Tuesday, 25 September 2012


My brother, and walking partner, Gerald, is off on another of his US tours at the moment. In between delivering a range of performances in a range of venues – including a hall that looks like an upturned wedding cake, so ornate were the embellishments on its ceilings and walls – he has been busy driving the fund raising.

Checking in on traffic to this blog, I note that readers in America have overtaken those in the UK for the first time and it is clear that Gerry is busy sharing the stories of our fund raising efforts. As an aside, I also note our first reader from Peru, which delivers a total of more than 30 countries following our efforts. I have no idea who you are, but Hola y gracias por leer nuestra recaudación de fondos a pie de la estatua de Dickens.

Over to Gerry to relate how the funds have been swelled to the tune of $2,000 during his travels last week.

“Much more so than in England, Charles Dickens has rock-star celebrity status here. Of course, that is in part thanks to A Christmas Carol, which is a central feature of the American Christmas. The work appears everywhere, from Christmas specials and professional theatre to amateur and school theatre alike. You will find a production in every city, and the advertising industry reverts to Scrooge figures and Christmas cheer sentiments across the board.

But another reason for the affection, is Dickens's character: he fought his way up from nothing to superstar, purely by dint of hard work and commitment. It is the perfect American dream story.

The very first time I performed in the USA, I was completely bowled over by the force of the passion for Dickens. People from all walks of life are so keen to talk, have things signed, watch the shows, discuss the shows and have yet more things signed! If Dickens wanted his memory to live on solely through his works, then his wish has truly been granted here.

For the past four years I have been working with a company called Byers’ Choice who make ‘Carollers’. These are hand-made clay figures, about 8" tall and the originals were very much inspired by Dickens's London and the idyll of a Victorian Christmas. Over the years various ranges have been introduced, including characters from A Christmas Carol and many others. The success of the company was huge, growing from Joyce Byers making the figures on her kitchen table, to a huge factory and visitor centre. But it is still a family business. Joyce is still to be found anonymously stocking shelves in the store and the company is now run by her sons, Bob and Jeff. Check out their web site here:

When I perform there, they clear the factory floor of all work benches (a la Fezziwig: 'Clear away? There is nothing they wouldn’t have cleared away or couldn’t have cleared away with Fezziwig looking on, and the warehouse was as dry and bright and snug a ballroom as you could wish to see upon a winters night!'). They then erect a large stage, decorate it with furniture and props, add a superb sound system and lights and seats for an audience of around 700. The most we did was 900, but parking became a major issue, so they had to scale back the numbers!


The Byers’ enthusiasm for both Christmas and Dickens is enormous and they very much wanted to mark the 200th anniversary by laying on a weekend of celebrations to honour the great man. As ever things were done with great style and panache. The workshop was cleared as before and a market street scene built, with various items for sale along with displays of antiques and Victoriana. Another stall sold English ales from Bass and Newcastle Brown, there was a Punch and Judy show and they commissioned the most extraordinary birthday cake. Then in another part of the factory (the shipping bay) a smaller theatre was created for various shows throughout the weekend. I performed Doctor Marigold, Mr. Dickens is Coming and Sikes and Nancy to very appreciative audiences. That audience was equally appreciative of a wonderful magic lantern show along with a live performance from a lady in Victorian costume who disrobed, in order to give a demonstration of Victorian corsets, petticoats, drawers and bloomers. 50 shades of Dickens indeed......

Before each of my shows, Bob and I gave a short talk about the statue planned for Portsmouth. The Byers’ HQ is based in Chalfont, PA, not far from Philadelphia, which of course has a Dickens statue already. Throughout the weekend we raffled the first print from a limited run of Dickens by illustrator James Fiorentino and raised $1000. And if that was not impressive enough, the kind folks at Byers promptly matched the sum, delivering a highly appreciated donation of $2000 to the fund. When I return in December, we will do the same with an original picture that he painted during the weekend.

Throughout the tour I will also jump onto the memorabilia bandwagon by offering, probably as a raffle rather than auction, my top hat, waistcoat and maybe frock coat as worn throughout the tour. My guess is that could add in the region of another $5,000 to the cause.”

If you hear on the news that a Dickens family member was arrested at Heathrow after flying home naked, you can guess that he got rather carried away with the raffle idea and that further items of apparel were spontaneously added to the cause. Gerry, while we all know that the Second Amendment to the American constitution is clear, it doesn’t mean you must take it literally and bare arms. But heck, if it raises funds, then why not!

The support from our American friends is hugely appreciated and to all who have attended one of my brother’s performances, donated to the cause and sent him home with an empty suitcase, we are hugely grateful. With a new wardrobe (and a stern ticking off from the Judge), he’ll be back across the pond on his Christmas tour in a few weeks time. Book early to avoid disappointment….

