Roald Dahl’s popular children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is deeply familiar to generations of readers. But the beloved book, about a poor young boy who wins a golden ticket to tour the magical candy factory of reclusive genius Willy Wonka, almost looked markedly different.
On Wednesday, Dahl’s widow, Liccy Dahl, told BBC Radio 4 that when her late husband originally dreamed up Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, it starred “a little black boy.” As to why that was changed, she said, “I don’t know. It’s a great pity.”
The answer came from Dahl’s biographer Donald Sturrock, who explained “it was his agent who thought it was a bad idea, when the book was first published, to have a black hero.”
The agent in question, though not specified in the BBC interview, was likely Sheila St. Lawrence. She’s been credited, along with her predecessor Ann Watkins, with being a significant influence on Dahl throughout their working relationship. In 2014, Sturrock told Vanity Fair that St. Lawrence worked closely with the children’s book author on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, urging him to trim down the zany, winding narrative and its initially immense cast of characters.
She also, it seems, changed Dahl’s mind about making Charlie Bucket a black boy. “She said people would ask: ‘Why?’” Sturrock said.