Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. TV & Radio
8 February 2018

A new dramatisation of Roald Dahl’s Boy reminds us of the author’s staggering talent

Roald Dahl was an industry of one for an extraordinary length of time. For decades, there was no Stones to his Beatles.

By Antonia Quirke

“And now here are your instructions: the day I have chosen for the visit is the first day in the month of February…” Willy Wonka’s words to the lucky winners of a Golden Ticket to tour his factory – and an excuse, at the start of dreaded Feb, to run a dramatisation of Roald Dahl’s beloved memoir Boy (3 February, 2.30pm). “An autobiography is a book a person writes about his own life,” explains Patrick Malahide’s Dahl. “It is usually full of all sorts of boring details. This is not an autobiography.” He then proceeds to the daring Great Mouse Plot, the horrors of boarding school, and his time as a chocolate taster. Listening to the book clattering fiercely past (Malahide so sharp as the narrator, other actors bring certain scenes to full and wry life), I thought of the sheer length of time that Dahl was an industry of one. For decades there was no Stones to his Beatles. Like Lionel Messi or Michael Jordan, he was out on his own.

The programme dealt with one aspect of Boy quite brilliantly – the way Dahl told of his love, aged eight, of the local Welsh sweetshop, and especially of the liquorice bootlaces sold there, which he thought were made of rats’ blood (“I’ve got ratitis – help me!”). It is an anecdote that goes on with such beautiful continuousness, taking in school canings and parental explosions, via a folkloric trip to a fjord with shaggy long-haired goats and wild raspberries – and ending with the young Dahl effectively moving country.

I have never heard a story remotely like it in any other memoir. This amusing little tale about going to buy sherbert lemons turns into a whole life. It is staggering, the fluency and the interconnections. Which made me think of the early, pre-Quentin Blake illustrations of Dahl’s books, and Nancy Ekholm Burkert’s scratchy, tragic 1961 drawings for James and the Giant Peach. There was precisely such a tone to this programme. As a child, to find those incredible works of art inside a cheap paperback contributed to the lapidary sense of the thing. This adventure was etched in stone: the story could be taken at the level of myth. We talk, now, of JK Rowling especially, as though such primacy and supremacy in literature is somehow new. But it was Dahl. Always Dahl. 

Roald Dahl: Boy
BBC Radio 4

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

Content from our partners
Look at the person, not the CV
Powering careers that secure our net zero future
Harnessing breakthrough thinking
Topics in this article :

This article appears in the 07 Feb 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The new age of rivalry