A flush­bunk­ingly glo­ri­ump­tious cen­te­nary

Dahl cel­e­bra­tions off to a fly­ing start

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE -

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’S LI­BRARY

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

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