Very few British childhoods would have been the same without Roald Dahl – the author of books like Matilda, George’s Marvellous Medicine and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. His prolificacy was exceeded only by his imagination and his writing spanned six generations. His writing is even more popular now than it was in his lifetime as a new generation gets to know the characters he brought to life.
Roald Dahl published 20 children’s stories and 16 novels and short story collections for adults in his lifetime. He also wrote non-fiction books, plays and scripts for TV and film.
He based lots of his characters on people he knew. The grandmother in The Witches was based on his own mother.
When the Second World War broke out he signed up as a pilot in the Royal Air Force in Kenya. Then he trained in Iraq before crashing on the way to meet his squadron in Libya. He served until 1942 and recorded his time in the armed forces in the book Going Solo.
He became friends with the President of the USA Franklin D Roosevelt when he worked in Washington DC in the 1940s. He visited the White House and the presidential retreat, Hyde Park.
He began writing in 1942, but he almost exclusively wrote for adults until James and the Giant Peach was published in 1961. His only other children’s book before this was called The Gremlins published in 1943, which Dahl didn’t himself consider to be a real children’s book anyway.
He was born in Wales in 1916 to Norwegian parents. His father and sister died when he was four and he was raised, along with three other siblings and two step-siblings, by his mother. He grew to be six feet six inches (two metres) tall.
The Chinese edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which was first published in 1964 became the most printed copy of any book at two million copies.
His books have been translated into 34 languages and published throughout the world.
He wrote most of his books in a hut at the bottom of his garden in Buckinghamshire in England. He always used a pencil and paper rather than a typewriter.
He died in 1990 aged 74 after developing the rare blood disorder myelo-dysplastic anaemia.