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Radio: Bleak Expectations
Bleak Expectations is a BBC Radio 4 comedy series, parodying the works of Dickens, and Radio 4's own adaptations of them. (The third season was broadcast concurrent with a straight dramatisation of Our Mutual Friend, and a listener wrote to Radio 4's Feedback to say it was difficult to tell them apart.)

The first season tells the tale of young Philip "Pip" Bin, who is separated from his insane mother and sent to a Boarding School of Horrors by his cruel guardian, but nonetheless manages to make his way in the world and come out on top, thanks to perseverance, intelligence, and a series of Contrived Coincidences.

The second tells how everything starts to go wrong again, when Pip's guardian comes Back from the Dead to wreak his revenge, and the third, fourth and fifth continue on much the same lines, only Mr Gently Benevolent is now undead, and the plot has slipped away from pastiching others to forge its own unhinged path.

The adventures are presented as being told by the now-elderly Sir Philip Bin to a Times journalist he despises. In the second season, the journalist has become his son-in-law, which makes Sir Philip despise him even more.

Creator Mark Evans released a novelization of the first series in November 2012, accompanying the beginning of the final series. A TV Spiritual Successor, The Bleak Old Shop Of Stuff, was broadcast on BBC 2 in 2011.

Bleak Expectations has examples of:

  • Affectionate Parody
  • All Girls Like Ponies: One of the few things Victorian women are allowed to do.
    • When she speaks Cockney for money, Ripley insists on being paid in ponies for the whole rhyming slang.
  • Anachronism Stew
  • Anyone Can Die: Although they might return as ghosts or undead.
  • Are You Pondering What I'm Pondering?: Harry Biscuit is rarely on the same page as everyone else.
  • Artificial Limbs: Admiral Hardthrasher has a wooden leg — and another wooden leg, two wooden arms, several wooden ribs, a wooden kidney, wooden hair...
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Mr Gently Benevolent has Pip at his mercy:
    "I have drawn up an agenda for our time together. Let me read it to you: One, pain. Two, more pain. Three, quite a lot of suffering. Four, coffee and biscuits. Five, pain again..."
    • Pip contemplates the big questions:
    "Why do we exist? Is there a life beyond this? Why don't animals have wheels?"
    • Sir Philip's Next Time On at the end of the first episode of Series 5.
    Sir Philip: Return next time and you shall hear more. How I pursued by nemesis to India. How I nearly lost my wife Ripely and my best friend Harry. And how I actually did lose ... my house keys. But only for a bit.
  • As the Good Book Says: "For does the Bible not say, 'Stuff the poor, they only have themselves to blame?'" Pip's wife Ripely, quoting "the Book of Badgers". Of course, this doesn't apply to her when they lose their money.
    • "Ah... but does it not say in the Bible... Leave me alone, I'm miserable!" Harry Biscuit, refusing to let Pip cheer him up after Pippa has left him to be Mr Gently Benevolent's "evil consort."
  • Attractive Bent-Gender: Benevolent manages to get Pip to marry him with only a Paper-Thin Disguise. He doesn't even put on a voice... Luckily, on the very last page of Loopholes In Marital Law, it says "no wedding will be deemed to be legitimate if either party turns out to be an evil man in a dress".
  • Back from the Dead: As of series 4, all main characters have been killed and revived at least once. Flora, Aunt Lily, Poppy, Rev. Fecund, Mr Parsimonious and the lawyer with the long name are the only ones who have actually stayed dead, and even then Mr Parsimonious hung around as a ghost for a couple of episodes before departing from the series. Mr Benevolent has returned so many times he's not even mentioned as undead any more.
    • Before she was apparently Killed Off for Real, Aunt Lily was the queen of this trope, returning in increasingly unlikely ways from seeming demises. And in the novelization, her "final" death turns out to be not so final after all, and she's alive and well at the end of the story.
  • Badass Preacher: Pip's father-in-law, the Reverend Godly Fecund.
    "I am a vicar; I know gunfire."
  • Bad Is Good and Good Is Bad: A favourite of Evil characters, but especially of the odd Minion with an F in Evil who can't tell the difference between "bad = evil" and "bad = poorly done".
  • Beautiful All Along: Ripely Fecund, who is introduced as having to wear a veil in front of her face because she's so ugly. The narrative doesn't even try to make it believable, so it comes as no surprise to the audience when she is revealed to be beautiful. Turns out it was all a hoax by her father, who hoped to keep her unmarried so that she'd stay home with him.
  • Best Friends In Law: Pip and Harry, after the latter marries Pippa.
  • Big Eater: Harry Biscuit. It occasionally becomes a plot point.
  • Big "NO!": When Mr Benevolent believes he is the descendent of Judas Iscariot. Followed by a "Slightly smaller noooooooo!" when he learns the truth.
  • Big Red Button: When Harry accidentally hits the self-destruct in Gently Benevolent's base.
    Pip Bin: Why is there a self-destruct button?
    Gently Benevolent: Again, it just seemed the sort of thing I should have in an evil under-volcano base. Probably should have put a cover on it.
  • Blatant Lies: Gently Benevolent's mother's explanations for why her husbands keep dying; Ripely's explanations for being caught in compromising positions with half-naked men.
  • Boarding School of Horrors: St Bastard's. To whit: the headmaster enjoys beating students, often to death, for any and all reason he can find. The school has scores of insane and unpredictable laws which must all be obeyed, on pain of savage beating. There's no food, but there are mealtimes, so students must mime eating food, and do so convincingly, or be beaten. Naturally, they have long since resorted to cannibalism. Some students are forced to work in the salt-and-pepper mines located underneath the school, where they'll either die from dehydration or sneezing. Younger students are used as ammunition during target practice. And should you actually manage to live long enough to be eighteen, you suffer a horrible accident.
    • Antarctic House is even worse.
