Category Archives: Short Stories

Kiss Kiss

Kiss KissRoald Dahl, 1960. Cover by Derek Birdsall, 1970.

Kiss Kiss is a collection of eleven short stories, first published in book format in 1960. In most of the stories the horror is subtle and the deaths or other unpleasant outcomes can only be inferred.

I won’t try to give a synopsis of the plot of any of the stories. That, according to the Urban Dictionary, would be a massive spoiler. The UD also reveals that “spoiler” has become a verb which can be used in two ways: 1) to ruin any piece of entertainment by revealing information about the plot eg “please don’t spoiler the last episode of Breaking Bad for me!” ; 2) to protect entertainment being ruined by obscuring such information  eg “I spoilered my post about yesterday’s  Archers Omnibus because I know you haven’t heard it yet”. In Urbanspeak I have verbized the word and spolilered this article to protect those who have not yet read Dahl’s stories.

Dahl was a master storyteller, expert at peeling back the skin of life to reveal the hidden, the inappropriate and, above all, the unexpected. Many of the stories from Kiss Kiss – along with stories from Dahl’s other collections, Tales of the Unexpected and Someone Like You – were dramatized and appeared as early episodes of the Anglia TV series, Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected, first aired in 1979. Despite its low budget the series featured guest appearances from British film and stage stars including John Gielgud, John Mills, Joan Collins and Derek Jacobi. Dahl introduced all of his own stories, giving short monologues explaining what inspired him to write them. However, fewer and fewer of Dahl’s stories appeared and the show was cancelled in 1988, after the ninth series, following criticism that the episodes were beginning to decline in quality.

For many people who grew up in the UK in the early 80’s the title Tales of the Unexpected evokes the opening titles: a Bond-film pastiche of tarot cards, a revolver and – we assume – a naked woman dancing behind flickering flames. The titles were accompanied by Ron Grainger’s sinister fairground theme music which, as You Tube user David Byrne puts it, “still scares the shit out of me!”

In 1980, comedian Peter Cook starred in a TV spoof entitled Tales of the Much as We Expected. Cook, as Dahl, explained why he dropped the “n” in Ronald and the sketch ends with the fireplace spreading over the screen.

The cover of the 1970 Penguin edition of Kiss Kiss was designed by John Birdsall about whom one design critic wrote, “just the type on his Penguin covers of the 1960s and 70s, for example, is brilliantly graphic, with or without illustration”. The cover of Kiss Kiss is no exception and it became the inspiration for the doodles on many a school exercise book in the early 70’s.