and anti-war. Operating under the name of the British Passport Office, Stephenson’s’ bureau was actually called the British Security Coordination (BSC), and it was a hugely successful operation.

Stephenson’s spies would use any trick in the book to further Britain’s cause. Among those who the cunning Canadian would enrol in working for the BSC under the name ‘The Irregulars’ were the James Bond novelist, Ian Fleming, the future advertising giant, David Ogilvy, the playwright and raconteur Noel Coward and the Gone with the Wind actor, Leslie Howard. These men were so effective at espionage and propaganda that it is rumoured that the reason Leslie Howard’s passenger plane was shot down over the Bay of Biscay was because the Nazis wished to dispose of one of Williamson and Churchill’s most effective propagandists.

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Perhaps the BSC’s greatest success was the production of a fake map of the Nazi invasion plans for South America that was so convincing that Roosevelt brought it up in Congress, using the forgery as proof that Hitler planned to park his tanks right on the USA’s doorstep. Hitler was furious about the forgery, and it helped change many American anti-war and anti-British isolationists’ minds. Enslaving Europe was one thing, but Nazi forces on America’s southern border was quite another.

With his growing popularity as a writer and the society circles he now moved in, it was only a matter of time before Roald Dahl caught the BSC chief’s eye. He wanted Dahl in The Irregulars, and his chance came in 1942 when Dahl was dismissed from the embassy and sent back to Britain for misconduct. Stephenson immediately recalled him back to the States, promoting him to Wing Commander and putting him to work for the BSC.

Dahl didn’t disappoint. Sliding easily into society parties, the urbane, popular officer used his considerable oratory skills to change the minds of those who were still holding out hope that America would withdraw from the war. Dahl was especially good at worming his way into the boudoirs of women who were married to some of the country’s most influential people. Stephenson took note of Dahl’s way with the ladies and sent him on what was perhaps the most infamous mission of his espionage career.

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Claire Booth Luce was the wife of the ferociously anti-British isolationist print magnate, Henry Luce. Luce despised the British, hated Roosevelt and was totally against America’s involvement in the war. He used his magazines, Time and Life, to run anti-British and isolationist articles, and was thus fair game as far as Stephenson was concerned. Dahl was tasked with seducing Luce’s wife Claire in the hope that he would gain information Stephenson could use to either blackmail Luce or discredit him and his magazines in the American public’s eyes.

It didn’t take long for Dahl to get an invite to one of Claire Luce’s lavish Washington society parties, and she fell instantly for the dashing British war hero. Unfortunately, Dahl had underestimated Luce’s voracious sexual appetite. This lead to what is probably the most astonishing thing ever sent to a superior by an intelligence officer.

'I am all f****d out!' Dahl shouted down the phone in a call to his superiors, begging to be reassigned. 'That g****** woman has absolutely screwed me from one end of the room to the other for three goddam nights!'

His request was turned down. He was reminded that he was doing this for Britain. Reluctantly, an exhausted Dahl carried on with his mission. He spent the rest of the war doing Stephenson’s bidding, and the pair would remain friends for decades.

The work of William Stephenson and The Irregulars was crucial in changing America’s stance from an isolationist one to being fiercely pro-war. Through espionage, blackmail and propaganda, they managed to discredit isolationists, change the minds of many formerly anti-British movers and shakers, scupper Nazi efforts to get the Americans to side with them and, through the setting up of Camp X in Canada, train a whole new generation of British and American spies in the subtle art of international espionage.


Ridiculous History: Beloved Author Roald Dahl Was Also a Suave British Spy

"And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you, because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely of places." Roald Dahl penned these words for "The Minpins," the final of 34 children's books he wrote between 1943 and his death in 1990.

But unlike in this excerpt, there was nothing fictional about Dahl's search for secrets. During World War II, the soon-to-be-beloved author of books including "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "Danny, the Champion of the World" and "The Witches" served as a fighter pilot and an officer in the British Royal Air Force. Following that, he assumed lifestyle reminiscent of superspy James Bond, joining a secret organization based in the United States known as the British Security Coordination.

That spy network's primary goals were to offset Nazi propaganda while protecting the interests of the United Kingdom. So, while Dahl dreamed up imaginative children's stories, he also lived as a secret intelligence officer under the cover of working a public relations job at the British embassy in Washington, D.C.

By all reports, he was both very good and very bad at it. Dahl was especially talented at being a ladies' man, a skill that came in handy when convincing both politicians and heiresses alike to part with closely guarded secrets. One biography described his romantic skill with particularly colorful language, following reports that Dahl reportedly had affairs with, among others, Millicent Rogers, heiress to the Standard Oil fortune, and Clare Boothe Luce, an influential congresswoman who later became an ambassador and foreign affairs advisor to presidents Nixon and Ford.

But as good as he was at the "sleeping" part, Dahl came up short at keeping secrets. According to his daughter Lucy, Dahl was a prolific gossip. "Dad never could keep his mouth shut," she's quoted saying in Donald Sturrock's 2010 biography "Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl."

Despite his penchant for spilling the beans, Dahl did manage to come across some interesting intelligence at cocktail parties — or perhaps it was thanks to his bedside manner. As early as 1944, he'd uncovered early U.S. talk of landing a man on the moon. He also reportedly believed rumors that Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Norwegian crown princess Martha were having an illicit affair (a claim most historians discount), passing that information along with other intelligence directly to Winston Churchill.

Despite his Bond-style role in world affairs, Dahl will probably always be best remembered as one of the greatest children's storytellers of all time. Many of his children's books have been turned into movies, including "The BFG," the tale of a friendly giant who befriends a young girl, then races against time to protect her from danger. It's just the sort of story Dahl could truly appreciate.


Churchill's Dirty Tricks Squad

As England was fighting for its life against the Nazis, the British government sent its most charming spies — including Roald Dahl, Ian Fleming, Noel Coward and David Ogilvy — to America to blackmail, bully and cajol the U.S. into the war effort. Host Scott Simon speaks with author Jennet Conant about her book, The Irregulars, and the British spy ring that operated in Washington, D.C., during World War II.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONGRESSIONAL HEARING)

REP. MIKE ROGERS: Do you believe that the allies have conducted or - at any time, any type of espionage activity against the United States of America, our intelligence services, our leaders or otherwise?

A short, unqualified reply from James Clapper, the National Intelligence director, responding to a question from the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Mike Rogers. And with that assurance that birds do it, bees do it, so we do it, we thought we'd look back at a star-studded spy ring from history that included Roald Dahl, a famed British fighter pilot who would become a noted novelist for children, and memoirist David Ogilvy, who would become a famed ad man Ian Fleming, who would create James Bond and Noel Coward, the playwright and songwriter who would be knighted.

