Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Charles Dickens' Anniversary Tribute (Courtesy of Marty Feldman and John Cleese)

 (Right ) The famous sketch of Dickens, entitled "Mr. Dickens contemplates throwing Mr. E. Wells off a large tower."  

On this 200th Anniversary of Charles Dickens' birth, the staff at "doug's Site" has chosen not to embellish on Charles Dickens literary reputation but to observe this occasion by presenting a past tribute to Dickens and his arch-nemesis, Edmund Wells.    

This classic two-handed "bookshop sketch" was originally done with Marty Feldman and John Cleese in the late 1960's for Feldman's "At Last the 1948 Show" and was revived over and over with various other comedians (Graham Chapman, Ronnie Corbett, Connie Booth, Terry Jones, et al) usually with Feldman or Cleese in the sketch with them. This as far as I can tell is the original. 

Not only is the sketch a sort of left-handed tribute to Charles Dickens, but also to Dickens great literary rival, the great Victorian plagiarist Edmund Wells (b. 1824?--d. 1875?/1878? or perhaps even $18.99?) 

As Dickens himself once said of Edmund Wells while at a Cardiff hotel in 1864 where he was about to give one of his famous public readings at a local theater: 

"Wells!  Wells!  A plague on that carbuncle! That bastard has nicked my book...again!" 

 Mr. Dickens followed this remark by flying into one of his rare but famous homicidal rages. He bodily threw a local reporter, two bell-boys, a spaniel named "Alf"  and several manuscript pages of his latest novel through the open window of his second-floor suite.  All the human victims survived thanks to landing on a large canopy over the hotel entrance and were promptly given free tickets to that evening's performance by the contrite author. 

 Great fun was had by all.  



  1. Is that coppyright difficulties?

    Some customers just set out to test the limits of personal service.

    Super guy Dickens. How little we would have known of Dickensian London without him. It would merely have been London.

    Hehe! I hope that you give the Doug's Site staff more days off than Ebenezer Scrooge did his employees!

  2. lol...yes, I'm afraid they were a bit lax on international coppyright in those days; Edmund Wells made a lot of his money by "writing" Dickens books for the American market. He even got a few books out before Dickens could get his to press.

    "All-Over Twist" in 1839 for instance.

    Dickens mind was like a sponge when came to atmosphere and people. I suppose all the great writers have that knack. Hard to imagine Victorian London at all without the opening chapter of "Bleak House". Puts you right there in a couple pages.

    I really wanted to make my downtrodden staff work this Christmas, Oakie, but I was afraid it would come back to haunt me. ;-)

  3. Hehe! Yes, I remember the sequal, "Let's Twist Again".

    Didn't Wells also write:

    Little Borrit
    Edwin Dude
    Adequate Expectations

    And of course,

    The Pigwig Papers?

    Yes, I think anyone intending to write about or make a film of Victorian London always starts with Dickens.

    Hehe! Working at Christmas? That would Marley do!

  4. LOL...Yes, Oakie, and that one sequel inspired a dance craze and a Chubby Checker song in the early 60's.

    Certainly Wells' books always had titles with what critics called "that familiar ring" --this alone helped his sales records.

    Yes, although he wrote novels set in other parts of Britain, I don't know of any English-language author who seems to personify a period and place the way Dickens did.

  5. Are you sure? I thought that it was Tubby Tucker. Oh wait, he sang the song "Let's Twirl again".

    Yes, I believe that he had more familer rings than his own doorbell.

    I'd say that Thomas Hardy was very good at personifying period and place. His highly discriptive novels brought post-Napoleonic Southern England and it's rude fellows to life. Though, in fairness, Dickens wrote about a more modern, and more complex time.

  6. That sketch was brilliant. I've never heard it before. Thanks Doug.

    Your thoughts on Big Will are of course well documented, but I didn't know whether you were also a fan of Charlie boy.

    I did a small Dickens tribute of my own... but nobody seems to have seen it... :-(

    so I'll shamelessly give you the link:

  7. Yes, it's one of the wonders of You Tube. You start out looking for one thing--a Monty Python version of that sketch--and you find the even better original with Feldman and Cleese!

    I'm a fan of Charley who still needs to more Dickens, Ian. I've never gone back to any of his books that I first read when I was younger that didn't seem more entertaining and insightful on a second viewing.

    A nice musical trio of picks. Thanks for the link.

  8. I've only read three of Hardy's novels, but I think by his reputation you're totally right, Oakie.

    By the way, Edmund Wells considered his book "Tess of the Gobbervilles" one of his personal best efforts. ;-)

  9. Hehe! Yes, Tess was a Wells classic.

    The Return of the Native was one of Hardy's most powerful novels, though it was a little dry. The first chapter was soley a description of the heath upon which the action was due to take place. He described it almost as if it had a malevolent personality.

  10. I'd enjoyed reading Tess, but developed a immense dislike for Hardy after studying Jude The Obscure for A'Level. It has to be one of the most overly depressing books of all time!

