The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff Review: Dickens Would Be Proud

THE BLEAK OLD SHOP OF STUFF: Monday 19th December, BBC2, 8.30pm

Oh to be a child in Victorian London… never mind all that poverty and danger of contracting cholera hogwash, stick two handfuls of horse dung under the tree and Christmas could be made. Ho ho holy hell kids these days are spoiled!

If only the crowded, swarming, desperate experience of modern-day Chrimbo shopping could be swapped for a visit to a one-stop shop. Where instead of a bank-balance-draining plethora of electronic equipment, you could buy your Dad some rhyming slippers and kippers (fishy and comfortable) and your mum a present of novelty curdled milk! (Surely that would beat a foot spa)…

It is cracking goodies like these which can be seen in the new BBC2 comedy The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff – also the name of the marvellous emporium owned by the ominously named Jedrington Secret-Past. So if you’re a little overcome with the hassle of the yuletide period, this slice of Dickensian comedy could prove as welcome as a warm fire and a glass of egg-nogg (the eggiest and noggiest of all yuletide drinks…).

Jedrington (played by Robert Webb) finds himself in a bit of a pickle when an evil lawyer by the name of Malifax Skulkington accuses him of owing a large debt, seizing his shop as punishment and throwing his family in The Skint. As you can imagine this results in a whole heap of botherington… Will he find the money in time before Big Ben strikes Christmas-Day-O’Clock? Is there more than meets the eye to Mr Skulkington? Will his wife Conceptiva ever get over her treacle addiction?! Odes of sweariness what a bind!

You might be aware by now that old man Dickens turns 200 next year, and the Beeb have whacked a whole load of the man on your telly-box in celebration; with this offering jam-packed with allusions to his most popular literary characters, it carries on the tradition of honouring the great author himself. With the inclusion of well-known faces like Stephen Fry as Skulkington, David Mitchell as a man so filled with Christmas joy he almost bursts… literally… and Johnny Vegas as the Artful Codger, this offering is simply filled to the brim with Christmassy goodness. There are gags flying all over the shop (of the bleak and old kind), and every kind of Dickensian/Victorian/Yuletide pun you could possibly think of is stuck in for good measure.

The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff just so happens to be a spin-off of the Radio 4 series, Bleak Expectations, which – funnily enough – is an unashamedly silly spoof of Dickens and his finest fictional motifs. The telly version is undoubtedly similar, but with the added visual jokes and fantastic backdrop of Victorian London in all its nostalgic glory, it brings it to life in a vibrant and genuinely smart way. Lie back and let the wisecracks wash over you; this is basically a master class in comedy wordplay. By Jove Dickens would be proud!