Bleak Expectations

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Bleak Expectations
Genre Comedy
Running time 28 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language(s) English
Home station BBC Radio 4
Starring Tom Allen,
James Bachman,
Mark Evans,
Sarah Hadland,
Anthony Head,
Richard Johnson,
Susy Kane,
Geoffrey Whitehead
Writer(s) Mark Evans
Producer(s) Gareth Edwards
Recording studio BBC Radio Theatre
Air dates since 15 August 2007
No. of series 5
No. of episodes 30
Opening theme Mazurka from Three Characteristic Pieces by Edward Elgar
Ending theme Mazurka from Three Characteristic Pieces by Edward Elgar

Bleak Expectations is a Radio 4 comedy series that premièred in August 2007. It is a pastiche of the works of Charles Dickens – such as Bleak House and Great Expectations, from which it derives its name – and costume dramas set in the same period, and parodies several of their plot devices (such as cruel guardians, idyllic childhoods interrupted, lifelong friendships, earnest young people), whilst simultaneously tending toward a highly surreal humour along the lines of The Goon Show. The series has also demonstrated a fondness for allusions to and parodies of the films of Alec Guinness, particularly the Edwardian satire Kind Hearts and Coronets.

It is written by Mark Evans, who plays minor characters in most episodes, and produced by Gareth Edwards. Its opening and closing theme is the main theme from the Mazurka from Three Characteristic Pieces by Edward Elgar, from a 2004 recording by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.

The plot of the first series revolves around Philip "Pip" Bin, inventor of the bin, and his two sisters, Poppy and Pippa, whose seemingly ideal life is disrupted by the death of their father and the madness of their mother. They are then locked away by their guardian, Mr. Gently Benevolent (who, despite his name, is actually the main villain of the piece), in St. Bastard's, the most vicious boarding school in England, and St. Bitch's, a nearby convent. Pip and his sisters attempt to free themselves of their guardian with the help of Harry Biscuit, whose father invented the biscuit. It is narrated by Pip as an old man to the journalist (and his eventual son-in-law) Sourquill, who brings various useless inventions to assist in recording the events.

Production and broadcast history[edit]

The pilot episode was recorded in March 2006. The first series was broadcast at 11.30am on Wednesdays from 15 August 2007, with the first series repeated on Radio 4 from 9 January 2008 and subsequently on BBC 7. A second series was commissioned in late 2007, and was recorded on 18, 23 and 26 May 2008 at the BBC Radio Theatre. The British Comedy Guide website gave it its "British Comedy Guide Editors' Award" for 2008.[1] A third series was recorded at the Radio Theatre, Broadcasting House, on 7, 14 and 28 June 2009, the first episode of which was broadcast on Radio 4 on 29 October 2009.[2] The third series won a Bronze Radio Academy Award in the Comedy category in 2010.[3] Recordings for the fourth six-part series began on 11 September 2010, again at the BBC Radio Theatre[citation needed], and transmission began on 11 November 2010.

Mark Evans tweeted on 20 Dec 2011 that a fifth series of the show would be made in 2012 for broadcast on Radio 4.[4] The first of the six episodes of this fifth series, titled "A Pleasant Yet Dull Life Re-Evilled", aired on BBC Radio 4 at 6.30pm on 20 November 2012.[5]

The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff, a televisual spiritual successor to Bleak Expectations, written and produced by the same crew, debuted on BBC Two on 19 December 2011.

A novel of Bleak Expectations written by Mark Evans was published in November 2012 by Constable & Robinson.


