Credit: Sarah Dalton

Roald Dahl’s hometown reacts to U-turn on censorship decision

Residents of Llandaff fear this is only one case in a wider censorship epidemic

AFTER facing heavy backlash, Penguin, the publisher of Roald Dahl’s classic books, has announced it will no longer be removing words such as “fat” and “ugly” from his work.

For Llandaff residents, the U-turn marks a huge win in preserving the area’s rich literary heritage.

Roald Dahl was born in Llandaff and spent most of his childhood there, something he wrote about extensively in his autobiography Boy.

The initial decision to censor Dahl’s books was described by Llandaff residents of all ages as “nonsense”.

“I imagine Roald Dahl is turning over in his grave at the thought of this conversation,” said John Kenyon, an elderly volunteer at Llandaff Cathedral, which overlooks the old site of Dahl’s school. 

Dr Kenyon’s daughter teaches at Howell’s School, the site of Roald Dahl’s childhood home, so he feels the legacy of Dahl every day. 

“I’m glad to hear they’ve changed their minds. A lot of people of my generation and slightly younger will think changing words changes the whole tone of his books.

“We need to stop this, otherwise we’re going to start sanitising everything left, right and centre and we will just end up with a terrible blandness,” he said. 

This view is one shared by many residents in Llandaff, whatever their age. 

“I definitely don’t support this in any way,” said Aimee Wood, from Scruffy Dogs, when she first heard that Penguin was rewriting the books. 

The dog groomer is the mother of a nine-year-old girl who is an avid Dahl reader. 

“My daughter has the full collection and she loves it. She’s been reading it since she was about seven and she had probably read The Twits about five times. She thinks they’re hysterical. 

“A little bit of humour goes a long way and I don’t think any of this is really something that is that damaging to anybody. Children don’t need to be pandered to.” she said.

Despite the positive reaction to Penguin’s U-turn decision, for residents of Llandaff, the debate marks another example of a larger issue of censorship in Wales.  

Many residents referenced the recent decision by the Welsh Rugby Union to remove the anthem Delilah from official choir setlists due to its inappropriate lyrics. 

“It’s not just Roald Dahl, people are trying to do it with all sorts of things,” said Dr Kenyon. 

Sally Thomas, a mother of two from Llandaff, had similar opinions. 

“I just think everybody’s going too far with everything that we’re editing, and people should read it without looking into it too much,” she said. 

“I think people are just trying to find something like the Delilah song and this is the next thing that they’ve found.

“But if they change his words then they’re not his books any more are they?” 

Ms Thomas, who was previously a teacher in Pentwyn, told The Cardiffian that she has fond memories of the school getting together to celebrate Roald Dahl’s 100th birthday in 2016. 

“I think it was fabulous, the kids enjoy all those crude words and they don’t find it offensive at all. It’s just in humour,” she added.

Some of the words Penguin wanted to remove from Dahl’s books included “fat” and “ugly”. Credit: Sarah Dalton.

Sean Driscoll, councillor of Llandaff, gave his opinion on the publisher’s original decision. 

“I can’t believe it was even being considered,” he told The Cardiffian.

“If it was just a few words that were either racist or misogynistic then, yes, edit them out. However, to take out descriptive words that make the books so popular is, in my view, just daft.

“Roald Dahl books and films have entertained children in Llandaff and across the world, and people in Llandaff are very proud of their association with Roald Dahl,” Coun Driscoll added.

“I personally have happy memories of sitting at home with my daughter watching Matilda, not 300 yards from where Roald Dahl was born.” 

Roald Dahl was born on Fairwater Road, Llandaff in 1916. His autobiography Boy marks out key places of his childhood, including St John’s churchyard in Danescourt where Dahl, aged four, buried his father and Howell’s School, the site of Dahl’s childhood house. 

Dahl attended Llandaff Cathedral School, which overlooked Cathedral Green but is now located on Cardiff Road. He has also written extensively about a sweetshop which was located on the High Street. 

Many speculate that the owner of the sweetshop inspired the character of Mrs Pratchett in The Great Mouse Plot.

Roald Dahl died of cancer on 23 November, 1990. You can retrace his childhood footsteps through Llandaff using the map above.