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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - the famous novel written by Roald Dahl about children who win a trip to a top-secret chocolate factory – was inspired by the real-life industrial espionage in the chocolate industry in the 1920s.

Dahl, born in 1916 in Cardiff, Wales, first went to the Cathedral School in Llandaff, followed by St Peter's boarding school in Weston-super-Mare and then Repton School in Derbyshire from the age of 13. To write his best-selling book in 1964, he recalled his childhood fascination with chocolate and how it was manufactured.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

 

Novel origins

Back in the 1920s, Dahl, the son of Norwegian immigrant parents, remembered how Britain's two main chocolate houses, Cadbury and Rowntree's, were involved in quite a battle to win customers.

He recalled how Cadbury would send test packages of chocolate and new products to schoolchildren for market research purposes. Of course, the kids loved getting free sweets! Dahl said Cadbury and Rowntree's would try to steal each other's trade secrets by sending spies into the other manufacturer's factory, often posing as employees.

Both companies became very secretive about their chocolate-making processes and ingredients and the factories were shrouded in mystery. The combination of the intense secrecy and the gigantic, elaborate machines used in the chocolate factories inspired the author to write Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

 

Dahl's career

Prior to writing his most famous book, the author had led a fascinating life and was very well-travelled. On leaving school, he had sailed across the Atlantic on the ocean liner, the Novia Scotia, with the Public Schools' Exploring Society, hiking across Newfoundland.

He joined Shell Petroleum Company and after training in the UK, he was sent to work first in Mombasa in Kenya and then to Dar-es-Salaam in Tanganyika - later to become Tanzania. He lived in the luxurious Shell House on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam, with his own personal staff, while overseeing the supply of oil to customers across Tanganyika.

 

Flying ace

At the start of World War II, Dahl became a lieutenant in the King's African Rifles, but in November 1939, he joined the RAF instead, driving 600 miles from Dar-es-Salaam to Nairobi to enlist and begin his training. He was one of only three pilots of the 16 who enlisted at that time to survive the war.

He became a flying ace in the De Havilland Tiger Moth and was commissioned as a pilot officer on 24th August 1940 with No 80 Squadron RAF. However, his plane crashed in the desert when he was running out of fuel one night, while trying to reach the airstrip at nightfall. He was seriously injured, fracturing his skull, but amazingly escaped with his life.

He was in the hospital for around 18 months, until February 1941, when he re-joined his squadron. He was involved in the RAF war campaign, taking part in many aerial battles, including the Battle of Athens in April 1941. He survived and later returned to the UK.

 

Writing career

Dahl began writing in 1942 with a story inspired by the war, called A Piece of Cake. It was published in August 1942 under the title, Shot Down Over Libya. He had written his first children's book, The Gremlins, in 1943. The mythical little creatures had been blamed by the RAF for any problems with the aircraft.

He went on to write some of the best-known children's books of the 20th century, including James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, The BFG, The Witches, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. A number of his books were made into films, including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

The plot revolved around 11-year-old Charlie Bucket and his impoverished family, including his parents and two sets of grandparents, who were all crammed together in a tiny house, sleeping on mattresses on the floor.

One day, Charlie's grandfather tells him about the legendary chocolatier, Willy Wonka, who made the most marvellous chocolates and candies, until spies from rival firms infiltrated his business to steal his recipes, leading to the closure of the factory.

 

Factory tour

The following day, it's announced in the newspaper that Wonka's factory is to reopen and that he's running a competition, with the prize being a tour of his chocolate factory. Five golden tickets have been hidden in Wonka chocolate bars and whoever finds them will win the prize.

The tickets are quickly found and the winners of four of the tickets are thoroughly unpleasant children: greedy Augustus Gloop, spoiled Veruca Salt, TV-obsessed Mike Teavee and chewing gum addict Violet Beauregarde.

Miraculously, Charlie finds the fifth gold ticket and he and Grandpa Joe arrive at Wonka's chocolate factory with the other winners for their tour. The visitors are amazed to discover that just about everything is edible.

In one of the main production rooms, the chocolate room, a river of liquid chocolate runs through the centre of a picturesque green landscape and is churned up by a giant waterfall, reminiscent of Niagara Falls! The factory is staffed by Oompa-Loompas.

 

Mysterious fate

The four greedy and unpleasant children in the party all suffer an unpleasant and mysterious fate after displaying their gluttony and selfishness.

Augustus is sucked up a pipe after falling into the chocolate river, Violet gorges herself on a three-course meal of chewing gum and expands into a giant blueberry, Veruca is thrown down the rubbish chute by squirrels who test the nuts after they recognise she's a "bad nut" and Mike is shrunk to miniature size by the futuristic technology.

This leaves Charlie as the only child to complete the tour - when Wonka reveals the real reason for the competition. He is retiring and Charlie has won the chocolate factory by being a kind and unselfish child.

Although the other children survive their ordeal, they are sent home in disgrace, while Wonka invites Charlie and his family to go and live with him. Their days of poverty and struggling to survive are over and it becomes a moral tale of how the good but impoverished child is rewarded.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was made into a film twice. The first was called Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in 1971 and starred Gene Wilder in the title role and Peter Ostrum as Charlie. The remake was called Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in 2005 and starred Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka and Freddie Highmore as Charlie.

Dahl died at the age of 74, from cancer, in November 1990. The Roald Dahl Children's Gallery was launched in November 1996, at the Buckinghamshire County Museum, Aylesbury, in his memory. In 2002, Cardiff Bay's landmark Oval Basin plaza was renamed Roald Dahl Plass (the Norwegian word for "square" or "place") in his honour.

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