  • Brain in a Jar: Harry, temporarily, after his dinosaur body is killed. An onion marmalade jar, to be precise.
  • Brainless Beauty: Flora.
  • British Stuffiness: At the end of series four, Harry Biscuit seems perfectly happy to have his wife back after she went off with Mr Benevolent. When the fifth series opens a decade and a half later, he's furious with her, because as a good Englishman it's taken him fifteen years to process his emotions about the incident.
    Harry: Touch me not, Pippa, you betraying witch!
    Pip: Everything all right with you and Pippa, Harry?
    Harry: Fine thank you Pip Bin, yeah...
  • Bungling Inventor: Harry Biscuit builds a lot of brilliant machines, none of which work as intended. Gently Benevolent's Batman Gambit in the season three finale actually relies on this.
    • Whoever supplies Sourquill with all his devices also has to be this.
    • God Himself outright admits to being one. It helps that He's Harry Biscuit.
  • Bus Full of Innocents: The inaugural train to cross Harry's ineptly-built bridge is carrying "lovely old ladies, sad puppies, ill horses and optimistic orphans".
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Mr Gently Benevolent. "Every morning I take two evil pills and some naughtiness supplements". And you can just tell he's evil from his voice. Harry and Pippa also become this in the Season 3 finale, after Harry is killed and then raised as an "evil" undead by Mr Gently Benevolent, with Pippa following him over to the Dark Side. They both turn out to be terribly bad at it, though.
    Harry: Recently, I told a man that his tie was horrid, even though it was actually quite nice. That is how evil I am!
  • Catch Phrase: "Hurrumble!", Harry Biscuit's personal version of "Hurrah!"
    • Gently Benevolent will invariably say either "Goodbye, Pip Bin!" or "Prepare to die, Pip Bin!" whenever he's about to kill Pip. Occasionally this is Lampshaded or parodied.
  • Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys: It's a parody of stories set in nineteenth century Briton; were you expecting a complimentary portrayal of the French?
    • Pip is actually deeply disturbed when he visits France and discovers he enjoys some French things.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Mr Bin returns with gifts for his children, bizarrely giving Pippa an anvil. It comes in handy surprisingly often. Often some absurd detail sporting a lampshade will come back later.
    • In the series finale, Harry drops a bacon-wrapped strawberry on the floor. "Oh well, never mind. I'm sure it won't matter..." seconds later, Pip slips on it.
  • Christmas Cake: Pip, and Ripely's father, consider her beyond marriageable age at twenty-two. Pip and Ripely end up hitched all the same.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Thomas and Agnes Bin aren't mentioned after the series two opening.
    • The Harshsmackers only appear once.
    • Pip and Ripely's children, outside of Lily.
  • Cliff Hanger: Regularly. Sometimes literally.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Harry Biscuit, often coming with some non sequitur.
  • Completely Missing the Point: A river-dwelling folk pull a suicidal Pip Bin from the Thames, then try to kill him when they find out he's alive. Even decades later, Sir Phillip Bin hasn't caught on.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment:
    Sir Philip Bin: His torture began in a low-key way.
    Pip: This salmon is little overdone.
    Benevolent: Have some wine with it.
    Pip: But this is red wine! With fish! You fiend!
    ...
    Sir Philip: His torments became crueller yet. He gave me the latest best-selling novels, but then ruined the endings.
    • Until finally he was cheeseboarded.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Lots of them, often with Lampshade Hanging.
  • Crapsack World: The exploitation, repression, pestilence, and pollution of the early 1800's Up to Eleven, with Martians and zombies thrown in.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Several characters have their moments, though Ripely is perhaps the most consistent example of the trope.
  • Death Is Cheap
  • Description Cut: Captured by Mr Benevolent, Pip takes heart in knowing that his best friend, his sister and his wife are busy trying to rescue him. They're doing nothing in particular.
  • Did You Die?:
    Sir Philip: We resolved to escape from St. Bastard's or die in the attempt!
    Sourquill: And what happened?
    Sir Philip: We died in the attempt.
    Sourquill: Oh, how awful!
    Sir Philip: Of course not, you blundering idiot! How would I be talking to you now?
  • Dirty Old Woman: In the fifth series, having discovered she is now too old for men to return her flirting, Ripely looks forward to the day she is old enough to become one of these.
  • Disintegrator Ray: The Martians are armed with them. They're also undead Benevolent's Achilles' Heel, as he helpfully points out.
    Benevolent: Total molecular disintegration! How did you know!? ...oh yes, I told you.
  • Dissimile: "Trouble was brewing like a cup of angry tea." Sir Philip usually delivers one at the end of the episode, when Sourquill leaves and his daughter says that it's good to get these memories out
    Sir Philip: "This is 1873. Emotions are like port: to be corked up tight, left in the cellar for forty years and given to your grandson on his 21st birthday!"
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: In episode 4, the progress of Pip's great invention echoes the development history of computers (starts out enormous, getting smaller as the technology improves; people fear that using one will be complicated, but once they try it find that it's "intuitive"; and so on).
    • In the series three finale, the British Army and Benevolent's zombies argue about who gets the 'kick-off', and which end of the battlefield they have.
  • Doomsday Device: Benevolent creates one in the Grand Finale, finally descending to the level of Omnicidal Maniac.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Sweetly Delightful-Benevolent.
  • Eagleland: When Pip arrives in New York, he discovers American audiences are much more emotional than British ones, that people routinely order eight-acre steaks, and that absolutely all disputes are settled by gunfights.
    • Earlier, this trope is invoked by Ms. Talula Not-A-Man, who, among other things, is legally required to wear a stetson and praise slavery, apparently as were all people from the American South in the 1800's.
    "Talula": My Momma met my Pappy at a rodeo, eatin' hotdogs and shootin' Injuns. That's pretty American, isn't it?
