On this day in history….23rd November 1990

On this day in history : 23rd November 1990 – The death of much-loved children’’s author Roald Dahl…. But did you know he was also an ace fighter pilot, spy, medical inventor and chocolate historian?

Roald Dahl in 1954 – Public domain

Roald was born on the 13th of September 1916 to Norwegian parents living in Llandoff, Wales…. He was named after Roald Amundson, the Norwegian adventurer and explorer who was the first man to reach the South Pole…. Norwegian was Roald’s first language, as this is what the family spoke at home….

When he was three years old his seven year old sister died from appendicitis – and then just a few weeks after his father succumbed to pneumonia…. Soon after his mother gave birth to another little sister…. His father had always believed that English schools were the best in the world and had wanted his children to be educated in them…. With this in mind his mother chose not to return to Norway but to remain in Wales so she could honour his wish…. Roald first attended Cathedral School in Llandoff before being sent to St. Peter’s Boarding School in Weston-Super-Mare…. He was desperately homesick and wrote to his mother every week – but never let on how unhappy he was…. Then in 1929, at the age of thirteen, he was sent even further away, to Repton School in Derbyshire…. He was even more miserable here; corporal punishment was frequently used – Roald detested the cruelty and found it hard to accept that beating children was permissible….

Repton School – Image credit : J. Thomas CC BY-SA 2.0

Roald’s talent for writing was not recognised during his schooling…. He was seen as an accomplished sportsman though; he was captain of the school’s squash team and was good at cricket, golf and football…. He grew tall, ending up at a height of 6ft 6in….

He had other varied interests; he was keen on photography – and he discovered a love of chocolate…. The Cadbury’s factory was near to the school and occasionally boxes of new chocolates would arrive for the boys to try out…. Roald would daydream about making up a chocolate bar of his own to wow Cadbury’s…. It was his passion for the confection that inspired his third children’s book in 1964 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory…. He would often refer to chocolate in his stories….

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Roald left school in 1934 and started to work for the Shell Petroleum company, being posted to Kenya and Tanzania…. In August 1939, with World War Two approaching, he was still in Tanzania and was draughted as a lieutenant into the King’s African Rifles…. Then in the November of 1939 he joined the RAF to become a pilot…. After completing his training he was assigned to No.80 Squadron, flying the RAF’s last fighter bi-planes, Gloster Gladiators…. It was whilst flying one of these that on the 19th of September 1940 he was forced to make an emergency landing in the desert…. The aircraft crashed – Roald suffered a fractured skull and lost his vision…. He was rescued and taken to a Royal Naval hospital where he eventually regained his sight – and in February 1941 he was declared fit enough to fly again….

Gloster Gladiator – Public domain

To rejoin his squadron Roald had to travel to Eleusina near to Athens – where they had been transferred to join the Greek Campaign…. This time he was to fly Hawker Hurricane aircraft and on the 15th of April 1941 he was to take part in his first aerial combat and in which he was to shoot down is first plane…. The following day he shot down another…. On the 20th of April he took part in the Battle of Athens….

Hawker Hurricane – Image credit : Arpingstone – own work – Public domain

By May the Germans were advancing and the squadron was evacuated to Egypt…. For over a month Roald was to fly sorties every day but during the second half of June he began to suffer severe headaches causing him to blackout…. He was invalided out of the squadron, returned to Britain and posted to an RAF training base at Uxbridge – with the idea of him becoming an instructor once his health had sufficiently recovered…. It was whilst on a trip to London in the late March of 1942 that he was to meet Major Harold Balfour, Under-Secretary of State for Air…. Balfour was so impressed by Roald that he appointed him assistant air attaché to the British Embassy in Washington DC….

While in the States Roald was to meet the writer C.S.Forester, who had been commissioned by the Saturday Evening Post to write a piece on Roald’s flying experiences…. He asked Roald to jot something down that he could work with…. However, when he received the account he was so impressed that Roald’s story was published exactly as he had written it – this was to be Roald’s first ever published work….

Roald was beginning to move within different circles…. He was to meet and work with British army officer Ian Fleming – author of the James Bond stories…. And he was then introduced to the world of espionage – and to Canadian spymaster William Stephenson, code name Intrepid….. It was Roald’s task to supply intelligence from Washington back to Prime Minister Winston Churchill and to MI6…. By now he had been promoted to Wing Commander and before long he had become Squadron Leader…. But in August 1946 his ongoing injuries from his aircraft crash meant him being invalided out of the RAF – as a flying ace having more than five victories to his name….

On the 2nd of July 1953 Roald married American actress Patricia Neal and they were to have four daughters and one son…. In December 1960 four month old Theo’s pram was struck by a New York taxi cab, leaving him with serious injuries…. Little Theo suffered with Hydrocephalus – an accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in his brain…. Roald worked with neurosurgeon Kenneth Till from Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital and hydraulic engineer Stanley Wade to develop a valve – the Wade-Dahl-Till Valve – which was used with a shunt to alleviate the condition…. The valve went on to be used to help nearly 3,000 children all around the world….

