Bleak Expectations (BBC Radio 4, 2007-2012)
This is a sitcom that deals with something that I must admit I don’t know a huge amount about, but once again as this was such a bizarre twist on a famous idea I couldn’t resist becoming a regular listener. Charles Dickens is one of those writers whose novels and characters have been very famous, and there is even a block near where I live named after him (it’s what he would’ve wanted I’m sure).
Bleak Expectations was a parody of some of Dickens’s stories, written by Mark Evans. The now rich and elderly Sir Philip Bin (Richard Johnson) has decided to take a look back at his rather remarkable life. His daughter Lily and her husband Jeremy Sourquill arrive to listen to and record his story, but they often turn up late because Jeremy has usually been working on another bizarre invention, which makes Philip rather frustrated.
When his story is told (accompanied by suitable music), we go back to the younger Pip (Tom Allen, before he was on every other show on TV). His Victorian childhood was most certainly not a happy one, and this is mostly because of his cruel guardian Mr Gently Benevolent (Anthony Head), who wants to take over the world, and he also had the most magnificent laugh. Now some people might know Head for his Gold Blend adverts, or even of course for his appearances in Buffy The Vampire Slayer, but he deserves as much credit for playing this cackling and horrid character.
We also meet lots of other Dickensian-style characters along the way, including Pip’s friend Harry Biscuit, who always gets caught up in the adventures. There were also a huge amount of characters played by Geoffrey Whitehead, including Mr Sternbeater and Mr Whackwallop, and they all met a rather horrible fate. I also liked the way that Pip would always yell “no!”, when he was about to witness yet another horror. The opportunity to use lots of bizarre 19th century-style turns of phrase was taken, and as the episodes go by Philip’s memories become increasingly outlandish, including an alien invasion.
There was also a guest appearance in a couple of episodes from David Mitchell, which definitely enhanced things. There were five series of Bleak Expectations, and this became popular enough with listeners for there to be a short-lived TV spin-off called The Bleak Old Shop Of Stuff. There was also a book released, which mostly covered the events of what happened to Pip in the first series, which is an entertaining read.