Executive Producer: Jonathan Powell
Producer: John Harris, Betty Willingale
Director: Ross Devenish
BLEAK HOUSE/Episode 1/Intro by Alistair Cooke
Good evening, I'm Alistair Cooke.
Tonight we begin a dramatization in eight parts of Charles Dickens' Bleak House. It was his ninth novel, he wrote it in 1852-53 and he was already the most popular novelist in Britain. Now I think I ought to say a word about his qualifications for mounting such a devastating satire about lawyers and the law courts.
Remember Dickens came from a shabby, genteel family that floated up and down the social scale with alarming unpredictability. When he was only ten years of age his father was thrown into a debtor's prison and the boy had to go to work in a factory that made shoe blacking, also known as shoe polish. When the father was finally released and came into a little money, the boy could go to school. But Charles Dickens was mainly self-educated, through books of course, but chiefly through his X-ray eye for human character and human motive.
He became an attorney's clerk, he taught himself shorthand, and he became an expert reporter in the law courts and subsequently the champion shorthand reporter of the House of Commons. Now in his fortieth year he heard about a case involving an orphan, an heir to a rich estate who was growing up and might grow old before he ever came into his inheritance. And Dickens decided it was time to go after the Court of Chancery, which in Britain is meant to do what in New York and other states is the business of the surrogate's court. That is, to protect and settle the inheritances of fatherless children.
This case is Jarndyce v. Jarndyce and evidently there's only one living Jarndyce, an old bachelor named John. Pending a settlement, he takes into his home three young claimants: Esther who is illegitimate and thinks she's an orphan; Ada; and Ada's cousin, Richard. Three wards in Chancery, all when we meet them hoping for an early settlement of an inheritance case that has been droning through the courts for over six years.
Bleak House, episode one.
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