One of the world’s bestselling children’s authors, Roald Dahl’s stories have been enchanting us for eight decades. From Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach through to Matilda and The Fantastic Mr Fox, Dahl’s books are flying off bookshelves to this day. Here are 10 fascinating facts about the author…
1) Named after a polar explorer
Although Dahl was born in Wales, both his parents were actually Norwegian, and they raised Dahl to fluently speak both English and Norwegian. He was named after a famous Norwegian polar explorer named Roald Amundson.
2) Cadbury sent test boxes to his school
As a teen, Roald Dahl was sent to Repton School – a boarding school in Derbyshire. Cadbury chocolate factory would send test boxes of their latest chocolates to the school, for feedback from the boys. Dahl said he would daydream about inventing a chocolate bar that Mr Cadbury would be proud of. He later said that this was the inspiration for his book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
3) Dahl was a WWII fighter pilot
Dahl was working for the Shell Petrol Company in Tanzania when World War II broke out. He immediately enlisted in the Royal Air Force, and became a fighter pilot. On his first mission, he crash landed in Libya. His spine was damaged, and he went on to have several operations on it throughout his life.
4) A spy in Washington
After becoming badly injured in the crash, Dahl was stationed at the British Embassy in Washington, where he was asked to assist in getting the US to join in the war effort. Whilst living in Washington, he became a spy for BCS (British Security Coordination). He fed back any gossip he overheard at his dinner parties with the elite and famous.
5) Roald Dahl hung out with the president and his wife
Quite charming in his youth, Roald Dahl would get invited to lots of dinner parties with celebrities and politicians. He eventually ended up being invited to visit Hyde Park alongside President Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor. He fed back information from his conversations to the BCS.
6) Dahl’s first book was written for Disney
Whilst living in Washington, Dahl started to write about the Gremlins that the Royal Air Force would blame technical issues on. Walt Disney was interested in this project, and started to plan a film alongside Dahl. However, Dahl was very argumentative about how the gremlins needed to look, and Walt Disney went off the idea. The Gremlins were published in a 1943 book though, with the authorship reading, ‘A Royal Air Force story by flight lieutenant Roald Dahl.’
Dahl sent a copy to the First Lady Eleanor Roosevolt, who read the story over and over to her children.
7) Roald Dahl wrote in the hut at the bottom of his garden
Roald Dahl made good use of the hut at the bottom of his garden by turning it into his writing book. He had an armchair in there, and would lay a tray across his lap, and would write onto paper with a pencil. He always started his writing sessions with six sharpened pencils in a jar next to him, and would work for about 4 hours per day.
8) Roald Dahl invented the Child Catcher
One of the most terrifying characters in the history of children’s movies is undoubtedly the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Whilst the film was based on Ian Fleming’s book, Roald Dahl was asked to help out with the screenplay, and he himself invented the Child Catcher, who had been absent in the original novel.
9) Dahl was planning a third Charlie Bucket book
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is one of Roald Dahl’s most successful books – being adapted into not one but two blockbuster movies. It’s sequel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, has never been adapted into a film. Dahl was actually planning a third Charlie Bucket book – Charlie in the White House – but the story never came to be.
10) Dahl was buried with a power drill
Roald Dahl passed away on 23rd November 1990. When he was buried, his family decided to bury him with a few of his favourite possessions – these included a power drill and some of his much-loved writing pencils.
There you have it – 10 Roald Dahl facts!