The all-star Christmas special Bleak Old Shop of Stuff came to life as a spin-off from the Radio 4 favourite Bleak Expectations, and it's definitely a show you need to add to your Christmas watch list!
Going back to the radio programme, Bleak Expectations is one of Radio 4's classic sitcoms. Beginning in 2007 as a parody of Charles Dickens's Great Expectations, it encompassed all things Dickensian and over the years developed an identity all of its own.
The story told of the adventures of Pip Bin (Tom Allen) who made his fortune inventing the bin, and his adventures with Harry Biscuit (James Bachman) in their continuing attempts to thwart the plans of the evil Mr Gently Benevolent (Anthony Head).
For the celebrations marking the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens's birth, a Christmas special and series spin-off was commissioned for TV in 2011 - this was the Bleak Old Shop of Stuff, starring Robert Webb as Jedrington Secretpast, the proprietor of The Old Shop of Stuff.
The story begins when evil lawyer Mr Malifax Skulkingworm (Stephen Fry) arrives, demanding the payment of a massive debt that Jedrington has inherited, despite not having a family to inherit it from, having been abandoned as a child!
Regardless of this, Jedrington's family and business are hurled away to a debtors' prison, where his wife (Katherine Parkinson) and children meet the jolliest man in Britain: Jollyforth Jollington (David Mitchell). Meanwhile, Jedrington sets out to find help to come up with a plan to pay the debt in time,or risk losing his family forever.
Bleak Expectations was always surreal, big on heart and, above all things, funny. The Shop of Stuff is no different, and packs in a huge all-star cast to boot! It was nice to see Robert Webb taking the lead and playing a character so different to Jez (Peep Show).
Being on TV allows for some superb visual gags that Bleak Expectations wasn't able to deliver, such as the brilliant scene with Stephen Fry laughing maniacally while swapping his hats.
There were so many great lines, particularly from David's Jollyforth:
'And so the horse ate all my money and so here I am.'
'You're sure you're not mad?'
'No! Just a man that cannot tell a horse from a bank.'
Not to mention Jollyforth's strange habit of inflating and deflating whenever he gets emotional. There was also an absolutely ingenious way of singing 'Consider Yourself.' Without actually singing it (take that, copyright law!). I also adore the fact that as well as Big Ben London has two more clocks: Tiny Terry and Massive Morris.
Both series were of course written by Mark Evans, who has frequently written for, and appeared in, Mitchell and Webb projects.
One thing I can say is that Christmas would not be Christmas if I didn't watch The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff! Running for a full hour, you could almost call this a Christmas TV movie. Three more episodes followed, but unfortunately we never saw a second series.
UKGold do like to repeat the Christmas special, so look out for it. If you can't find it on TV, buy yourself a copy and make this a Christmas tradition in your home too.
A Christmas harumble for the Bleak Old Shop of Stuff!
Written by Rhianna Evans