Monday, August 1, 2016

The Spy Authors: The Story of Roald Dahl and Ian Fleming: Part One

What do Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James Bond have in common?
Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Ian Fleming's James Bond.
The flamboyant Roald Dahl 
The answer: their authors, respectively Roald Dahl and Ian Fleming, both worked as spies for England during World War II. Not only that, but the two men were good friends during their later careers, reading and reviewing each other's works frequently. How? In the years leading up to the United States entering the Second World War after Pearl Harbor, the English were desperate for American help against Nazi Germany. The British sent a number of men, including Dahl and Fleming, to try to neutralize anti-war American sentiment, release propaganda in favor of American intervention in the war, and do whatever was required to get the United States to help England win the war.
The dapper Ian Fleming
Where these two remarkable authors and cultural icon's careers intersected, in Washington D.C. in the early 1940s, would become a "Who's who" list of American and British political and cultural icons, some of whom were only famous in the time period and some whose fame have stood the test of time. Some of the famous men and women whom Dahl and Fleming would interact with during their time in Washington would include:
  • President Franklin Delano and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt
    Roald's friends President Franklin Delano and Eleanor Roosevelt.
  • Prime Minister Winston Churchill
  • Author C.S. Forester, who encouraged Roald Dahl to become a writer.
  • William "Intrepid" Stephenson, the Canadian spy-master who was sent to the U.S. by Winston Churchill to run the British Security Co-ordination, whose role was to combat anti-British sentiment in the U.S. Stephenson is often considered the inspiration for James Bond.
  • Walt Disney, whom Dahl sold story ideas to.
  • David Ogilvy, a fellow spy who would go on to be one of the most successful advertisers in American history.
  • Millionaire oilman and newspaper publisher Charles Marsh, who became Dahl's close friend and benefactor.
  • Future President Lyndon Baines Johnson, then a low-level Senator in Washington who owed much of his success to Charles Marsh.
  • William "Wild Bill" Donavon, head of the OSS, which would eventually become the CIA.
  • Ivar Bryce, a childhood friend of Fleming's, who worked with both in Washington, and whom Dahl said was fifty percent of the inspiration behind James Bond. He also introduced Fleming to Jamaica, where he frequently traveled the rest of his life to write Bond novels.
  • Ernest Hemingway, the famous American author, whom Dahl admired and helped to travel to Britain to report on the D-Day landings.  
  • Vice President Henry Wallace, a close friend of Charles Marsh whom Dahl regularly interacted with.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of the important people Dahl and Fleming interacted with while they were in Washington. Both men, but especially Dahl, had a series of affairs with high-society women in Washington, including actresses, politicians, and wives of influential men. And both men were intricately involved with American politics and war planning in various ways during the time period.

This two-part story (with one article on each man) will be a discussion of the two men's lives and how they were led to Washington in the 1940s. Then I will discuss each man's role in Washington while they were there. Finally we will finish with a look at their highly successful post-spy and war careers, which included prolifically writing some of the more beloved books and characters of all time, from James Bond and Charlie Buckett to the BFG and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. These two literary icons played important roles in the United States joining the war effort during World War II, and this legacy should be remembered just as much as their later cultural achievements. Both men's time as spies, the people they interacted with, and the incredible stories they were involved in, need to be shared with the world!

The first article will focus on the marvelous career and life of Roald Dahl. Soon after I will follow with the second article, about Ian Fleming. Enjoy!
Roald with some of his famous characters.

