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MikeAlx

The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff

Did anyone else watch this Dickens spoof the other night? I thought it was pretty amusing - Stephen Fry was particularly good as the evil lawyer Malifax Skulkingworm. Apparently it's the first of four.

If you haven't a clue what I'm on about, look here: http://www.comedy.co.uk/guide/tv/bleak_old_shop_of_stuff/
Apple

I saw it advertised and and I have Sky+'d it but not actually got round to watching it yet.
Evie

I watched it last night, and found it slightly amusing but just a bit too silly for my taste.  It has a great cast - and as you say, Mike, Stephen Fry was wonderful as the evil lawyer, and the best jokes really were about the legal business - but I felt the cast were having more fun than I was!
KlaraZ

I enjoyed it, particularly as it had Mitchell and Webb, not to mention Stephen Fry, but I did feel that, as a Dickensian spoof, it somehow didn't work quite as well as the radio show 'Bleak Expectations' (this was a spin-off from that series, of course, by the same writer.) On the radio, the word-play comes across far better, plus you have to provide the surreal images for yourself. I felt much the same when 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' transferred to the screen----on the radio, the pictures are better, as they say.

Still, it was fun....
chris-l

Sorry, but I turned it off after about 10 minutes. As Klara said, no where near as funny as 'Bleak Expectations', and having listened to that, I found the TV jokes almost predictable. Maybe I should have given it longer, but the Christmas season leaves me feeling anything but mellow! Bah! Humbug!
Ann

I mildly enjoyed it and some of the jokes were clever - I might have appreciated them more on the radio as the pictures, on television, do rather get in the way. I thought the children were well done and it is not easy to find children who can act so convincingly. I think, on balance, I'm glad I watched it.
MikeAlx

Oh, wish I'd heard the radio series now! I thought some of the visual gags worked quite well - the horses dragging the shop off to the debtors' prison; the telescoping top hat; the urchins jammed into the clock gears. I love the idea of treacle addiction (and its antidote, gravy addiction). I thought it was pretty good overall, but was a bit surprised to discover it's a four-parter - I suspect it may wear a bit thin over 4 episodes.
county_lady

KlaraZ wrote:
I enjoyed it, particularly as it had Mitchell and Webb, not to mention Stephen Fry, but I did feel that, as a Dickensian spoof, it somehow didn't work quite as well as the radio show 'Bleak Expectations' (this was a spin-off from that series, of course, by the same writer.) On the radio, the word-play comes across far better, plus you have to provide the surreal images for yourself. I felt much the same when 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' transferred to the screen----on the radio, the pictures are better, as they say.

Still, it was fun....


Yes I agree with those sentiments it missed the mark but only slightly.
Green Jay

Like many others I found it so-so amusing but not a patch on the wonderfully cruel Bleak Expectations, which has less obvious casting and far better literary jokes, and is more pacey. Anthony Head is great as Mr Gently-Benevolent, and I love the ever-optimistic Pip Bin and save-the-day Harry Biscuit. I thought on TV the actress with the fab voice who was playing the mother was hugely wasted in her treacle addiction, with very little to say and do other than swoon and rub her bosom! Whereas the radio Dickens female is a much better spoof of the virtuous Victorian love-interest. And they all play it extremely straight-voiced and earnestly on Radio 4 which is just as much fun for the listener as the cast.

I'm afraid (dodging brickbats here  Wink ) I find the knee-jerk employment of Stephen Fry to do and be everything on the BBC - radio and telly - very tiresome now. I know he's a national treasure but please think about using someone else once in a while, BBC! His ubiqity detracts from the pleasure I used to get from his performances.
Evie

I suppose I haven't seen the Blessed Stephen act in anything for a while, and I thought he was fab in this, so I enjoyed his presence most of all.  I know what you mean, though.

I thought the wondrous David Mitchell was a bit wasted in this (I mean in the sense of not having enough to do, I don't think he was intoxicated...) - he was lovely, as ever, but would have liked a better part (and script) for him.

Johnny Vegas was good as the urchin, I thought - he is good in Dickensian things, I loved him as Krook in Bleak House.

Like Mike, I can't see how they can sustain it for three more episodes - it was wearing thin by the end of one - but I suppose that's just my taste.  I have only heard odd episodes of the radio version, but did enjoy that a lot more.
Green Jay

Green Jay wrote:
...the actress with the fab voice who was playing the mother was hugely wasted in her treacle addiction...


Oops, did not spot the double entendre in this until Evie's post! She was hugely wasted in just having to play hugely wasted.
Green Jay

Evie wrote:
I suppose I haven't seen the Blessed Stephen act in anything for a while, and I thought he was fab in this, so I enjoyed his presence most of all.  I know what you mean, though.

I thought the wondrous David Mitchell was a bit wasted in this (I mean in the sense of not having enough to do, I don't think he was intoxicated...) - he was lovely, as ever, but would have liked a better part (and script) for him.

Johnny Vegas was good as the urchin, I thought - he is good in Dickensian things, I loved him as Krook in Bleak House.

