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Charles Dickens on the BBC

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Jeremy Mortimer 12:01, Sunday, 27 November 2011

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens by Mathew Brady, US National Archives

In the run-up to the bicentenary of Dickens's birth in February 2012, BBC Radio and BBC TV will be doing the master-storyteller proud, with new productions of four of the novels, and a whole host of other programming, starting with Penelope Wilton reading five extracts from Claire Tomalin's extraordinary new biography - Charles Dickens - A Life.

There are few bits of central and east London that Dickens didn't walk through on his epic walks, observing all of London life and working through the plots of his books.

But the route south from Camden Town, where his family lived when he was a child, to the Strand, and the Navy Pay Office in Somerset House where his father worked, is one that two centuries later is still full of Dickens reminders.

I work at Bush House, and often walk by the Old Curiosity Shop - the slightly dilapidated cottage in Portsmouth Street which inspired one of his earliest novels. And just the other side of Kingsway is Covent Garden, where the young Dickens got lost and found himself walking right out to Whitechapel in the east end. An episode that inspired a terrifying sequence in Dombey and Son, and which also features in the first episode of Michael Eaton's new Radio 4 series Dickens in London.

Dickens was a broadcaster before broadcasting.

Not only did he master the technique of serialisation, with audiences desperate to catch up with the latest episode in each succeeding novel, but he licensed stage performances of his books to coincide with publication, and finally took to halls and theatres across Britain and the United States to perform his own abridged readings.

So when the 20th Century eventually caught up, and the BBC started broadcasting plays and readings, it is hardly surprising that Dickens took to the airwaves.

Jeremy Mortimer is a producer in BBC Radio Drama. Together with Jessica Dromgoole he has produced a new dramatisation of A Tale of Two Cities, starring Robert Lindsay and Alison Steadman, which will be broadcast across the Afternoon Play slots on Radio 4 the week after Christmas. He is also producing Dickens in London for the Woman's Hour drama, for broadcast in February 2012.

The Dickens Season on the BBC

Book of the Week - Charles Dickens: A Life
Monday 28 November - Friday 2 December 2011, 9.45am
BBC Radio 4
Claire Tomalin's acclaimed new biography of Britain's great novelist paints a portrait of an extraordinarily complex man. Abridged by Richard Hamilton and read by Penelope Wilton.

The Verb
Friday 9 December, 10pm
BBC Radio 3
Ian McMillan hosts a special edition of his weekly cabaret of the word before an audience at the BBC's Radio Theatre to celebrate the art of reading Dickens aloud.

Night Waves
Wednesday 14 December, 10pm
BBC Radio 3
Philip Dodd presents a landmark edition of Radio 3's art and ideas programme, devoted to Charles Dickens as the bicentenary of his birth approaches.

A Tale of Two Cities
Monday 26 - Friday 30 December 2011, 2.15pm
BBC Radio 4
Robert Lindsay and Alison Steadman star in a new dramatisation of Charles Dickens's classic, A Tale of Two Cities, dramatised by Mike Walker to be broadcast on Radio 4 as a sequence of five Afternoon Plays in the week after Christmas. Dickens's novel of the French revolution tells a story of the redemptive powers of love in the face of cruelty, violence and neglect. With Jonathan Coy, Andrew Scott, Paul Ready and Karl Johnson, with original music by Lennert Busch.

The Essay - The Writers' Dickens
Monday 19 - Friday 23 December, 10.45pm
BBC Radio 3
In a special series of The Essay, five contemporary novelists - Tessa Hadley, A L Kennedy, Alexander McAll Smith, Romesh Gunesekera and Justin Cartwright - examine the craft of Dickens' prose, and reflect on how the giant of British nineteenth century fiction is both a role model and a shadow looming over their own writing.

The Tale of A Tale of Two Cities
Thursday 29 December 2011, 11.30am
BBC Radio 4
When Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities in 1859 it was, for him at least, both 'the best of times' and 'the worst of times'. He had separated from his wife, started a new weekly journal and was becoming increasingly recognised as a performer of his own works. For this programme, crime writer Frances Fyfield has been given access to those original manuscript pages, held by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and along with the scholar Robert Patten and actor David Timson, she explores the frantic hand-writing, the ferocious self-editing and the sheer energy of Dickens' writing.

The Mumbai Chuzzlewits
Sunday 1, 8, and 15 January 2012, 3.00pm
BBC Radio 4
Award-winning writer Ayeesha Menon's reworking of Charles Dickens's Martin Chuzzlewit is set amongst the Catholic community in modern day Mumbai, India. Convinced his relatives are after his money, Martin Chuzzlewit, a wealthy old landlord, has adopted orphan girl Mary as his carer with the understanding she will be housed and fed as long as he lives - but that upon his death, she will inherit nothing. Told from the point of view of orphan Thomas, an observer into the world of the Chuzzlewits, this is a fast-paced drama full of intrigue, romance, suspense and murder. Recorded on location in India, the cast stars Roshan Seth, Karan Pandit, Zafar Karachiwala and Nimrat Kaur.

The Mystery of the Mystery of Edwin Drood
Thursday 19 January 2012, 11.30am
BBC Radio 4
Crime writer Frances Fyfield uses the hand written manuscript of Charles Dickens' last, unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, to try and answer some of the many questions about the last days of Dickens' life and, more particularly, the loose ends of this tantalising novel. This programme complements the broadcast of Gwyneth Hughes' new BBC TWO drama, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Dickens in London
Monday 6 - Friday 10 February 2012, 10.45am
BBC Radio 4
Dickens in London presents five short plays based on Charles Dickens' journalism about walking in London to tell the story of the writer's life. Adapted by Michael Eaton, the cast stars Samuel Barnett, Alex Jennings and Antony Sher each taking their turn to play Dickens.
Following Dickens' changing relationship with the city that fired his imagination, each stand-alone play takes its title from one of Dickens's own appellations: A Not Over-Particularly-Taken-Care-Of-Boy; Boz; the Sparkler of Albion; the Uncommercial Traveller; and The Inimitable.
Dickens in London is part of an innovative collaboration between Film London Artists' Moving Image Network (FLAMIN), BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio Drama. A commission for film artist Chris Newby, writer Michael Eaton, and composer Neil Brand to produce a set of cross-platform works for radio, interactive television (Red Button) and the Radio 4 website. The project is supported with a Grants for the Arts Award from Arts Council England.

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