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.




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