Like Mike, I can't see how they can sustain it for three more episodes - it was wearing thin by the end of one - but I suppose that's just my taste.  I have only heard odd episodes of the radio version, but did enjoy that a lot more.


Yes, J V makes a natural Victorian lowlife, doesn't he? Agree about David Mitchel, they all really had just a one-line character to portray, didn't they?

The radio series builds up if you listen more consistently, as fortunes are always being reversed and re-reversed. I guess that may happen here in future episodes but I lack the commitment to find out. And 30 mins is perfect, rather than an hour a piece. Isn't it funny that visuals which can convey so much so quuickly actually take much longer - or are given much longer - to do so?

St Stephen has been on radio a lot recently, four times over one weekend, doing things on phones, knowledge etc etc. Then he's always doing QI and the making of QI I saw in the schedules this week!

By the way, did anyone see the last episode of Rev which had a wonderful split-second where the Christmas community dinner resembled da Vinci's the Last Supper and then changed again as more people brought their chairs to the table. Throw-away bliss!.
KlaraZ

Oh, I absolutely love 'Rev', and the Christmas special was superb. Yes, the Da Vinci 'Last Supper' visual  reference was v. good (although it has already been used on TV, at the end of a Xmas special of 'Shameless' a few years back. On the other hand, in 'Rev' it made more theological sense, since Adam Smallbone is far more saintly than Frank Gallagher!)
Evie

Rev is fabulous, and this series has been sublime - that Last Supper was a lovely moment.
Green Jay

I loved that moment because it was so quick and not milked.
debsalini

You'll all be pleased to know that this christmas episode was a self-contained story. The next three episodes are hald an hour each and form a new story featuring the same family. The children have a bit more to do, too. Smile
Apple

On a related subject - that is Charles Dickens, did anyone see the BBC2 programme over christmas, Mrs Dickens christmas (or something like that)? It explored the ideal family christmas Dickens presented in some of his novels compared to his real family life where he apparently treated his wife appalingly. It was presented by Sue Perkins.
KlaraZ

Yes, I saw that programme and I found the way Sue Perkins presented it intensely irritating. Certainly it's true that the split between Dickens and Catherine was very acrimonious, with Catherine cast aside for Ellen Ternan, hardly Dickens's finest hour, but one does wonder why Catherine would want to continue living with a man who no longer loved her. He did make her a generous allowance, and some of the assertions that Sue Perkins made in the programme were questionable and she conveniently didn't deal with certain biographical facts, such as the matter of Catherine's own sister Georgiana taking Dickens' part.
I'd much rather have heard more from a few Dickens scholars on this issue, than have endured Sue Perkins's jokey dogmatic anti-male  tub-thumping!
Apple

Well, it is a well known fact she is a lesbian so I suppose she was never going to be too sympathetic towards Dickens, especially as there is documented evidence that he was, lets say "not very nice" to his wife, having said that she also has a degree in English Literature so I am assuming she does know what she is talking about and has some knowledge on this subject.
KlaraZ

I'm afraid that even people with degrees in English can be guilty of making wrong-headed interpretations of texts and of twisting the evidence to suit their thesis. For example, no-one would dispute that Dickens was harsh with Catherine and made some ill-advised public pronouncements at the time of their separation, but I think quite a few Dickens's scholars would baulk at some of the connections Sue Perkins made in this programme, such as that Dickens was 'making a joke' about Catherine's breast-feeding problems (years before!) in 'Dombey and Son'.
Sandraseahorse

I was irritated by the fact that Claire Tomalin was given just a small spot in this programme when, as a Dicken biographer, Tomalin was far more qualified to present the programme than Sue Perkins, who seems to get massive TV exposure.
MikeAlx

That's symptomatic of our TV culture in general though, isn't it? This is why we get programmes like these now, instead of things like Bookmark.

I heard Tomalin interviewed on the Guardian Books podcast and on Radio 4's Front Row - she had some very interesting things to say about Dickens, amongst other things suggesting that Peter Ackroyd was too much of an apologist regarding the author's relationship with Ternan, and marshalling strong evidence to support her side of the argument. You'd be lucky to find such rigour on TV nowadays.
TheRejectAmidHair

It's good to see Radio 4 maintaining standards. Now, if they could get the three Dickens biographers (Peter Ackroyd, Michael Slater & Claire Tomalin) together to argue out their differences ... with no input from celebs...
KlaraZ

Yes, I wanted to hear more from Claire Tomalin too, plus a few more Dickens scholars. A Slater v. Tomalin debate would have been good. Oddly enough, I'd never even heard of Sue Perkins before! I suppose I just don't watch the programmes where she appears and she wasn't on my radar. Lots of 'popular' TV types aren't, esp. if they're not actors. (I'm not as bad as my husband, though, who hadn't heard of Jill Dando until she was murdered.) But to get back to 'Mrs Dickens' Xmas. Much as I enjoy spoofs like 'Bleak Expectations' and 'Bleak Old Shop Full of Stuff', I don't like what purports to be a serious comment on Dickens being overlaid with some of the pantomime Sue Perkins indulged in, all the dressing up and strutting about doing bogus Dickens readings. It really annoyed me!
Green Jay

Oh, dear - I rather enjoyed the programme!  Laughing More so than the rather disappointing and disjointed Armando Iannucci programme on Dickens a day or two later. Or maybe it was just that I was reading the paper at the same time that was on - but only because it didn't grab me as much as I'd hoped from the start.

