A flushbunkingly gloriumptious centenary
Dahl celebrations off to a flying start
AS the world celebrated the 100th Birthday of author Roald Dahl this week the people of Bucks also remembered their neighbour who took inspiration from the countryside around him.
Roald lived the latter half of his life in Great Missenden and it is the source of inspiration for so many of his stories.
The author purchased Gipsy House in Great Missenden in 1954. The idyllic setting may have seemed dull to a man who had, up until then had a rather exciting life.
Having left school, he entered the workforce for the Shell Petroleum company in London but was later transferred to the oil fields in Africa.
Shortly thereafter, he joined the RAF during the Second World War where, despite his nearly two metre frame, he flew operations primarily in the Middle East.
In 1940 he suffered from a dramatic plane crash in Libya which left him significantly injured. When he recovered somewhat, he was dispatched to America to work at the British Embassy as a diplomat and intelligence officer.
Later returning to England, he raised his family at Gipsy House and continued to write.
Roald Dahl explained in the pamphlet Reflections: A Profile of Roald Dahl in 1975, when looking for the plot for his next book he would “mooch around the house, the garden, the countryside, the village streets, searching and searching for this bright and fantastic new idea...”
HIS WRITING HUT
Tucked away in the splendid garden at Gipsy House, Roald Dahl had created the perfect space for himself. The cosy shed had been designed by Dahl himself to include everything he could possibly need, right down to the chair, chosen because he couldn’t sit down at a desk all day, with a square cut out to help relieve pressure following a spinal operation he had.
He created a lap desk which he covered in green baize like a billiards table, as it was soft on the eyes and rested the tray on a roll of corrugated paper which he had made into the perfect length, so it rested at the ideal height for writing.
His hut, fully preserved in exactly the condition he left it, and a replica which you can explore, can be found at the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Great Missenden.
DANNY’S DAD’S PETROL PUMP
The petrol pump in the town, with it’s red pumps was used by Dahl to model the petrol pump owned by Danny’s father in Danny Champion of the World.
They no longer work, of course, but have been preserved on the high street across the road from the Museum and are popular among visitors. Danny’s caravan Sticking with the same book, Roald Dahl said in an in interview in 1988, that of all his books Danny was, “the one that was most dependent, purely on this countryside around here”.
Dahl had purchased a classic Romany Gipsy caravan for his children to play in. This caravan was also the inspiration for the one Danny and
I used to mooch around the house, the garden, the countryside, the village streets, searching for this bright and fantastic new idea
his father lived in.
Danny’s fathers pheasant fondness is actually something Dahl developed over time. When living in Old Amersham, Dahl befriended Claud, in his words, “a countryman who knew all about poaching.”
They would often go out on the prowl for pheasant but, again in his own words, “it was really for the fun of it actually. And we never caught one. And one day...I thought, I wonder if I could do a children’s book on that because it would be fun”.
Claud also made it into some of the stories in Dahl’s short story collection for adults: Someone Like You.
SOPHIE’S ORPHANAGE – CROWN HOUSE
Situated right next to the Red Pump Garage, is Sophie’s Orphanage from The BFG. As well as basing Sophie on his granddaughter Sophie Dahl, who still lives in the town, Dahl used one of the buildings as inspiration for the orphanage on the High Street, from whose window The BFG plucks the young girl.
Crown House was never an orphanage and is still a private residence.
Dahl famously based the BFG character itself on his friend and local builder Wally Saunders. Once a great strapping man, he had a marvellous Bucks accent and noticeably large ears. He helped Dahl make his writing hut.
Dahl’s illustrator Quentin Blake once asked Wally if he could draw him for the BFG. Prior to this, he had no idea he was the inspiration for the BFG character.
FANTASTIC MR FOX’S HABITAT
The tales of Mr Fox originated as bedtime stories for Dahl’s five children. He would tell them about the incredibly cunning fox who lived under the giant Beech Tree, remarkably similar to one near Dahl’s own property, both in description and in Quentin Blake’s drawings.
Mr Fox lives in a rural area, surrounded by farms, with rolling hills. It’s not a giant leap to suggest that like his creator, Mr Fox too was a resident of Great Missenden.
Matilda Wormwood, unlike the movie, lives in a small village in England. Her parents take little interest in their daughter and when her mother goes off to play bingo in Aylesbury, Matilda goes to the local library.
By the age of four Matilda has read all the children’s books in her local library and moved on to Ernest Hemingway and Rudyard Kipling.
Home sweet home: The caravan in the garden of Gipsy House. Above Roald Dahl’s writing hut
Locations: Could Mr Fox’s habitat be based on the Chiltern’s Barton Hills? Did Matilda visit the library in Great Missenden
Danny’s world: The red petrol pumps that feature in Danny Champion of the World. Above, the museum in Great Missenden dedicated to the work of Roald Dahl
The BFG: Roald Dahl, with Anthea Saunders and Wally Saunders, who it is said Dahl based his Big Friendly Giant on