  • Epic Race: Pip and Ripely race to India to be the first to thwart Mr Benevolent.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Mr Benevolent is greatly offended when someone suggests his imitation of an Indian accent might have been a bit racist.
    Mr Benevolent: I may be evil, but that is a horrible accusation.
    Pip: It was a bit dodgy.
  • Everything's Better with Monkeys: Thomas Bin certainly thought so, even going as far as making a hotel made entirely from monkeys, who stacked together formed a 'rigid but flexible framework'. And it worked, too. Until someone set up a peanut-butter and banana treat factory just next door, causing the monkeys to go berserk and attack everyone.
    Mr. Benevolent: "No idea. Peanut-butter and banana treat, anyone?"
  • Evil Is Sexy: There must be a reason so many characters find Mr. Benevolent attractive...
    • Invoked with the brief Mrs. Benevolent, whom Mr. Harshsmacker points out is "well hot".
  • Evil Laugh: Mr Gently Benevolent does it a lot. Turns out it runs in the family.
    • Pippa, when she's evil, has one. It even echoes.
  • The Exit Is That Way: In episode 6.
  • Extra! Extra! Read All About It!: In episode 4.
  • Fat Idiot: Harry Biscuit.
  • Fertile Feet: Sweetly Delightful.
  • Flanderization: Happens very early on with Harry Biscuit. In the first episode he is introduced as a parody of the "older student at the horrible school" and a fairly normal person (at least by Bleak Expectations standards), but from the second episode onwards he swiftly morphs into a full-fledged Cloudcuckoolander and Bungling Inventor. A very nice example of Tropes Are Not Bad.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: Fifi, Mr Gently Benevolent's crocodile-elephant-hummingbird cross. Short for Fearfully Ferocious.
  • Foe Romance Subtext: Ripely accuses Pip of fancying Mr Benevolent more than her: This is a running gag in series five, where Pip's repeated denials do not help:
    Ripely: The mini-break you went on -
    Pip: "Mini-break"!? He held me hostage and tortured me! And we shared that shower out of necessity!
    Ripely: What shower?
    Pip: Um...
  • For the Evulz: Benevolent's reason for burning down an asylum filled with innocent patients:
    Benevolent: "Be a bit of a laugh, wouldn't it?"
  • Forgotten Fallen Friend: Pip's youngest sister Poppy dies at the climax of an episode midway through the first series, to general mourning. Everyone's gotten over it by the beginning of the next episode, though, to the point where even her parents don't seem to wonder where she's got to once they're reunited with their other two children. She receives one more brief mention in Series 4, but otherwise is never referred to again after her death. Knowing the show, it's probably this trope being stealthily Played for Laughs.
  • Framing Device: Sir Philip is retelling his story to Sourquill for serialisation in The Times.
  • French Jerk: France is filled with people who sigh superciliously at simple questioning tourists. It's how Mr Benevolent disguises himself, complete with beret, striped shirt, and "an air of undeserved satisfaction."
  • Freudian Excuse: "An Evil Life Sort Of Explained". Mr Gently Benevolent is evil because he lost the love of Miss Sweetly Delightful. (Well, he's evil because he's descended from Judas's accountant, and raised as such by evil parents, but he nearly rose above that).
  • Friend to All Living Things: Miss Sweetly Delightful. The woodland animals are huge fans of hers.
    • Pippa wants to be this, especially in the first series (made even more explicit in the novelization), but doesn't quite manage.
  • Full-Name Basis: Pip Bin, Harry Biscuit, and Mr Gently Benevolent among others.
  • Grand Finale: The grand finale naturally takes the OTT-ness of the Season Finales to the Logical Extreme by having Benevolent become an Omnicidal Maniac and finally get Killed Off for Real via Timey-Wimey Ball.
  • Greedy Jew: Subverted twice over by Fagin parody Abraham Bagel, who in the first place is Mr. Benevolent in disguise, and secondly presents himself as Catholic.
  • Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?: Pip and Mr Benevolent find themselves doing this a lot in season 5. Especially episode 5.
  • Heroic Dolphin: Pip and Harry are rescued from sharks by "cavalry dolphins" (bugles and artillery support included).
  • Heroic Sacrifice: The "terminally metaphorical" streetsweeper, to save London from being flown to France and later Harry Biscuit Taking the Bullet for Pip. Actually, he just fell over at the crucial moment, but it sounds more heroic this way.
    • Although Harry later makes a genuine sacrifice when taking Pips place in a device designed to remove his brain and place it in a dinosaur.
      Harry: Being brave, being very brave...
      [Sound of enormous sharp blade being unsheathed]
      Harry: And stopping being brave - Aaaaaaaaaaaa!
    • The Reverend Godley Fecund fires himself from a cannon to kill a bunch of demons. He started having second thoughts just before it goes off.
  • Hilariously Abusive Childhood: Our heroes live through this, and Mr Benevolent turns out to have had one too.
  • Historical-Domain Character: Charles Dickens himself in "A Writerly Life Made Dreadfully Difficult" (although the Charles Dickens in most of the episode is very obviously Mr Benevolent, the real one does appear at the end).
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: GB is finally Killed Off for Real when he's thrown into his own Doomsday Device in the Grand Finale.
  • Human Resources: In dire straits, the Bins build a crude hut out of mud and dead bodies fished from the Thames.
  • Hurricane of Puns: Pasqual Grimpunch lets loose several cheese-based puns when fatally impaled.
  • Hurt/Comfort Fic: Pip Bin and Mr Benevolent in "A Terrifying Life Made Even Scarier A Bit Some More".
  • Hypocrite: Ripley acts like your typical Victorian-era person toward the homeless, stating that it's God's will they are homeless, accusing them of being lazy, taking any remaining accommodation they may have in case it 'undermines their self-respect', and marches around the south end of London yelling at them that it's their own fault they're poor. And the minute her family becomes broke and they're forced to live in a hut made of mud (and some bodies, she cries foul. Pippa is quick to call her on this.