Sue Perkins is over-exposed on Radio 4 and TV at the minute, and she did take a very partisan view, but I minded her much less in this than in some things she's done. I even enjoyed the melodramatic readings. But I would like to have heard a lot more from informed sources.

On Klara's point about why would Catherine Dickens want to stay with a husband who didn't love her any more - though presumably she loved him - this is the very stuff of Victorian marriages. To be separated in those days (and by force) was highly unusual, and a public humiliation. If Dickens was the ultimate star of his day, as this programme claimed, then it would be very public (footballers wives!!)   It was really a rather disgraceful position for a woman to be in at the time, a sort of social limbo, and it probably meant that you had no proper position in society; to be respectable you were either a spinster or a wife or a widow. Also her children were banned from seeing her, and she had no legal right to them at all. Whatever you think, or we can know,  about the causes of this rift, her position hardly seems one anyone would want to be in, however comfy the allowance. Think of the mysterious disgraced and outcast women in other authors' fiction and plays of the 19th century - theirs is never shown as a desirable position.
MikeAlx

For a woman to actually sue for a divorce in those days she would have had to prove her husband's infidelity. This remained the situation right into the 1920s. Even after that, it was quite difficult and potentially expensive for a woman to seek divorce. These facts are seldom brought up when people start bemoaning the high number of divorces these days!
KlaraZ

Yes, I take your point, Greenjay i.e why Catherine would have wanted to stay with Dickens. Of course, many women 'put up' with adulterous husbands in those days, and maintained a front to the world. As for Dickens 'banning' Catherine from seeing her children, certainly Sue Perkins asserted this in the programme, but I'd have liked to know what her evidence for this was. From the biographical material I've read, (incl.  Edgar Johnson's 'Dickens, his tragedy and triumph), it wasn't as clear-cut as that. Kate Dickens sided with her mother, and she was a very strong character, not at all the kind of person who would blindly obey her father) whereas Mamie sided with her mother.  Charley, the eldest son, also supported Catherine.
Apple

I watched another Dickens biographical type programme as well over christmas, I can't remember what it was called, some bloke presented it and it was totally different from the Sue Perkins one which I think was meant to have a lighter feel to it, but it was interesting but didn't seem to flow as easily and personally I prefered the other one.
Green Jay

Apple, I think that must have been the one presented by Armando Ianucci I mentioned above. I agree, it seemed rather bitty; and it was trailed as being about David Copperfield but seemed to stray off in all directions.
Mikeharvey

I'm beginning to resist these programmes about Literature presented by people who are famous in another field.  Why not have the programmes led by an expert? Both the Ianucci programme and the Perkins were somewhat patronising to the viewer. It seemed as though they thought we were unable to appreciate the subject without jokes and references to Harry Potter...............
Green Jay

KlaraZ wrote:
Yes, I take your point, Greenjay i.e why Catherine would have wanted to stay with Dickens. Of course, many women 'put up' with adulterous husbands in those days, and maintained a front to the world.


From what I've read about this era, I truly don't think they had much choice about "putting up" with husbands' extra-marital behaviour - legally, financially, morally, and in the eyes of society. I should think some of them were quite glad to have a bit of a break if they'd produced the numbers of children typical of Victorian families! Though, joking apart, they were also prey to diseases brought back into the marriage, as shown up several times on that genealogical TV series  Who Do You Think You Are? which shed interesting light on the pathology - or do I mean etiology? - of syphillis in families. It did not always kill, but led to miscarriages early on, then blindness in later babies who were carried to term, then sort of burnt itself out. That the pattern can be seen quite clearly by experts in the field shows it was common enough to be noted. Grim subject, but fascinating from this distance.

KlaraZ wrote:
As for Dickens 'banning' Catherine from seeing her children, certainly Sue Perkins asserted this in the programme, but I'd have liked to know what her evidence for this was. From the biographical material I've read, (incl.  Edgar Johnson's 'Dickens, his tragedy and triumph), it wasn't as clear-cut as that. Kate Dickens sided with her mother, and she was a very strong character, not at all the kind of person who would blindly obey her father) whereas Mamie sided with her mother.  Charley, the eldest son, also supported Catherine.


I once read a library book on Dickens and the women in his life - wife, sisters in law including the one who "died in his arms", and his daughters. It must have been more than 10 years ago as it was in a library where we lived at the time. I can't find the title on Amazon.  I think a lot of the material in the programme came from that source as it seemed familiar.

What I would add is that in dysfunctional families - maybe any families - different siblings often seem to be working from different scripts, almost as if the same events could not have happened to them and their versions are amazingly different. Siblings may have quite contrasting relationships with a parent, and see them with completely different eyes depending on this, and giving them very different capacities for forgiveness, understanding, sympathy and so on.  I seem to have said the word "different" far too many times just then!

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