The hero of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was meant to be black, the author’s widow has revealed.
Liccy Dahl told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme her husband had written about a “little black boy”.
But Dahl’s agent thought the idea a bad one and insisted the character be changed – something Dahl’s widow said was a “great pity”.
She said seeing the 1964 children’s book as her husband had intended it would be “wonderful”.
The programme’s interview with Mrs Dahl and her late husband’s biographer, Donald Sturrock, took place on the 101st anniversary of Dahl’s birth.
Sturrock told Today that Dahl knew both the British and American sensibilities and had “a foot in both camps” – the reason, his widow said, behind Charlie Bucket’s original ethnicity.
“His first Charlie that he wrote about, you know, was a little black boy,” she said. “I’m sure that was influenced by America.”
“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.'”
Dahl didn’t escape some controversy about depictions of race after Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was published in 1964. In the first edition, Oompa-Loompas were depicted as black pygmies.
But it was decided his description wasn’t acceptable and for the second edition they were changed and given “rosy-white” skin. For the first Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie, film-makers made them orange.
Speaking to Radio 4, Mrs Dahl also revealed her husband had not enjoyed that original film.
“He wasn’t very happy about Charlie, the original with Gene Wilder,” she said of the film, released in 1971 as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
In contrast, Dahl’s widow said his first meeting Sir Quentin Blake, who illustrated his books, was altogether happier.
“You knew straight away,” said Mrs Dahl. “I was witnessing a rather amazing union.”
Earlier this year it was announced that Dahl – whose birthday is now celebrated as ‘Roald Dahl Day”‘ – will be played by Hugh Bonneville in an upcoming film biopic.
Mr Walter said the actor had come to the cinema to watch Detroit and was hoping to remain under the radar.
He said: “I was working as the ticket tearer stood at the bottom of the stairs, and my manager told me to keep an eye on a man acting suspiciously with his hood up in the main foyer.
“The man spent a good 10 minutes just standing around on the phone, then he came and bought a ticket from one of my colleagues and my colleague who served him the ticket did not recognise him, nobody did.
“Then he came to the bottom of the stairs and I tore his ticket, I looked at his eyes and recognised him, then he said ‘thanks’ and I just knew it was him within an instant.”
Mr Walter waited for the film to finish before approaching Law and asking him for a photo.
He said he wrote the actor a “kind note praising his work over the years” and slipped it into his back pocket.
Mr Walter then received an email from the star half an hour later, apologising for running off and praising him for also being a “movie madman”.
“If I had not been working that night, nobody else would have recognised him as he was very unrecognisable with his black hoodie and beard,” he added.
This is a really interesting shortlist – a good mix of established literary names and newer voices.
At the top of the tree is Paul Auster, the oldest and most high-profile author. 4 3 2 1 took him three-and-a-half years to write, working six-and-a-half days a week.
Do not be put off by its 866 pages. It is a richly rewarding and entertaining novel, though probably easier to follow in physical book form than on an E-reader.
He is joined by his compatriots George Saunders and Emily Fridlund. Those who feared American dominance of the prize may raise eyebrows that half the authors on this year’s list are from the United States. No room, yet again, for Indian, African or Australian writers.
It is a huge achievement for Fiona Mozley to be shortlisted for her debut novel. It is a coup too for her editor Becky Walsh. It was the first book she acquired when she joined the small imprint JM Originals.
Four-times nominated Ali Smith is catching up with the perpetual Booker bridesmaid Beryl Bainbridge, who was shortlisted five times without winning.
Her novel Autumn is a timely book – a response, in part, to Brexit – while Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West is also topical, imagining a world where mass migration is the norm.
Baroness Lola Young, chair of the 2017 judging panel, said the six shortlisted novels “collectively push against the borders of convention”.
She said: “The emotional, cultural, political and intellectual range of these books is remarkable, and the ways in which they challenge our thinking is a testament to the power of literature.”
Her fellow judges include novelist Sarah Hall, artist Tom Phillips and the travel writer Colin Thubron.
The shortlist was whittled down from a longlist of 15 novels that was announced in July.
Sebastian Barry, Arundhati Roy and Zadie Smith are among the big-name writers whose works were on the longlist but have not made the final cut.
Fiona Mozley’s first book, Elmet, tells the story of two children and their father who want to live in peace and stay far away from everyone in their village – but trouble lands on the doorstep of their house in the woods and their idyllic life is irrevocably changed.
The 29-year-old’s debut has received numerous compliments from critics: “An explosion of a book, exquisite and unforgettable” (Economist); “Hansel and Gretel meets The Godfather” (Sunday Times).
Mozley, who works part-time in a small bookshop in York, has strong competition as she joins established authors Ali Smith, George Saunders, Paul Auster, Mohsin Hamid and Emily Fridlund on this year’s shortlist.
The young author studied at Cambridge University before living in Buenos Aires for a year. She has a PhD in medieval studies.
“It’s absolutely extraordinary. I still can’t believe that it’s happened,” she told Sky News.
Mozley wrote the novel on her mobile phone while travelling from London to York on the train.
“If you want to be a writer you have to actually write something so that’s what I tried to do and it went much better than I thought it would,” she said.
Since the shortlist announcement, publishers JM Originals have printed an additional 15,000 copies of Elmet.
The Man Booker winner will receive a £50,000 prize. Previous winners include Hilary Mantel, Julian Barnes, Margaret Atwood, William Golding, Kingsley Amis and Ian McEwan.