Char­lie Bucket was black, says Dahl’s widow

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Ha­roon Sid­dique

Roald Dahl orig­i­nally wanted the epony­mous hero of his much-loved chil­dren’s book Char­lie and the Cho­co­late Fac­tory to be black, his widow has said.

In an in­ter­view with BBC Ra­dio 4’s To­day pro­gramme for Roald Dahl day yes­ter­day, Liccy Dahl said: “His first Char­lie that he wrote about was a lit­tle black boy.”

Asked why the char­ac­ter – 11-year-old Char­lie Bucket – was made white, she replied: “I don’t know. It’s a great pity.”

Her hus­band’s bi­og­ra­pher, Don­ald Stur­rock, who was also in­ter­viewed, said the change be­fore pub­li­ca­tion in 1964 was driven by Dahl’s agent, who thought a black Char­lie would not ap­peal to read­ers. “It was his agent who thought it was a bad idea, when the book was first pub­lished, to have a black hero,” said Stur­rock. “She said peo­ple would ask: ‘Why?’”

The rev­e­la­tion may sur­prise those who ac­cused Dahl of racism be­cause the Oompa Loom­pas in the orig­i­nal ver­sion were black pyg­mies from Africa.

The news in 1970 that the book was to be filmed drew crit­i­cism from the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion for the Ad­vance­ment of Col­ored Peo­ple (NAACP), which said the im­por­ta­tion of the Oompa Loom­pas to the fac­tory had over­tones of slav­ery. The film, re­leased in 1971 as Willy Wonka & the Cho­co­late Fac­tory, avoided the is­sue by giv­ing them green hair and or­ange skin.

Dahl in­sisted there was no racist in­tent but also said he found him­self sym­pa­this­ing with the NAACP. As a re­sult, he rewrote the char­ac­ters in time for the sec­ond US edi­tion as white hippy-ish dwarves hail­ing from an in­vented place, Loom­pa­land.

Ac­cord­ing to the Book­seller mag­a­zine, Char­lie and the Cho­co­late Fac­tory is Dahl’s best­selling book, with al­most 1m sales.

Bri­tish ac­tor Fred­die High­more por­trayed Char­lie Bucket in the 2005 film ver­sion of the book, in which Johnny Depp also starred

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