Before Washington
Roald's childhood home

Roald Dahl was born in Wales, England in 1916. He was the son of Harald and Sofie Dahl,
Roald with mother Sophie
Roald's father Harald
Norwegian immigrants to England. Roald's father was significantly older than Roald's mother, and had been married previously with children. He contracted pneumonia and died when Roald was only four, leaving Sofie behind to raise six children. Fortunately for the family, Harald had been quite a wealthy man and left behind a fortune to care for his family in his absence. Roald's mother opted to stay in England rather than returning to Norway, so that her children could be educated at English schools. The rest of Roald Dahl's childhood was a series of misadventures and pranks including putting a dead rat into the candy jar at a local store and replacing his brother-in-law's pipe tobacco with shredded goat droppings. If you want a more in depth look at the childhood of Roald Dahl, I recommend reading his autobiography, Boy. There is not enough space in this article to describe all of Roald's childhood or adult exploits, but suffice it to say that they are funny enough to make me laugh as much at 25 as I did when I was ten!
The famous rat-dropping scene from Roald's autobiography, Boy.
Shell Petroleum
When Roald Dahl turned 18, in 1934, he joined Shell Petroleum Company as a clerk.
He worked for Shell for two years in Britain before he signed a three-year contract to work for Shell in East Africa, first in Kenya and then in Tanzania. When he moved to Tanzania, he became one of three Shell employees in the whole region, all of whom lived in a luxurious mansion in Dar-es-Salaam. His duties included delivering oil to the entire Tanzania region. After only one year in East Africa, however, world events drastically altered the course of Roald Dahl's life. Nazi Germany pushed Great Britain too far, and World War II began. This was a major deal in Tanzania, because although Tanzania was a British colony, until the end of World War I, it had been a German colony. This meant that there were hundreds of Germans, may of whom were Nazi sympathizers, located in the capital of Dar-es-Salaam. Dahl and the other Englishmen he served with were enlisted into the King's African Rifles, a colonial army, whose job was to round up the Germans. Roald was made a lieutenant in command of a platoon of African soldiers.

Tanzania, East Africa

Roald loved the excitement of the military and quickly enlisted with the Royal Air Force, where he
was named a pilot. After going through basic training, Roald was then transferred to Iraq, where he began advanced training. He was also commissioned as an officer in the RAF. Not long after, in September 1940, Roald was ordered to fly his plane to Egypt and then to Libya, where the British were busy fighting the Italians. As Roald made his final approach to Libya, low on fuel, he realized he could not find the air strip. Eventually he attempted to make a  seventy mile-per-hour crash-landing in the desert, but when he landed, his plane clipped a boulder and Roald crashed. His nose was smashed, his skull fractured, and he was temporarily blinded, but he managed to drag himself from the wreck and was eventually rescued and taken to a hospital. It took Roald several months to recover, but by February of 1941 he was deemed fully recovered and allowed to return to action (Britain was so desperate for pilots that even blinding headaches were not enough to keep a soldier out of the sky).
A young Roald in uniform.
In April of 1941, Roald Dahl was allowed to join his squadron in Greece. There, the RAF was trying to protect a hasty retreat of their 50,000 man army, which had quickly been outmaneuvered and was at risk of being annihilated. When Roald arrived in Athens, he realized that he and the other pilots were being used as diversionary cannon fodder while the British troops fled. There were eighteen British pilots, against nearly a thousand Germans. Quickly, Roald gained a lot of experience flying planes in dogfights, and he managed to shoot down several German planes. He has five confirmed kills, which makes Roald Dahl a flying ace! By the end of April, the British was finally forced to leave Greece, and the RAF pilots, including Roald Dahl, were evacuated to Egypt and then Syria to fight Germans. That was when Roald's headaches returned, blinding migraines that caused him to temporarily black out when flying. Obviously this was too much for even the desperate Royal Air Force to overlook, and Roald was declared invalid and was sent back to Britain as a noncombatant.
Roald while stationed in Iraq.
Spitfire airplanes like those Roald flew.
While Roald Dahl was no longer suited for active military duty, he was still in the military. While he recovered, he waited for his new orders. At first, he thought he was going to be assigned to be a flight instructor, a task he found unbearably boring. Quickly, Roald's luck turned. He met the Under-Secretary of State for Air, Harold Balfour. Balfour, a former pilot like Roald, was so impressed with Roald's record he offered him a position as an air attaché for the British Embassy in Washington D.C. This position would have Roald working to convince the average American that intervention in World War II was a good idea, and attacking the views of "isolationist" Americans like Charles Lindbergh. Because of his war record and his incredible ability for story-telling, Balfour thought that Roald would be an invaluable asset in helping the British cause in Washington. While Roald was reluctant, eventually he accepted the position. In April 1942, Roald Dahl boarded a ship for Washington, a decision which would change the trajectory of his life and place him in the midst of many of the greatest Americans of the time period.
Secretary of State for Air, Harold Balfour.

