Although Roald Dahl is most famously regarded as a classic children’s author, he was also many other things. In addition to having written many classic children’s books, such as Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the author also made more adult-oriented content that often contained racist and misogynistic values. However, the most surprising thing about Roald’s life for many has been the revelation that he was working as a spy against the US government during World War II. Join Facts Verse as we explore how children’s author Roald Dahl led a disturbing double life.
Roald Dahl was born in Wales on September 13, 1916. Roald’s father died while he was still young. As a child, Roald attended a school known as the Cathedral School before transferring to a boarding school named St Peter’s. While attending the Cathedral School, Roald said that he was caned for pulling a prank involving a dead mouse with four other boys at a local candy shop. This was the beginning of Roald’s long history with being a troublemaker, which arguably lasted past his adolescence and into his adulthood. As Roald’s educational career continued, his experience with corporal punishment would, as well.
While attending St Peter’s, Roald shared that he was incredibly homesick for much of the duration and would satiate the sadness by writing letters to his mother. Roald would continue this tradition of writing letter to his mother until her death in 1967. After his mother’s death, Roald found that his mother had saved all of the letters that he had written, and many of them have been shared publicly.
Roald began attending a school by the name of the Repton School at the age of 13. The school was located in Derbyshire. The school was infamous for it’s policies regarding corporal punishment, with staff and elder classmen given permission to cane other students. Roald suffered many canings, and witnessed others suffering many more. Roald claimed that this experience with corporal punishment left an incredible impression on him that he never forgot.
Although Roald later grew to success as an author, his teachers in school didn’t consider him very good at writing. His work would oftentimes be returned with a bad grade and comments regarding the nonsensicality of what he had written. Of course, that nonsensicality would later prove to be a benefit when it came time for Roald to try and stand out in the crowded children’s literature scene. Over the course of his career, Roald was said to have coined hundred of words.
In addition to his studies, Roald was also a proficient athlete during his school years. He grew to be 6 feet 6 inches tall during his latter teen years, and used that height to his advantage when playing football, cricket, and squash. Roald even made captain of his school’s squash team, and had some time leftover to practice golf! Besides sports, Roald also made a hobby of photography, carrying around a camera with him nearly everywhere that he went.
Although Roald had been born in the United Kingdom, his mother had come from Norway and her family still lived there. Because of this, many of Roald’s childhood summers were spent in Norway. Much of Roald’s time in Norway was documented in the book Boy: Tales of Childhood. One of the most memorable incidents depicted in the book included a time when Roald filled one of his relative’s pipes up with goat droppings. The relative went to smoke the pipe thinking that it was tobacco, and young Roald was delighted by it.
For his early career, Roald worked for the Shell Petroleum Company. He lived a life of luxury selling oil to wealthy customers in various parts of Africa. During his time there, he was able to have personal experience with the continent’s vast and incredible wildlife. Roald recounted seeing many lions, and having encounters with black mamba snakes.
In 1939 Roald joined the Royal Air Force at the beginning of World War II. While piloting an aircraft, Roald crash landed and was severely injured. Although he didn’t die, he suffered a fracture in his skull that caused him headaches for the rest of his life. These headaches made it so that Roald was no longer fit to fly, so he was instead sent across seas to the United States… as a spy. If you’re enjoying this video so far, be sure to hit the like button to show your support! As well, subscribe to the channel if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!
Following his accident in the Royal Air Force during the early days of World War II, Roald was sent over to the United States. At the time, the Americans were not yet involved in the war. Roald had been tasked with going over to America and giving lectures to citizens that were meant to encourage them to join the war effort. However, it turned out that the British government was simply testing Roald to see if he would be a good fit for a more subversive mission that they were trying to perform with the same goal in mind.
It has been revealed in the years since World War II that the British government had created a secret organization during the early days of the war that was meant to help create propaganda in America that would encourage the country to join in on the global war effort. The organization was dubbed the British Security Coordination, or BSC. Within a year of Roald’s arrival in America, he had been officially brought into the BSC as both a propagandist and a spy.
During the early days of World War II, America refused to join the war, instead promoting an isolationist attitude amongst it’s citizens. The British took offense to this, seeing Adolph Hitler and his Third Reich as the global threat that they were. One of the BSC’s missions was to abolish this isolationist attitude amongst American citizens with carefully placed propaganda that was created by respected artists.
In addition to being tasked with the creation of subtle propaganda, Roald was also used directly as a spy. Roald had achieved some notoriety at that time, and had developed a personal relationship with Theodore and Eleanor Roosevelt. Because of this, Roald was able to report directly to the British government about how the president felt about America’s potential involvement in the war.
There was also a more raunchy side to Roald’s life as a spy, which made him the perfect person to script the James Bond film You Only Live Twice many years later. Like James Bond, Roald wasn’t just a spy, but an unmatched womanizer. With his height, charm, and velvety voice, Roald had many sexual liaisons during his years as a spy. He was able to seduce the wives of women in power, and then report back to the British government whatever information they let spill during pillow talk. In addition to gathering information, Roald was also able to implant many of these women with the ideals of the BSC, and they would then echo them to their powerful husbands over breakfast the next morning.
Whether or not Roald was singlehandedly responsible or not, America did eventually enter into World War II and aid the rest of the world in defeating the Third Reich. Roald’s time as a spy against the American government may have come to an end, but the famous author continued to do controversial things throughout the rest of his life after the war.
In addition to Roald’s popular children’s material, such as Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, he was also an author of more adult material. Roald famously wrote many humorous stories for adult periodicals that contained elements that might not fly in today’s society. Given the less stringent nature of the times, Roald was allowed to get away with including some decidedly racist and misogynistic humor in his stories, including a good deal of anti-Semitism.
It may seem ironic that Roald should have delved into anti-Semitism given his apparent insistency that America needed to help stop World War II, but Roald actually said some sympathetic things about Adolph Hitler later in his life. According to Roald, the infamous dictator had some good reasons for hating Jewish people; he just took it too far.
In addition to being racist, misogynistic, and anti-Semitic, many have come to retrospectively classify Roald as just an all-around mean person. He apparently used his clout in the publishing industry to bully anyone he could, something that he likely learned from his days in school when he was being beaten by his elder classmen. His first wife, who eventually left him in the early 1980s, also considered Roald mean.
Roald’s first wife was an actress by the name of Patricia Neal, whom he married in 1953. Together, the two had a total of five children. Tragically, their first child died of measles when she was only seven years old. Another tragedy came when Patricia suffered numerous medical problems during her fifth pregnancy. Patricia claimed that her time with Roald was horrible, and that he was continuously mean to both her and the children.
After divorcing from Patricia in 1983, Roald married a British film producer by the name of Felicity Crosland. The two remained together until Roald’s death in 1990. Although Roald didn’t always have an amicable relationship with his children, they were by his side when he passed away. Roald was said to have been very much at peace during his death, assuring his family that he wasn’t scared to go. The only thing that Roald said that he feared was the fact that he was never going to be able to see them again.
Roald’s sentimental goodbye could have been the last thing that the author said to his family, if it wasn’t for the fact that his nurse poked him with a syringe immediately afterwards. This poke caused him to exclaim the f-word. That word became his very last, and he passed away on November 23, 1990. At the time of the author’s death, he was 74 years old.
Despite Roald Dahl’s problematic legacy, his stories continue to be read by new readers every day. Comment down below to share what your favorite work from Roald Dahl is, or if you think that he was a nefarious man whose works should never be read by children. As always, like this video to show your support, and subscribe and hit the notification bell if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!