Most people are familiar with Roald Dahl's children’s books and short stories for adults, but he also turned his hand to writing screenplays.
The Roald Dahl Museum archive in Great Missenden contains not only the draft manuscripts of Roald Dahl's stories but also the draft screenplays that he wrote for films and television productions. Although some of his screenplays were never made into films, others were incredibly successful, illustrating his talent in spinning stories of all kinds.
Here are a few of the better known – and lesser known examples.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, 1971.
This is probably the best known of the film adaptations of Roald Dahl’s books, and he worked with David Seltzer to create a cinematic version of what is arguably his best known book. Below is a page from the draft screenplay of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, written on the usual yellow legal paper that Roald Dahl used for his writing, showing the entrance of Willy Wonka, played by Gene Wilder.
James and the Giant Peach TV special, 1973
This was intended to be a TV special, but although Roald Dahl adapted his book about James and his adventures with the giant peach and his new insect friends, the project never came to fruition. However, in 1996, a live action and animated musical film of James and the Giant Peach was made, directed by Harry Selick and starring Joanna Lumley and Miriam Margolyes as James’ aunts with the insects voiced by David Thewlis, Richard Dreyfuss, Susan Sarandon, Jane Leeves and Simon Callow.
You Only Live Twice, 1967
Roald Dahl worked with Ian Fleming in the intelligence service during the war, and the two men became friends. Roald Dahl was asked to write the screenplay for the Bond film You Only Live Twice, which was loosely based on Fleming’s original Bond story.
Roald Dahl later sold his draft screenplays at a charity auction so sadly this is no longer in the archive collection, but we do have his 007 tie, pictured below, and an account of the writing process in an article that he wrote for Playboy magazine in 1967.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang 1967
After You Only Live Twice, Roald Dahl was asked to write the screenplay for another of Ian Fleming’s novels: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The writing process went through several different drafts with multiple changes made to the original story. Possibly the biggest change was the introduction by Roald Dahl of the character of the Childcatcher, who didn’t appear in Fleming’s original book. The page below shows the very first scene that the Childcatcher appears in, described as a ‘terrible sinister figure… in his old black frock coat’.