In Washington

1940s America First rally.
Roald Dahl arrived in Washington DC in late April, 1942, roughly five months after Pearl Harbor had dragged the United States into World War II. By this time the United States was in the war, but there was a strong feeling by many Americans that the British were not helping the war effort enough; that it should not be America's job to save the British- that America should stay neutral. Immediately after Pearl Harbor the American people had supported the British and war, but this feeling had soon dissipated and been replaced by ambivalence and anger toward Britain. Roald (and the British Embassy in general) was mostly focused on countering this anti-British sentiment and convincing the American people to increase their support. One of the main ways of doing this was by releasing pro-British propaganda that convinced Americans that "saving Britain" was in their best interest. One of the most effective propaganda campaigns the British released was one focusing on the bravery of British pilots who had fought off the Germans in Europe. Since Roald had been a pilot, it was natural that he would be brought in to help with this campaign in person.
Classic piece of propaganda linking America First to the Nazis, as drawn by Dr. Seuss.
Within weeks, Roald was bored and tired of his job. He found it "a most ungodly unimportant job," and worse, he felt like a coward for being in the well-fed, warless riches of Washington while his former soldiers and countrymen were starving and being hit by bombs. He viewed himself as a glorified cheerleader forced to repeat the same stories of his own bravery at cocktail parties and brunches attended by the rich and powerful of American society. Fortunately for Roald, two things happened in his life that helped to save him from this personal torment: a new friend and a new hobby.
Roald's friend, confidant and mentor Charles Marsh.
Roald Dahl's new friend was an unlikely one: a massive, ugly Texas oil-tycoon and publisher named Charles Marsh. Marsh had moved to Washington hoping to use his money and influence to help Franklin Roosevelt and the Democratic Party keep power and fight the war. Marsh's mansion in Washington would become a salon for prominent Democrats to meet, including Roosevelt's vice president, Henry Wallace, and a young Texas senator whom Marsh was supporting named Lyndon Johnson. Roald became a household fixture of the Marsh family, going on family outings, sharing meals, and spending long hours in their company. With Marsh, Roald found someone with a similar outlook on life, a wicked sense of humor, and an older man who could serve as a friend and mentor to a young man who was alone and unhappy in a foreign country.
The young Senator (and future president) Lyndon Baines Johnson of Texas.
Author C.S. Forester 
At about the same time, Roald was pushed to embark on the journey that would make him famous. He was introduced to the author C.S. Forester, author of such notable novels as the Horatio Hornblower series. Forester, like many notable British authors of the time period, had been enlisted to help write propaganda to convince Americans to support the war effort. Forester had decided to write human interest stories that would touch the hearts of Americans and inspire them to intervene. One of the stories he decided to write about was Roald's story about the plane crash in the African desert, and so he met with Roald. This was stunning to Roald, who had grown up reading Forester's books and now sat across from this famous author, telling his story. Roald had such a difficult time telling the story that eventually he agreed to write out the main points and send them to Forester. When he got a reply from Forster ten days later, it was with high praises from the author:
You were meant to give me notes, not a finished story...Your piece is marvelous...the work of a gifted writer. I didn't touch a word of it.
A Saturday Evening Post like the one that bought Roald's first article.
Rather than trying to claim the story as his own, Forester sent it to the Saturday Evening Post under Roald's name. The Post accepted it and asked for more stories from Dahl, and sent a check for $1,000. Although the piece was romanticized and exaggerated (at one point Roald was being chased by an Italian plane), it became a hit with readers. The British government, still looking for new ways to target the American public, encouraged Roald to publish more stories, which he did, quickly earning a name for himself in the public eye for his writing, publishing for dozens of magazines. He also began to try his hand at fiction, writing a children's story about the hazards of being a pilot, namely tiny creatures that lived in the sky, called gremlins, which destroyed airplanes. These creatures were based off Roald's childhood stories of gremlins and trolls in Norway, and the sarcastic rumors of demons that plagued the Royal Air Force when they flew. One of Roald's supervisors sent the story to the Disney Company, who was busy working on propaganda films of their own. Walt Disney himself believed the story had potential, telegramming Roald personally that he was interested, and he eventually purchased the rights to the story. Roald even went to Los Angeles to collaborate on the script and animation, although the movie was never actually produced.
Roald's business partner, Walt Disney.
A mock-up picture of a Gremlin.
The poster for the never-released Gremlins movie.
While the Gremlins movie was never produced, Roald did publish an illustrated book about them, which became popular in America, particularly in one notable household. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt read the story to her grandchildren and was delighted with it. When she found out that the author was in Washington, she made sure that he was invited to dinner with her and the President at the White House. Roald quickly made friends with the First Lady, sending her signed books and gremlin toys. He was even invited to spend one Fourth of July at the Roosevelt Estate in upstate New York, alongside guests like the Crown Princess of Norway and Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgantheau. Throughout the next months and years, Roald kept in touch with Mrs. Roosevelt, including sending her a congratulatory note after her husband won reelection in 1944. When Roald Dahl was in the United States, he was not messing around: he was rubbing elbows with the elite of American society.
Roald's friend and fan Eleanor Roosevelt.
Hyde Park, the Roosevelt family mansion, where Roald spent a week with the President and First Lady.

