We visit the Museum’s reading room, the Chokey, to talk to Archive Assistant Annie about her role caring for Roald Dahl’s manuscripts and letters
The Roald Dahl Archive is one of the most complete literary archives in the country, and no wonder; it provides a broad overview of Roald Dahl’s life from the age of nine when he started writing home from boarding school, to his death at the age of 74, and we can trace the developments of each of his stories through the numerous manuscript and typescript drafts he kept.
The archive contains Roald Dahl’s literary papers, including manuscripts (take a look at this early draft of Esio Trot), letters and ideas books, as well some personal papers and items, such as his chocolate wrapper ball.
Roald Dahl archive files
As the Archive Assistant, my main responsibility is to assist the Archivist and Collections Manager, Rachel White, in caring for the collection and making it accessible to researchers and the public. Part of my role involves responding to requests from researchers. This is one of my favourite aspects of the job, because it brings me into contact with fascinating people who have a wide range of research interests. It’s always a real pleasure to be able to guide and help them on their exploration through the archive and, due to the diversity of research being done on Roald Dahl and his stories, there is always something new to be discovered from other people’s interpretations of the material.
Letters in a display case in Boy Gallery
One of my long-term projects is cataloguing letters sent between Roald Dahl and his publishers. I create a catalogue record for each letter, which needs to contain just enough information for a researcher to know whether it would be of interest to them. The catalogue record is then uploaded to the database, which is available for anyone to look at in the link on our website. We hope that this will be a good starting point for anyone researching Roald Dahl’s life and work.
Changing the display in Boy Gallery
The archive items on display in the Museum galleries are replaced every three months; this is primarily to prevent decay to the material due to light damage or fluctuations in temperature and humidity, but also so that returning visitors will always have something fresh and exciting to look at and enjoy. Once we have decided on a theme – in Boy Gallery, for example, we might decide to look at illustrations in Roald Dahl’s books – we then search the archive for relevant and interesting items to put on display, write captions to provide context and then install the new display.
Annie with Education Manager Isy on Roald Dahl Day showing visitors the anamatronic Oompa-Loompas from the archive
If it’s a Friday afternoon and an archive tour has been scheduled for the weekend, Rachel and I will spend some time preparing what we would like to show visitors. We usually include letters from Roald Dahl sent home to his family, both from his time at boarding school and during the Second World War, as well as manuscripts of his stories (such as these early drafts of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). Often we will show a surprise item belonging to Roald Dahl, such as his red sweet box, which always draws big smiles from everyone. It’s wonderful showing visitors around the storeroom and watching their reactions to the archive material, because that is what my role is all about: maintaining and preserving records so that they are accessible to all who want to see them, now and in the future.
One very important task involves the interior of Roald Dahl’s Writing Hut, which is preserved behind glass in Solo gallery. We need to regularly check that the temperature and humidity are at just the right levels and that no nasty bugs have entered the Hut. Inspecting sticky traps for insects may not sound particularly appealing, but the experience of entering this tiny room in which Roald Dahl wrote so many of his stories never ceases to be a special moment for me.
Want to peek behind the scenes yourself? Archive tours take place at the Museum on a monthly basis, take a look at the What's On pages to find out about the next one.