“Willie Wonka” Author Spied on the U.S.

ENTERTAINMENT | November 17, 2018

British novelist Roald Dahl (1916 - 1990) taken on 10th December 1971. (Photo by Ronald Dumont/Daily Express/Getty Images)

Roald Dahl, who went on to pen such children’s classics as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach, was once a member of a British spy ring based in the United States during World War II. As part of the British Security Coordination or BSC, Dahl engaged in covert missions to try to convince the isolationist United States to join the war against Germany. To accomplish his goal, Dahl even seduced some of his contacts in order to gather information. Dahl’s books may portray childlike innocence but his own life was one of intrigue and seduction. 

Dahl was A Fighter Pilot for the Royal Air Force

In 1939, Dahl, a native of Wales, enlisted in the Royal Air Force and was trained to be a fighter pilot. He successfully flew several combat missions, but after he sustained injuries when he crash-landed in North Africa, his flying days were over. But Dahl still felt compelled to help the war effort. 

Roald Dahl with Ian Fleming

Dahl was Recruited by the BSC and sent to Washington DC

In 1942, Dahl was recruited to join the BSC. Among the other members of the organization were Ian Fleming, who went on to create the James Bond character in books and films. The goal of the BSC was to get the United States to enter the war against Germany. In the nation’s capital, Dahl worked at the British embassy as an assistant air attaché as his cover, was tasked with planting information and propaganda, as well as securing information for the BSC.

Dahl Used Social Events and Parties to Meet Contacts

In Washington DC, Dahl attended parties and made his presence known in the city’s social scene. He hobnobbed with politicians, socialites, business leaders, journalists and celebrities, including the first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. Dahl was tall, handsome, witty, and charming so he tended to make friends easily and attract people to him. 

Clare Boothe Luce

Did Dahl Seduce His Targets to get Information?

As part of Dahl’s fact-finding strategy, Dahl reportedly used his seduction prowess to gain information via pillow talk. He was linked to Millicent Rogers, who was the heiress to the Standard Oil Company, for one. He allegedly had a sexual tryst with Congresswoman, Clare Boothe Luce, the wife of the publisher of Time magazine, that was so heated that Dahl later explained that he asked his supervisors to remove him from the mission. His request was not granted. In fact, he was told to get back to work. 

Henry Wallace, Vice President

Dahl got close to the Vice-President

In Washington, Dahl befriended Texas newspaper magnate, Charles Marsh, who was well-connected in politics and supported the idea of the United States aiding England in its fight against the Germans. Marsh introduced Dahl to other prominent journalists and high-ranking politicians. One of them was the vice president, Henry Wallace. Marsh’s daughter later recalled that Dahl was a lady’s man, but he knew how to spot wealth. According to her, Dahl only had affairs with women with a certain net worth…and that there were plenty of them to keep Dahl busy.” 

Crown Princess Martha of Norway

Philandering Aside, Dahl was an Effective Spy

Despite his extra-curricular activities, Dahl was able to glean bits of useful information that he then passed on to the BSC. One tidbit Dahl shared with his bosses was his belief that Crown Princess Martha of Norway, who had sought asylum in the United States, was having an affair with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. 

Dahl’s Spy Days were Short-Lived

Most indications are that Roald Dahl’s spy career was a short one. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, there was not much need for his services in Washington DC. His days of excitement and intrigue were over. Dahl eventually returned to Great Britain and launched his writing career. He published James and the Giant Peach in 1961, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in 1964, The BFG in 1982, and Matilda in 1988. Dahl died in 1990 at the age of 74. 

Tags: British spy

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