They were sent to the United States on what amounted to a high-level seduction mission, to persuade the Roosevelt administration to support Britain in resisting Nazi Germany. Jennet Conant wrote about this rum group in her 2008 book, "The Irregulars." She joins us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

JENNET CONANT: Oh, thanks for having me.

SIMON: So Dahl, Ogilvy, Fleming, Coward - what was their mission?

CONANT: Well, they were Churchill's little dirty trick squad. England was fighting for its life. It was being pummeled nightly by German bombs as a prelude to a land invasion. Their survival, you know, hung in the balance. And they needed us to survive. And America was overwhelmingly opposed to helping the British and getting involved in what was then called, in the U.S. papers, the European conflict.

So the British had to do something to change American opinion. And they did it by what was then known as the politics of influence. They came in and sent their most charming, most articulate, brightest, sneakiest little devils. They came in all kinds of guises - as diplomats, as businessmen, as public relations people, as military heroes. And their job was to whisper in congressmen's ear and whisper in the politicians' ear to blackmail, to bully, to cajole and get as many people onboard first for lend-lease - to get some sort of armaments and aid to England - and then push America, ultimately, into the war. And they did a very good job, as history attests.

SIMON: Well, comparisons with current events are irresistible, but were the U.S. and U.K. really allies then? 'Cause the U.K., in fact, was quite suspicious, weren't they?

CONANT: What's fascinating to me, and I think would be endlessly amusing to all the old spy hands of that era, is that the term allies is used in the papers today, you know, as though it means BFFs - you know, best friends forever. I think the term allies covers a multitude of sins. You know, it just means that you are allied in one particular endeavor. In World War II, the case was defeating Hitler. It didn't mean that we agreed with England on everything. In fact, we were adamantly opposed to their colonies we were adamantly opposed to their retaining a dominance of the skies. We just had a military goal in common.

SIMON: Raold Dahl got pretty close to Eleanor Roosevelt, I gather.

CONANT: Dahl was very charming. He was very tall, very good-looking. He was a wounded RAF pilot, and Eleanor Roosevelt had several sons overseas, at war. And she met him at a function and instantly liked him. She missed her boys. She was worried about him. And she started inviting him to White House gatherings, and then she started inviting him to weekends in Hyde Park. And this was fantastic spying ground for Dahl. First of all, the British were obsessed with Roosevelt's health it was something that was constantly rumored about. But to have somebody right there, close at hand, able to observe him at breakfast, lunch and dinner and listen to him talk - and of course, Roosevelt talked quite openly about running first for a third and then a fourth term and his political opposition, and how tired he was. And all of this made it into Dahl's very detailed clandestine reports that were funneled back to British Secret Service.

SIMON: And the Irregulars because.

CONANT: They sent over a super-spy named William Stevenson. And in a fairly clever move, Stevenson, realizing that they were going to be a rogue operation, gave them the most boring, clumsy, bureaucratic name he could think of. He called them the British Security Coordination. Obviously, the British, who rather like.

SIMON: There's no damn movie title in that, is there?

CONANT: Exactly. The British like code names and they much preferred referring to themselves as the Baker Street Irregulars, after the amateurs that aided Sherlock Holmes. And so hence, the Irregulars.

SIMON: Jennet Conant, author of "The Irregulars," thanks so much for being with us.

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Contents

Childhood

Roald Dahl was born in 1916 at Villa Marie, Fairwater Road, in Llandaff, Cardiff, Wales, to Norwegians Harald Dahl (1863–1920) and Sofie Magdalene Dahl (née Hesselberg) (1885–1967). [11] [12] Dahl's father had immigrated to the UK from Sarpsborg in Norway and settled in Cardiff in the 1880s with his first wife, a Frenchwoman named Marie Beaurin-Gresser. They had two children together (Ellen Marguerite and Louis) before her death in 1907. [13] His mother immigrated to the UK and married his father in 1911. Dahl was named after Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen. His first language was Norwegian, which he spoke at home with his parents and his sisters Astri, Alfhild, and Else. The children were raised in Norway's Lutheran state church, the Church of Norway, and were baptised at the Norwegian Church, Cardiff. [14] His grandmother Ellen Wallace was a descendant of an early 18th-century Scottish immigrant to Norway. [15] Dahl's father was a wealthy shipbroker who left behind a fortune of £150,000 (about £4.5 million in 2016) when he died in 1920. [16]

Dahl's sister Astri died from appendicitis at age 7 in 1920 when Dahl was 3 years old, and his father died of pneumonia at age 57 several weeks later. [18] Later that year, his youngest sister, Asta, was born. [13] Dahl's mother decided to remain in Wales instead of returning to Norway to live with relatives, as her husband had wanted their children to be educated in English schools, which he considered the world's best. [19]

Dahl first attended The Cathedral School, Llandaff. At age eight, he and four of his friends were caned by the headmaster after putting a dead mouse in a jar of gobstoppers at the local sweet shop, [5] which was owned by a "mean and loathsome" old woman named Mrs Pratchett. [5] The five boys named their prank the "Great Mouse Plot of 1924". [20] Gobstoppers were a favourite sweet among British schoolboys between the two World Wars, and Dahl referred to them in his fictional Everlasting Gobstopper which was featured in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. [21]

Dahl transferred to St Peter's boarding school in Weston-super-Mare. His parents had wanted him to be educated at an English public school, and this proved to be the nearest because of the regular ferry link across the Bristol Channel. Dahl's time at St Peter's was unpleasant he was very homesick and wrote to his mother every week but never revealed his unhappiness to her. After her death in 1967, he learned that she had saved every one of his letters [22] they were broadcast in abridged form as BBC Radio 4's Book of the Week in 2016 to mark the centenary of his birth. [23] Dahl wrote about his time at St Peter's in his autobiography Boy: Tales of Childhood. [24]

Repton School

From 1929, when he was 13, Dahl attended Repton School in Derbyshire. Dahl disliked the hazing and described an environment of ritual cruelty and status domination, with younger boys having to act as personal servants for older boys, frequently subject to terrible beatings. His biographer Donald Sturrock described these violent experiences in Dahl's early life. [25] Dahl expresses some of these darker experiences in his writings, which is also marked by his hatred of cruelty and corporal punishment. [26]

According to Dahl's autobiography, Boy: Tales of Childhood, a friend named Michael was viciously caned by headmaster Geoffrey Fisher. Writing in that same book, Dahl reflected: "All through my school life I was appalled by the fact that masters and senior boys were allowed literally to wound other boys, and sometimes quite severely. I couldn’t get over it. I never have got over it." [27] Fisher was later appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, and crowned Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. However, according to Dahl's biographer Jeremy Treglown, [28] the caning took place in May 1933, a year after Fisher had left Repton the headmaster was in fact J. T. Christie, Fisher's successor as headmaster. Dahl said the incident caused him to "have doubts about religion and even about God". [24]