Patricia Neal and Roald Dahl – Public domain

In November 1962 Roald’s eldest daughter, Olivia, died from measles at the age of seven…. He was beside himself with grief and guilt at not being able to help her…. (His 1982 book, The BFG, is dedicated to her)…. Roald became a promoter of immunisation…. Then in 1965 his wife suffered three burst cerebral aneurysms whilst pregnant with their fifth child…. Roald had to help her learn how to walk and talk again – eventually she recovered enough to be able to return to her acting career…. A film was made about their story in 1981 The Patricia Neal Story – starring Glenda Jackson and Dirk Bogarde….

In 1972 Roald began an affair with Felicity d’Abreu Crosland – who he later married after he and Patricia divorced in 1983…. With his new wife he lived at Gypsy House, a home he had owned since 1954 in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire…. His first children’s book, The Gremlins, had been published in 1943 – and he went on to write some of the best loved children’s stories of all time: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, The BFG, Fantastic Mr Fox, Matilda, The Witches, The Twits, Danny Champion of the World and George’s Marvellous Medicine…. He also wrote stories for adults, which were often macabre – and many were adapted for TV and film, such as Tales of the Unexpected and Alfred Hitchcock Presents…. He wrote screenplays and for television…. Roald was a prolific writer – but then with his own life experiences he would never have been short of something to write about…. He has been named one of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945 and it is estimated over 250 million of his books have been sold; he has been published in some 60 different languages….

Roald book signing in Amsterdam – Image credit : Bob Bogaerts / Anefo CCO

On the 23rd of November 1990, at the age of 74, Roald died from a rare cancer of the blood…. He was buried at the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire – along with his snooker cues, a good bottle of Burgundy, some chocolates, HB pencils – and a power saw!

Image credit : MilborneOne – own work – CC BY-SA 3.0

On this day in history….9th May 1935

On this day in history : 9th May 1935 – The birth of author and illustrator of children’s books, Roger Hargreaves – best remembered for his much loved Mr Men and Little Miss series of stories….

Charles Roger Hargreaves was born in Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire and attended Sowerby Bridge Grammar School…. He then spent a year working in the family laundry and dry cleaning business before going to work in advertising….

Roger wrote his first Mr Men story – ‘Mr Tickle’ – in 1971…. It came about when his 8-year-old son asked him what a tickle looked like…. In response he drew a figure with a round orange body and long bendy arms – and so the first Mr Men character was born….

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At the time Roger was the Creative Director of a London advertising company…. He had some difficulty in initially finding a publisher for his books but once he did success came quickly…. In three years more than one million copies had sold…. 1974 saw the BBC animated Mr Men series, narrated by Arthur Lowe – and by 1976 Roger had given up his advertising career to concentrate on his writing…. The Little Miss books were launched in 1981 and they too were made into a TV series in 1983 – this time narrated by husband and wife team John Alderton and Pauline Collins….

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In all there were 46 Mr Men and 33 Little Miss books…. With over 100 million books being sold Roger was to become Britain’s third best selling author of all time…. His other works included the 25 book series ‘Timbuctoo’, ‘The Roundy and Squary’ books, ‘John Mouse’, ‘Hippo Potto and Mouse’ and the ‘Veggie Fruits’ – but it is undoubtedly the Mr Men and Little Miss stories that won so many hearts….

Between 1975 and 1982 Roger and his wife Christine lived on Guernsey with their four children – Adam, Giles and twins Sophie and Amelia – upon whom ‘Little Miss Twins’ was based…. The family then moved to Cowden in Kent…. On the 11th of September 1988 Roger was to die suddenly following a stroke – he was aged just 53…. After his death his son, Adam, continued his work – and in April 2004 Christine sold the rights to the characters to the Chorion entertainment group….

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On this day in history….17th March 1846

On this day in history : 17th March 1846 – The birth of Kate Greenaway – the artist and writer known for her illustrations in children’s books….

Kate Greenaway – Public domain

Kate was born Catherine Greenaway in Horton, London, the second of four children…. Her father, John, was a woodblock printer and engraver and her mother, Elizabeth, a seamstress…. They were a working class family – John also supported his mother and sisters, so very often it could be hard financially….but both he and Elizabeth were determined to give their children a good childhood….

The family moved around quite a lot but Kate spent a substantial part of her childhood in a farmhouse in Rolleston, Nottinghamshire – for her this felt like her real home and where she would often return to as an adult…. She studied at various places and at the age of 12 began nightly art classes at Finsbury School…. She was to go on to study at the Royal Female School of Art, which was part of what is now the Royal College of Art in London….

She began to exhibit her drawings in 1868 and her first published work was in magazines for children, such as ‘Little Folks’…. She also worked at illustrating greetings cards to contribute towards the family’s income….

