Roald Dahl's darkest hour





Even Roald Dahl could not have dreamt up the horrifying series of events that rocked his family in the 1960s, just as his career was taking off. In an exclusive extract from his intimate new biography, his friend Donald Sturrock reveals the extent to which Dahl’s life was shaped by catastrophe - and why his wife called him 'Roald the Rotten’.

The year 1960 began calmly enough for Roald Dahl, but it would prove to be tumultuous in many ways. Kiss Kiss, his fourth collection of short stories, was published in the United States in March and stormed into The New York Times bestseller lists. As Dahl boarded the boat back from New York to England in early April with his wife, the actress Patricia Neal, he was pleasantly surprised to find that many of his fellow passengers were reading his book. Nor had this escaped the notice of two other passengers in the publishing business who were also making the crossing on the Queen Mary – the London literary agent Laurence Pollinger and the publisher Charles Pick.
Pick and Pollinger seized the opportunity to persuade Dahl that they were the team to revitalise his British career. Pick’s flattery worked a treat. “I have never been so assiduously and pleasantly wooed and wined and dined as I (and Pat) were on board ship by Messrs Charles Pick and Laurence Pollinger,” Dahl wrote to his New York agent Sheila St Lawrence on his arrival in England, informing her that from now on he intended Pollinger to represent him in Britain and Michael Joseph to publish both Kiss Kiss and the incomplete James and the Giant Peach.

Most significant of all, 1960 was the year that Dahl – who already had two daughters, Olivia, five, and Tessa, three – became the father of a strapping young son. Theo Matthew Roald was born on July 30, and the arrival of an exotic new male in this family of women was the cause of both excitement and fascination. “He has a pair of testicles the size of walnuts and a sharp wicked penis,” Dahl wrote a fortnight after his birth. Another progress report was despatched three days afterwards: “He’s a fine nipper, and his circumcised tool (now healed) glows with promise, like the small unopened bud of some exotic flower.”...


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