He was never seen as a particularly talented writer in his school years, with one of his English teachers writing in his school report "I have never met anybody who so persistently writes words meaning the exact opposite of what is intended." [29] Dahl was exceptionally tall, reaching 6 feet 6 inches (1.98 m) in adult life. [30] He played sports including cricket, football and golf, and was made captain of the squash team. [31] As well as having a passion for literature, he developed an interest in photography and often carried a camera with him. [18]

During his years at Repton, the Cadbury chocolate company occasionally sent boxes of new chocolates to the school to be tested by the pupils. [32] Dahl dreamt of inventing a new chocolate bar that would win the praise of Mr Cadbury himself this inspired him in writing his third children's book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964), and to refer to chocolate in other children's books. [33]

Throughout his childhood and adolescent years, Dahl spent the majority of his summer holidays with his mother's family in Norway. He wrote about many happy memories from those visits in Boy: Tales of Childhood, such as when he replaced the tobacco in his half-sister's fiancé's pipe with goat droppings. [34] He noted only one unhappy memory of his holidays in Norway: at around the age of eight, he had to have his adenoids removed by a doctor. [35] His childhood and first job selling kerosene in Midsomer Norton and surrounding villages in Somerset are subjects in Boy: Tales of Childhood. [36]

After school

After finishing his schooling, in August 1934 Dahl crossed the Atlantic on the RMS Nova Scotia and hiked through Newfoundland with the Public Schools Exploring Society. [37] [38]

In July 1934, Dahl joined the Shell Petroleum Company. Following two years of training in the United Kingdom, he was assigned first to Mombasa, Kenya, then to Dar-es-Salaam, Tanganyika (now part of Tanzania). Along with the only two other Shell employees in the entire territory, he lived in luxury in the Shell House outside Dar es Salaam, with a cook and personal servants. While out on assignments supplying oil to customers across Tanganyika, he encountered black mamba snakes and lions, among other wildlife. [24]

In August 1939, as the Second World War loomed, the British made plans to round up the hundreds of Germans living in Dar-es-Salaam. Dahl was commissioned as a lieutenant into the King's African Rifles, commanding a platoon of Askari men, indigenous troops who were serving in the colonial army. [39]

In November 1939, Dahl joined the Royal Air Force as an aircraftman with service number 774022. [40] After a 600-mile (970 km) car journey from Dar es Salaam to Nairobi, he was accepted for flight training with sixteen other men, of whom only three survived the war. With seven hours and 40 minutes experience in a De Havilland Tiger Moth, he flew solo [41] Dahl enjoyed watching the wildlife of Kenya during his flights. He continued to advanced flying training in Iraq, at RAF Habbaniya, 50 miles (80 km) west of Baghdad. Following six months' training on Hawker Harts, Dahl was commissioned as a pilot officer on 24 August 1940, and was judged ready to join a squadron and face the enemy. [40] [42]

He was assigned to No. 80 Squadron RAF, flying obsolete Gloster Gladiators, the last biplane fighter aircraft used by the RAF. Dahl was surprised to find that he would not receive any specialised training in aerial combat or in flying Gladiators. On 19 September 1940, Dahl was ordered to fly his Gladiator by stages from Abu Sueir (near Ismailia, in Egypt) to 80 Squadron's forward airstrip 30 miles (48 km) south of Mersa Matruh. On the final leg, he could not find the airstrip and, running low on fuel and with night approaching, he was forced to attempt a landing in the desert. [43] The undercarriage hit a boulder and the aircraft crashed. Dahl's skull was fractured and his nose was smashed he was temporarily blinded. [44] He managed to drag himself away from the blazing wreckage and lost consciousness. He wrote about the crash in his first published work. [44]

Dahl was rescued and taken to a first-aid post in Mersa Matruh, where he regained consciousness, but not his sight. He was transported by train to the Royal Navy hospital in Alexandria. There he fell in and out of love with a nurse, Mary Welland. A RAF inquiry into the crash revealed that the location to which he had been told to fly was completely wrong, and he had mistakenly been sent instead to the no man's land between the Allied and Italian forces. [45]

In February 1941, Dahl was discharged from the hospital and deemed fully fit for flying duties. By this time, 80 Squadron had been transferred to the Greek campaign and based at Eleusina, near Athens. The squadron was now equipped with Hawker Hurricanes. Dahl flew a replacement Hurricane across the Mediterranean Sea in April 1941, after seven hours' experience flying Hurricanes. By this stage in the Greek campaign, the RAF had only 18 combat aircraft in Greece: 14 Hurricanes and four Bristol Blenheim light bombers. Dahl flew in his first aerial combat on 15 April 1941, while flying alone over the city of Chalcis. He attacked six Junkers Ju 88s that were bombing ships and shot one down. On 16 April in another air battle, he shot down another Ju 88. [46]

On 20 April 1941, Dahl took part in the Battle of Athens, alongside the highest-scoring British Commonwealth ace of World War II, Pat Pattle, and Dahl's friend David Coke. Of 12 Hurricanes involved, five were shot down and four of their pilots killed, including Pattle. Greek observers on the ground counted 22 German aircraft downed, but because of the confusion of the aerial engagement, none of the pilots knew which aircraft they had shot down. Dahl described it as "an endless blur of enemy fighters whizzing towards me from every side". [47]

In May, as the Germans were pressing on Athens, Dahl was evacuated to Egypt. His squadron was reassembled in Haifa. From there, Dahl flew sorties every day for a period of four weeks, shooting down a Vichy French Air Force Potez 63 on 8 June and another Ju 88 on 15 June, but he began to get severe headaches that caused him to black out. He was invalided home to Britain where he stayed with his mother in Buckinghamshire. [48] Though at this time Dahl was only a pilot officer on probation, in September 1941 he was simultaneously confirmed as a pilot officer and promoted to war substantive flying officer. [49]

After being invalided home, Dahl was posted to an RAF training camp in Uxbridge. He attempted to recover his health enough to become an instructor. [50] In late March 1942, while in London, he met the Under-Secretary of State for Air, Major Harold Balfour, at his club. Impressed by Dahl's war record and conversational abilities, Balfour appointed the young man as assistant air attaché at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C. Initially resistant, Dahl was finally persuaded by Balfour to accept, and took passage on the MS Batory from Glasgow a few days later. He arrived in Halifax, Canada, on 14 April, after which he took a sleeper train to Montreal. [51]

Coming from war-starved Britain (in what was a wartime period of rationing in the United Kingdom), Dahl was amazed by the wealth of food and amenities to be had in North America. [52] Arriving in Washington a week later, Dahl found he liked the atmosphere of the US capital. He shared a house with another attaché at 1610 34th Street, NW, in Georgetown. But after ten days in his new posting, Dahl strongly disliked it, feeling he had taken on "a most ungodly unimportant job". [53] He later explained, "I'd just come from the war. People were getting killed. I had been flying around, seeing horrible things. Now, almost instantly, I found myself in the middle of a pre-war cocktail party in America." [54]