  • Richard Johnson -
    • Sir Philip Put-it-in-the Bin - The richest man in England, the inventor of the trash bin, and our narrator. He spends the series describing his youthful adventures to his daughter Lily, who he adores, and the jorunalist (later his son-in-law) Jeremy Sourquil, who he despises. An irrascible, temperamental old man, he spends much time protesting the newfangled ideals of the late Victorian era, such as Women's voting and Women's Thinking.
  • Tom Allen -
    • Pip Bin - Sir Philip as a Young Man, and our hero. Naive, idealistic and true, Pip's dramatic rising and falling in fortune, safety and security, mostly at the hand of the evil Mr. Benevolent, are the subject of Sir Philip's story.
  • Anthony Head -
    • Mr Gently Benevolent - Pip's former guardian and his personal nemesis. The most evil man in the world, his massively complicated evil plans are designed both to conquer the world and to personally make Pip as miserable as possible. His plots often include very transparent disguises that Pip somehow never manages to see through. His evilness is the product of a combination of a family curse (he is descended from the accountant to Judas Iscariot) and a traumatic childhood at the hands of a mother secretly plotting to make him evil and a series of sadistic step-fathers. His full name is Gently Lovely Kissy Nice-Nice Benevolent. Though Benevolent has been killed and resurrected multiple times, and even briefly de-eviled by marriage to his childhood sweetheart, he has always returned to ruin Pip's life, in an obsession that occasionally verges on a love affair.
    • Jeremy Sourquill, a bumbling journalist transcribing Sir Philip's story for serial publication. He meets, falls in love with and marries Lily, Sir Philip's Daughter, over the course of the first series, becoming Sir Philip's son-in-law. This does not endure him to Sir Philip, who already despises him for his constant lateness (with a different ridiculous reason in each episode) and for his reliance on a series of ludicrously complex devices designed to help him write his articles (such as the steam-powered pencil, the horse-drawn pen, and the homing cheetah). It is not until the final episode of the series, where he stands up to Sir Philip, that he earns his father-in-law's respect. He is revealed, at the end of the first series, to be Mr. Benevolent's grandson. After Lily proposes to him, he renounces a plan to kill Sir Philip to avenge his Grandfather and this connection is never mentioned again.
  • James Bachman -
    • Harry Biscuit - Pip's best friend and, later, brother-in-law. Harry is impressibly loyal, impulsively brave and irrepressibly cheerful, but also incurably dim. The son of the man who invented the biscuit, Harry is anxious to prove himself as an inventor in his own right. His attempts to aid Pip usually in the form of pointlessly complicated devices, most of which are inspired by his obsession with food, swans, or both. Harry is a parody of the loyal, happy-go-lucky Herbert Pocket in Great Expectations.
    • Servewell, Sir Philip's servant.
  • Susy Kane -
    • Pippa Wheelie Bin (Later Biscut), Pip's sister and eventually Harry's wife. An intelligent and passionate woman constrained by a time period that considers her ambitions silly at best and illegal at worst, Pippa channels her energies into era-appropriate pursuits such as charities, social causes, and baring as many children as possible. Her marriage with Harry has had many dramatic ups and down, including the loss and regain of their 23 children, Harry's temporary death, and Pippa's season-long dalliance with evil (and Mr. Benevolent).
  • Sarah Hadland -
    • Lady Lily Bin (Later Sourquill), Sir Phillip's beloved daughter who listens intently as her father narrates her life story. Sweet and intelligent, Lily shows an interest in Women's rights issues (such as voting and trouser-wearing) that irritates her father. She falls in love with and marries Jeremy Sourquill, and she gives birth to their first child in the second series finale.
    • Ripely Fecund (Later Bin), Pip's third wife (series 2-5); The daughter of a minister, raised to believe she was horrifically ugly after being disfigured in a buffet accident at three years old. However, her disfigurment was actually bits of pastry stuck to her face, and once removed she was revealed to be quite beautiful. Her marriage with Pip is marked by her insatiable libido and poorly hidden obsession with shirtless men. She is perhaps the most overtly sarcastic of the cast's heroes.
    • Miss Christmasham, Sweetly's eccentric, shut in guardian, a parody of Miss Havisham. (series 3 only)
  • Geoffrey Whitehead -