Roald Dahl was known for having a sharp tongue and a disregard for the rules and his superiors. This frequently got him into hot water at work, and several times he was nearly sent back to Britain. Quickly Roald realized that if he wanted to stay in America, he might have to switch jobs. Through his various connections, Roald Dahl became aware of the more secretive British agencies working in the United States during World War II. The most important of these was the British Security Coordination, a small organization under the umbrella of British MI6, run by a secretive Canadian millionaire named William Stephenson (Stephenson is cited by several experts as being part of the inspiration for Ian Fleming's James Bond character). Stephenson had been sent to the United States early in World War II, when Winston Churchill realized that for Britain to win the war, they were going to need American help. And to get American help, anti-British and anti-war groups like America First needed to be eliminated. BSC's (and Stephenson's) job was to create a network of agents on the ground in America to create propaganda and fear in the American people of Nazi Germany and motivate them to support war. Roald, looking for any way to stay in America, let it be known that he would be interested in working for the BSC as a spy, more dangerous (and interesting) work than what he was doing at the time.
BSC founder (and James Bond inspiration) William "Intrepid" Stephenson.
A BSC membership pin.
Soon, Roald Dahl heard that "his name was not unknown" to the BSC. The BSC was desperate for men, leading them to frequently hire oddballs, family and friends of those already employed, and other unlikely candidates, often with only a cursory background check. Roald Dahl was a perfect candidate to be an informer: already in the country, he knew many high-placed individuals, and he was known for insubordination, meaning he would never be suspected of being a spy. He was also an outside-the-box thinker. Waiting for an offer, Roald began collecting interesting information he heard and delivering that information to his contacts. This made Roald a freelance agent for BSC. This limbo would only last a year: Dahl managed to smuggle out a private pamphlet made by the vice president, Henry Wallace, which contained anti-British sentiment in it. This coup for Dahl brought him the direct attention of Stephenson, which turned out to be a lifesaver.
Vice President (and Dahl victim) Henry Wallace.
In early 1943, Roald Dahl was sent back to England. His superiors at the Air Mission were tired of his womanizing, his strange behavior, and his attitude, and so he was given a "promotion" and shipped home. But William Stephenson, with his ears everywhere, heard that one of his top agents was being shipped back to England, and so he intervened. Dahl had barely reached England when he heard that not only was he being sent back to America, but he was being promoted. While Roald was still technically working for the Air Mission, he was now working directly for Stephenson, using his contacts to continue acquiring information for BSC.

With his position in America far more secure, Roald Dahl began to take more risks to get information and help to quiet down anti-British sentiment. One way he did this was by monitoring notoriously anti-British Americans of power: journalists, politicians, businessmen and celebrities with pro-Nazi or isolationist tendencies. If Roald were to hear or see evidence of embarrassing or unseemly behavior in an "enemy," he might provide that evidence to newspapers or make sure that that information became widespread knowledge that would help to discredit these people. Roald also became adept at spreading "misinformation," half-truths spread through social settings that could destroy a person's reputation overnight.

Another way that Roald began to acquire and spread information was by attending the many parties, brunches, and cocktail hours occurring daily in Washington. Because of the war, many of the wives of the rich politicians and businessmen in Washington were not able to travel, meaning they were stuck in the hot, humid confines of the capital. To alleviate this boredom, many of these obscenely wealthy women began throwing parties by the dozen. Because of his position, his fame from writing, and his good looks, Roald was a frequent guest at these events. While attending these many parties, Roald would eavesdrop on the important people speaking around him, gleaning any valuable information he could and passing it on to the BSC. Roald also frequently used his position for more personal reasons: as an attractive British war-hero, Roald was highly sought after by American women.

