Bleak Expectations

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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 and fourth 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.

A Spiritual Successor, The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff, was broadcast on BBC 2 in 2011.


Bleak Expectations has examples of:[edit | hide | hide all]

"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?"

  • 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."
  • Back from the Dead: As of series 4, all main characters have been killed and revived at least once. Flora, Aunt Lily, Poppy and the lawyer with the long name are the only ones who have actually stayed dead. Mr Benevolent has returned so many times he's not even mentioned as undead any more.
    • and before she was apparently Killed Off for Real, Aunt Lily was the queen of this trope, returning in increasingly unlikely ways from seeming demises.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Blatant Lies: Gently Benevolent's mother's explanations for why her husbands keep dying.
  • Boarding School of Horrors: St Bastard's.
    • Antarctic House is even worse.
  • Brainless Beauty: Flora.
  • Bungling Inventor: Harry Biscuit builds a lot of brilliant machines, none of which work as intended. Gently Benevolent's Xanatos Gambit in the season three finale actually relies on this.
    • Whoever supplies Sourquill with all his devices also has to be this.
  • 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!

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).
  • Evil Laugh: Mr Gently Benevolent does it a lot. Turns out it runs in the family.
  • The Exit Is That Way: In episode 6.
  • Extra! Extra! Read All About It!: In episode 4.
  • 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 Yay: Pip for Mister Benevolent

Pip: Oh there's hardly any attraction there

  • 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).
  • Friend to All Living Things: Miss Sweetly Delightful. The woodland animals are huge fans of hers.
  • Full-Name Basis: Pip Bin, Harry Biscuit, and Mr Gently Benevolent among others.
  • Hey, It's That Voice!: Mr Gently Benevolent sounds a lot like Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, being voiced by Anthony Head.
  • Hilariously Abusive Childhood: Our heroes live through this, and Mr Benevolent turns out to have had one too.
  • 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!

Harry Biscuit: It's a new sweet for sheep; I call it the "Baa Humbug".

  • 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 and Grimpunches; the entire family is voiced by Geoffrey Whitehead.
  • 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 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.
  • 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."
  • Kangaroo Court: The final episode of Series 1, where Pip is accused of stealing the bin design from Americna 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 'Innocent until proven dead.'
  • 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.
  • 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 wandering eye and wandering hands. Somehow Pip always seem to buy her thinly-veiled excuses for spending an inordinate amount of time around 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.
  • 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.
    • Gently's real name turns out to be Malevolent.
  • Minion with an F In Evil: Pippa, as Mr Benevolents '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."

  • 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.
  • Most Definitely Not a Villain: Grinder Whackwallop, head of Pip's bin factory. Mr Benevolent when in disguise.
  • 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 Hiram Trashcan. There is also a mention of Dr Swim, who made the medical breakthrough that saved so many people from drowning.
  • 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.
  • 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.)
  • 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!"
  • 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?").

Pip: I opened the fortune cookie: inside it said "You are now addicted to opium."

I met a puppy and didn't pet for very long!

Prepare to be reduced to crumbs, Biscuit!

  • 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...
  • 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!"
  • Rousing Speech: The season 2 finale includes Shout Outs to every single famous Rousing Speech they could think of, including Winston Churchill and Henry V.
  • Rube Goldberg Device: The device for checking on the baby.
  • Running Gag: The lawyer's name, Mr Skinflint Parsimonious's obsession with giving people things, Pippa's anvil (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) 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.
  • Sand in My Eyes: Harry, on being parted from Pippa in episode 5.
  • Saving the World: The finale of series 2 involves Pip having to save the world from a Martian invasion. Yup.
  • 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.
  • Sorry I Left the BGM On: Several times.
  • Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace: In episode 6.
  • 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 henchmen if only for the sake of tradition.
  • 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.
  • Sweet on Polly Oliver: 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".
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Flora Dies-Early, the "terminally metaphorical" street sweeper, and Poppy Bin.
  • Training Montage: In episode 6, complete with "Gonna Fly Now".
  • Victorian London
  • 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.

"I shall return! New plan, more evil, blah de blah, you know the form by now."

"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!"