    • The Harthrashers/Sternbeaters/Whackwallops/etc. - The entire dynasty of various evil families with equally unpleasant names, who serve as accomplices to the Evil Mr. Benevolent. His characters are remotely get bumped off in various gruesome ways during the series, usually one per episode, although occasionally one will run into the next episode, giving Geoffrey Whitehead an unequalled tally of comedy deaths as different characters. This is inspired by the film Kind Hearts and Coronets, in which Alec Guinness played multiple members of the same family, all of whom were killed off in different ways over the course of the film.
      • In the first series, he is the Hardthrasher Siblings; Jeremiah (Headmaster - Crushed by an Anvil), Obadiah (Doctor - Crushed by a guillotine), Ezekiel (Beadle - stabbed with a cross), Horatio (Admiral - set on fire, then drowned), Chastity (Governess - poisoned) and Buford T (Judge - killed by a button flying off of Harry's clothes at high velocity).
      • In the second series, he plays the six Sternbeater brothers, cousins of the Hardthrashers; Francis N (Mad Scientist - thrown off a roof), Emmett (Railway Magnate - crushed by a train), Jedrington (Speaker of the House of Commons - Set on fire), Avarice (Money-Lender - Stabbed), Pushington (Opium Dealer - Given an overdose) and George S (General - Disintegrated by Martians). General George S . Sternbeater was the black sheep of the family, and therefore the only good one.
      • In series 3 the family name is Whackwallop. In the final episode of Series 3, a Mr Harshsmacker appears briefly at the end, who claims to be the cousin of Bishop Whackwallop.
      • In series 4, the family name is Grimpunch, who, for the first time, don't imply that they're in any way related to the other families, and some of whom aid Pip in attempting to defeat Mr Benevolent.
      • In series 5, Whitehead portrays various invariably-doomed members of the Clampvulture family.
  • Mark Evans -
    • Various Minor Roles' - Evans is credited in the cast list of every episode, usually as "sundry [type of character]]." An average credit is "Sundry Members of the Clergy and the working Classes". On one occasion when he had no lines, he was credited as "sundry trappist monks." Some of his more prominent roles include:
    • Mr Wyckham-Post-Forburton...., Thomas' lawyer, whose full name took 20 minutes to say.
    • Dr Cure-Some-By-Chance
    • Queen Victoria
    • A giant red Dragon named Clyde
    • Charles Dickens
    • The Ghost of Christmas Present
  • Laurence Howarth
    • Mr Skinflint Parsimonious, ironically an extremely generous and giving soul, Pip's father's dearest friend and business advisor. He perishes in the second series when he fell off the roof of a school whilst fighting Mr. Benevolent, and landed on the school's memorial cross, inscribed with "That none shall die anymore", which promptly fell on him. He died as he lived, ironically. He returns throughout the second series as a ghost to aid Pip from beyond the grave.
  • David Mitchell (Second and Forth series only)
    • The Reverend Godly Fecund, Ripely's father and a priest. He is dithering who provides Pip aid, especially in series 4, where he sacrifices himself by being fired out of a holy water cannon into an army of Demons.
  • Celia Imrie (First Series only) -
    • Agnes Bin, Pip's mother, who goes mad after her husband is apparently killed - when he returns at the end of the first series she reveals that her madness was feigned
    • Aunt Lily, Pip's aunt and Agnes' twin sister. A secret agent for His Majesty's Government, she appears to have been killed several times (usually by a breed of vengeful underwater Squirrels), returning from the dead each time, before finally being stabbed to death by Mr. Benevolent.
  • Perdita Weeks (First Series only) -
    • Poppy Bin, Pip and Pippa's sister. Appearing only in season 1, she dies (and, in an unusual twist for this series, stays dead) from a chill after being pushed into a river.
  • Martha Howe-Douglas
    • Flora Dies-Early, Pip's first wife. She (shockingly) dies early.
  • Mark Perry (First Series only)
    • Thomas Bin; Pip's father, who is missing, presumed dead after an incident in his factory abroad. However, Pip discovers several clues indicating he is not actually dead. When he returns at the end of the series, he describes his absence has having been prompted by "opium. Lots of opium."
    • Mr. Henchman, Benevolent's henchman
    • A town crier;
    • Mr. Dies-Early - Flora's father, A wealthy drunkard.
    • King George IV
  • Jane Asher (Third Series only)
    • Lovely Benevolent (née Malevolent), Gently's mother
  • Raquel Cassidy (Third Series only)
    • Miss Sweetly Delightful, Gently's first and only love. She married another, erroneously thinking him dead, and it was this that was the final straw that lead to his conversion to evil. Unlike her beloved Gently, Sweetly is good and sweet to a sickening extreme, to the point where she Gently from evil to goodness with one kiss. Unfortunately, after their marriage, she realizes Evil is much more fun, leading her to become as evil as Gently once was, and he eventually grows bored with their marriage and kills her.