  • Idiot Ball: Can be handed to anyone when it would be funnier, but Pip often gets it bad.
  • I Have This Friend:
    Pippa: Just wondering, what would happen if someone were exorcised but wasn't actually evil, and had just been pretending so they could be with their husband? Asking for a friend.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: St. Bitch's celebrates Joan of Arc day by burning one of their charges at the steak, then eating them.
    • Captain Clampvulture.
  • I'm Cold... So Cold...: Played straight until becomes parody.
  • Immediate Self-Contradiction: Flora Diesearly, much to Pip's confusion.
    Flora: Oh, look at the clouds. I do so love clouds. Do you like clouds Pip?
    Pip': I do.
    Flora: What? How on Earth can you love clouds? What a bizarre thing to say.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Sweetly Delightful, to extremes Ripely finds nauseating.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: Inspector Whackwallop tries this on Pip. It doesn't work, first because he did say the crucial detail, and then when he tries something else, Pip hadn't said it either.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: The first season titles describes how each stage of Pip's life is ruined, starting with "A Childhood Cruelly Kippered" and concluding "A Life Sadly Smashed ... Then Happily Restored A Bit". The second starts with "A Happy Life, Cruelly Re-Kippered" and also features "A Bad Life Made Worse, But Sort Of On Purpose." And the third opens with "A Lovely Life, Re-Kippered Again Once More", and follows that up with "A Sort Of Fine Life De-Niced Completely".
  • Inexplicably Identical Individuals: The brothers Hardthrasher. And the Whackwallops, Sternbeaters, Grimpunches and Clampvultures; the entire family is voiced by Geoffrey Whitehead.
  • Insane Troll Logic: The whole series runs on it. A shining example would be Harry's attempt to break the thirty mile an hour speed-limit.
    • To whit: Harry wishes to break the speed barrier, but doesn't have access to anything fast enough. He reasons that he doesn't have enough horsepower, because he only has so many horses. Therefore, if he has more horses, he will have more horsepower, and thus go fast enough to break the thirty mile an hour limit.
    Harry: "It is simple mathematics!"
    Pip: "(Beat) It is wrong mathematics."
  • Interspecies Romance: Repeatedly pondered by Harry Biscuit and Mr Benevolent when Spicy Latina lady Juanita is turned into an apparently equally sexy dinosaur.
    Harry: Is it wrong to fancy a dino-lady?
    ...
    Benevolent: She's a dinosaur. Would it be wrong?
    Harry: I've asked myself the same question.
    ...
    Harry: Sorry Juanita - Cor, dino-phwoar...!
    ...
    Benevolent: Get a grip, Benevolent, she's a dinosaur!
  • Ironic Hell: Shows up. Harry Biscuit is given memory cake, then Forced to Watch Mr Benevolent and Pippa kissing, while Ripely is placed in from of an army of half-dressed men, who are just out of reach.
  • Ironic Name: Mr. Gently Benevolent is a scheming Dastardly Whiplash and Mr. Skinflint Parsimonious is an Uncle Pennybags.
  • It Runs on Nonsensoleum: Sourquill usually tries some ridiculous recording device such as a horse-drawn pen or the "iWax" wax-cylinder recorder, before abandoning them moments later. Also, "Have escaped from telegram office stop. Will take telegram boy to keep you updated stop."
    • Harry Biscuit's inventions usually work this way too.
    • Mr Benevolent's ultimate evil scheme is a universe-destroying machine based on "wool theory". "God does not play dice, but he does knit."
  • It Will Never Catch On: The steam engine and the telegraph, both in episode 4.
    "It was as strange an idea as universal education..."
    • This is also Pip's reaction to one of Harry's invention ideas: "A restaurant which serves raw fish, delivered to your table by conveyor belts."
    • Everest Clampvulture has reluctantly concluded that the people of India will never learn to play cricket.
  • Just a Stupid Accent: France and Russian have this in spades.
  • Kangaroo Court: The final episode of Series 1, where Pip is accused of stealing the bin design from American Harlan J. Trashcan. Judge Hardthrasher blames Pip for killing his four brothers and sister, he personally hangs Pip's lawyer because his name is too long and he freezes Pip's financial assets. Trashcan is obviously Benevolent in disguise, showing the evidence of a newspaper with the ink still wet, and Hardthrasher even calls him Mr Benevolent. When he finds Pip guilty after saying this verdict is in no way caused by his sibling's death, he says 'Yes! Got him!' He sentences him to death deciding the verdict himself under the accordance 'Guilty until proven dead.'
  • Killed Off for Real: Poppy Bin, Skinflint Parsimonious (the most generous of men). Flora Diesearly.
  • Killer Rabbit: Killer underwater squirrels, capable of attacking and subduing grown humans. Sir Phillip Bin repeatedly adds that they were incredibly delicious.
  • Lampshade Hanging: By just about everybody, since it's a parody.
  • Large Ham: Anthony Head is clearly having a lot of fun as Mr Gently Benevolent.
  • Lie Back and Think of England: Pip and Ripley consummate their marriage with appropriate Victorian decency.
    Pip: I sat on the bed, and she sat on another bed 30 feet away. Then, dear Ripely, my one true love, lay back and thought of England. And across the room, I lay back and thought of Wales and Scotland. And thereby, union was achieved."
  • Lightning Can Do Anything: Revives the dead, and Pippa refers to electricity as "the modern panacea".
  • Like Brother and Sister: Pip Bin and Ripely Fecund throughout Season Two.
    Sir Phillip: I missed her, as one might miss a sister. I missed her sisterly laugh, her sisterly wisdom, and her...curvaceous yet sisterly body.
  • Look Behind You: During the final duel in episode 6. (Mr Benevolent takes the time to hang an enormous lampshade before turning to look.)
