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How Roald Dahl's Gremlins helped the RAF Benevolent Fund

Today is Roald Dahl Day and this year's celebration marks the 100th anniversary of the ever-popular author's birth. In this blog, we learn more about Dahl and how his mischievous 'Gremlins' helped the RAF Benevolent Fund back in 1943.

Dahl joined the Royal Air Force in 1939 whilst working in Tanzania for Shell Oil Company. At more than six feet, he was tall for a pilot but had soon completed his training and earned his wings.  

Roald DahlCopyright of Roald Dahl Nominee Limited

In September 1940, Dahl was forced to make an emergency landing in the Sahara desert as darkness fell and he was unable to find the airstrip. The aircraft overturned on landing and Dahl was knocked unconscious. When he came to, the plane was on fire but he managed to escape, despite sustaining serious injuries.  Dahl was found the next morning and spent more five months in recovery and rehabilitation.

Cleared for flying duties, Dahl rejoined his squadron in Athens and began flying the Hurricane Mk1. Flying for the first time in a closed cockpit, Dahl struggled with his height but still managed to claim two victories during his time in Greece.

Shortly after this, Dahl was transferred from flying duties and later posted to the British Embassy in Washington, DC, as an assistant military attaché. Whilst in DC, Dahl began writing and crafted his story, 'The Gremlins', about mischievous gremlins who plagued British airmen, damaging aircraft, icing wings at high altitudes, and moving airstrips. Perhaps Dahl's own crash earlier in the war was caused by these troublesome creatures?

The story was sent by movie producer Sidney Bernstein, who at the time headed British Information Services, to Walt Disney. Walt Disney had spent the war years producing morale-boosting, patriotic films and immediately sought to produce The Gremlins as a film. The Air Ministry agreed on the condition that the royalties went to the RAF Benevolent Fund and Dahl jetted to Hollywood on leave to work on the storyline.

The Gremlins was published as a book in 1943 and the proceeds did benefit the RAF Benevolent Fund, but Walt Disney was unable to copyright the name 'gremlin'. Late in 1943 and having invested $50,000, Disney shut down pre-production on the film. Perhaps those meddlesome gremlins, who plagued British pilots in the war, also sank the plans of Dahl and Disney?

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