Dahl was unimpressed by his office in the British Air Mission, attached to the embassy. He was also unimpressed by the ambassador, Lord Halifax, with whom he sometimes played tennis and whom he described as "a courtly English gentleman". Dahl socialized with Charles E. Marsh, a Texas publisher and oilman, at his house at 2136 R Street, NW, and the Marsh country estate in Virginia. [45] [55] As part of his duties as assistant air attaché, Dahl was to help neutralise the isolationist views still held by many Americans by giving pro-British speeches and discussing his war service the United States had entered the war only the previous December, following the attack on Pearl Harbor. [42]

At this time Dahl met the noted British novelist C. S. Forester, who was also working to aid the British war effort. Forester worked for the British Ministry of Information and was writing propaganda for the Allied cause, mainly for American consumption. [56] The Saturday Evening Post had asked Forester to write a story based on Dahl's flying experiences Forester asked Dahl to write down some RAF anecdotes so that he could shape them into a story. After Forester read what Dahl had given him, he decided to publish the story exactly as Dahl had written it. [57] He originally titled the article as "A Piece of Cake" but the magazine changed it to "Shot Down Over Libya" to make it sound more dramatic, although Dahl had not been shot down it was published on 1 August 1942 issue of the Post. Dahl was promoted to flight lieutenant (war-substantive) in August 1942. [58] Later he worked with such other well-known British officers as Ian Fleming (who later published the popular James Bond series) and David Ogilvy, promoting Britain's interests and message in the US and combating the "America First" movement. [42]

This work introduced Dahl to espionage and the activities of the Canadian spymaster William Stephenson, known by the codename "Intrepid". [59] During the war, Dahl supplied intelligence from Washington to Prime Minister Winston Churchill. As Dahl later said: "My job was to try to help Winston to get on with FDR, and tell Winston what was in the old boy's mind." [57] Dahl also supplied intelligence to Stephenson and his organisation, known as British Security Coordination, which was part of MI6. [55] Dahl was once sent back to Britain by British Embassy officials, supposedly for misconduct—"I got booted out by the big boys," he said. Stephenson promptly sent him back to Washington—with a promotion to wing commander rank. [60] Toward the end of the war, Dahl wrote some of the history of the secret organisation he and Stephenson remained friends for decades after the war. [61]

Upon the war's conclusion, Dahl held the rank of a temporary wing commander (substantive flight lieutenant). Owing to the severity of his injuries from the 1940 accident, he was pronounced unfit for further service and was invalided out of the RAF in August 1946. He left the service with the substantive rank of squadron leader. [62] His record of five aerial victories, qualifying him as a flying ace, has been confirmed by post-war research and cross-referenced in Axis records. It is most likely that he scored more than those victories during 20 April 1941, when 22 German aircraft were shot down. [63]

Dahl married American actress Patricia Neal on 2 July 1953 at Trinity Church in New York City. Their marriage lasted for 30 years and they had five children:

    (1955–1962) (born 1957), who became an author, and mother of author, cookbook writer and former model Sophie Dahl (after whom Sophie in The BFG is named). [64]
  • Theo Matthew (born 1960) (born 1964) (born 1965). [65]

On 5 December 1960, four-month-old Theo Dahl was severely injured when his baby carriage was struck by a taxicab in New York City. For a time, he suffered from hydrocephalus. As a result, his father became involved in the development of what became known as the "Wade-Dahl-Till" (or WDT) valve, a device to improve the shunt used to alleviate the condition. [66] [67] The valve was a collaboration between Dahl, hydraulic engineer Stanley Wade, and London's Great Ormond Street Hospital neurosurgeon Kenneth Till, and was used successfully on almost 3,000 children around the world. [68]

In November 1962, Dahl's daughter Olivia died of measles encephalitis, age seven. Her death left Dahl "limp with despair", and feeling guilty about not having been able to do anything for her. [68] Dahl subsequently became a proponent of immunisation and dedicated his 1982 book The BFG to his daughter. [69] [70] After Olivia's death and a meeting with a Church official, Dahl came to view Christianity as a sham. [71] While mourning her loss, he had sought spiritual guidance from Geoffrey Fisher, the former Archbishop of Canterbury. He was dismayed by Fisher telling him that, although Olivia was in Paradise, her beloved dog Rowley would never join her there. [71] Dahl recalled years later: "I wanted to ask him how he could be so absolutely sure that other creatures did not get the same special treatment as us. I sat there wondering if this great and famous churchman really knew what he was talking about and whether he knew anything at all about God or heaven, and if he didn't, then who in the world did?" [71]

In 1965, his wife Patricia Neal suffered three burst cerebral aneurysms while pregnant with their fifth child, Lucy. Dahl took control of her rehabilitation over the next months Neal had to re-learn to talk and walk, but she managed to return to her acting career. [72] This period of their lives was dramatised in the film The Patricia Neal Story (1981), in which the couple were played by Glenda Jackson and Dirk Bogarde. [73]

In 1972 Roald Dahl met Felicity d'Abreu Crosland, niece of Francis D'Abreu who was married to Margaret Ann Bowes Lyon, the first cousin of the Queen Mother, while Felicity was working as a set designer on an advert for Maxim coffee with the author's then wife, Patricia Neal. [74] Soon after the pair were introduced, they began an 11-year affair. [74] In 1983 Neal and Dahl divorced and Dahl married Felicity, [75] [76] at Brixton Town Hall, South London. Felicity (known as Liccy) gave up her job and moved into Gipsy House, Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire, which had been Dahl's home since 1954. [77]

In the 1986 New Years Honours List, Dahl was offered an appointment to Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), but turned it down. He reportedly wanted a knighthood so that his wife would be Lady Dahl. [78] [79] In 2012, Dahl was featured in the list of The New Elizabethans to mark the diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. A panel of seven academics, journalists and historians named Dahl among the group of people in the UK "whose actions during the reign of Elizabeth II have had a significant impact on lives in these islands and given the age its character". [80] In September 2016, his daughter Lucy received the BBC's Blue Peter Gold badge in his honour, the first time it has ever been awarded posthumously. [81]

Dahl's first published work, inspired by a meeting with C. S. Forester, was "A Piece of Cake", on 1 August 1942. The story, about his wartime adventures, was bought by The Saturday Evening Post for US$1,000 (a substantial sum in 1942) and published under the title "Shot Down Over Libya". [82]

His first children's book was The Gremlins, published in 1943, about mischievous little creatures that were part of Royal Air Force folklore. [83] The RAF pilots blamed the gremlins for all the problems with the aircraft. [84] While at the British Embassy in Washington, Dahl sent a copy to the First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt who read it to her grandchildren, [83] and the book was commissioned by Walt Disney for a film that was never made. [85] Dahl went on to write some of the best-loved children's stories of the 20th century, such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, The Witches, Fantastic Mr Fox, The BFG, The Twits and George's Marvellous Medicine. [5]