 Roald often used his good looks for more carnal reasons: the daughter of Charles Marsh later said of Dahl,
Girls just fell at Roald's feet...I think he slept with everyone on the East and West coasts that had more than fifty thousand dollars a year.
Most notoriously, Roald was instructed by his superiors to woo the Republican Congresswoman Clare Boothe Luce, a notoriously anti-British and anti-Roosevelt speaker who was proving to be a real wrench in the gears of the war effort. Roald was intentionally placed near Luce at several important dinners, and she quickly latched onto Roald. Roald was instructed to do "whatever it took" to warm her to "the British position." A few days later Roald returned to his superior, complaining "I am all f---ed out. That goddam woman has absolutely screwed me from one end of the room...for three goddam nights." Roald was reportedly told to "think of England." While this mission might seem unsavory, it did seem to have an effect, as Luce's stance on England and the war did soften quite a bit in the coming months.
Congresswoman (and Roald's sexual conquest) Clare Boothe Luce.
Around the same time, Roald moved into a small house rented by the British Embassy. His roommate was a Scottish Secretary for the Embassy named David Ogilvy. Ogilvy was roughly the same age as Roald, another outside-the-box thinker with whom Roald connected well. He had just spent four years working for the Gallup Institute, where he had completed hundreds of polls that made him well aware of how the American people thought about a wide array of issues. He was a showman, who despite having very little money put on an air of wealth that made him appear vastly more important than he was. He had used his knowledge from taking polls for Gallup to pass on knowledge to the English Embassy. Eventually William Stephenson decided to offer him a full time position, which David quickly accepted. This job had him researching foreign companies who were helping Nazi Germany, as well as continuing to analyze American polling numbers for interesting insights. When Ogilvy and Roald were put together, they were also tasked with discovering the sources of information leaks, because of the two men's relationship with the media.
Roald's one-time roommate and co-worker, David Ogilvy.
Through his relationship with David Ogilvy, Roald Dahl began to become more connected with some of his fellow secret agents, forming what became known as "Stephenson's Irregulars," a group of spies and agents that met for drinks and to exchange stories and insults. Ogilvy introduced Roald to his friend Ivar Bryce, another agent for the BSC who also happened to be childhood friends with Ian Fleming. This group of agents, all of whom would be notable later in their careers for their business and entertainment accomplishments, would have surely made for a fascinating conversation to listen in on.
Roald's fellow BSC agent (and James Bond inspiration) Ivar Bryce.
American author Ernest Hemingway
In late 1943, one of Roald's personal connections from his early days in Washington, Marty Gellhorn, asked him for a favor. Gellhorn was a war correspondent for Colliers, but she was also married to Ernest Hemingway, the great American author of books like For Whom the Bell Tolls. Gellhorn thought Ernest was spending too much time drunk in Cuban bars and believed that writing a story about the war would be just what could inspire him to get back to writing. The issue was getting the almost non-existent air passage across the Atlantic to Britain. Gellhorn contacted Roald about trying to use his connections to help get Ernest a seat. Fortunately, the British government was excited about the idea of such a famous author coming to England to write about the war effort. A compromise was reached: if Hemingway would write a story about the Royal Air Force for Colliers, he had a seat. Hemingway agreed and was soon on his way to Europe. The British government decided that Hemingway needed escorts while he was in England, and Roald was lucky enough to be chosen for escort duty. During his time in Europe, Hemingway continued drinking heavily and managed to get in a serious accident that left him concussed with nearly sixty stitches. Eventually he was healthy enough to start his assignment, which included going on bombing missions over France as a passenger, which the Air Force reluctantly allowed. When D-Day happened, Hemingway was on one of the last ships to land at Omaha Beach, where he saw the beach strewn with dead bodies. Soon after, Hemingway busied himself writing stories about the things he had seen. Roald was soon able to return to the United States and resume his work for the BSC, which he had officially been appointed to while he was away.
Roald and Ernest Hemingway walking in England.
By the time Roald Dahl had returned to the United States, World War II was starting to wind down, which meant that espionage as done by the BSC was no longer a necessity. For Roald, this meant one final assignment, one perfect for his future career. He was asked by William Stephenson to help write a history of the BSC. Stephenson was afraid that as his organization was dismantled, he would lose control of the history of it, that he would be made to look like a villain by the men who came after him. So he had several men, Roald included, write a history of everything that the BSC had done so that no one could steal it's accomplishments. Stephenson had Roald and the rest of the team go to an isolated camp in Canada beginning in June of 1945, where Roald quickly grew tired of the remoteness and the boring work. He began to sneak back to the United States for days at a time. By August of 1945, a 500 page book had been completed, of which twenty copies were made. The intensely secretive Stephenson had all the copies locked away, and all of the documents used- thousands of tons- were burned at his insistence. By the time Roald was able to return to Washington, World War II had ended. The need for British spies in Washington had disappeared and been replaced by intense discomfort with the idea of foreign intelligence agents hiding in the United States, even British ones. The BSC, and sister agencies in the US like the OSS were eliminated and replaced by the CIA. Roald Dahl, William Stephenson,  and men like them were no longer needed in the USA. Roald Dahl was headed home.
A later edition of the BSC history Roald helped write.

