A BBC documentary airing on Tuesday 13 September, on BBC One in Wales to coincide with the centenary of Roald Dahl’s birth, will shed light on the true home of one of his best-loved characters, the BFG, as none other than Cumberland Lodge.
At the end of The BFG, fresh from helping the Queen of England by rounding up the world’s man-eating giants, the BFG and his friend Sophie are rewarded with gifts from around the world, including a “special house” from The Queen.
The book reads: “The Queen herself gave orders that a special house with tremendous high ceilings and enormous doors should immediately be built in Windsor Great Park, next to her own castle, for the BFG to live in. And a pretty little cottage was put up next door for Sophie.”
The “special house” with the cottage next door is believed to be a reference to Cumberland Lodge here in Windsor Great Park and it appears to have been a private joke on the part of Dahl, who spent much of his childhood living in a relatively modest house in Cardiff, also called Cumberland Lodge.
The seemingly unlikely connection was highlighted by Ann Alston and Heather Worthington in the essay they contributed to Roald Dahl: Wales of the Unexpected, a collection of academic essays published by University of Wales Press this year and edited by Professor Damian Walford Davies, Head of the School of English, Communication and Philosophy at the University of Cardiff.
Archive research has since uncovered that Dahl also spoke at a children's literature workshop held at Cumberland Lodge, Windsor, in June 1978, just a few years before The BFG was published.
Dahl’s complex relationship with his Anglo-Welsh heritage is present in subtle ways throughout his writings for children and adults and the book reveals the place of Wales in Dahl’s imagination and the many different ways in which his Welsh identity was expressed.
“Dahl knew of Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park and the connection with the name of his former childhood home In Llandaff, Cardiff is no coincidence”, explains Professor Walford Davies.
“As Wales of the Unexpected shows, the figure of the Big Friendly Giant in The BFG, and his trajectory from the ‘margins’ to Buckingham Palace and Windsor Great Park, can be read as Dahl’s anxious reflection on his own cultural trajectory – from Cardiff boy to ‘English’ author. In imagining an ‘Establishment’ English home for the BFG at the end of the book, Dahl is also summoning a Welsh location. The tension is characteristic of his work.
“He was a man characterised by multiple identities (Welsh, English, Norwegian, American), moving between contrasting locations and social circles. He never stopped reimagining Wales in his work and struggled with conflicting desires to champion the underdog while craving Establishment approval.”
Prof Walford Davies added: “Wales is present in Dahl’s work in ways that are not necessarily explicit. The unspoken, hidden ‘in’ joke at the end of The BFG is a profoundly serious one – the expression of a dual identity.”
Speaking about the connection between The BFG and Cumberland Lodge, Ruby Barnhill, 12, who played Sophie in Steven Spielberg’s recent film by the same name, said: “It’s great to hear that the house The Queen gave to the BFG actually exists in Windsor Great Park and the cottage next door for Sophie! Hopefully I’ll get to visit Cumberland Lodge someday.”
Great Welsh Writers: Roald Dahl, the new BBC television documentary, aired on Tuesday 13 September 2016, on BBC Wales. Our Principal, Edmund Newell, was also interviewed about the BFG connection as part of the Anne Diamond show on BBC Radio Berkshire on the same day.
Find out more about our new programme of BFG-themed work with schools here.