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Issue 30 - A life of the unexpected

Whisky Magazine Issue 30
April 2003


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A life of the unexpected

Jefferson Chase on Roald Dahl's unexpected endings, and how whisky featured in the work of a man famous for his children's books

Roald Dahl lived a life of twists and turns. Born in Wales in 1916 to Norwegian parents, Dahl began working for the Shell Oil Company in East Africa at the age of eighteen. With the outbreak of World War II, he joined the RAF as a fighter pilot, crashing on his first flight and sustaining injuries that would lead him to be discharged in 1941.

He was then sent to Washington DC as Assistant Air Attaché. No stranger to a drop of whisky, Dahl quickly became a favourite of American high society, prized for his black humour and his scurrilous anecdotes. It was in America that Dahl began writing fiction. He married a movie starlet, Patricia Neal, split his time between England and the US, and died a wealthy man in 1990.

Dahl is best known in the States for children's books such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. British readers, however, may recall him from the 1970s television program Tales of the Expected, which were based on his stories for adults. One of the most popular, entitled Lamb to the Slaughter, opens with a housewife fixing her husband, a policeman, an after-work Scotch and soda:

For her, this was always a blissful time of day. She knew he didn't want to speak much until the first drink was finished, and she, on her side, was content to sit quietly, enjoying his company after the long hours alone in the house. She loved to luxuriate in the presence of this man, and to feel – almost as a sunbather feels the sun – that warm male glow that came out of him to h...

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