Roald Dahl once said he would set an ‘enormous crocodile’ on publishers if they changed his work

Oslo 19890929 The British author Roald Dahl presents his book Matilda in Norwegian translation. Interview situation. Photo: Inge Gjellesvik / NTB / NTB
Roald Dahl was recorded saying he would never agree with censorship. (PA/Alamy)

Roald Dahl's comments from 40 years ago about "setting an enormous crocodile" on his publishers if they changed his work have shed light on what the late author would have thought of attempts to censor him.

Dahl was recorded specifically saying that he would be outraged by the idea of censorship after his death, and joked that he would send the title character from his book The Enormous Crocodile to deal with his publishers.

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The Daily Telegraph had reported that recent versions of children's favourites by Dahl, who died in 1990, had been changed by publisher Puffin Books, a division of Penguin Random House, to remove descriptions of characters as "fat" and "ugly" in books including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda.

UNITED KINGDOM -CIRCA 2006: stamp printed in Great Britain dedicated to animal tales, shows Roald Dahl's 'The Enormous Crocodile
The Enormous Crocodile is one of Roald Dahl's most popular children's books. (PA/Alamy)

After an outcry from authors, readers and even prime minister Rishi Sunak, it was announced that Puffin would publish two versions of the stories in future - the original text, and an amended version changed to avoid offence.

However, The Guardian has uncovered a recorded conversation between Dahl and artist Francis Bacon from 1982, where he made his strong feelings on censorship clear and made reference to his book The Enormous Crocodile.

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In the conversation that the men had recorded at Dahl's home in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, Dahl said: "I’ve warned my publishers that if they later on so much as change a single comma in one of my books, they will never see another word from me. Never! Ever!"

Dahl, whose parents were Norwegian, added: "When I am gone, if that happens, then I’ll wish mighty Thor knocks very hard on their heads with his Mjolnir. Or I will send along the ‘enormous crocodile’ to gobble them up."

Oslo 1985 Roald Dahl, British author. Photo: Inge Gjellesvik / NTB / NTB
Roald Dahl was recorded speaking about censorship in 1982. (PA/Alamy)

Bacon said: "There must be no changes to an artist’s original work when he is dead for any reason whatsoever," as Dahl jokingly crossed himself and replied: "I just hope to God that will never happen to any of my writings as I am lying comfortably in my Viking grave."

Earlier in the week, Sunak had weighed in on the controversy with a statement from his official spokesman which read: "When it comes to our very rich literary heritage, the Prime Minister agrees with the BFG that you should not Gobblefunk around with words."

On Thursday, Camilla, Queen Consort told an audience of writers and publishers: "Please remain true to your calling, unimpeded by those who may wish to curb the freedom of your expression or impose limits on your imagination. Enough said."

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 23: Camilla, Queen Consort gives a speech as she attends a reception to celebrate the second anniversary of The Reading Room at Clarence House on February 23, 2023 in London, England. The Reading Room, which was official launched by the Queen Consort 2 years ago, champions literacy and encourages readers to find new literature. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
Camilla, Queen Consort addressed authors and publishers this week. (Getty Images)

Comedian Ricky Gervais also made reference to Dahl's censorship by sharing a photo of himself looking serious and tweeting: "This is me pondering whether they'll change any of the words I've used in my work after I'm dead, to spare those who are fragile and easily offended.

"Words like 'fat' and 'ugly'. And 'c***' and 'f***'. And 'fat, ugly, greedy, pathetic little stupid f***ing c***'. Stuff like that."

Author Salman Rushdie also spoke out in support of Dahl, saying: "Roald Dahl was no angel but this is absurd censorship. Puffin Books and the Dahl estate should be ashamed."

Actress Patricia Neal and her husband author Roald Dahl pose with their children at the hotel in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, where they are vacationing on January 12, 1967. The children are from left; Ophelia, Theo, Tessa and Lucy. (AP Photo)
Roald Dahl with his family in 1967. (AP Photo)

The Daily Telegraph has reported that James Bond author Ian Fleming's work has also been changed recently to remove racist descriptions of some characters.

Other potentially offensive parts of text will remain, including racism, homophobia and misogynistic language, but will be accompanied by a disclaimer that reads: “This book was written at a time when terms and attitudes which might be considered offensive by modern readers were commonplace.

“A number of updates have been made in this edition, while keeping as close as possible to the original text and the period in which it is set.”