Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory lead character was meant to be black, author's biographer reveals

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Roald Dahl wanted the hero of his well-loved children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to be black, his biographer has revealed.

The change to a white character was driven by the world famous author’s agent, who thought a black Charlie would not appeal to readers, Donald Sturock said.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I can tell you that it was his agent who thought it was a bad idea when the book was first published to have a black hero… she said people would ask: Why?”

Dahl’s widow, Liccy Dahl, who was also interviewed on the programme on Wednesday, said of the decision to change the hero’s race: “It’s a great pity”.

She said: “His first Charlie that he wrote about was a little black boy.”

The revelation comes after the author was accused of racism by some in relation to the book, stemming from Oompa Loompas being black pygmies from Africa in the original version.

As news broke in the 1970s that the book would be adapted for a film, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) said the book carried overtones of slavery.

But Dahl insisted there was no intended racism behind the Oompa Loompa characters.

Following the allegations, he rewrote the book in time for the US edition of the book – recreating them as white dwarves hailing from the mythical place “Loompaland.”

The 1971 film, which stars Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, avoided the issue of race by giving the Oompa Loompa’s orange skin and green hair.

The biggest-selling single edition of any of Dahl’s books is the 2007 edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, with 302,300 copies sold, The Bookseller said in 2016.


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