Dahl also had a successful parallel career as the writer of macabre adult short stories, which often blended humour and innocence with surprising plot twists. [86] The Mystery Writers of America presented Dahl with three Edgar Awards for his work, and many were originally written for American magazines such as Collier's ("The Collector's Item" was Collier's Star Story of the week for 4 September 1948), Ladies Home Journal, Harper's, Playboy and The New Yorker. [87] Works such as Kiss Kiss subsequently collected Dahl's stories into anthologies, and gained significant popularity. Dahl wrote more than 60 short stories they have appeared in numerous collections, some only being published in book form after his death. His three Edgar Awards were given for: in 1954, the collection Someone Like You in 1959, the story "The Landlady" and in 1980, the episode of Tales of the Unexpected based on "Skin". [86]

One of his more famous adult stories, "The Smoker", also known as "Man from the South", was filmed twice as both 1960 and 1985 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, filmed as a 1979 episode of Tales of the Unexpected, and also adapted into Quentin Tarantino's segment of the film Four Rooms (1995). [88] This oft-anthologised classic concerns a man in Jamaica who wagers with visitors in an attempt to claim the fingers from their hands. The original 1960 version in the Hitchcock series stars Steve McQueen and Peter Lorre. [88] Five additional Dahl stories were used in the Hitchcock series. Dahl was credited with teleplay for two episodes, and four of his episodes were directed by Hitchcock himself, an example of which was "Lamb to the Slaughter" (1958).

Dahl acquired a traditional Romanichal vardo in the 1960s, and the family used it as a playhouse for his children at home in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire. He later used the vardo as a writing room, where he wrote Danny, the Champion of the World in 1975. [89] Dahl incorporated a Gypsy wagon into the main plot of the book, where the young English boy, Danny, and his father, William (played by Jeremy Irons in the film adaptation) live in a vardo. [90] Many other scenes and characters from Great Missenden are reflected in his work. For example, the village library was the inspiration for Mrs Phelps' library in Matilda, where the title character devours classic literature by the age of four. [91]

His short story collection Tales of the Unexpected was adapted to a successful TV series of the same name, beginning with "Man from the South". [92] When the stock of Dahl's own original stories was exhausted, the series continued by adapting stories written in Dahl's style by other authors, including John Collier and Stanley Ellin. [93]

Some of Dahl's short stories are supposed to be extracts from the diary of his (fictional) Uncle Oswald, a rich gentleman whose sexual exploits form the subject of these stories. [94] In his novel My Uncle Oswald, the uncle engages a temptress to seduce 20th century geniuses and royalty with a love potion secretly added to chocolate truffles made by Dahl's favourite chocolate shop, Prestat of Piccadilly, London. [94] Memories with Food at Gipsy House, written with his wife Felicity and published posthumously in 1991, was a mixture of recipes, family reminiscences and Dahl's musings on favourite subjects such as chocolate, onions and claret. [95] [96]

The last book published in his lifetime, Esio Trot, released in January 1990, marked a change in style for the author. Unlike other Dahl works (which often feature tyrannical adults and heroic/magical children), it is the story of an old, lonely man trying to make a connection with a woman he has loved from afar. [97] In 1994, the English language audiobook recording of the book was provided by Monty Python member Michael Palin. [98] In 2015 it was adapted by screenwriter Richard Curtis into an acclaimed BBC comedy television film, Roald Dahl's Esio Trot, featuring Dustin Hoffman and Judi Dench as the couple. [99]

Children's fiction

—Illustrator Quentin Blake on the lasting appeal of Dahl's children's books. [5]

Dahl's children's works are usually told from the point of view of a child. They typically involve adult villains who hate and mistreat children, and feature at least one "good" adult to counteract the villain(s). [5] These stock characters are possibly a reference to the abuse that Dahl stated that he experienced in the boarding schools he attended. [5] Dahl's books see the triumph of the child children's book critic Amanda Craig said, "He was unequivocal that it is the good, young and kind who triumph over the old, greedy and the wicked." [10] Anna Leskiewicz in The Telegraph wrote "It's often suggested that Dahl's lasting appeal is a result of his exceptional talent for wriggling his way into children’s fantasies and fears, and laying them out on the page with anarchic delight. Adult villains are drawn in terrifying detail, before they are exposed as liars and hypocrites, and brought tumbling down with retributive justice, either by a sudden magic or the superior acuity of the children they mistreat." [97]

While his whimsical fantasy stories feature an underlying warm sentiment, they are often juxtaposed with grotesque, darkly comic and sometimes harshly violent scenarios. [7] [9] The Witches, George's Marvellous Medicine and Matilda are examples of this formula. The BFG follows, with the good giant (the BFG or "Big Friendly Giant") representing the "good adult" archetype and the other giants being the "bad adults". This formula is also somewhat evident in Dahl's film script for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Class-conscious themes also surface in works such as Fantastic Mr Fox and Danny, the Champion of the World where the unpleasant wealthy neighbours are outwitted. [57] [100]

Dahl also features characters who are very fat, usually children. Augustus Gloop, Bruce Bogtrotter and Bruno Jenkins are a few of these characters, although an enormous woman named Aunt Sponge features in James and the Giant Peach and the nasty farmer Boggis in Fantastic Mr Fox is an enormously fat character. All of these characters (with the possible exception of Bruce Bogtrotter) are either villains or simply unpleasant gluttons. They are usually punished for this: Augustus Gloop drinks from Willy Wonka's chocolate river, disregarding the adults who tell him not to, and falls in, getting sucked up a pipe and nearly being turned into fudge. In Matilda, Bruce Bogtrotter steals cake from the evil headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, and is forced to eat a gigantic chocolate cake in front of the school when he unexpectedly succeeds at this, Trunchbull smashes the empty plate over his head. In The Witches, Bruno Jenkins is lured by the witches (whose leader is the Grand High Witch) into their convention with the promise of chocolate, before they turn him into a mouse. [101] Aunt Sponge is flattened by a giant peach. When Dahl was a boy his mother used to tell him and his sisters tales about trolls and other mythical Norwegian creatures, and some of his children's books contain references or elements inspired by these stories, such as the giants in The BFG, the fox family in Fantastic Mr Fox and the trolls in The Minpins. [102]

Receiving the 1983 World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement, Dahl encouraged his children and his readers to let their imagination run free. His daughter Lucy stated "his spirit was so large and so big he taught us to believe in magic." [57]

Those who don't believe in magic will never find it.

