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What the Dickens is the author worth?

07 February 12 00:05
Timothy Spall as Mr Venus and Kenneth Cranham as Silas Wegg in the BBC adaptation of the novel by Charles Dickens
By David Stenhouse
BBC News

The early life of Charles Dickens was blighted by poverty.

Confined as a small boy to a boot blacking factory by the fecklessness of his father, he went on to become the most successful writer of his time, and one of the wealthiest self-made men in England.

Now, 200 years after his birth, Dickens continues to make a healthy profit.

In an exclusive piece of research for the BBC, consultancy Interbrand has put a value to Dickens as a brand.

The creator of Oliver Twist, Fagin, Scrooge and scores of other memorable characters brings in £280m a year to the UK economy.

Finance and poverty

As a writer, Dickens was always interested in money.

The orphan Oliver Twist famously begs for "more" in the workhouse and is soon adopted into great wealth.

Pip in Great Expectations finds his life transformed by a mysterious benefactor and the characters in Bleak House are locked in an interminable and costly lawsuit.

No writer paid more attention to the transforming power of finance or the misery of being poor.

String of best-sellers

Dickens's pioneering work for the destitute was the action of a man who knew what it was like to be desperate.

Indeed, even when he had begun to earn enormous wealth, he never forgot what it was like to do without.

Dickens even took to the law courts to fight a lengthy battle over persistent copyright infringement of his work in the US.

As a result of his industry, he died a wealthy man with a string of best-sellers to his name.

Dickens economics

Dickens's books continue to sell, bringing in almost £3m a year from sales in shops, online or as e-books.

Adaptations of his work for TV and film, such as the recent BBC adaptation of Great Expectations, bring in £34m and theatrical adaptations of his stories take in £64m.

The BBC research has provided the most accurate picture yet of all the economic activity associated with Dickens's name.

Tourism makes up a major part of the figure, with visitors flocking to Charles Dickens-themed museums and exhibitions in Kent, Portsmouth, and London.

T-shirts and beer

But Dickens is not just remembered in seminar rooms or museums.

Appropriately enough, the writer who did more than anyone else to commemorate the vitality and colour of the Victorian age still finds his name above the door of UK pubs and curiosity shops, at Victorian Fayres and Christmas festivals.

There are Dickens-themed tea towels, Dickens coffee mugs and T-shirts and even a line of Charles Dickens-themed beers, produced by Mauldons brewery in Suffolk.

The creator of a string of money-spinning novels could hardly object to anyone enjoying a pint of Micawber's Mild, named after one of his most memorable characters.

The fictional Micawber ended up in debtor's prison.

But two centuries after his birth, his creator continues to generate millions beyond the dreams of Ebenezer Scrooge.

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