Tour dates run from November 11th to December 18th.
www.geralddickens.com for further details.


Saturday, 15 September 2012


A few years ago, the Dahl family launched a campaign to save a shed.

The shed was where author Roald Dahl penned such fine works as James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Danny the Champion of the World. Dahl’s shed sat in the garden of his Buckinghamshire home and several years after he died, plans were hatched for the now rotten hut to be restored and transferred to a museum. So far, so fine.

Rather remarkably, the small wooden structure that would cost around £5,000 to replace at a local garden centre was estimated to need a whopping £500,000 to return it to its former glory. So far, so bizarre.

To raise the cash, the Dahl family launched a public appeal to find the funds and in doing so, they caused a bit of an outcry.

This was because sales of every piece of Dahl’s finely crafted, funny and engaging tales were still hard at work earning royalties for his estate. Not just book sales, but TV rights, movie rights and theatre rights from a global audience meant that the coffers were being annually swelled by a healthy margin. So far, so extraordinary.

The reason for raising this story is that the Dickens family occasionally gets tarred with the same brush.

Because Charles Dickens is such an extraordinary phenomenon, his work is never out of print. It is available in numerous languages - English, French, Spanish and Italian as well as Chinese Mandarin and Russian Cyrillic to name just a few. So whether you want to read A Christmas Carol or Barnaby Rudge in Moscow, Miányáng, Madrid, Monaco or Milan, it’s ready and waiting. Hollywood has been all over Dickens for years, as have the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Broadway and the West End.

‘Surely’, people say, ‘you must enjoy the benefits of all that success’ suggesting it should be the matter of a moment to plunder the family wealth and write a cheque for the remaining £60,000 to make the Charles Dickens Statue a reality.

 I wish!

The copyright laws for the UK are very clear. Ownership of the work remains with the author for the duration of his life and then stays with the family for a further 50 years. That takes us from 1870, when Dickens died, to 1920 benefitting Charles’s siblings as their own lives drew to a close.

After that, there is nothing and not a single royalty cheque has been written for 92 years. If Warner Brothers decided tomorrow that they wish to produce a star studded version of Great Expectations, they don’t have to pay a penny in royalties to anyone. If you decide to publish a new complete works set, then you are absolutely free to do so. If you would like to perform A Christmas Carol this winter, then you can go right ahead and Scrooge himself would be delighted that it comes free.

Not a guinea, a groat, a florin or a crown comes our way and instead it adds to the profits of those who are embarking on their individual projects. As I have said before, the great man would be delighted to learn that his work and the morals therein continue to resonate. In doing so, it keeps his popularity as high as the day he put pen to paper. A few of those who do profit in such a way have already made donations to the statue fund and we are very grateful for that.

But just imagine if the laws were different. This missive would be coming to you from a large Chateau in Provence where my helicopter sits on the lawns sweeping down to the shimmering sea. The meeting with Warner’s regarding the new movie has gone well and the family’s legal team agree that the $20,000,000 tag we are asking for should be a formality. My schedule would require a swift use of the private jet to get me to London in order to agree terms for the winter serialization on the BBC and then it would be on to meet the directors of the Dickens Foundation as they continue to grant bursaries to the poor and needy children of the world. Writing a cheque for a mere £60K would be small change and done without a moment’s thought.

But as that shimmering daydream fizzles out to be replaced by the reality of a grey day in overcast Portsmouth, the spot for the statue in Guildhall Square still sits empty, the fiberglass mould in the corner of a foundry in Gloucestershire sits waiting for a vat of molten bronze and my alarming looking bank statement reveals that once again, it’s an overdrawn month.

So unlike those who still benefit from a regular supply of royalty cheques, we have to resort to sending letters, making phone calls, spreading the word through the media, creating stunts like walking from London to Portsmouth and holding out begging bowls (or top hats) to bring the funds in.

Maybe we should write to the Dahl family for a donation. It’s clear that when it comes to cash, they have shed loads.




Saturday, 1 September 2012


Another week, another tranche of media coverage and another set of interviews. We always intended our fundraising walk to act as a catalyst and three weeks on, it’s good to see the interest continues.

Last week, the Daily Telegraph devoted an entire, full colour, magnificent broadsheet page to our efforts and it generated strong levels of interest – even if the photography highlighted the need for an urgent and drastic diet (and there was me thinking that walking 94 miles would deliver an overnight Olympian physique).

Their reporter and photographer joined us for several hours on day two of our walk. As always happens, an hour long interview and copious note taking on a series of highly entertaining stories that Gerry and I shared, ended up hugely edited. But nonetheless, having our goal presented to 600,000 right wing, true blue readers, most of whom will be affluent, influential and interested, was highly valued.

The article led to BBC Radio Ulster including the story in their daily arts programme and the on-air interview earlier this week was lively, well researched and engaging. The station is the most listened to in Northern Ireland and it exposed another 580,000 people to our fund raising goals.