  • Lovable Sex Maniac: Ripely reveals herself as one after marrying Pip; not only do they go on to have a plethora of (seldom-seen) children, but she quite openly has a huge sexual appetite, a wandering eye and wandering hands. Somehow Pip always seem to buy her thinly-veiled excuses for spending an inordinate amount of time ogling or touching half-naked, handsome men.
  • Love Redeems: Mr Benevolent undergoes a Heel-Face Turn due to his love for Miss Sweetly Delightful. Unfortunately, she then has a Face-Heel Turn.
    • and this is instantly undone in season four, suggesting the Status Quo Is God.
    • Mr Benevolent then undergoes another Heel-Face Turn in season 5, due to his love for Pip. This one doesn't even last to the end of the episode; he gets hit by a blob of pure evil from the Pen of Penrith.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Sourquill the journalist reveals at the end of Season One that he's descended from Mr Gently Benevolent (also an Identical Grandson, as they're both voiced by Anthony Head).
  • Meaningful Name: Subverted with Mr Skinflint Parsimonious and Mr Gently Benevolent, both of whom have names that are the exact opposite of their personalities (Benevolent's full name is revealed to be 'Gently Lovely Kissy Nice-Nice Benevolent'). Done straight with the Hardthrashers, who run St Bastards, and their cousins, the Sternbeaters and Whackwhallops. Also played straight with the love interests Ripely Fecund and Sweetly Delightful, not to mention the parody of Dora Spenlow in David Copperfield: Flora Dies-Early.
    • Turns out that Gently Benevolent is is descended from a family called Malevolent, as this is revealed to have been his mother's maiden name.
  • Minion with an F in Evil:
    • Pippa, as Mr Benevolent's 'evil consort' in series 4. He explicitly cites this as a reason for dumping her in episode 5, pointing out she seems to keep confusing 'bad' with 'evil':
    "For example, washing up badly is not the same as washing up evilly. It is merely unhygienic. Evil washing up involves crying children, smashed plates and at least two dead dogs."
    • Undead Harry, as well, although this is all part of Benevolent's plan.
    • Also subverted a couple of times, such as Pippa's "Today I didn't put as much postage on a letter as its weight category required! Mwa ha HA HA! Also, I killed a bishop."
  • Misblamed: Pip Bin is rarely responsible for the death of the latest Harshsmacker /Sternbeater / Whackwallop / Grimpunch, but everyone acts like he is.
  • Misery Lit: Mr Benevolent tortures Ripely by forcing her to read such books. Furthermore, the premise of the whole series is Sir Philip narrating the tragic and unfortunate events of his life to a journalist for serialisation.
  • Mistaken for Index: Pippa and Harry lock themselves in a ship's cabin in series 5:
    Pippa: Oh, Harry, you are so good in the sack!
    Pip: Wish I hadn't heard that!
    Harry: I love pretending to be a potato!
    Pip: That might actually be worse!
  • Most Definitely Not a Villain: Grinder Whackwallop, head of Pip's bin factory. Mr Benevolent when in disguise.
  • Naked People Are Funny: During the second-to-last episode of season, Harry and Pippa are robbed while out being charitable in the East End of London. The thieves make off with their money, jewellery and indeed all their clothes. They take it in amazingly good stride.
  • Namesake Gag: Harry Biscuit is the son of the man who invented the biscuit. Pip Bin makes his first fortune by inventing a cylindrical receptacle for putting rubbish in (although it takes several attempts before he thinks of naming it the "bin"); he then has to defend himself from a claim that he stole the idea from the American Harlan J. Trashcan. There is also a mention of Dr Swim, who made the medical breakthrough that saved so many people from drowning. And Chief Surveyor of India Everest Clampvulture, who intends to have the tallest mountain in the world named after him: Mount Clampvulture.
  • Napoleon Delusion: The second episode features an insane asylum where, since he's recent history for them, the Napoleon Delusion is extremely common. There's also one chap who thinks he's Wellington; the Napoleons gang up on him a lot.
  • Narrating the Obvious: Necessary Weasel for a radio show, of course, the characters occasionally tell each other exactly what's going on right in front of them. Mostly averted by having the narrator do it, though.
  • Narration Echo:
    Sir Philip: Some weeks earlier, Mr. Gently Benevolent had claimed to have summoned a mighty invading army from Mars, to help him conquer the world. But as the days passed, even I began to doubt Benevolent's threat. However, an unexpected visitor the morning of the wedding disabused me of that notion...
    Pip Bin: Mr. Benevolent! What are you doing here?
    Mr. Benevolent: I just came to disabuse you of any notion you might have that the Martians aren't coming. Because they are.
  • Narrator: Sir Philip Bin. Can occasionally be an Unreliable Narrator, but only for a single gag, then he gets back on track. (See "Did You Die", above, for an example.)
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Inasmuch as Harry Biscuit is a hero, he managed to break the universe once. As in, he crashed into the edge of it, creating the vacuum itself, sucking out the ether and changing physics into what we have now.
  • Noodle Incident: Pip skips several years of narrative between series one and two as they were uneventful save for an incident "involving a horse and a balloon." When mentioned, everyone laughs, but then they remember it ended poorly for the horse.
  • Noodle Implements: One of Benevolent's We Will Meet Again monologues warns of "an even more complex and evil plan involving talking dogs, a special type of tarpaulin, and an enormous number of spoons! And then you will taste your doggy, tarpaulin-y, spoony doom!"
  • No Sense of Direction: Pip Bin once managed to walk into a lake without noticing.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Mr Benevolent when in disguise, quite frequently. Pip still doesn't notice.
  • Not Quite Dead: Oh, how many times. Usually played entirely for laughs.
  • Obfuscating Insanity: In the series 1 finale, Agnes Bin turns out to be this.
