Wales

Roald Dahl centenary to be 'biggest Cardiff arts event'

Roald Dahl Image copyright Keystone/Getty/Roald Dahl Estate
Image caption Roald Dahl 'felt a huge connection to Wales'

A century ago, one of the greatest ever storytellers was born in Llandaff, Cardiff.

Roald Dahl's books have been the bedrock of countless childhoods.

More than 200 million copies have been sold worldwide and translated into 59 languages.

The author's infamous characters, Willy Wonka, Miss Trunchbull and the Twits amongst them, will be affectionately remembered by children and adults alike across Wales.

Schools across the country are marking Roald Dahl Day by dressing up as their favourite villains and heroes, with an Enormous Crocodile bench to be unveiled in Cardiff Bay.

Though well known for his Norwegian and English connections, 2016 has seen a concerted effort to highlight the influence of Wales on the writer's colourful imagination.

Dahl spent nine years in Cardiff as a child; a period masterfully illustrated in his autobiography, Boy.

Back in 2009, a blue plaque was placed on a sweet shop, now a Chinese takeaway in Llandaff's High Street which was owned by Mrs Pratchett, a woman who was said to have influenced several of his characters.

Image caption A plaque was unveiled at Villa Marie, Roald Dahl's birthplace on Monday

On Monday, additional blue plaques were unveiled around the village to mark more of his childhood haunts.

ROALD DAHL'S CARDIFF CONNECTIONS

  • Born during World War One on 13 September 1916 in Llandaff. His Norwegian father, Harald, was a ship broker and he was named after polar explorer Roald Amundsen
  • The family moved to live in Radyr, in a house called Ty Mynydd, in 1918. His father died when he was three and the family moved back to Llandaff
  • He went to school in Llandaff until 1925, before being sent out of Wales to boarding school
  • A blue plaque now marks the former sweet shop in Llandaff, where Roald and his friends played a trick on the miserable owner Mrs Pratchett, by putting a mouse in a jar of gobstoppers
  • Despite travelling and living and working away from Wales, he always had a great love for his home city
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Media captionFelicity Dahl tells the story of Roald's mouse prank, when he was a schoolboy in Llandaff

Those early years of Welsh influence might have had a more lasting effect on the author than initially appreciated.

Last month, a collection of essays was published under the title Wales of the Unexpected, considering the influence of Wales on the imagination of the famous writer.

One of the contributors was Dr Tomos Owen, a lecturer at the School of English Literature at Bangor University.

He said that, while the significance of Dahl's early period here in Wales "is a question for debate", nonetheless, it was part of his development and "it's worth thinking about Wales as one of the many lenses through which we can view his work."

Image copyright George Stroud/Getty Images
Image caption Roald Dahl with his young children in 1965

He added it is possible to see the "fingerprints of Wales" in Dahl's literature.

Donald Sturrock, Dahl's biographer, said he "was proud of being born in Cardiff" and "Wales and the hinterland of Cardiff had a big impact on him."

"When he actually was kicked out of Wales and sent to a boarding school in Bristol, I think it's very touching that he says he lined up his bed so that he would be facing home, facing where his house in Wales was across the Bristol Channel.

"In those very deep ways, I think Wales was enormously important to him. It was where he came from."

Image caption Roald Dahl died in 1990

Celebrations will continue this weekend in Cardiff, with the capital being transported into the "City of the Unexpected".

Organisers remain tight-lipped about the detailed arrangements, but they say it will be the biggest arts event ever to happen on the streets of Cardiff, with 6,000 performers taking part.

Twenty six years after his death, the magic and wonder of Roald Dahl's creations continue, particularly in his city and country of birth.

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