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Roald Dahl's plan for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

I’m reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to my boy at the moment, and so this story leapt out at me more than it ordinarily would.

It concerns the 1971 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory film more than the book, but it’s the same thing really, isn’t it? Anyway, I heard an interesting theory about the film and thought I’d share it here.

According to this theory, it wasn’t chance that saw a deprived local child end up with the last golden ticket – it was Wonka’s plan all along.

Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Picture: roalddahl.com
Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Picture: roalddahl.com

Let’s go down the rabbit hole together, and remember, this concerns the first film, not the book or the 2005 Tim Burton/Johnny Depp movie.

You’ll recall that there was a news report claiming that the last ticket had been found in South America. Well, that was fake news and was planted by Wonka. Wonka is a madman, and so the picture we see of the man who supposedly found the ticket is actually a picture of Hitler’s personal secretary, Martin Bormann.

I’m going to go on a brief diversion here: the film’s director, Mel Stuart, says the photo was a joke that fell flat. After the Second World War, there was a rumour that Bormann escaped Berlin to Paraguay, and so the reference to a man from South America finding the ticket and the picture of the winner actually being of the Fuhrer’s right hand man, was a very funny gag. It’s just that not enough children in the audience recognised the black-and-white picture of a long-dead senior Nazi. Back on track: the theory goes that it wasn’t just a joke by the real-life director, but it was also a joke by the character Wonka, who wanted to show off how much more clever he was than everyone else.

What Wonka actually wanted, was for the last ticket to be found by a child who just wanted to enjoy one of his chocolate bars, not by a grown-up desperate to win the contest. And so the theory continues… The sweet shop where Charlie buys the chocolate bar with the golden ticket is actually run by an undercover employee of Wonka’s. After the fake ticket story hit the news, the undercover retailer is told to give the bar with the ticket to the right child: someone of modest means and with a good heart.

Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka in the 1971 film Picture: Paramount Pictures
Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka in the 1971 film Picture: Paramount Pictures

At first, when Charlie goes to buy chocolate with the money he finds, he just wants the biggest bar he can get, so the confectioner gives him a random Wonka bar.

But then, Charlie turns back, doesn’t he? He goes back and tells the shopkeeper that he wants to buy another bar, this time for his Grandpa Joe. At this point, the owner realises that this is the kid, and hands him the bar with the ticket inside.

The theory goes on to explain that with the contest ending imminently, and the tour of the factory taking place the very next day, it’d have to be a local kid that won. The logistics otherwise would be impossible.

Now, while none of this can be definitively proved or disproved, it should be pointed out that Willy Wonka in this film is a manipulative maniac who can’t be trusted.

We know from the film that he sent out a fake Slugworth to test out all the kids, and then at the end he yells at Charlie and his grandfather just to see what Charlie will do… the theory doesn’t sound quite so bizarre, does it?


While many of us grew up loving it, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory author Roald Dahl wasn’t a fan of the 1971 film at all.

Roald Dahl wanted a Goon to play Willy Wonka. Peter Sellers (left) and Spike Milligan (right)
Roald Dahl wanted a Goon to play Willy Wonka. Peter Sellers (left) and Spike Milligan (right)

He was paid $300,000 for the first draft of the screenplay and wanted Wonka to be flamboyant and eccentric and only really rude to children when they were rude to him. But he was unhappy with the various changes made by director, Mel Stuart. While he had a particular dislike of the music, his greatest source of frustration was that Spike Milligan – for whom he’d written the part – wasn’t cast as Wonka.

Dahl’s biographer, Donald Sturrock, wrote: “He had serious reservations about Gene Wilder’s performance as Wonka, which he thought ‘pretentious’ and insufficiently ‘gay [in the old-fashioned sense of the word] and bouncy’.” Incidentally, his second choice was Milligan’s fellow Goon Peter Sellers.

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