After Washington

In the immediate aftermath of the war, Roald Dahl continued to write, though he was not confident in that line of work for a career. Roald was convinced that he needed to write a novel if he was to be successful- short stories didn't pay well. Leaning heavily on former successes, Roald's first attempt at a novel was tentatively named "The Gremlins," though it was eventually published as Over to You. But more than anything, Roald was lost in the first year after the war, not sure what to do, missing the excitement and meaning that the war, espionage and the BSC had provided. Friends like Charles Marsh worried about Roald, about what he would do and how he could carve out a life for himself in this new, post-war world. And those worries were before Roald returned to England, where he had few friends, little to motivate him, and his domineering mother and massive family to hold him back from accomplishing anything. In February 1946, Roald returned to England, briefly stopping in London to publish his book and look for further writing assignments, before he settled back into his mother's home.

As Roald acclimated to life in England, he continued trying to write. But doing so was a slow and dissatisfying process for him, and even the slightest disruption would keep him from writing for days. He was also unhappy with the after-effects of the war- tension with Russia, the bomb, impoverished and war-torn Europe. His next book quickly became a fantasy in which the Gremlins waited for humans to finish destroying each other so they could inherit the Earth. Roald had no belief in the future of humanity on it's set course. Roald's strife was worsened by the fact that his family, and especially his mother, did not think of writing as an appropriate career for him, and were not shy about telling him. He was also continuing to struggle with the back and leg injuries which he had gotten during his plane crash, and was forced to undergo several surgeries. When his next book was published, it did poorly, causing him to stop writing novels. But focusing on writing short stories was a career dead-end, especially since Roald had no place in the London literary community. With all of these unhappy circumstances cropping up at once, it should be little surprise that Roald was soon dealing with depression and regret over his role in the war.
A scene of destruction in post-war England that contributed to Roald's depression.
Roald soon reduced his writing to a trickle, focusing instead on running his mother's household, gambling, and enjoying life. This continued for four years until he had lost almost all of his money gambling, leaving his American friends to wonder what had happened to their funny, charismatic playboy of a friend. In 1950, Charles Marsh could take no more. He ordered Roald to return to New York for a visit and to work on a few stories. Marsh paid for Roald's visit, providing him with a place to stay and money for his expenses. Marsh helped Roald to restart his life, helping him to escape the poverty of post-war England and return to the exciting life he had left behind. Marsh also offered Roald a job collecting art pieces for his estate, so that Roald would not feel the shame of taking Marsh's money for nothing. Roald proved quite talented at this, procuring rare art for Marsh while also starting a small collection of his own. Marsh also got Roald connected with several magazines, including the New Yorker, who bought a number of his articles. Finally, Roald Dahl was back on track.