Dahl was also famous for his inventive, playful use of language, which was a key element to his writing. He invented new words by scribbling down his words before swapping letters around and adopting spoonerisms and malapropisms. [103] The lexicographer Susan Rennie stated that Dahl built his new words on familiar sounds, adding:

He didn't always explain what his words meant, but children can work them out because they often sound like a word they know, and he loved using onomatopoeia. For example, you know that something lickswishy and delumptious is good to eat, whereas something uckyslush or rotsome is definitely not! He also used sounds that children love to say, like squishous and squizzle, or fizzlecrump and fizzwiggler. [103]

A UK television special titled Roald Dahl's Revolting Rule Book which was hosted by Richard E. Grant and aired on 22 September 2007, commemorated Dahl's 90th birthday and also celebrated his impact as a children's author in popular culture. [104] It also featured eight main rules he applied on all his children's books:

  1. Just add chocolate
  2. Adults can be scary
  3. Bad things happen
  4. Revenge is sweet
  5. Keep a wicked sense of humour
  6. Pick perfect pictures
  7. Films are fun. but books are better!
  8. Food is fun!

In 2016, marking the centenary of Dahl's birth, Rennie compiled The Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary which includes many of his invented words and their meaning. [103] Rennie commented that some of Dahl's words have already escaped his world, for example, Scrumdiddlyumptious: "Food that is utterly delicious". [103] In his poetry, Dahl gives a humorous re-interpretation of well-known nursery rhymes and fairy tales, providing surprise endings in place of the traditional happily-ever-after. Dahl's collection of poems Revolting Rhymes is recorded in audiobook form, and narrated by actor Alan Cumming. [105]

Screenplays

For a brief period in the 1960s, Dahl wrote screenplays. Two, the James Bond film You Only Live Twice and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, were adaptations of novels by Ian Fleming. [106] [107] Dahl also began adapting his own novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which was completed and rewritten by David Seltzer after Dahl failed to meet deadlines, and produced as the film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971). Dahl later disowned the film, saying he was "disappointed" because "he thought it placed too much emphasis on Willy Wonka and not enough on Charlie". [108] He was also "infuriated" by the deviations in the plot devised by David Seltzer in his draft of the screenplay. This resulted in his refusal for any more versions of the book to be made in his lifetime, as well as an adaptation for the sequel Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. [109]

Influences

A major part of Dahl's literary influences stemmed from his childhood. In his younger days, he was an avid reader, especially awed by fantastic tales of heroism and triumph. Amongst his favourite authors were Rudyard Kipling, Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray and Frederick Marryat, and their works made a lasting mark on his life and writing. [110] Joe Sommerlad in The Independent writes, “Dahl’s novels are often dark affairs, filled with cruelty, bereavement and Dickensian adults prone to gluttony and sadism. The author clearly felt compelled to warn his young readers about the evils of the world, taking the lesson from earlier fairy tales that they could stand hard truths and would be the stronger for hearing them.” [111]

Dahl was also influenced by Lewis Carroll’s Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The “Drink Me” episode in Alice inspired a scene in Dahl's George's Marvellous Medicine where a tyrannical grandmother drinks a potion and is blown up to the size of a farmhouse. [111] Finding too many distractions in his house, Dahl remembered the poet Dylan Thomas had found a peaceful shed to write in close to home. Dahl travelled to visit Thomas's hut in Carmarthenshire, Wales in the 1950s and, after taking a look inside, decided to make a replica of it to write in. [112]

Dahl liked ghost stories, and claimed that Trolls by Jonas Lie was one of the finest ghost stories ever written. While he was still a youngster, his mother, Sofie Dahl, related traditional Norwegian myths and legends from her native homeland to Dahl and his sisters. Dahl always maintained that his mother and her stories had a strong influence on his writing. In one interview, he mentioned: "She was a great teller of tales. Her memory was prodigious and nothing that ever happened to her in her life was forgotten." [113] When Dahl started writing and publishing his famous books for children, he included a grandmother character in The Witches, and later said that she was based directly on his own mother as a tribute. [114] [115]

Television

In 1961, Dahl hosted and wrote for a science fiction and horror television anthology series called Way Out, which preceded the Twilight Zone series on the CBS network for 14 episodes from March to July. [116] One of the last dramatic network shows shot in New York City, the entire series is available for viewing at The Paley Center for Media in New York City and Los Angeles. [117] He also wrote for the satirical BBC comedy programme That Was the Week That Was, which was hosted by David Frost. [118]

The British television series, Tales of the Unexpected, originally aired on ITV between 1979 and 1988. [119] The series was released to tie in with Dahl's short story anthology of the same name, which had introduced readers to many motifs that were common in his writing. [92] The series was an anthology of different tales, initially based on Dahl's short stories. [92] The stories were sometimes sinister, sometimes wryly comedic and usually had a twist ending. Dahl introduced on camera all the episodes of the first two series, which bore the full title Roald Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected. [120]

Roald Dahl died on 23 November 1990, at the age of 74 of a rare cancer of the blood, myelodysplastic syndrome, in Oxford, [121] and was buried in the cemetery at the Church of St Peter and St Paul, Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, England. According to his granddaughter, the family gave him a "sort of Viking funeral". He was buried with his snooker cues, some very good burgundy, chocolates, HB pencils and a power saw. Today, children continue to leave toys and flowers by his grave. [122]

In November 1996, the Roald Dahl Children's Gallery was opened at the Buckinghamshire County Museum in nearby Aylesbury. [123] The main-belt asteroid 6223 Dahl, discovered by Czech astronomer Antonín Mrkos, was named in his memory in 1996. [124] [125]

In 2002, one of Cardiff Bay's modern landmarks, the Oval Basin plaza, was renamed Roald Dahl Plass. Plass is Norwegian for "place" or "square", alluding to the writer's Norwegian roots. There have also been calls from the public for a permanent statue of him to be erected in Cardiff. [126] In 2016, the city celebrated the centenary of Dahl's birth in Llandaff. Welsh Arts organisations, including National Theatre Wales, Wales Millennium Centre and Literature Wales, came together for a series of events, titled Roald Dahl 100, including a Cardiff-wide City of the Unexpected, which marked his legacy. [3]

Dahl's charitable commitments in the fields of neurology, haematology and literacy during his life have been continued by his widow since his death, through Roald Dahl's Marvellous Children's Charity, formerly known as the Roald Dahl Foundation. [95] The charity provides care and support to seriously ill children and young people throughout the UK. [127] In June 2005, the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in the author's home village Great Missenden was officially opened by Cherie Blair, wife of UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, to celebrate the work of Roald Dahl and advance his work in literacy education. [128] Over 50,000 visitors from abroad, mainly from Australia, Japan, the United States and Germany, travel to the village museum every year. [129]

