How Victorian was Charles Dickens?


With the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens fast approaching it is worth asking to what extent he was the "great Victorian novelist", not because his genius is in question in any way but because he was not quite as Victorian as is generally assumed. Born on 7 February 1812 he was a child of the Regency, that short period from 1811 to 1820 when the madness of George lll led to a crisis and the appointment of his eldest son George as Prince Regent. On the death of the old King, the Regent became George lV. He, in turn, was succeeded by his younger brother, the 64 year old William who, because of his youthful service in the Navy was known as The Sailor King. William lV reigned from 1830 until his death in 1837 when the young Victoria came to the throne.


By the time of Queen Victoria's Coronation in 1838, Dickens had in publication as a serial episodes of Oliver Twist a brilliant satirical attack on the recently enacted ...

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Faking the wild


 The story of David Attenborough and the "mocked up" sequence with polar bear cubs brought back to me many memories of cutting room arguments and near disasters that I can recall from twenty years as a factual film maker. I am still not sure about the acceptability of some sequences in progammes I made,  though my intention was never to deliberately deceive the viewer. Well, only a bit.


I often re-run in my mind one episode that occurred back in the mid-1980s. I was a producer-director in the current affairs and features department of London Weekend Television. In those days there was no chasing after ratings and LWT factual programmes ( Lord Birt was in charge) and we had a reputation for making few if any concessions to "popular" programming. However I was given the chance to make the first ever wildlife programme for the company, a project I relished as a keen bird watcher and amateur naturalist.


Although by then I had made a few programmes it had never occurred ...

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Don't kindle that Kindle





So that I could get to research the Marconi Archive which is now safely housed and expertly catalogued in the Bodleian Library, Oxford I applied for admission . I had to find a sponsor and was lucky that a neighbour who is a publisher and was an Oxford student long ago was on hand to sign the relevant papers. As I left his house he called after me: " You will not be able to kindle any fires. " I smiled back wondering what he meant.


The admission procedure was very jolly. I was ticked off for not completing one of the forms correctly then told by the lady dealing with library tickets that my misdemeanour would, on this occasion, by over looked. I had my passport for identification and my debit card for payment, a very modest sum for six months access. But before I was finally granted permission to enter the library I had to read an oath. It was printed on a laminated card and I was instructedto read it aloud.


"I hereby undertake not to remove ...

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In the dark


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I was up late watching the thrilling final of the Men's Singles at the US Open and Djokovic was about to serve for the match in the third set. Would Nadal hold on?

Before the World No.1 hit his first serve everything went black. I looked into the road and could see some lights on, but there was a dark area where the street light opposite our house was out. I lit candles and found a phone book with the Electricity Emergency number. They did not know of any faults in my area. I checked the fuse box and that was OK. They would send someone round, should be within four hours.


I tried to get our clockwork radio to work in the hope that I might find the result of the match in New York, but the band connecting the generator to the spring had snapped. So I lit candles, read a bit and then went around with a candlestick in my dressing gown like someone from a BBC Victorian drama . Eventually I went to bed. I was woken not long after I dozed off by a phone call. ...

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A new study of the Black Death in London has concluded that the disease which wiped out perhaps half of the capital's population in the mid-14th century was not bubonic plague spread by the immigrant black rat from Asia ( The Black Death in London by Barney Sloane, The History Press Ltd 2011). When the plague struck in 1348 nobody had a clue about the nature of such diseases and it was only much later in history that there was speculation about the cause of the epidemic. I am not sure when the black rat and the flea it carried was first implicated but certainly there was no knowledge of the nature of bubonic plague until the nasty bug, Yersinia pestis, was identified in 1894 during an outbreak of the disease in Hong Kong. It is transmitted to humans by a flea that lives on a variety of rodents, one of which is the black rat.


When there was an outbreak of bubonic plague in India in 1994 I remembered that I had a book on my shelves by a zoologist called Graham Twigg which ...

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