  • Omnicidal Maniac: Benevolent in the series finale, because what else was he going to do for a Grand Finale? Somewhat deconstructed, as Sir Phillip suggests that the only reason to want to destroy everything (including himself) was because he's ultimately unhappy with his life of evil, and wants to end it all and take the world with him.
  • Opium Den: Pip ends up in one when his life falls apart in series two, believing it to be a Chinese restaurant ("Would you like some complimentary prawn crack?").
    Sir Phillip: I opened the fortune cookie; inside it said "You are now addicted to opium."
  • Orphean Rescue: Pip, for Ripely.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: They bicker about the difference between organic and in-organic brains. The moaning, groaning and shambling is because they're so glad to be alive again, they keep going out and getting drunk.
  • Overly Long Gag
  • Overly Long Name: Pip's lawyer, whose full name lasts twenty minutes (and he bills you for the time it takes to say it).
    • The novelization includes a full listing of the name in an appendix; It looks suspiciously like a list of authors' acknowledgements sandwiched between some silly surnames. It also reveals the true reason the name is so long: Pips account of his life story was originally serialized, and when he got writers block he needed a way to fill up a month's space without advancing the plot.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Mr Benevolent often adopts these. Pip is always fooled, despite the flimsiness of the disguise and frequent Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping. In the opium den episode, Pip is so high that Benevolent stops even bothering with the accent.
    • Also lampshaded. ''Names, Pip! Always ask for names!"
  • Parasol of Pain: Ripely's quick-thinking method of dispatching a zombie is a particularly creative variation of this;
    Pip: [horrified] Oh my God... you stuck your parasol through that undead's eye... and then opened it inside his head!
  • Parental Abandonment: Pip and Ripely supposedly have many children together (including Lily) but the children are never around. Handwaved in one episode when it is mentioned that Pip sends them away to school in Narnia.
    • Harry and Pippa's children are never mentioned after series 2.
  • The Parody, of course.
  • Parody Names: When the source material includes names like "Wackford Squeers", you have to go pretty over the top to parody it...
  • Perpetual Poverty: Godley Fecund's parish is this, mainly because of over-taxation via the window tax, door tax, wall tax and the soon-to-be-introduced tax-tax, which taxes your taxes. Reverend Fecund tries to keep his parishioners alive via communion wafers, and communion wafer-based meals, but doesn't seem to be having much luck. Or any luck, actually.
  • Pocket Protector: In episode 6.
  • Poke the Poodle: Harry Biscuit is raised from the dead as an evil zombie by Mr Benevolent, but isn't much good at the evil:
    I met a puppy that wanted its tummy scratched, and I only did it for a little bit!
  • Politically Correct History: Zig-zagged as Rule of Funny demands. While even the exploitative villain balks at an accusation of racism, it's still considered absurd that one day women might vote. Or work. Or think.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Benevolent gets off a punneriffic one before shooting Harry with a Disintegrator Ray;
    Prepare to be reduced to crumbs, Biscuit!
  • Pun: Quite often, leading to at least one Collective Groan.
    Harry Biscuit: It's a new sweet for sheep; I call it the "Baa Humbug".
  • Rags to Riches: Pip repeatedly makes his fortune, and reduced to poverty again later. As Sir Philip Bin, he's enormously wealthy. In "A Horrible Life Un-Ruined And Then Re-Ruined A Lot", Sir Philip describes his story as "riches to rags to riches to rags to worse rags to riches to rags to riches again". But as the title suggests, it's still not over...
  • Railroad Baron: Emmett Sternbeater, who happily destroys butterfly sanctuaries, orphanages, and idyllic English villages, all in the name of progress.
  • A Rare Sentence: If Chief Inspector Whackwallop had a shilling for every time he'd heard of someone possessing a pigeon... he'd have three shillings.
  • Redshirt: Invoked, with Constable Tragicmurdervictim.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Poverty so extreme people survive on communion wafers; kidnapping a school by harnessing it to horses; underwater carnivorous squirrels; tides of sewage that sweep over London.
    • The Victorian method of comforting a crying baby: "I have shut him in a cupboard so he may learn self-reliance!"
  • Removing the Head or Destroying the Brain: Apparently, there's a nursery rhyme on the subject.
    Ripely: "Undead Georgie felt no pain,
    'Til Isabella destroyed his brain!"
  • The Rival: The novelization reveals Pip was this to, unsurprisingly, Charles Dickens; And following Dickens' death, to various other writers including Arthur Conan Doyle, George Gissing, Rudyard Kipling and Thomas Hardy. These appear to have been rather one-sided on Pips part - Hardy was entirely unaware until the then ninety-year old Pip started a fist-fight with him after publishing a parody of Jude the Obscure.
  • Rousing Speech: The season 2 finale includes Shout Outs to every single famous Rousing Speech they could think of from General George S. Sternbeater, including Winston Churchill and Henry V.
  • Rube Goldberg Device: The device for checking on the baby.
  • Rule of Funny: The entire series pretty much runs on this.
  • Running Gag: The lawyer's name, Mr Skinflint Parsimonious's obsession with giving people things, Pippa's anvil, Sourquill's recording devices (season 1); Mr Gently Benevolent's nose (season 2); the bizarre methods of childcare employed by Sir Philip's daughter and Sourquill (season 3); Lily's various evening classes, Harry Biscuit's obsession with cake (season 4); Sourquill's timekeeping devices, the repeatedly denied Foe Romance Subtext between Pip and Gently Benevolent (Season 5) amongst others.
    • Also the way a member of one of the henchman families (Hardthrashers, Sternbeaters etc.) gets killed every episode. Particularly when done on a whim in season 4 episode 1.
    • Harry Biscuit thinks swans are the answer to all life's problems, or at least most of them.
  • Sand in My Eyes: Harry, on being parted from Pippa in episode 5.
