Roald Dahl ‘wanted Charlie to be black’

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Media captionRoald Dahl’s widow Liccy on the author’s favourite character

The hero of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was meant to be black, the author’s widow has revealed.

Liccy Dahl told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme her husband had written about a “little black boy”.

But Dahl’s agent thought the idea a bad one and insisted the character be changed – something Dahl’s widow said was a “great pity”.

She said seeing the 1964 children’s book as her husband had intended it would be “wonderful”.

Image copyright PA
Image caption A Lego version of Charlie – with his golden ticket – has been unveiled in Manchester

The programme’s interview with Mrs Dahl and her late husband’s biographer, Donald Sturrock, took place on the 101st anniversary of Dahl’s birth.

Sturrock told Today that Dahl knew both the British and American sensibilities and had “a foot in both camps” – the reason, his widow said, behind Charlie Bucket’s original ethnicity.

“His first Charlie that he wrote about, you know, was a little black boy,” she said. “I’m sure that was influenced by America.”

“It was his agent who thought it was a bad idea, when the book was first published, to have a black hero,” said Sturrock. “She said: ‘People would ask why.'”

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Media captionRoald Dahl: Can you spot your favourite character?

Dahl didn’t escape some controversy about depictions of race after Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was published in 1964. In the first edition, Oompa-Loompas were depicted as black pygmies.

But it was decided his description wasn’t acceptable and for the second edition they were changed and given “rosy-white” skin. For the first Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie, film-makers made them orange.

Speaking to Radio 4, Mrs Dahl also revealed her husband had not enjoyed that original film.

“He wasn’t very happy about Charlie, the original with Gene Wilder,” she said of the film, released in 1971 as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

In contrast, Dahl’s widow said his first meeting Sir Quentin Blake, who illustrated his books, was altogether happier.

“You knew straight away,” said Mrs Dahl. “I was witnessing a rather amazing union.”

Earlier this year it was announced that Dahl – whose birthday is now celebrated as ‘Roald Dahl Day”‘ – will be played by Hugh Bonneville in an upcoming film biopic.


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