Pilot Cast[edit]


Series 1[edit]

# Title Original transmission date
1 "A Childhood Cruelly Kippered" 15 August 2007 (2007-08-15)
The idyllic life of Pip, Pippa and Poppy Bin is ruined by the scheming of their evil guardian and Pip's incarceration in Britain's most violent school, St Bastard's (based on Dotheboys Hall).
2 "An Adolescence Utterly Trashed" 22 August 2007 (2007-08-22)
Pip meets a mysterious aged crone who can help him escape from Britain's most terrifying school, with only a false beard and disguises as Admiral Nelson, a giant rabbit and a grandfather clock. But can they stop his evil guardian marrying his mother?
3 "A Youth Utterly Crocked" 29 August 2007 (2007-08-29)
Pip must thwart the plans of his evil guardian Mr Gently Benevolent. Can underwater squirrels, oddly placed church bells and a stint in the workhouse foil him in his noble quest? Or will Aunt Lily and her Gloucestershire racing cows save the day?
4 "A Young Adulthood Bitterly Dismantled" 5 September 2007 (2007-09-05)
Pip finds himself saved from the workhouse with the arrival of a vast sum of money from a stranger. But new problems await him.
5 "A Young Love Mercilessly Dismembered" 12 September 2007 (2007-09-12)
Pip is saved from the wreck of Admiral Hardthrasher's vessel by Aunt Lily on a raft of trained tuna. He returns to London, to find true (if brief) love with the beautiful but terminally feeble Flora Dies-Early. Pippa and Mr Parsimonious flee to the continent, with Mr Benevolent in pursuit, but his nefarious attempts against them are thwarted by Aunt Lily. Harry, meanwhile, tries to join the army to forget his love for Pippa, but is thwarted by an allergy to the colour red.
6 "A Life Sadly Smashed... Then Happily Restored A Bit" 19 September 2007 (2007-09-19)
Things look grim for Pip as he faces a highly prejudicial court case to defend his masterful and eponymous invention, the Bin. Is he to be hanged, or will there be a last-minute escape?

Series 2[edit]

# Title Original transmission date
1 "A Happy Life, Cruelly Re-Kippered" 7 August 2008 (2008-08-07)
Pip Bin struggles against the cruel plotting of his evil guardian Mr Gently Benevolent, recently returned from the dead. A plot is afoot to steal Britain's loveliest school.
2 "A Re-Kippered Life Smashed Some More" 14 August 2008 (2008-08-14)
Pip and Harry find themselves building an entire railway network in their bid to catch Benevolent.
3 "A Recovery All Made Miserable" 21 August 2008 (2008-08-21)
Pippa is lost so Harry makes a "Pippa Detector" which actually works!(Sort of)
4 "A Restoration Re-ruined, Only Even Worse" 28 August 2008 (2008-08-28)
Pip finds himself heavily in debt when he has to bribe the whole of the House of Commons.
5 "An Already Bad Life Made Worse but Sort of on Purpose" 4 September 2008 (2008-09-04)
Full of self-loathing, Pip drinks some very strong gin, finds he is really quite keen on opium, and falls in with a gang of thieves. But is their Fagin-like leader Abraham Bagel, all he seems?
6 "A Happy Life Broken and then Mended a Bit" 11 September 2008 (2008-09-11)
In a parody of The War of the Worlds, the planet is in deadly peril when Gently Benevolent summons a massive Martian invasion. Is this the end for Pip, Harry and the rest of the human race, not to mention Pippa's goose sanctuary?

Series 3[edit]

# Title Original transmission date
1 "A Lovely Life Re-Kippered Again Once More" 29 October 2009 (2009-10-29)
The evil Gently Benevolent returns from the dead (again) during a seance, and Pip Bin is in peril once more. Framed for murder by a half-man, half-pigeon incarnation of his evil ex-guardian, Pip Bin faces total ruin at the hands of his mortal enemy.
2 "A Now Grim Life Yet More Grimified" 5 November 2009 (2009-11-05)
Pip Bin faces his most gruelling fate yet at the hands of his evil undead ex-guardian and an enormous quantity of cheese. But can the spirits of Harvest Festival past, present and future show him a way to redemption?
3 "A Sort of Fine Life De-niced Completely" 12 November 2009 (2009-11-12)
Pip Bin strives to improve working conditions in his Bin factory, and to end poverty once and for all using Harry Biscuit's anti-poverty cannon. But will his quest distract him from a dastardly plan to steal London and sell it to the French?
4 "A Horrible Life Un-ruined and then Re-ruinated a Lot" 19 November 2009 (2009-11-19)
Pip, Harry, Pippa and Ripely are reduced to abject poverty on the banks of the Thames. Will Pip and Harry be able to find work, or will they have to end their days eating mud and listening to the gloating of Mr Benevolent?
5 "An Evil Life Sort of Explained" 26 November 2009 (2009-11-26)
Pip Bin, Harry Biscuit and Gently Benevolent find themselves trapped in the vast emptiness of space. As their doom looks increasingly inevitable, Mr Benevolent finally explains just why it is that he is so very very evil thanks to thwarted love, his stepfathers' cruelty and a family ancestry reaching back to Judas's accountant, in a parody of Great Expectations.
6 "Lives Lost, Ruined, Wrecked and Redeemed" 3 December 2009 (2009-12-03)
Pip and Ripely find themselves facing a vast and evil undead army. England has only one hope - that Miss Sweetly Delightful can melt Mr Benevolent's cruel, undead heart.