Roald was also able to reconnect with friends from the war. He reconnected with David Ogilvy, who had a similarly rocky start to his post-war life before founding what would eventually become his highly successful advertising company Ogilvy and Mather, which advertised for such famous English companies as Guiness and Schweppes.
The offices of Ogilvy and Mather, David Ogilvy's massive advertising company.
Roald was also able to reconnect with Ivar Bryce, who had purchased a mansion in Jamaica and then lost it in divorce. Bryce had quickly drawn Ian Fleming and William Stephenson to  Jamaica as well. When he and his new wife were not in Jamaica, they were living a rousing social life in New York which Roald was able to quickly plug into.
Ivar Bryce relaxing in his beloved Jamaica.
When Ian Fleming was in New York, he too would join these social gatherings, though he was frequently in England or his Jamaican estate, Goldeneye. He and Roald had kept in touch after the war, and even spent time together in Jamaica when Roald visited Stephenson. They had a falling out in the late 1940s over Fleming's affair with a mutual friend. But by the time Roald was in New York, Fleming had married his wife Anne and they had repaired the relationship. Fleming took a great interest in Roald's literary work, though he never discussed his own book ideas with Roald. He reportedly read all of Roald's work and gave it high praise. The two men also exchanged story ideas, one of which Roald turned into a story for the New Yorker, which Alfred Hitchcock eventually turned into a television episode. The story was about a women who murdered her husband with a frozen leg of mutton, and then served the "weapon" to the detectives who came to investigate the murder: the perfect murder plot. Roald would later claim that much of Fleming's inspiration for James Bond came from their mutual friend Ivar Bryce. Fleming continually insisted that his writing was nothing compared to Roald's. Returning to New York ended up being a life-changing decision for Roald, putting him back in touch with his well-connected friends and on his career path as an author.
The murder scene from Roald's story "Lamb to the Slaughter," which Alfred Hitchcock turned into a TV episode.
Roald Dahl also became more heavily involved in Charles Marsh's business schemes. Marsh had always told his children he planned to die broke, and his greatest scheme was to accomplish this by giving away his money. In the years after World War Two, as he traveled Europe, often with Roald, he had been heartbroken to see the numbing poverty much of the world faced. He began giving away money to the poor people he saw to help them start businesses, sometimes even jumping out of his car to give money away. Soon Marsh was giving away larger and larger sums of money, including giving money to a church near Roald's hometown so that it could give $200 a month to 200 needy families. The program was so successful that Roald convinced Marsh to extend the program. It quickly became clear that this was not a temporary fad, and that what had started out as small-scale generosity was turning into long-term philanthropy. In 1947, Marsh officially established the Public Welfare Foundation, an organization that still exists to this day. Two years later, his old friend Lyndon Johnson helped the Foundation to be recognized for tax exemption. Marsh extended the impact of this organization by recruiting "agents" whom he would give money to give away to those they saw as needy. Eventually his "agents" would come to include not just Dahl, but also Mother Teresa, Indira Gandhi, a taxi driver in New York, and a Thai travel agent. Eventually this practice was phased out for tax reasons, but it shows the trusting nature and kind-heartedness of Marsh. Roald would be Marsh's constant companion and friend until his death of stroke and malaria related illness in 1964, though his health had declined severely after 1953.

In 1952, Roald Dahl was also introduced to his future wife, actress Patricia Neal. Roald had met her at a dinner, and a few days later he had asked her out. She declined, having no idea who he was, but finally agreed a few days later when he asked a second time. Roald soon found himself frequenting her theater, taking her out for dinner after she finished a performance. Slowly Roald incorporated her into his New York lifestyle, introducing her to all of his friends, and eventually asking her to marry him. She said no- she had seen that at times he could be a mean-spirited bully and wasn't sure. Finally, after a particularly nasty fight and reconciliation, Neal's desire for family got the better of her and she accepted Roald's proposal. In 1953 they were married in a small ceremony and then  a honeymoon in Italy. Then they traveled to England to meet Roald's family. Neal loved the country but did not connect with Roald's mother. Soon the marriage was on the rocks- Neal was on the road for her show and Roald started to see other women. After eight months Roald announced he wanted a divorce. Charles Marsh quickly intervened, telling Neal to quit being a diva and helping her to see the marriage from Roald's side of view. The couple soon were able to reconcile and save their marriage. They would go on to have three children.
Roald's wife, Patricia Neal.
A severe case of hydrocephalus, like what Theo Dahl had.
Roald and Patricia would spend the next seven years living in New York before tragedy struck. A taxi struck their son Theo's baby carriage in 1961, crushing his skull and nearly killing him. The family decided they had had enough of the city, moving back to England quickly after. Theo soon began to suffer from hydrocephalus, a severe swelling of the brain. Dahl devoted himself to helping his son and caring for his family. He worked with his friend Stanley Wade, who designed pumps, to help come up with a valve that could allow his son's brain swelling to be drained more easily. With the help of a neurosurgeon, Kenneth Till, the men were eventually successful, designing the Wade-Dahl-Till, or WDT valve, a device which was used to help thousands of children suffering like Theo. It is incredible that Roald Dahl, famous for his beloved children's stories, actually built a device that saved thousands of children's lives before ever writing a children's book. Roald was soon hit by further tragedy when his close friend Ernest Hemingway committed suicide. And on the heels of that, and as Theo was just beginning to fully recover, Roald's daughter Olivia caught German Measles and died. Roald was spun into a massive depression and sense of inevitability.

