Roald Dahl Day: Celebrating the writer, pilot, spy and inventor

By Amy Ryan

Today is Roald Dahl Day!

Roald Dahl is one of the worlds most treasured writers. He is the author of beloved tales like 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory', 'Matilda', 'The BFG', 'The Twits' and many, many more. His books have sold more than 250 million copies worldwide.

Mr Dahl would have turned 101 today.

Over his decades-long writing career, Dahl wrote 19 children's books.But Roald Dahl was not just a novelist; he was a spy, a fighter pilot, a screenwriter, and a medical inventor.

He was born in Llandaff, Wales, on September 13, 1916 to Norwegian parents. He was named after Roald Amundsen, the first man to reach the South Pole.

His early years were filled with tragedy with the deaths of his older sister, Astri and his father. He then went to boarding school and some of the wonderful memories from this experience inspired his stories later in life.

While at school in Repton in Derbyshire, England, Roald and his classmates were invited to do taste tests of chocolate bars, a memory that inspired 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory'.

Roald travelled to Canada and east Africa after he finished school until the beginning of World War Two when he enlisted in the Royal Air Force aged 23.

Dahl was in a serious crash in September 1940 when his plane landed in the Western Desert of Egypt. He spent six months recovering in Alexandria then took part in The Battle of Athens. He later supplied intelligence to M16 after posting in Washington.

He married Patricia Neal, an American actress, in 1953 and they had five children. After 30 years, they divorced and he remarried Felicity “Liccy” Crosland.

Dahl helped invent the Wade-Dahl-Till valve after his son was struck by a car in New York in 1960. The Wade-Dahl-Till valve is a cerebral shunt which drains excess fluid from the brain which Dahl came up with alongside hydraulic engineer Stanley Wade and neurosurgeon Kenneth Till. By the time it was invented, his son Theo had recovered and did not need the shunt but it went on to be used by many people around the world. The inventors did not accept any profit from the invention.

Then, Dahl's literary genius emerged and 'James and the Giant Peach' was published in 1961 followed by 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory'.

Apart from his famous books, he wrote screenplays including the James Bond classic 'You Only Live Twice' and 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang'.

Roald Dahl died on 23 November 1990, aged 74 in Oxford.

Some of his wonderful letters have been shared on Twitter:

The BBC have released a Roald Dahl interview with his great niece Emma Pearl.

He talks about writing, his love for chocolate and an accident he had as a child.

To listen to the interview click here.

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