I don’t know if there are ex-pats from Derry, Belfast, Ennniskillen or Limavady living in Tanzania, Israel, India and China listening to the station on-line, but on the following day these countries could be added to the long list of those reading this blog.

Who’d have thought it? Colombia and China the latest to be following a couple of blokes plodding through leafy Surrey three weeks ago, simply trying to raise some cash….

In all the interviews, the same questions generally get asked. In most, there is amazement at finding there isn’t a statue for Charles Dickens already in the UK and they want to know why that is. As I explained to the presenter on Radio Ulster a couple of days ago, it’s partly down to a long running debate on the terms of Charles Dickens’s Will and how it is interpreted.

If you were to read “On no account make me the subject of any monument, memorial, or testimonial whatever” in his last Will and Testament, you would be forgiven in thinking the argument is pretty clear. This is the line that is constantly trotted out by those who are convinced that the plan for a statue is going firmly against the wishes of Dickens and why nothing exists to date – in the UK anyway.

Put that line in context and it makes for a very different read. “I emphatically direct that I be buried in an inexpensive, unostentatious, and strictly private manner; that no public announcement be made of the time or place of my burial; that at the utmost not more than three plain mourning coaches be employed; and that those who attend my funeral wear no scarf, cloak, black bow, long hat-band, or other such revolting absurdity. I direct that my name be inscribed in plain English letters on my tomb, without the addition of 'Mr.' or 'Esquire.' I conjure my friends on no account to make me the subject of any monument, memorial, or testimonial whatever”.

From that, it is clear that Dickens was leaving clear instructions on where he wanted to be buried, (which was ignored), who he wanted to be at his funeral, what they should wear, the manner in which it should be conducted and the type of grave they should erect for him. In this context, his reference to a memorial clearly relates to the style of grave and his abhorrence to the over the top melodramatic response to death so favoured by the Victorians – ‘revolting absurdities’ indeed.

Let’s be sensible here. No one commits their Will to immortality, spending time detailing the minutia of their funeral and then, in the same sentence, adds an apparent aside to the world by saying “Oh and by the way, no statues please”.

My great-great grandfather makes it clear that he addresses these requests to his friends. He does not issue a global dictat to descendants he will never meet and he doesn’t demand this from his fans. Why would he, when he is talking about his funeral?

But to flip the coin, suppose the alternative interpretation is true. To believe that, one has to accept that his ego was hugely inflated and he was massively arrogant. Was Dickens really trying to say in his Will to the world “And furthermore, I believe my work to be so brilliant, it will remain relevant and valued for ever more. Because of that, people might wish to celebrate my talents through a variety of tributes including a statue in one, two or three hundred years after my death. I expressly forbid them to do so”.

Nope. That doesn’t stack up for me either.

Of course, it’s all open to debate and personal opinion but the family view is very clear and that’s why we are so happy to support the statue initiative being driven by the Portsmouth branches of the Dickens Fellowship, so positively encouraged by Portsmouth City Council. And judging from the response of those we have spoken to across a broad range of media, they seem to agree.

But whether folk are against a statue or not, it’s all rather academic as two already exist and have done so for well over 100 years. One sits in a park in Philadelphia, USA while a second can be found in Sydney, Australia.

The one in America was created by Frank Elwell in his New York studio around 20 years after Dickens had died and placed at Clark Park in the Spruce Hill section of West Philadelphia. It sits high on a plinth with an adoring Little Nell gazing up to the figure that bears only a passing resemblance to the great man. In Australia, a cold and austere life sized white marble Dickens broods under the southern hemisphere sun. This too was erected at the end of the 19th century - again on a high plinth, but not high enough to stop someone rather ungraciously knocking his head off in the 1970’s. It was all reinstated earlier this year and now sits on the corner of Dickens Drive and Loch Avenue in Centennial Park. The re-crafted marble face bears the rather startled look of someone who has indeed been recently decapitated. But despite that, it’s good to see him back.

Looking at the statues already in existence brings the one planned for Portsmouth – the UK’s first - in to sharp focus. There is no saccharine American sweetness to what is planned and neither is there any element of a formal and stiff cold soul brooding down at us. Dickens was a man of the people and with the UK sculpture, we hope that children will want to clamber up his knee and sit in his lap. We want the piece to be a celebration of what Dickens achieved and to applaud his long lasting relevance through a thoughtful, engaging and respectfully considered tribute.

In amongst all the interest in the project from the nice folk Gerry and I have been talking to over the last few weeks, another common theme has emerged. It was repeated again this week when a journalist confided in me; “I love Dickens – this has made me want to read him again”.

Now that’s what I call a legacy and one I think CD would be the first to describe as anything other than a ‘revolting absurdity’.