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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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).
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.
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.
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?"
Framing Device: Sir Philip is retelling his story to Sourquill for serialisation in The Times.
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).
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.
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.
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 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.
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.'
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."
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.
Mr Benevolent then undergoes anotherHeel-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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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."
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!"
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!"
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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."
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.
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 "messengerparrots," who can imitate their senders perfectly.
Pip: [beat] ...What the hell... kind of nursery rhyme... is THAT?
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. The world of Bleak Expectations is not a place where sanity can flourish...
"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 severalWhite 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.