Series 4[edit]

# Title Original transmission date
1 "A Tolerable Life De-Happified" 11 November 2010 (2010-11-11)
Pip must enlist the help of his former nemesis to fight a new evil spreading terror and cake-crumbs through the streets of London.
2 "A Now-Spoiled Life Smashed Some More" 18 November 2010 (2010-11-18)
Pip and Harry journey to the Underworld to rescue Ripely, only to find the evil Mister Benevolent has got there first.
3 "A Wretched Life Made Much, Much Sadder" 25 November 2010 (2010-11-25)
After an embarrassing disaster involving a bridge and a train full of puppies and orphans, Pip and Harry travel to America on the SS Massive Britain, where Pip begins a reading tour. But all is not as it seems and Mister Benevolent lures our hero into a gunfight at the "All Right I Suppose Corral".
4 "A Painful Life Further Re-Miserabled" 2 December 2010 (2010-12-02)
Pip and Harry put to sea with Captain Beehab in a bid to thwart a sea-going Mister Benevolent and rescue Ripely. But fate has other plans and they are shipwrecked. Pip soon finds himself on a desert island that holds many surprising secrets.
5 "A Now Tricky Life Woefully Miseried Up" 9 December 2010 (2010-12-09)
Pip and Harry have escaped the exploding desert island, but Harry has been transformed into a dinosaur. Now they must catch Mister Benevolent and prevent him taking over the world, but the trail has led them to France. Here they must face unimaginable horrors including a bacon-free breakfast and a deadly confrontation in a cheese mine. But there is a glimmer of hope in the form of The Scarlet Pimple.
6 "A Life Destroyed Then Repaired and Rehappied" 16 December 2010 (2010-12-16)
Pip, Pippa, the Reverend Fecund and Harry Biscuit (now just a brain in a jar) have tracked Mister Benevolent to the heart of the vast Russian Empire. But when they find him he is at the head of a mighty army. Who will triumph in the final battle between good and evil? Will Harry get a new body? Will Mister Benevolent detonate his infamous cheese bomb? And what is the correct way to spell Tsar? As fate decides these crucial questions it seems there are a few surprises in store for Pip.

Series 5[edit]

# Title Original transmission date
1 "A Pleasant Yet Dull Life Re-Evilled" 20 November 2012 (2012-11-20)
Pip Bin is beginning to miss the conflict with his absent evil nemesis Mr Gently Benevolent when he receives an intriguing invitation to a house party with Britain's poshest man, the Baron-Viscount-Marqu-earl-et the Lord-Dukey Clampvulture of Too-Many Titles. But one of the other guests may not be all he seems.[6]
2 "A Re-Excited Life Made Distinctly Dangerous" 27 November 2012 (2012-11-27)
Pip and his friends travel to India in their quest to thwart the evil machinations of smooth but sinister genius Mr Gently Benevolent.[7]
3 "An Alrightish Life Savagely Frozen to Bits" 4 December 2012 (2012-12-04)
Pip races to Antarctica to thwart another fiendish plot by his evil ex-guardian, Mr Gently Benevolent.[8]
4 "A Writerly Life Made Dreadfully Different" 11 December 2012 (2012-12-11)
Pip and Charles Dickens engage in a novel-writing showdown to find out who is the greatest writer in Britain.[9]
5 "A Terrifying Life Made Even Scarier a Bit Some More" 18 December 2012 (2012-12-18)
Harry Biscuit becomes possessed by the evil Pen of Penrith which turns his heart to inky black. Pip and Gently Benevolent join forces to take on this new, cruel and cake-obsessed nemesis and his army of robot swans. They also turn out to share a love of antiquing in the Cotswolds.[10]
6 "A Loved-Up Life Potentially Totally Annihilated" 25 December 2012 (2012-12-25)
Mister Gently Benevolent unveils an advent calendar of evil that will culminate on Christmas day with the total destruction of the universe. Only one man can prevent the end of everything for all time. But at a terrible terrible cost. Is this the end for our hero Pip? Or is it curtains for the whole of creation? And does that mean Harry needn't get Pippa a Christmas present?[11]


External links[edit]