Let’s take a look at Roald Dahl’s giants: The Fleshlumpeater, The Bonecruncher, The Manhugger, The Childchewer, The Meatdripper, The Gizzardgulper, The Maidmasher, The Bloodbottler and The Butcher Boy. GULP. Oh, and the BFG – slightly less of a gulp. It was to my relief then, that I realised I was not going to be chomped by the Childchewer or munched by the Maidmasher, but rather entertained by the BFG himself. Well, alright, not exactly the BFG but near enough. At 6ft 7inches in height and previous winner of the Roald Dahl Funny Prize, say hello to the brilliantly talented Philip Ardagh.
At the Oxford Literary Festival, Ardagh was speaking with Nicolette Jones, children’s editor of The Sunday Times, in an event on ALL THINGS DAHL. Do talks get any better than that? Ardagh kicked off the event by mentioning he can fit the entire contents of a pencil case into his beard (and once, a whole selection of plastic butterfly clips). The tone of the talk was set: we had Mr Twit’s beard and the BFGs height brilliantly combined in one person… One more admin note before the event got under way: Ardagh was keen to let us all know that despite his beard’s ‘centre parting’, ‘it is in fact ONE beard, not two.’ A lover of Roald Dahl’s books now, Ardagh admits he came to them late in life: ‘I only started reading Roald Dahl as an adult. I was employed as a library assistant in Lewisham (I didn’t have a university degree but I was the only person who could reach the top book shelf) and while there a boy asked me: “Now that Roald Dahl is dead, who will write his books?” It got me thinking…’
Ardagh and Jones captivated the audience with their Roald Dahl knowledge. Jones let us in on the BFG’s sartorial habits: ‘Quentin Blake originally drew the BFG wearing an apron and wellies but when Dahl sent Blake his own sandals the BFG switched for those!’ Jones also revealed that Willy Wonka wears a bow tie on TV but doesn’t in the book. I guess you can’t blame the chocolatier for wanting to dress up on screen… Jones’ favourite Dahl book is in fact one of Moontrug’s favourites: Danny The Champion of the World. And Moontrug had the pleasure of meeting the Romany gypsy who painted Roald Dahl’s wagon – the one he kept at the bottom of his garden, which was then wheeled out to Leicester Square for the premiere of Danny The Champion of the World. Here’s the letter Dahl’s daughter, Tessa, wrote to my Romany pal to thank him for painting it so beautifully:
Whilst Jones was a mine of Roald Dahl facts, Ardagh was like one of Dahl’s funniest characters stomping round the room, causing explosions of laughter every few seconds. Why? Because Ardagh is one of those people who cast a sort of authory-spell on an audience, a bit like Andy Stanton did last time I was at Oxford Literary Festival. When it was question time Ardagh marched up to one boy to take a question (admittedly the boy was sitting at the back of the theatre, in the middle of the row, up a very steep flight of stairs) and when Ardagh got there, he simply said: ‘I have completely forgotten why I am here.’ To a young girl, Ardagh announced, ‘I’ll take two and a half words of your question.’ The little girl stammered out: ‘When did yo – ‘ and Ardagh sauntered off. Moontrug’s longing to know what the rest of that question was. Maybe: ‘When did you realise you were in fact the real BFG?’
The icing on the cake for this Roald Dahl bonanza was having the ACTUAL Matilda from the Royal Shakespeare Company perform her very last song for us. Cue child genius, Christina Fray. Possibly the most mesmerising thing Moontrug has seen for a long, long time. Thankfully there’s lots of Roald Dahl around at the moment – the unspeakably AMAZING Matilda musical in London and the treasure trove that is the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Buckinghamshire. I’ve already seen Matilda three times on stage (planning another visit soon though) – so maybe it’s time for a visit to the museum. And I’m not just going because their website has enticed me with the recipe for Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delight… Promise.