In 1879 her first successful book was published – ‘Under the Window; Pictures and Rhymes for Children’…. It was to become a best seller, over 100,000 copies were sold…. In 1880 it was followed with her illustrations in ‘The Birthday Book’, ‘Mother Goose’ in 1881 and ‘Little Ann’ in 1883…. She was to go on to illustrate over 150 books – only two were both written and illustrated by Kate, her first ‘Under the Window’ and later ‘Marigold Garden’ (or ‘The Language of Flowers’) in 1895….

Marigold Garden – Public domain

She brought many well-known stories to life, such as Robert Browning’s ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin’…. Leading art critics around the world praised her work….

Her own favourite books as a child may have influenced her – Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast and illustrated editions of Shakespeare…. In her own illustrations she always dressed her children in the Regency fashions of the late 18th Century….smock frocks and skeleton suits for the boys and high-waisted pinafores and dresses with mobcaps and straw bonnets for the girls…. A style which was to catch on….Liberty of London created children’s clothes by adapting her drawings….

Polly from ‘The Queen of the Pirate Isle’ – by Bret Harte – Public domain

In 1890 Kate was elected to the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours; she exhibited at the Fine Art Society in 1891, 1894, 1898 and was exhibited posthumously again in 1902…. From 1883-1897 she published Kate Greenaway’s Almanacs…. Kate died of breast cancer at the age of 55 on the 6th of November 1901…. She was buried in Hampstead Cemetery, London….

May Day – Public domain

The Kate Greenaway Medal was established in 1955 in her honour…. It is awarded annually by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in the UK to a chosen illustrator of children’s books….

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On this day in history….25th January 1905

On this day in history : 25th January 1905 – The birth of Margery Sharp – the English author who brought us many novels, including the children’s series ‘The Rescuers’….

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Photo portrait by Bill Brandt, 1945 – Public domain

Sharp was born near to Salisbury in Wiltshire, although her family originally came from Yorkshire…. She then spent part of her childhood in Malta before returning to England in 1914 to study at Streatham High School and then Bedford College, part of the University of London…. She then spent a further year at Westminster Art College….

When she was 21 the satirical magazine ‘Punch’ began to publish her short stories…. She went on to write for several other magazines including ‘Good Housekeeping’, ‘Harper’s Bazaar’ and ‘ The Ladies’ Home Journal’…. Her first novel, ‘Rhododendron Pie’, was published in 1930 – after only taking her a month to write….

In 1938 she married Major Geoffrey Castle, an aeronautical engineer – and during WW2 she worked as an Army Education Lecturer…. All the while she continued with her writing – producing in her writing career 25 novels for adults, 14 for children, numerous short stories and 4 plays….

However the work we undoubtedly know her for best is her series of children’s books telling the stories of a socialite mouse by the name of Miss Bianca – who helped people and animals who found themselves in danger…. The first edition of ‘The Rescuers’ was published in 1959…. The books were illustrated by Gareth Williams, who also illustrated other children’s classics such as ‘Stuart Little’ and ‘Charlotte’s Web’….

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1st edition – Fair use

In 1977 Walt Disney released the animated film ‘The Rescuers’, based mainly on the second novel of Sharp’s series – it was an outstanding success…. A sequel ‘The Rescuers Down Under’, set in the Australian Outback, was released in 1990….

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Original theatrical release poster – Fair use

On this day in history….14th January 1886

On this day in history : 14th January 1886 – The birth, in Maidenhead, Berkshire, of Hugh Lofting – the English author and poet who created Dr. Dolittle….

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Hugh Lofting – Fair use

Most of us grew up reading the Dr. Dolittle books – the tales of Dr. John Dolittle, the Victorian doctor who could converse with animals…. Polynesia the parrot, Chee-Chee the monkey, Gub-Gub the pig, Dab-Dab the duck, Too-Too the owl, Jip the dog and Whitey the mouse…. Then there is the Pushmi-Pullyu – a cross between a gazelle and a unicorn, with a head at each end, so it could talk and eat at the same time without seeming rude….img_5593

Hugh Lofting never set out to be a writer…. He studied civil engineering overseas, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before returning home to enlist in the Irish Guards to serve in World War 1….

From the trenches Lofting wrote letters home to his children…. Not wanting to write about the horrors of war he created characters and stories – which were later to become the foundation of his Dr. Dolittle tales….img_5594

In 1919 Lofting was seriously wounded – it was after this that he moved his family to Connecticut in the United States…. In 1920 his first book was published – ‘The Story of Doctor Dolittle : Being the History of His Peculiar Life at Home and Astonishing Adventures in Foreign Parts Never Before Printed’…. The sequel – ‘The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle’ followed in 1922; there are 10 books in all in the series….img_5596

Other works by Lofting written for children include the ‘Mrs Tubbs’ series of picture books for younger children – ‘Porridge Poetry’ and ‘Noisy Nora’, a story about a little girl who is a very noisy eater…. He also wrote ‘The Twilight of Magic’ for older readers….

‘Victory for the Slain’ was published in 1942 and was Lofting’s only work for an adult audience…. It is a lengthy poem in seven parts, lamenting war and the futility of it…. Victory for the Slain was only ever published in the United Kingdom….img_5595