This transcript comes from the BBC website. The television program was hosted by Griff Rhys Jones and originally aired on July 27, 1997.
GRIFF RHYS JONES: This year Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl’s famous book, is 30 years old. It’s a rather savage story, with children drowning in chocolate and being hurled down rubbish shutes by squirrels and turning into blueberries. So, as you can imagine, it’s very very popular with children. For adults though it’s a different story.
BOY: V/O: ‘Walking to school in the mornings, Charlie could see great slabs of chocolate piled up high in the shop windows, and he would stop and stare and press his nose against the glass, his mouth watering like mad.’
GRIFF RHYS JONES: Charlie And The Chocolate Factory was the second book that Roald Dahl wrote for children. And it tells how five lucky characters win the chance to spend a day at Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, and what happens to them. Greedy Augustus Gloop, spoilt Veruca Salt, the disgusting gum chewing Violet Beauregarde, Mike Teavee, the telly addict, and Charlie Bucket, a poor boy with a heart of gold, meet the factory owner Mr. Willy Wonka, who makes sure that the four obnoxious children come to a rough sticky end. The book was first published in America in 1964.
But it was to be turned down by countless British publishers before going on sale in Britain three years later.
RAYNER UNWIN (Publisher): My children were at school with Roald Dahl’s children. And one day one of my girls brought back a book that one of Roald Dahl’s girls had lent her. It was the American edition of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. And my daughter was absolutely delighted by it. And I looked over her shoulder, and I thought it was great fun too.
We published it a little innocently perhaps. We thought it was just a good book. We didn’t realise we should get all sorts of frozen letters from lady librarians all around the country saying that they could not have this book on their shelves.
It doesn’t, in fact, tell children that the grown ups were always right. It doesn’t make the children always conform to grown ups opinions. And this was unusual in those days.
ROALD DAHL (from Bookmark BBC 1985): Children are far cruder and more basic and they’re not so civilised as adults are, and therefore you feed them a different reel altogether. Something that will shock an adult won’t shock a child at all, he’ll roar with laughter at it. And I know, I think, what those things are. Some adults don’t.
QUENTIN BLAKE (Illustrator): I knew about Mr. Willy Wonka and I knew he was a sort of picturesque figure, but I didn’t realise how naughty he was. Roald himself was very naughty, he loved winding people up and teasing them. And I think this is the only book where there is someone actually doing that in the book, which I found fascinating.
GRIFF RHYS JONES: But the book became controversial in other ways too. In its original form Willy Wonka’s workers, the Oompa-Loompas, were described as little black pygmies from deepest Africa. But this became increasingly unacceptable. And in 1973 Dahl changed them into tiny people with rosy white skin and long golden brown hair. But Quentin Blake, the book’s most recent illustrator, wanted to reinvent them for himself.
QUENTIN BLAKE: They’re little tiny people. They work with Willy Wonka. And they seem to me to be really part of the mischief in the book. And in the book it says they’ve got… I think it says they’ve got long hair, or something of that kind. And, of course, you naturally think of it as sort of flowing down. I thought it would look more mischievous, it would give the sort of spirit of their naughtiness, if I made it stand up, like that, so their hair is standing on end.
V/O: ‘From far away along the corridor came the beating of drums. Then the singing began again. “Veruca Salt!” sang the Oompa-Loompas. “Veruca Salt, the little brute, has just gone down the rubbish chute, (And as we very rightly thought, That in a case like this we ought To see the thing completely through. We’ve polished off her parents, too).”‘
ARASH MARASHI (aged 11): Comparing Charlie and the naughty children, I prefer the naughty children because they’re more realistic, and most children are greedy at some point in their lives. And so are most people in fact.
LYNDSEY EASTON (aged 13): Young children don’t really understand the moral, but it teaches them, sort of thing. And when you’re older you can understand the moral and it’s a good story as well.
EMMA POURSAIN (aged 10): I think Roald Dahl really understands children, because the way he writes it, you can relate to the children can’t you? I mean…
KATE EVANS (aged 10): Because you understand what it’s like to just want want want.
QUENTIN BLAKE: I think people are always going to like Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. They like it just as much as they did. Children still like sweets and chocolates. They like naughty things happening. They like these extraordinary naughty children.
There’s also still something that I can’t quite explain. That is, I know that it’s very successful, and I can understand that. But I think there’s still some extra bit of magic or something mysterious that Roald Dahl always seems to be able to do, and that I just can’t quite explain.
KATE EVANS: Well something must have inspired him to write about chocolate. So, I think he likes a little nibble here and there.