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Former Bexley resident remembered on Roald Dahl Day

PUBLISHED: 17:49 13 September 2012

Roald Dahl at the beach while he was living in Bexley. Roald Dahl Nominee Limited

Roald Dahl at the beach while he was living in Bexley. Roald Dahl Nominee Limited

Roald Dahl Nominee Limited

Home for Britain’s best-loved children’s author Roald Dahl when he was growing up was a house in Bexley, where he spent his holidays back from boarding school.

The author of works such as The BFG (Big Friendly Giant for those not in the know), which celebrates its 30th anniversary this week, moved with his family to a house named Oakwood in Hurst Road in 1927 and stayed there until he went to work abroad with oil company Shell just over a decade later.

Dahl’s mother Sofie sent him to boarding school in Somerset and Derbyshire, but he returned frequently and always during the school holidays. After leaving school, he remained living in Bexley and his official biographer, Donald Sturrock, says the place played an important part in his life.

“Not much is known in the wider public about his time in Bexley, but Roald and his sisters talked with great fondness about their time in Oakwood,” explained Donald.

“He also wrote his first play as a teenager in Bexley – a comedy about a photographer called Double Exposure.”

There is no remaining trace of Dahl’s childhood family home. It was destroyed by a German bombing raid in the Second World War in 1941 and his mother and two sisters were evacuated by the government.

The catastrophe is something Dahl had been predicting for two years.

“Roald went to war, joining the RAF, in 1939 but his letters home showed repeated warnings that his family should leave the house because he predicted Oakwood would be in the line of fire for German bombers,” said Donald.

Dahl, who was born in Wales to Norwegian parents, penned 17 children’s fiction books.

Some of his most famous works include The Fantastic Mr Fox, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach and The BFG.

Another influential figure in the author’s life was Quentin Blake, who illustrated most of his books.

Blake was born in Sidcup but the pair met when the boss of Jonathan Cape Publishing proposed they work together in the 1970s.

“Occasionally, Roald would change something in the text because of how the illustrations looked,” remembered Blake.

“It’s nice that he came to like my drawings because he had a variety of illustrators before me. He had tremendous character and imagination.”

Dahl himself once remarked: “It is Quent’s pictures rather than my own written descriptions that have brought to life characters such as the BFG.”

Dahl’s legacy lives on through films, radio plays and the reworking of his books, along with a museum in his Buckinghamshire home town Great Missenden, and a children’s charity.

Penny Duggan, secretary of Bexley Historical Society, is proud of one of Bexley’s most famous exports.

She said: “It’s great that someone like Roald Dahl spent time in our area. I will be eternally grateful to him for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach – two of my favourite books when I was a child.”

n To find out more about how your children can celebrate Roald Dahl Day throughout September, visit www.roalddahlday.info.

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