Danny, the Champion of the World is a 1975 children's book by Roald Dahl. As in many of Dahl's books, the main character is a child protagonist who is imaginative and intelligent. This story is based on Dahl's adult short story "Champion of the World" which appears in "Claud's Dog".
Danny's mother died suddenly when he was only four months old and from then on he lived with his father in an old Gypsy vardo at the back of a filling station, where his father fixed cars. By the time Danny was seven years old, he was able to take apart, and then put back together, a switch motor.
Danny's father owned the filling station, and it was the only piece of land for miles around that was not owned by a wealthy but unpleasant local man called Mr. Victor Hazell. After Mr. Hazell threatened Danny and Danny's father subsequently refused to give him service, Mr. Hazell attempted to have the father and son run off their land. This caused Danny's father to bear a grudge against Mr. Hazell.
When Danny was nine years old he woke up in the middle of the night and couldn't find his father, who has a dark secret. His father went to poach pheasants from Hazell's Wood. Danny's father then let Danny in on a secret of poaching: pheasants love raisins, and placing a raisin inside a 'sticky hat' (a piece of paper rolled into a cone shape with glue on the inside) is the perfect trap in which to catch a pheasant. Another trick that Danny's dad taught him was the Horse-Hair Stopper: A horse's tailhair, when threadedthrough a raisin, would cause the raisin (upon swallowing) to become lodged in the pheasant's throat.
One evening, Danny's father went poaching and promised to be back no later than 10:30 p.m. Danny, waking later that night, discovers his father's absence. Fearing the worst, he sets out into the woods to find him, trapped down a hole with a broken ankle, and is able to rescue him by virtue of a customer's car.
While Danny's father is recovering from his injury, they hear that Mr. Hazell's pheasant-shooting party is approaching. They decide to humiliate him by luring all the pheasants away from the forest, so there will be no pheasants to shoot. Danny suggests that they should put the contents of sleeping tablets inside raisins which the pheasants will then eat, and when this is done they hide the sleeping pheasants in a local woman's house by taking a taxi. The woman then brings all the sleeping pheasants in a baby cradle. As she is walking toward them, the pheasants began to wake up and fly, but they droopily fall back down. An angry Hazell arrives at the filling station just as the pheasants are waking up. With the help of Sgt. Samways, William and Danny herd the groggy birds onto Hazell's car, ruining the paintwork (and interior). Once the pheasants have woken completely, they fly away from the scene - in the opposite direction from Hazell's wood.
Danny is hailed as a champion by his father and Sgt. Samways, but their victory is a bittersweet one, due to the fact that all the pheasants flew away. But Doc Spencer shows them six pheasants still asleep from eating too many raisins inside the caravan. They each receive two pheasants, except the Doc, who didn't want any.
TV Movie Overview
In 1989, a TV movie of the book was made by Thames Television, with major actors including Jeremy Irons, Cyril Cusack and Robbie Coltrane starring and directed by Gavin Millar. The movie was a family affair of sorts, given the fact that Jeremy Irons plays the Father, Samuel Irons, his son, plays Danny and his father-in-law, Cyril Cusack plays the affable country doctor in the movie.
As with many books adapted for television and cinema, the film version of Danny, the Champion of the World has a number of significant differences to the book.
Names: In the book, Danny's surname is never given, and his father's name (William) is mentioned few times, leading people to believe that he is unnamed. In the film, Danny's surname is Smith, and his father's name, William, is said frequently. Danny's lateness for school: Danny was late for school twice. The first time he was let off with a verbal warning from Captain Lancaster (his teacher, a former army captain who insisted upon using his wartime title). On the second occasion, he was punished with 1,000 lines. In the book, it was never mentioned that he had been late for school. The date of the story: The film was set in 1955, which suggests that Danny was born during the mid to late 1940s. A reference in the book to a 1933 Austin Seven motor car states that the vehicle was 40 years old, so Roald Dahl had obviously set this stage of the story at 1973 - Danny was nine years old at the time, which means that he was born in 1964. The escape from Hazell's Wood: In the book, Danny and his father escape from Hazell's Wood at around 3:00 a.m., to avoid being pulled out by Mr Hazell at 6:00 a.m. - this is what the keepers had said. In the film, Danny rescued his father from the pit just before the keepers and Mr Hazell arrived. They also got away in the car just in time to avoid being caught; the noise of the engine had attracted the attention of Mr Hazell and his keepers. Confrontation with Mr.Hazell: In the film, Mr. Hazell guessed that the man who escaped from the pit was Danny's father, and reported him to the local policeman. When the local policeman (Sgt. Samways) came to visit Danny and his father, he made up a version of events by stating that the cause of Danny's father's broken ankle was falling down his caravan steps. Mr Hazell later turned up with his keepers and warned Danny's father that he would be shot if he trespassed on his land again. In the book, none of this happened because Mr Hazell did not know that Danny's father was the man in the pit. Danny's detention: In the film, Danny falls asleep during class and was kept behind after school by Captain Lancaster. He was finally allowed home after all the children had gone, but was ordered to run 20 laps of the playground first. While Captain Lancaster had his back turned, Danny climbed over a wall and ran home. Captain Lancaster soon figured out what had happened, and climbed over the wall in hope of catching up with Danny only for his trousers to rip. Mr Snoddy, the headmaster, then appeared and Captain Lancaster announced his immediate resignation. In the book, none of this happened. The Child Welfare Investigation In the movie, Jean Marsh plays a social worker who pays a visit to the home to investigate Danny's living conditions. There is no such investigation in the book. This is the only significant female role in either the book or the movie. When Mr Smith must explain why he was two years late enrolling Danny to school, he says he was a full-time teacher before the war, which qualified him to home-school Danny. In the book Danny describes his father as not an educated man, doubting he read ten or twenty books in his life. Hazell's scheme: In the book, Hazell's desire to buy the land and drive out Danny and his father appears to be a simple matter of greed and resentment. In the film, however, it becomes apparent that he is planning on selling his entire estate so that a new town may be built - and that the filling station and caravan, being the only piece of land that he did not own, was the final hurdle. The developer had been under the impression that William was about to sell his property, but when it becomes apparent at the film's climax that this was not the case, he informs Hazell that the deal is off. An angry and humiliated Hazell leaves the celebrating crowd with the words "Damn you, Smith....damn you all!
William Smith = Jeremy Irons
Victor Hazell = Robbie Coltrane
Danny Smith = Samuel Irons
Doc Spencer = Cyril Cusack
Lord Claybury = Michael Hordern
Mr Snoddy = Lionel Jeffries
Miss Hunter = Jean Marsh
Rabbetts = Jimmy Nail
Captain Lancaster = Ronald Pickup
Charles Tallon = John Woodvine
Springer = William Armstrong
Mrs Clipstone = Ceri Jackson
Vicar = James Walker
Postman = Phil Nice
Wheeler = Anthony Collin
Sargent Samways = Jonathan Adams
Sidney Morgan = Jonathan Leigh
Inspector = Richard Cubison
Mr Parker = John Grillo
The Duke = Andrew MacLachlan
ISBN 0-435-12221-5 (hardcover, 1977) ISBN 0-14-032873-4 (paperback, 1988) ISBN 0-224-03749-8 (hardcover, 1994) ISBN 0-14-037157-5 (paperback, 1994) ISBN 0-224-06469-X (paperback, 2002) ISBN 0-375-81425-6 (hardcover, 2002) ISBN 0-375-91425-0 (library binding, 2002) ISBN 0-141-31132-0 (hardcover, 2004)