Roald Dahl, the beloved author of James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, The Witches, Fantastic Mr Fox, The BFG, The Twits and George's Marvellous Medicine (we could go on…), was born 101 years ago this week, in Llandaff, Cardiff.
But how many of you know that Roald Dahl, the world’s favourite children’s author, had another side to his writing? This is the Roald Dahl that ain't for kids, where he took his bruise-black sense of humour and and love of the weird to another level completely. This is the Roald Dahl your parents never told you about...
You Only Live Twice (1967)
Dahl had rotten luck with his first commissioned screenplay. Filming on the snazzily-titled The Bells of Hell Go Ting-a-Ling-a-Ling, starring Gregory Peck and Ian McKellen, was abandoned after only five weeks. The next year however, producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Salzman approached the 51-year-old to pen the screenplay for the fifth James Bond film.
A big gig. But despite being a friend of Bond author Ian Fleming, he was no fan of the novel: "It’s Fleming’s worst book," he sniffed, "with no plot in it which would even make a movie". The film bears little relation to its literary source and certainly has more of Dahl's DNA in it than Fleming's.
Sometime Never: A Fable for Supermen (1948)
Royal Air Force folklore has it that it’s mischievous little creatures – gremlins – that are responsible for any technical malfunctions. Dahl used this fanciful superstition as the basis for his first children’s book, The Gremlins, and then again for his second, the adult-aimed Sometime Never: A Fable for Supermen. Roasted on its release and currently out of print, this apocalyptic sci-fi fable is notable for being the first book about nuclear war to be published in the US after Hiroshima.
My Uncle Oswald (1979)
Dahl waited a full 31 years before his second adult novel. My Uncle Oswald. This saucy bonkathon tells the story of Oswald Hendryks Cornelius, "the greatest fornicator of all time", and his plans to steal the semen of the world’s most powerful men, in order to sell it on to rich, childless women. Dahl later described the book as "the longest and dirtiest story" he had ever written.
Dahl published 13 books of short stories in his 47-year career, and only one of those was for children. But despite the different audiences, their macabre nature and deliciously twisty endings definitely mark them out as Dahl tales. One of his short stories, Man From The South, was adapted for the Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV series and was later used by Quentin Tarantino for his segment of the 1995 anthology flick Four Rooms.
That Was The Week That Was (1964-1965)
Back in the early 1960s, satirical sketch show That Was The Week That Was was one of the most controversial and headline-grabbing series ever broadcast by the BBC. Dahl was one of a number of writers, including poet laureate Sir John Betjeman, future Pythons John Cleese and Graham Chapman and comic giant Peter Cook, to write for the show.
Way Out (1961)
Clearly inspired by The Twilight Zone, this US anthology series had Dahl delivering a short introductory monologue, in his usual dry, mischievous manner, before the story of the week. The stories were certainly eccentric, with one episode about a man who changes his neighbours into frogs and another about an actor who is trapped inside his Quasimodo makeup. Unfortunately though it all proved too offbeat for American audiences and it was canned after only 14 episodes.
Tales of the Unexpected (1979-1988)
Less way out than Way Out, this fondly remembered series ran on ITV from 1979 and 1988 and was famous for its didn’t-see-that-one-coming twist endings.
Dahl, enveloped by a leather armchair, introduced every episode, and penned the lion’s share of episodes. Its most famous moments include Royal Jelly, an eerie tale starring Timothy West as a man who feeds the honey bee secretion to his baby daughter, and Lamb To The Slaughter, where a woman kills her husband with a frozen leg of lamb, which she then cooks and serves to the investigating detectives.
A memorably strange and unsettling series, with all the darkness and humour of Dahl’s kids stories, Tale of the Unexpected managed to attract an avalanche of big-name stars such as Jennifer Connelly, Janet Leigh, John Gielgud, John Mills, Derek Jacobi and Charles Dance.
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