  • Sanity Slippage: A few days on a dessert island makes Pip go mad enough to lose track of time, then he considers eating himself.
  • Save The World Climax: The finale of series 2 involves Pip having to save the world from a Martian invasion. Yup.
  • Season Finale: Not only does each series' finale (from the second one on) involve a Save The World Climax from an Outside-Context Villain (and ratchet the series' levels of Refuge in Audacity Up to Eleven), but the characters are also more prone to Lampshade Hanging and Leaning on the Fourth Wall. The Grand Finale even more so.
  • Serial Escalation: The first series is largely a straight parody of Dickensian literature. The second series' finale features an Alien Invasion, and it only keeps going from there.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Parodied by Pip's lawyer, whose barely intelligible legalese is mostly nonsense. Occasionally, other characters parody verbose Victorian prose by adding pointless suffixes to words; Mr Benevolent is an "evilton", the attractions at a freakshow are "bizarringtons", etc.
  • Shout-Out: Several, but particularly worth noting is when Pip, Harry and Benevolent are blasted into space, and repeat several lines from Davie Bowie's Space Oddity.
  • Sickeningly Sweethearts:
    • Flora and Pip.
    • Young Gently and Sweetly Delightful.
    • Harry and Pippa abruptly become these in series 5, after being entirely indifferent to each other for the years since the last series. Pip's reaction — "So.... icky..."
  • Silly Reason for War: When Pip and Co. travel to Russia, they find that it's torn by a civil war between the Czarists and the Tsarists. As one may infer, the conflict is based on a spelling disagreement. And there have been six of these Czar Wars. Apparently the first three were great, but the last three have been disappointing.
  • Sim Sim Salabim: Crossed with The Raj, naturally.
  • Sinister Minister: While Reverend Fecund mostly represents everything nice about the C. of E., he does have a habit going out to hunt heathens.
    Rev. Fecund: I did catch a Methodist in one of my snares, but he gnawed his own leg off to escape.
  • Left the Background Music On: Several times.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: In the novelization, Aunt Lily once again turns out to be Not Quite Dead.
  • Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace: In episode 6.
  • Spikes of Villainy: The leader of the Tsarists. "He wore a spiked helmet, gloves with spikes on them, a shirt covered in spikes and trousers with incredibly pointy bits on them — basically, spikes."
  • Springtime for Hitler: Invoked — Benevolent raises Harry as an evil zombie, knowing full well that he'll try to make deliberately bad inventions, and that in doing so he'll accidentally make brilliant ones.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: During a visit to India, Pip encounters a British soldier wearing a bathing suit because it's so hot. Which he happens to be wearing over his uniform. Why?
    Soldier: "One must keep up standards. This may not be Britain, but it's still British."
  • Start of Darkness: "An Evil Life Sort Of Explained"
  • Status Quo Is God: The start of series 4. GB's new evil wife is killed off stage, GB is re-evilled and kills a henchman if only for the sake of tradition.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: Sir Phillip Bin doesn't think highly of women.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: From the man in episode 5 who is definitely not stalking Flora.
    • Also the worker in Pip's factory, who tells him woodenly, "Things are not now and have never been terrible and we are not living in fear for our lives."
    • In Season 3, Ripely's job. "I do ... filing. And accounts. Definitely nothing sordid or demeaning or awful." (She turns out to be speaking Cockney for money, which horrifies Pip: "Dropping your aitches for any man who asks you!")
    • And maybe the most surreal one: In the last episode of Season Four, in what may or may not be a hallucination, Harry reveals himself to be God, but tells Pip that he'll only deny it if anyone asks. In the next scene, when the possible-hallucination is over and things are back to normal, he denies it without being asked.
    • In the first episode of Season Five, Pip's repeated denials that he fancies Gently Benevolent, in which he reveals that they kissed, and shared a shower and a bed. In the second episode, Mr Benevolent gets in on it, insisting they were only naked in the jacuzzi because their clothes were in the laundry.
    • Also in the second episode of series five, when Mr Benevolent escapes on a dogsled wearing furs (in India!), he explains "Now, in case you think my clothes and mode of transport are a clue as to my next destination, you're wrong. They're a bluff. I'm definitely not off to the South Pole. I'm actually off to Swindon. Or am I? Actually, I am. To be honest, I've confused myself."
    • In the third episode of series five, Captain Clampvulture certainly does not eat people. He's punching you as a jovial sign of affection, not to make you more tender. And he's not grinding salt and pepper over you to improve your flavor, he's just trying to make you a more seasoned explorer. Honestly!
  • Summation Gathering: In the series five opener, Pip gathers all the remaining guests "in the denouementarium."
  • Take That: Parliament is portrayed as revolving entirely around a rigorous schedule of breaks, during which the Members of Parliament get very drunk. In the end, parliament gets burnt down because the brandy has managed to soak into the walls. Benevolent has managed to become Chancellor of the Exchequer, because what better job is there for an evil, undead supervillain?
    • Capped off by Benevolent's line after the parliament house goes up.
    Benevolent: "We need somewhere to eat and sleep and ruin the country from."
    • Pip's torture in Hell? His belt is cinched too tight, a bird pecks out his spleen, a cat is placed on his lap, and he is made to watch... Holby City.
  • Talkative Loon: Pip's mother during the first series, after her husband dies. At the end of the first series, when her husband proves to be alive, she turns out to have been simulating it all along.
  • Ten Little Murder Victims: The series five opener. But who could be responsible?
  • Time-Shifted Actor: Tom Allen as Pip and Richard Johnson as Sir Philip
  • Time Skip: The fifth series is several years after the end of the fourth, giving Pip's Foe Romance Subtext with the long-absent Benevolent time to develop into a full-blown crush.
  • Timey-Wimey Ball: The final episode, in which Pip meets Sir Philip, who must sacrifice himself in Pip's place, so that Pip can have all the Christmases Sir Philip has already had. As Pip says "The less you think about it, the more it makes sense."
