Both potty and paranoid

By Julian Kossoff, September 15, 2011
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The dark side of author Roald Dahl was his profound dislike of Jews.

When I spoke to him about this unsavoury aspect of his undeniably brilliant life, I do not think the creator of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was speaking from his beloved writing hut.

According to his granddaughter, Dahl liked to work in utter solitude - and when, shortly before his death in 1990, I telephoned him, he was definitely not alone.

I could distinctly hear his ferocious wife, Felicity, in the background, shouting.

Simultaneously, Dahl was also spluttering with outrage down the phone line. As a young Jewish Chronicle reporter I was, in his opinion, an upstart, impertinently questioning his seriously potty and paranoid views about Jews and Israel.

He may have imagined some of the most beloved children's books characters, but he also seemed to take pleasure in twisting the Jewish story into a dark fantasy inhabited by rapacious bankers and cowardly draft-dodgers.

These crude stereotypes bled into his fiction. Several of his short stories featured derogatory caricatures of Jews, including the tale of "a little pawnbroker in Houndsditch called Meatbein who, when the wailing started, would rush downstairs to the large safe in which he kept his money, open it and wriggle inside on to the lowest shelf where he lay like a hibernating hedgehog until the all-clear."

It was that same quintessential English antisemitism - sneering and pompous - with which he greeted me when I called him about a newspaper interview in which he had confessed: "I've become antisemitic" (which translated as: 'I've always disliked Jews and I've now got enough money and fame not to care what anybody thinks').

I pressed him, betting hubris would get the better of him. "Don't your many millions of readers have a right to know about your views?"

He exploded with outrage: "Why are you being so persistent? It is not a trait of your Jewish race to be rude but you are certainly being rude… I am an old hand at dealing with you buggers."

"Would those be Jewish buggers, Mr Dahl?"

Click... the phone went dead.

Last updated: 12:25pm, September 15 2011