Esio Trot - from the archive

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Roald Dahl HQ
Posted on
2:00pm, 20th December
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Esio Trot

With Esio Trot coming to BBC One on New Year's Day, we've got some incredible insights into how Roald Dahl wrote this lovely story

On New Year's Day, 1 January 2015, at 6.30pm, we will be watching Dustin Hoffman as Mr Hoppy and Judi Dench as Mrs Silver as Esio Trot comes to BBC One.

In the meantime, we've been searching through our wonderful archive (housed at the Roald Dahl Museum) - which is where we store all Roald Dahl's letters, manuscripts, early drafts and much more - to find few gems that shed some light on where, exactly, Roald Dahl got the idea for Esio Trot...

An extract from one of Roald Dahl's speeches, showing the inspiration for Esio Trot

The inspiration

Esio Trot was published in 1990 - it was actually the last of his children's stories to be released in Roald Dahl's lifetime - but interestingly the inspiration came a lot earlier.

In a speech delivered to students from Wright University, Roald Dahl told them how, when visiting his daughter at her London flat, he saw that her downstairs neighbour Mrs Shrimpton had a tortoise she kept in a box on her balcony.

Knowing a thing or two about tortoises (he had one of his own, which was then 16 years old), Roald Dahl began thinking about how slow they grow...

From this germ of a thought, his own story grew slowly too, until, 12 years later, it became Esio Trot.

Read the full speech.

A title page from an early draft of Roald Dahl's Esio Trot

The title

When he'd finished writing the story of Esio Trot, Roald Dahl spent some time trying to get the title right. This page from a June 1989 draft shows him playing around with other ideas, including "THE MAGIC TORTOISE" and "THE WONDERFUL TORTOISE."

See the full page.

Roald Dahl's sketch of a tortoise for an early draft of Esio Trot

The drawings

Having had 12 years to think on it, Roald Dahl knew exactly how much Mr Hoppy would have to 'grow' Alfie each time he made a switch: exactly two ounces.

So he created specific instructions for the illustrators - complete with his own sketches...

Take a look at Roald Dahl's drawings.

Roald Dahl's sketch of Mr Hoppy's tortoise catcher from an early draft of Esio Trot

The tortoise-catcher

The other important part of Mr Hoppy's plan involved a clever tortoise-catching device - and again, Roald Dahl had very specific ideas about what this should look like. He even sketched out his own instructions, which look remarkably similar to the published illustrations.

See the Tortoise-Catcher

Dustin Hoffman with Alfie the Tortoise, and Judi Dench in Roald Dahl's Esio Trot, to be screened on BBC One Christmas 2014. Photo: Nick Briggs © 2014 Endor Productions

Esio Trot comes to BBC One on New Year's Day. Watch the trailer here.

From January, you can also view the archive material for yourself along with props and costumes from the BBC One film at the Roald Dahl Museum.

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Read, listen and enjoy the original story