  11. Hehe! Unhappiness was a constant theme with TH.

  12. Yes, I found it dry as well, Oakie, but it improved on a second reading.

    The over -descriptiveness in some parts reminded me of one of my least favorite "great" American authors, Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of "The Scarlet Letter", a book about adultery in colonial America I detested having to read in American Lit in high school.

    Otherwise, "Native" is a much better book.

  13. Yes, I've generally enjoyed what Thomas Hardy I've read, but hearing about the last part of "Jude the Obscure" put me off that one completely.

    Sounds like "The Scarlet Letter", Ian, only with more total depression!

    Maybe Thomas Hardy needed a pet cat or some mammal to jump in his lap now and then? Might have cheered him up. ;-)

  14. It's my favourite Hardy book because it was the hardest to get through. So I associate it with "achievement". Plus it was a bit more historical than some of the other novels. I never got through Tolstoy's War and Peace mind you! Tried three times. Too much peace and not enough war to start off with.

    I saw the film Scarlet Letter. Brutal times for those who didn't fit in with the Puritan way of things.

  15. Oh Auntie Ethel B how she could write, we Aardvark's are all very proud of her Doug

  16. the qualities in your online essays, I'm not surprised you have literary lions (or,lionesses) in your geneology, AA.

    Another Edmund Wells mystery solved!

    I'll alert the American Branch of "The E. Wells Appreciation Society" at their annual celebration in the tiny desert town of Wells, Nevada.

    Any biographical details you can share I'm sure would be appreciated. I'll forward you their e-mail address.

  17. "No one gets through 'War and Peace!" is the slogan of one of Russia's current political parties. I've tried a couple time myself. The copy I have does still look nice on my bookshelf. Like the French Army, I always lost steam when the Battle of Borodino breaks out.

  18. To me, the silent version of "The Scarlet Letter" (with Lillian Gish as Hester) from 1926 is better than the most recent film.

    There's less "chatting away" for one thing.

    Gad, how the colonials loved to chat, chat, chat! ;-)

  19. Really? Even the Ruskies struggle with it, eh?

    The Battle of Bore Dino, morelike.

    Incidently, I believe that Charles Dickens invented the word "boredom".

  20. I haven't seen the older film, but I would expect you to be right about it. Demi Moore was at her most successful around the time that the later film was aired, which probably skeward perceptions of the film in the media, and perhaps even the perceptions of the film's makers.

    In any puritanical society scheming gossip seems to abound. I hear it today in the Pakistani community. The young men tell tales of Muslim women who are enjoying far too much freedom of expression and hassle them openly.
    It seems that it is right to them that they live in an equal society, but wrong that they have to behave equally themselves.
    Many of them also treat non-Pakistani people in a rude way. (Though, of course, it isn't all Pakistanis and there are plenty of ignorant whites and blacks in the inner-cites too.

    Even so, Indian people tend to be much nicer on the whole. I think it is because there is a shared Raj culture, wheras Pakistanis are alien to the Imperial history of the UK. Plus, Islam is a very bossy religion, as is Christianity in certain parts of the world. Bit of a digression there!).

  21. You could always look at that classic novel set in a northern England mill town Aardvark Times by Carlos Chickens Doug. Auntie Ethel coincidentally also married an Indian gentleman whose name eludes me for the moment. Odd that - isn't it?

  22. Yes, bad cultural habits linger on and on I've noticed, Oakie.

    In all cultures, my own included.

  23. Didn't know that, Oakie. Probably considered a bit cheeky of him at the time. ;-) As in "who does this guy think he is--Shakespeare?"

  24. I shall look for a copy next time I'm loitering at the local book shop I'm still allowed into, AA.

    See, I was frogmarched out of a Barnes and Noble superstore last week simply for asking if the staff could "just check the backroom once more " for a paperback copy of "'Vannie's Nitwit Fair" by William Piecework Thackkery.

    Oddly enough, the main character, Beckky Sharp, changes her name to Ethel and sails to Bombay after marrying an elephant tamer from the Isle of Man.

  25. Yes, Shakey invented loads of words, didn't he!

    I always think that it is a cool thing to come up with new language. Used to do it at college myself. I was writing an essay about China and Russia vs the West and referred to Russia as the Great Bear (Fair enough) and China as the Great Panda. Invented a few words too. As long as people immediately understand them they are legit as the point of language is communication.

    I think that everyone should contribute to their own language if they can.

  26. Hundreds if I remember. I'll bet he drove his schoolmasters back at Stratford bonkers!

    Shades of Anthony Burgess and "A Clockwork Orange', Oakie.

    I was only clever enough to get English down. The California dialect at least. ;-)

  27. Apparently he was a good boy at school. He received an excellent education. Most of his classmates went on to do well for themselves too.

    Ah yes, the Droogs et al!

    What amazes me about many Americans, like yourself, is how good your English is compared to "TV American" (English).

    I think there is little difference between the language of US and UK citizens who are well read when they are writing "seriously". My own serious writing is entirely influenced by my reading of a few hundred classical books between the age of 19 and 21. School only taught me the rudiments of language.

    If we live with giants we grow taller ourselves, I suppose.

    Dickens was, of course, one of those classical writers.