Roald Dahl biography

Roald Dahl

Last updated: 02 February 2010

The best-selling author of children's books including The BFG, The Witches and Matilda.

Roald Dahl was born in Llandaff, Cardiff, in 1916. His Norwegian parents Harald Dahl and Sofie Magdalene Dahl named him after the explorer Roald Amundsen.

At the age of three, Roald's seven-year-old sister Astri died, just weeks before his father succumbed to pneumonia at the age of 57. Harald wanted his children educated in British schools, so Sofie remained in the country to bring up her six children.

At the age of nine Roald was sent to the Cathedral School in Llandaff, which was a largely unhappy time. Thereafter he was sent to a series of private schools, where he developed interests in literature and photography.

Although his mother expected him to attend university, after school he joined the Shell oil company, where from 1938 he worked in the east African republic of Tanganyika (later Tanzania). During World War Two he served as a fighter pilot, a period documented in another autobiography, Going Solo (1986).

A near fatal crash in north Africa in September 1940, during which he was erroneously sent into no-man's land, inspired Dahl's first published short story, Shot Down Over Libya (1942). He also served in Greece and Syria, ending the war as a Wing Commander.

He began writing after being transferred to Washington as an Assistant Air Attaché, and was soon published by the Saturday Evening Post. However, he was to find greater success as a children's author, with early popular titles including James And The Giant Peach (1961), Charlie And The Chocolate Factory (1964), Fantastic Mr Fox (1970) and Danny The Champion Of The World (1975).

Often illustrated by Quentin Blake, Dahl's children's fiction is most often told from a child's point of view, and usually involve adult villains such as witches or evil relatives. This darkness also appeared in his often macabre short stories for adults, of which he wrote over 60. The most famous of these collections, Tales Of The Unexpected, became a successful TV series.

Dahl also wrote screenplays, for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the James Bond film You Only Live Twice, and he adapted his own novel for the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

But it is for his children's books that Dahl will always be most remembered, with books such as The Twits (1980), The BFG (1982), The Witches (1983) and Matilda (1988) being essential reading for children.

Roald Dahl died in 1990 at his home in Buckinghamshire, where he is buried. A museum in Great Missenden, honouring his life and work, opened in 2005. His books are widely loved to this day by successive generations of children, and remain fondly remembered by adults.

An animated film based on Dahl's Fantastic Mr Fox was released in UK cinemas on 23 October 2009.

In February 2010 the film, directed by Wes Anderson and featuring the voices of George Clooney and Meryl Streep, was nominated for two Academy Awards: best Animated Feature Film and best Music (Original Score).

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.