The Marvellous World of Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl may have possessed one of the most fertile imaginations of the 20th century, but he often didn’t have to look far for inspiration. This delightful centenary documentary – largely told in the master storyteller’s own words, with his adventures brought vividly to life by his great collaborator Quentin Blake – left us in no doubt that Dahl lived a life every bit as remarkable as his books.

As a young schoolboy, he lived in fascinated fear of Mrs Pratchett, the local sweetshop owner. A classic Dahl grotesque, with ‘small, malignant pig eyes’, she got her comeuppance when young Roald shoved a dead mouse into a jar of gobstoppers; at his next school, he enjoyed happier confectionary capers as a test subject for the local chocolate factory.

On practically his first day as a wartime fighter ace, Dahl took on six German planes and lived to tell the tale. He was the only one of his squadron who did. Later, he crashed in the Libyan desert, suffering head injuries that, according to his biographer, ‘made him a writer’.

Posted to Washington, he lived an impossibly glamorous life, dancing with Ginger Rogers, hanging out with Walt Disney, working as a spy with Ian Fleming and getting his feet under the table at The White House as friends of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Little did they know, he was secretly feeding everything they told him back to Churchill.

In later life, he was dogged by tragedies, but even turned some of these to triumph. When his son Theo’s pram was hit by a taxi, Dahl recruited an eccentric model aircraft engineer to design a valve to drain the fluid from his brain. Together, they saved the lives of thousands. And when his wife, the Oscar-winning actress (and Ronald Reagan’s former lover) Patricia Neal, had a stroke and forgot how to talk, he used her nonsense words as the basis for The BFG.

A somewhat hagiographic portrait that that didn’t so much gloss over Dahl’s darker side (he was a serial adulterer who broke Neal’s heart) as ignore it altogether, this was nevertheless an enchanting film about a man whose whole life was a series of tales of the unexpected.

 

TV extra:

Fleabag

This very rude, sporadically very funny sitcom stars Phoebe Waller-Bridge – who has adapted it from her award-winning 2013 play – as a narcissistic failed feminist navigating her way through life and relationships, with disastrous results. With her fourth wall-breaking asides to camera, frequent wardrobe malfunctions and ability to sabotage any situation, she’s like an 18-rated, even posher Miranda. Like that show, it also boasts a great ensemble cast, including Hugh Dennis, Bill Paterson and (but of course) Olivia Colman. Filthy fun.

 

Robot Wars

Call me an old grump, but the revival of the 90s robot-smashing contest feels well timed for the era of Pokemon Go and Batman and Superman knocking lumps out of each other in lieu of an actual story. Dara O Briain and Angela Scanlon are the new hosts, while gladiatorial veterans Sir Killalot, Dead Metal and, er, Matilda have all come out of retirement.

Actually, it’s a rather impressive celebration of Britain’s garden shed engineers – but does the 8pm timeslot suggest it’s now supposed to be for adults?

Published in Waitrose Weekend, July 28, 2016

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