In 2008, the UK charity Booktrust and Children's Laureate Michael Rosen inaugurated The Roald Dahl Funny Prize, an annual award to authors of humorous children's fiction. [130] [131] On 14 September 2009 (the day after what would have been Dahl's 93rd birthday) the first blue plaque in his honour was unveiled in Llandaff. [132] Rather than commemorating his place of birth, however, the plaque was erected on the wall of the former sweet shop (and site of "The Great Mouse Plot of 1924") that features in the first part of his autobiography Boy. It was unveiled by his widow Felicity and son Theo. [132] In 2018, Weston-super-Mare, the town described by Dahl as a "seedy seaside resort", unveiled a blue plaque dedicated to him, on the site of the since-demolished boarding school Dahl attended, St Peter's. [133] The anniversary of Dahl's birthday on 13 September is celebrated as "Roald Dahl Day" in Africa, the United Kingdom and Latin America. [134] [135] [136]

In honour of Dahl, the Royal Gibraltar Post Office issued a set of four stamps in 2010 featuring Quentin Blake's original illustrations for four of the children's books written by Dahl during his long career The BFG, The Twits, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Matilda. [137] A set of six stamps was issued by Royal Mail in 2012, featuring Blake's illustrations for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Twits, The Witches, Matilda, Fantastic Mr Fox, and James and the Giant Peach. [138] Dahl's influence has extended beyond literary figures. For instance film director Tim Burton recalled from childhood "the second layer [after Dr. Seuss] of connecting to a writer who gets the idea of the modern fable—and the mixture of light and darkness, and not speaking down to kids, and the kind of politically incorrect humour that kids get. I've always like that, and it's shaped everything I've felt that I've done." [139] Steven Spielberg read The BFG to his children when they were young, stating the book celebrates the fact that it's OK to be different as well as to have an active imagination: "It's very important that we preserve the tradition of allowing young children to run free with their imaginations and magic and imagination are the same thing." [140] Actress Scarlett Johansson named Fantastic Mr Fox one of the five books that made a difference to her. [141]

Dahl has an incredibly distinctive style: his subversive, unpredictable plots, musical prose and caustic wit are impossible to imitate. And yet his stories have proved astonishingly malleable. Often adapted by equally idiosyncratic writers and directors, when translated onto stage and screen, his works seamlessly take on the impression of their new maker. Like in many of his stories, Dahl offers a narrative where troublemaking is rewarded, and games and tricks are more successful than following rules. Perhaps this, more than anything, is the reason why Dahl’s stories excite the imagination of so many adults and children, and why so many storytellers across stage and screen can’t resist remaking his tales in their own individual style. Right across his body of work, playfulness and inventiveness are always prized over boring qualities like obedience and deference. In Dahl's world, creative disruption is presented in such an appealing, delicious light, that you can't help but join in the fun.

Regarded as "one of the greatest storytellers for children of the 20th century", [5] Dahl was named by The Times one of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945. [6] He ranks amongst the world's best-selling fiction authors with sales estimated at over 250 million, [2] [4] [7] and his books have been published in 63 languages. [3] [143] In 2000 Dahl topped the list of Britain's favourite authors. [144] In 2003 four books by Dahl, led by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at number 35, ranked among the Top 100 in The Big Read, a survey of the British public by the BBC to determine the "nation's best-loved novel" of all time. [145] In surveys of UK teachers, parents and students, Dahl is frequently ranked the best children's writer. [146] [147] In a 2006 list for the Royal Society of Literature, Harry Potter creator J. K. Rowling named Charlie and the Chocolate Factory one of her top ten books every child should read. [148] In 2012, Matilda was ranked number 30 among all-time best children's novels in a survey published by School Library Journal, a monthly with primarily US audience. The Top 100 included four books by Dahl, more than any other writer: Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Witches, and The BFG. [149] US magazine Time named three Dahl books in its list of the 100 Best Young-Adult Books of All Time, more than any other author. [150] Dahl is one of the most borrowed authors in UK libraries. [151] [152]

In 2012, Dahl was among the British cultural icons selected by artist Sir Peter Blake to appear in a new version of his most famous artwork—the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover—to celebrate the British cultural figures of his life he most admires. [153] [154] In 2016 Dahl's enduring popularity was proved by his ranking in Amazon's the top five best-selling children's authors on the online store over the last year, looking at sales in print and on the Kindle store. [155] In a 2017 UK poll of the greatest authors, songwriters, artists and photographers, Dahl was named the greatest storyteller of all time, ranking ahead of Dickens, Shakespeare, Rowling and Spielberg. [156] In 2017, the airline Norwegian announced Dahl's image would appear on the tail fin one of their Boeing 737-800 aircraft. He is one of the company's six "British tail fin heroes", joining Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, England World Cup winner Bobby Moore, novelist Jane Austen, pioneering pilot Amy Johnson and aviation entrepreneur Freddie Laker. [157] [158]

Antisemitism

Dahl reviewed Tony Clifton's God Cried, a picture book about the siege of West Beirut by the Israeli army during the 1982 Lebanon War. [159] The article appeared in the August 1983 issue of the Literary Review and was the subject of much media comment at the time. [160] [161] According to Dahl, until this point in time "a race of people", meaning Jews, had never "switched so rapidly from victims to barbarous murderers." The empathy of all after the Holocaust had turned "into hatred and revulsion." [162] Dahl wrote that Clifton's book would make readers "violently anti-Israeli", stating: "I am not anti-Semitic. I am anti-Israel." [163] He speculated: "must Israel, like Germany, be brought to her knees before she learns how to behave in this world?" [164] The United States, he said, was "so utterly dominated by the great Jewish financial institutions" that "they dare not defy" Israelis. [162] Dahl's phraseology in his original copy had been altered by the editor of the Literary Review who substituted "Israel" for "Jews" and "Israeli" for "Jewish". [165]

Dahl told a journalist from the New Statesman in August 1983: "There's a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity, maybe it's a kind of lack of generosity towards non-Jews. I mean there is always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere even a stinker like Hitler didn't just pick on them for no reason." [166] [167] In 1990, during an interview with The Independent, Dahl explained that his issue with Israel began when they invaded Lebanon in 1982: "they killed 22,000 civilians when they bombed Beirut. It was very much hushed up in the newspapers because they are primarily Jewish-owned. I'm certainly anti-Israeli and I've become antisemitic in as much as that you get a Jewish person in another country like England strongly supporting Zionism. I think they should see both sides. It's the same old thing: we all know about Jews and the rest of it. There aren't any non-Jewish publishers anywhere, they control the media—jolly clever thing to do—that's why the president of the United States has to sell all this stuff to Israel." [167] [168] Responding in 1990 to a journalist from The Jewish Chronicle, whom he considered rude, he said: "I am an old hand at dealing with you buggers." [169]

