I used to be a big fan of Dickens. I was eight at the time, and while the rest of my classmates were reading Jacqueline Wilson books, I was ploughing through David Copperfield. But then I went to secondary school and English Literature classes infected me with a healthy loathing for anything which I might be expected to analyse. Given that we’d actually studied Great Expectations (with special emphasis on two particular scenes, which we must have read at least forty times); Dickens went straight to the top of my blacklist.
Luckily for me though, I had read just enough during that early Dickens obsession to not only be amused by but to understand most if not all of the satirical references in the first episode of the BBC’s new Dickens parody The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff. And after what has been so far a quite frankly dire offering of Christmas television (at least that which my family have chosen to watch), this was a breath of fresh air.
Alright it may not have been exactly subtle, either in humour or in plot, which the main character, Jedrington Secret-Past (Robert Webb) turning out to have a secret past, one which lands his wife Conceptiva (Katherine Parkinson) and two children Victor (Finlay Christie) and Victoria (Ambra Lily Keegan) in The Skint prison. This necessitates a visit to the home of his adoptive maiden aunts (and uncle), the four of whom each epitomised a Victorian virtue, from chastity to writing prompt thank you cards, and eventually leads him to the attic inhabited by the mysterious Miss Christmasham (Celia Imrie) – anyone who like me was forced to study Great Expectations will no doubt be shuddering at the reference! Along the way he is aided by a group of urchins, led by the Artful Codger (Johnny Vegas) who can be summoned by a cry of “Urchins, ho!”. It’s all decidedly silly, but in a good way, and just what returning students like me need to rest their essay-fried brains.
The series also has a great cast. Alongside Webb, Imrie and Vegas, we have Stephen Fry as the evil lawyer Malifax Skulkington and David Mitchell as Jolliforth Jollington, the most joyful man in the world – and who better to play him than Mitchell, who never seems to stop smiling? Also notable in the first episode is Terrence Hardiman, as a madman with a goose on his hat, a necessary addition to any television show, as I’m sure you’ll agree.
All in all, The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff may not be the best parody show ever to grace our screens, but if you’re looking for a little light-hearted entertainment this Christmas, I’d certainly recommend tuning in!
A repeat of The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff: Christmas Episode will be aired on Tuesday 29th December at 10pm on BBC2.