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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year:

Dickens Confidential: The Deal by Rob Kingsman
RADIO 4: Tue 20th October 2009 Producer : David Hunter
CAST: Charles Dickens was played by Dan Stevens

Karen Hall

This was a hugely enjoyable radio drama that brightened a dull, boring Tuesday afternoon. Dickens for me was a fantastic writer, one of the most outstanding ever. So this was a luxurious little treat. It was on air for three quarters of an hour, so not too long. Serious programmes like this which present classic works of literature appeal to me more than the one that preceded it.

When will they kill that fossil 'The Archers' off ? I cringed through the final two minutes of ham with mustard, well a lashing or two more than the hallowed ‘Ant and Dec’anyway.

Much more interesting is the classy radio style of these talented actors and their depth and quality of vocal expression. The atmosphere created was perfect and the programme that came across perfectly evoked the Victorian world. The plot concerns a detective tale set in a debtor’s prison. The main character is Charles Dickens as the famous author who is editor of the newspaper ‘The Herald’. In real life the famous writer did actually work as a parlimentary reporter and was editor of ‘Bentley’s Miscellany’. He determines to play sleuth and uncover the murderer of a certain well- to-do Lady. An elderly physician who, perhaps predictably, is said to have murdered her for money. Poor man pleads to the court to have been hopelessly in love with her and have been incapable of the crime.

So armed with a strong sense of injustice and desire to put matters to right Dickens and his reporters: the well educated Agnes (the brains of the trio) and the northern lad Richard Westwood are put to work. Agnes masquerades as a lady’s maid and discovers there was jewellery stolen from the deceased and a man with a distinctive scar across his face seems to be the culprit. It transpires such a man is a rogue who is a dangerous con artist and by some stealth and detection his whereabouts is discovered. He is imprisoned in a debtor’s prison and bears the name of Thomas Townsend.

The story unfolds and there are many plot twists and turns which make for quite an absorbing tale. The reason I was even more impressed is that the story makes a comment about the social conditions among the poorest of folk at that period in time. Dickens himself was a harsh critic of the corruption and injustices endured by those at the most disadvantaged end of society. He had experience of his father’s imprisonment in a debtor’s prison and I like the meaningful way in which the fictional Dickens in the story is made to confront his aversion to going into the prison in the story.

It brings into sharp focus the suffering both he and others at that time lived with and of course it is these experiences that shaped the wonderful characters that he wrote about and who when we read about them we are moved to care about so deeply.

The poverty and degradation in the story is shown when the villain Townsend blackmails Richard the reporter who is undercover to try to make him tell the truth about the murder and exonerate the kindly doctor. He does this by bullying him into stealing the scraps of food from an old man called blind Bob. Richard is distraught but the corruption of the governer and the turnkeys who are regularly bribed and protection money demanded is commonplace.
The story ends on a happy note with Townsend admitting he killed the old lady by accident by administering a little too much laudanum when commiting the theft of the jewellery. I loved this, Radio 4 scored a hit!

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