Dahl had Jewish friends, including the philosopher Isaiah Berlin, who commented: "I thought he might say anything. Could have been pro-Arab or pro-Jew. There was no consistent line. He was a man who followed whims, which meant he would blow up in one direction, so to speak." [163] Amelia Foster, director of the Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden, says: "This is again an example of how Dahl refused to take anything seriously, even himself. He was very angry at the Israelis. He had a childish reaction to what was going on in Israel. Dahl wanted to provoke, as he always provoked at dinner. His publisher was a Jew, his agent was a Jew. and he thought nothing but good things of them. He asked me to be his managing director, and I'm Jewish." [170] However, as a result of his views, in 2014 the Royal Mint decided not to produce a coin to commemorate the centenary of Dahl's birth because he was considered to be "associated with antisemitism and not regarded as an author of the highest reputation". [168]

Jeremy Treglown, in his 1994 biography, writes of Dahl's first novel Sometime Never (1948): "plentiful revelations about Nazi anti-Semitism and the Holocaust did not discourage him from satirizing 'a little pawnbroker in Hounsditch called Meatbein who, when the wailing started, would rush downstairs to the large safe in which he kept his money, open it and wriggle inside on to the lowest shelf where he lay like a hibernating hedgehog until the all-clear had gone. ' " [171] In a short story entitled "Madame Rosette", the eponymous character is termed "a filthy old Syrian Jewess". [171]

In 2020, Dahl's family published a statement on the official Roald Dahl website apologising for his antisemitism. [172] [173] The statement says "The Dahl family and the Roald Dahl Story Company deeply apologise for the lasting and understandable hurt caused by some of Roald Dahl’s statements. Those prejudiced remarks are incomprehensible to us and stand in marked contrast to the man we knew and to the values at the heart of Roald Dahl's stories, which have positively impacted young people for generations. We hope that, just as he did at his best, at his absolute worst, Roald Dahl can help remind us of the lasting impact of words." [167]

Other racism

In 1972, Eleanor Cameron, also a children's book author, published an article in The Horn Book criticizing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, stating: "What I object to in Charlie is its phony presentation of poverty and its phony humor, which is based on punishment with overtones of sadism". She took issue with the depiction of the Oompa-Loompas as imported African slaves and suggested that teachers look for better literature to use in the classroom. [174] In 1973, Dahl posted a reply, calling Cameron's accusations "insensitive" and "monstrous". [175] The Horn Book published Cameron's response, where she clarified that she intended her article not to be a personal attack on Dahl, but to point out that though the book is a work of fiction, it still influences reality. She again objected to the Ooompa-Loompa depiction, writing, "the situation of the Oompa-Loompas is real it could not be more so, and it is anything but funny". [176] The debate between the two authors sparked much discussion and a number of letters to the editor. [177] A 1991 article by Michael Dirda published in The Washington Post, echoed Cameron's comments, writing "the Oompa-Loompas. reveal virtually every stereotype about blacks". [178]

Misogyny

Dirda's article discussed many of the other criticisms of Dahl's writing as well, including his alleged misogyny. He wrote "The Witches verges on a general misogyny" [178] and Michele Landsberg's 1998 article analyzing the alleged issues in Dahl's work also stated: "Throughout his work, evil, domineering, smelly, fat, ugly women are his favorite villains." [179] Una Malley's 2008 article mentioned Dahl's short story collection Switch Bitch, calling it "a collection better forgotten, laden with crude and often disturbing sexual fantasy writing". However, Malley argued that there are feminist messages in Dahl's work, even if they may be obscured: "The Witches offers up plenty of feminist complexities. The witches themselves are terrifying and vile things, and always women. The book is often viewed as sexist, but that assessment ignores one of the heroines of the story, the child narrator’s grandmother." [180]


Pangolins are being trafficked to extinction in black market

Traditional Chinese medicine and Vietnamese culture are driving the pangolin to extinction.

  • Pangolins are one of the most interesting and endearing species but are being hunted and trafficked to near extinction.
  • The Chinese Pharmacopoeia is a huge book of authorized Chinese medicine and serves as a recipe book for "Traditional Chinese medicine."
  • Pangolins, leopards, and bears all feature in the book. The false idea that these animals have medicinal value is driving a multi-billion-dollar black market.

In 2020, pangolins made the news because they were accused of being one of the possible candidates for giving the world COVID. They were later exonerated, but the damage was still done. There are eight species of pangolin, across many countries and continents and ranging from vulnerable to critically endangered, but they were all unfairly tarnished as starting a global pandemic.

Pangolins are popular around the world for how charming they are. They bumble along unsteadily, not unlike a small toddler, shuffling from feast to feast. It's been pointed out that they appear as if in a constant state of nervous anticipation. Perhaps it's not without reason. Pangolins are the world's most trafficked animal, and the pangolin market is worth billions to black marketeers. They are estimated to make up 20 percent of all illegal animal trade.


Roald Dahl: 5 Things You Didn't Know

Born in Wales and named after one of the most celebrated explorers in Norwegian history, Roald Dahl was one of the most versatile English writers of the 20th century. He may be best known today for his enormously popular contributions to children's literature (such as Matilda, The BFG, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and James and the Giant Peach), but he also wrote the screenplays to two adaptations of Ian Fleming novels (You Only Live Twice and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), and he wrote some five dozen short stories for the likes of Colliers, Harpers, The New Yorker, and Playboy, to name a few. Yet, no matter who his audience was, Dahl did one thing as well as, or better than, any of his contemporaries: He knew how to end a story in a way the reader could never anticipate.

As we gear up for the limited U.S. theatrical release of Wes Anderson's stop-motion animated adaptation of Dahl's 1970 book Fantastic Mr. Fox, we present five things you didn't know about Roald Dahl.

1- Roald Dahl went to school next to a chocolate factory

Well, kind of. In his autobiography Boy: Tales of Childhood, Dahl relates how he attended Repton School in Derbyshire, which was close to a local Cadbury factory. It wasn't uncommon for Cadbury representatives to bring sweets over to Repton for the students to sample. Cadbury was also in fierce competition with another confectioner, Rowntree's, and the two companies frequently engaged in corporate espionage to get an edge on the other. Dahl found the secretive, cutthroat atmosphere surrounding an industry devoted to making sweets for innocent children to be prime material, and from it he created Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

2- Roald Dahl wrote about rape and wife-swapping

According to Dahl biographer, Jeremy Treglown, Dahl only made the transition to children's literature because he ran out of these kinds of ideas.

3- Roald Dahl spied on the U.S. for England

As a pilot with the Royal Air Force, Dahl saw plenty of aerial combat before being sent to Washington, D.C. by the MI6 to spy on his country's biggest ally, the United States. According to Jennet Conant in The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington, the tall (6'6"), charming and handsome Dahl was assigned to keep tabs on D.C.'s high society and listen for any hint that the U.S. wanted out of the European theater of war.

There are a few more things we bet you didn't know about Roald Dahl coming right up.


Watch the video: Roald Dahl - Pilot, Seducer and Author - WW2 Biography Special (June 2022).


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