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Flora Dies-Early, the "terminally metaphorical" street sweeper, and Poppy Bin.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Ripley is the portrait of kindness and charity in her introduction. Once she's rich, she becomes a shrill hypocrite who's loathe to let the poor have chairs.
  • Training Montage: In episode 6, complete with "Gonna Fly Now".
  • Unholy Matrimony: Harry and Pippa in series four ( until Harry turns good again, and Pippa becomes Mr Benevolent's Evil Consort and series five where it turns out Pippa wasn't really evil, she was just going along with it to be with Harry.
  • Used to Be a Sweet Kid: Pip Bin is (aside from the standard Victorian-era flaws) kind, noble, and good (if a bit thoughtless). Sir Phillip Bin is a miserable old jerk.
    • Gently Benevolent.
  • Victorian London: Turned up to eleven and completely void of sanity.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds:
    Sourquill: Do not worry, Sir Philip, I have come to see your abuse as the expression of affection by different means.
    Sir Philip: Well, it isn't.
    • In the final episode Sir Philip finally admits he does like Sourquill, he was just hoping the man would stand up for himself.
  • Voiceover Letter: Lampshading and playing with this trope is a Running Gag. Some variations;
    • A letter is read in the style of a Voiceover Letter, only to reveal that the letter was actually being read out loud, either by the reader doing a "surprisingly good imitation" of the writer's voice (if Harry Biscuit is present when the letter is read, he'll generally shout "Do the voice!"), or by the writer in person, who for some reason is there in the room and reading the letter out loud.
    • Pip's invitation to America is read out in Grimpunch's voice.
    Pip: How splendid! And how kind of you to read it to me yourself!
    Grimpunch: I couldn't find a stamp.
    • In the India episode, messages are delivered via "messenger parrots," who can imitate their senders perfectly.
  • Waxing Lyrical:
    • When Gently Benevolent threatens the Earth with a Martian invasion:
    Harry: The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one!
    Gently: ...he said. But still, they come.
    • An episode spent in space features the characters dropping as many lines of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" as they possibly can.
    • Harry Biscuit, thinking Pippa's leaving him for Mr Benevolent again: "Go on now, go. Walk out the door. Just turn around now, 'cos you're not ... Hang on...
    • Venkman Clampvulture, Britain's greatest exorcist, has a habit of announcing himself with lines from the Ghostbusters theme.
  • We Will Meet Again: Mr Benevolent, repeatedly:
    "I shall return! New plan, more evil, blah de blah, you know the form by now."
  • What Do You Mean, It's for Kids?: invokedIn-Universe — even after all the horrors of Victorian childhood he's witnessed, Pip seems particularly appalled by the nursery rhyme Ripely recites on the subject of Removing the Head or Destroying the Brain (above);
    Pip: [beat] ...What the hell... kind of nursery rhyme... is THAT?
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Pip and Ripely's children just disappear after the second series. We know Lily survived to adulthood, but nothing is ever mentioned of the others.
    • At the end of series three, we are introduced to the Harshsmackers, all five of whom serves the Benevolents. Come series four, there's only the Grimpunches, and the Harshsmackers are just gone. Though given what happened to their relatives the answer seems obvious...
  • World of Pun: The entire setting runs on Rule of Funny, and about half the world (including countries, objects, invensions, people and physical laws) is pun-based. The other half is just nonsensical.
  • World of Weirdness Pepper is mined like salt, and the two seasonings explode when brought into contact. Britain has at least one marsh filled with custard, and incidentally the Prussians tried drilling for custard once. Sir Isaac Newton invented gravity. Mattresses are grown in orchards. France is filled with cheese mines. The world of Bleak Expectations is not a place where sanity can flourish...
  • Writer's Block Montage
  • White Sheep: General George S. Sternbeater;
    "I assure you, I am the black sheep of the family. And while that would normally make me a criminal or a lunatic, in my evil family it makes me noble and decent!"
    • Also Miss Chastity Hardthrasher (still played by Geoffrey Whitehead) is not evil as her brothers are, only extremely stern and uptight. In the novelization, she reveals that she had a falling-out with her brothers:
    "Oh, we got on fine while children, but then as we grew and I became a woman, they said I was a weakling and a coward who clearly hadn't tried hard enough, otherwise I would have become a man like them."
    • The Grimpunch family are somewhat odd people out, as they don't have the same ties to Mr. Benevolent as the other Geoffrey Whitehead-played families, and while they are generally unpleasant people there are actually several White Sheep in this family, some of whom actually try to help Pip. Likewise, while most of the Clampvultures are monsters in one way or another, Venkman Clampvulture is not just good, but actually holy.
  • Why Did It Have To Be Cake?: Quoted, subverted and parodied by Harry Biscuit, who isn't afraid of cake, but simply loves it too much.
  • Won't Take "Yes" for an Answer: It takes Harry a minute to realise Pippa hasn't run off with Mr Benevolent again, during which he rants the lyrics to "I Will Survive".
  • Worst Aid: Doctor Curesomebychance, whom Pip employs to save Flora Diesearly from her bizarre fainting disease. His attempts include crossing his fingers and hoping it went away, crossing Flora's fingers and hoping it went away, just generally going away, having a good long think about it, and... beef. Predictably, Flora Diesearly dies.
  • Yet Another Christmas Carol: The Spirit of Harvest Festival Past/Present/Future appears to Pip in a blatant plot by Mr Benevolent. Subverted in details such as "Massive Tim", then Double Subverted with "Miniscule Michael".
  • You Go Girl: A running theme in season 5 is Ripely being determined to prove that women are just as good as men at thwarting evil schemes, sailing a ship, and writing novels.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: The Season Finale of season 3.


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alternative title(s): Bleak Expectations
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