Today, September 13, is Roald Dahl Day! I briefly mentioned this on facebook this morning, but Roald Dahl was one of the key figures of my childhood and is among a small group of authors responsible for shaping me into who I am today. I still remember the moment I was first introduced to him: I was in 3rd grade and Mrs. Z– was a massive fan. She gathered us around and read us The BFG. My senior year of high school I decided to reread it and anytime a classmate saw what I was reading, he/she would smile and excitedly share their own memories about the book & Mrs. Z–.
I could wax poetic about this marvelous man and his books all day, but instead I’ll talk about a part of his life casual readers might now know about: Roald Dahl was a spy.
When Roald Dahl, a dashing young wounded RAF pilot, took up his post at the British Embassy in Washington in 1942, his assignment was to use his good looks, wit, and considerable charm to gain access to the most powerful figures in American political life. A patriot eager to do his part to save his country from a Nazi invasion, he invaded the upper reaches of the U.S. government and Georgetown society, winning over First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and her husband, Franklin; befriending wartime leaders from Henry Wallace to Henry Morgenthau; and seducing the glamorous freshman congresswoman Clare Boothe Luce.
Dahl would soon be caught up in a complex web of deception masterminded by William Stephenson, aka Intrepid, Churchill’s legendary spy chief, who, with President Roosevelt’s tacit permission, mounted a secret campaign of propaganda and political subversion to weaken American isolationist forces, bring the country into the war against Germany, and influence U.S. policy in favor of England. Known as the British Security Coordination (BSC) — though the initiated preferred to think of themselves as the Baker Street Irregulars in honor of the amateurs who aided Sherlock Holmes — these audacious agents planted British propaganda in American newspapers and radio programs, covertly influenced leading journalists — including Drew Pearson, Walter Winchell, and Walter Lippmann — harassed prominent isolationists and anti-New Dealers, and plotted against American corporations that did business with the Third Reich.
The Irregulars by Jennet Conant is, admittedly, a book I haven’t read, though I see it everyday at work. It caught my eye the first time I saw it and it’s been on my mind ever since. Dahl wrote about his war experiences in his autobiographical works, but this book paints an entirely new picture.
Though I’ve mentioned my love of Roald Dahl numerous times on the blog, I’ve only reviewed one of his books. For Banned Books Week last year I reviewed James and the Giant Peach. :) Clearly this blog is sorely lacking in Dahl love. Perhaps I’ll do a Roald Dahl Extravaganza!