The Wade-Till-Dahl valve which Roald helped develop for his son.
Roald Dahl's first book, James and the Giant Peach.
Two years later, Roald was finally able to regain a sense of joy when a new daughter, Ophelia, was born. Roald was able to start writing again, penning his first  major children's books, James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, though neither were immediate hits. Roald was happy enough that he was only slightly depressed after his friend Ian Fleming died of a heart attack later that year. Then tragedy struck again- his wife, Patricia, suffered a massive stroke, putting her in a coma, paralyzing the right side of her body, and affecting her memory and ability to speak severely. Roald quickly took her home and began a strict regimen of rehabilitation that was so harsh that at times Neal came to hate him. Ironically, at around this time, several of his books began to become increasingly popular.
Patricia recovering from her stroke.
Roald with his family.
Roald's first book to become a movie.
Since Patricia could no longer act, Roald was now the growing family's sole source of income. He quickly began to write more children's books and short stories. Roald also began to write screenplays for movies and TV shows, most notably turning two of Ian Fleming's books, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the James Bond novel You Only Live Twice, into screenplays. He also took part in turning Charlie and the Chocolate Factory into a movie, though he was not pleased with the end result. Eventually Patricia recovered well enough that she was able to resume some acting, although she later claimed that the few parts she did accept she was forced into by Roald. None of her later movies were notable, though in 1972 Roald managed to convince his friend David Ogilvy to give her a role advertising for Maxim's Coffee. The campaign was a major success. Unfortunately for Patricia, however, it introduced Roald to a fashion designer, Felicity Crosland, with whom he became enamored.

Roald with his second wife, Felicity Crosland.
A plaque on the site where the famed rat-dropping incident occurred.
The combination of the couple's previous wishes for a divorce, Roald's occasional cruelty, a marriage filled with tragedy and pain, and Roald's womanizing took their toll on the marriage. In 1981 they were finally divorced in a highly publicized separation. Roald quickly resumed his relationship with his mistress, Felicity Crosland, whom he married in 1983. Roald disappeared for a time, writing and letting the notoriety die down. When he finally emerged, he presented Felicity as his wife and acted as though she had been so for years.  The 1980s would see Roald publish a number of famous books, many of which were turned into movies, including Matilda and The BFG, as well as two fantastic autobiographies, Boy and Going Solo. In 1990, at the age of 74, the great author and former spy passed away of a rare leukemia-like disease. He was given a "Viking" burial with some of his favorite things. In the years since his death, several public areas in his hometowns in England and Norway were named after him, and a number of philanthropies have been started in his name.

Roald Dahl Plass, or Roald Dahl Plaza, in Roald's hometown of Cardiff.

Roald's tombstone in Cardiff.
The latest movie, The BFG, to come from
 Roald Dahl's collection.
So thats it... Part One of my spy authors series. I hope you enjoyed learning about Roald Dahl as much as I did. It fascinates me that he is such a well known author, but that he did so many things besides. He was a talented fighter pilot, with at least five planes shot down during his career. He was a spy, who rubbed shoulders with Franklin Roosevelt and William Stephenson. He was (and continues to be) a philanthropist. He engineered a device that was installed in children's brains!!! He wrote movies. And then, finally, he was a prolific author who wrote nineteen children's books, dozens of magazine articles, two autobiographies, several adult novels, and a book of comic poetry. Roald Dahl did a lot in his life. This article cannot even begin to do justice to how prolific the man was, and the legacy he continues to achieve, as his books continue to sell and be read by millions of children around the world. Maybe even more importantly in today's culture, his movies have begun once again to be released as major motion pictures, most recently with the remake of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", "Fantastic Mr. Fox," and in the last month, "The BFG." The impact of Roald Dahl's career can be felt to this day. Many modern authors and actors cite his works as influential upon their careers and lives. It is fitting of Roald Dahl that of all the incredible and life-changing stories he wrote, maybe the best story he ever wrote was the story he lived.
The incomparable Roald Dahl.


  1. Conant, Jennet. The Irregulars. New York: Simon and Schuster (2008).
  2. Lycett, Andrew. Ian Fleming. London: Orion Books (1995).
  3. Spartacus Educational, "Ivar Bryce," retrieved 2 June, 2016 at
  4. Literary 007, "The Irregular Lives of Ian Fleming and Roald Dahl." Posted 15 February, 2014. Retrieved 2 June 2016 at
  5. Roald Dahl Timeline. Retrieved 27 July 2016 at
  6. A wide number of Wikipedia pages, including: Roald Dahl, Ian Fleming, Ivar Bryce, MI5, BSC, William Stephenson, and many more.


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