PREVIEW Oliver Twrst Scottish, starts Sun 28 Nov, 9pm.


The writer's credit on the eight-hour adaptation of Oliver Twist might come as a surprise. Alan Bleasdale, known for gritty dramas like Boys From The Blackstuff and GBH, seems an unlikely choice for a big budget classic serial. Until you think it through. Many might associate Dickens primarily with frilly bonnets and tailcoats, but his commitment to the social problems of his own time mirrors Bleasdale’s own concerns. Dickens was as much an observer and critic of the structure of Victorian society as he was a master storyteller.

The fashion for lush, fussy. escapist costume drama has recently given way to a trend towards the authentically grubby and gory, exemplified by recent adaptations of Great Expectations, Vanity Fair and The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall. If there was ever a time for an Oliver Twist with its social conscience on its tattered sleeve, then this is it.

Bleasdale says that whilst the task of adapting Dickens’s best-loved work was daunting, the offer delighted him: ’When I put the phone down I was doing cartwheels around the house! Some people were surprised that I wanted to do this, but I've always adored Dickens and I couldn't wait to get started.’

Like all the best adaptations, Bleasdale’s Oliver is not limited by undue devotion to the source material. Despite his love of the novel, Bleasdale is aware that certain elements could prove alienating to a modern audience. He mentions 'the level of coincidence that exists in the story; the perhaps accidental anti-Semitism in relation to Fagin; and the occasional blasts of sentimentality.’

Conscious that Dickens was writing in monthly instalments, he had no qualms about altering the balance

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Grub culture: Oliver Twist

of the novel in places. 'Because Dickens was writing at such a furious pace and was making it up as he went along, certain things just get thrown away,’ notes Bleasdale. 'Genius that he was, he just kept on writing and threw those pages over his shoulder. So I’ve followed on behind him, picking them up.’

Assisting him in that task is a cast headed by nine-year- old Sam Smith and includes past Bleasdale collaborators Robert Lindsay (Fagin), Julie Walters (Mrs Mann) and Lindsay Duncan (Elizabeth Leeford). Other famous faces include Emily Woof, Roger Lloyd Pack and in a big step up from panto obscurity Isla Fisher. The series is directed by Renny Rye, whose previous credits include Family Money and Big Women.

Given the calibre of the cast and crew, even those who left Dickens behind in the classroom and long ago rejected the overstuffed, oversugared period drama may get more out of this Oliver Twist than they bargain for.


largely comes down to one thing: ’They are simply the most compelling form of drama. The thing about Our lives unless you are SUicidal - is that you have no idea how it Will turn out and soaps produce those kind of feelings.’ He explores this further in Never Ending Stories where he looks at the messages, methods and future of soaps as well as actually writing an episode of EastEnders.

As Lawson recalls, BBC godfather Lord Reith wouldn’t allow soaps to Sully his ViSion of public serVIce broadcasting, relenting only to allow one to aid the war effort (The Front/me Family) and another as a concession to the Ministry Of Agriculture (The ArcherS). Now, you can’t move for liVing soaps, docu-soaps and traditional soap opera.

’Bill Clinton complains about soap opera politics but he actually surVived


Never Ending Stories

BBCZ, Mon 29 Nov—Wed 1 Dec, 11.20pm.

Meaningless pap or malevolent propaganda? Soap operas have been

120 THE LIST 18 Nov—2 Dec 1999

Soap and glory: Mark joins Dot in Never Ending Stories

accused of both ever since the first radio airing of US tool of Christian ideology The Guiding Light, way back in 1937.

Mark Lawson Guardian columnist, Late Review presenter and Brookside addict believes that their popularity

because of them,’ Lawson states intriguingly. 'ln soap, a character Will have these spells of fantastic scandal and then normality. They call it an arc in soaps and Bill Clinton is at the Ron Dixon stage now. Havmg had this ludicrously exciting life, he can go back to Just being a bloke again.’

TV times

We put TV celebs on the couch. This issue: Victoria Wood.

Born In sunny PrestWich, Lancashire on 19 May 1953.

Big break She won lTV’s New Faces Just after her graduation from Birmingham University and earned her keep With appearances on That’s Life, Start The Week and performing folk songs round the country.

Finest hour Won a clutch of BAFTAs in the mid-805 for her series As Seen On TV and has collected regular awards for her stage and teleVision productions.

Quite popular then? Bigger than the Beatles. Has done two record-breaking sell-out runs at the Royal Albert Hall With successive stand-up shows.

The Walters factor Remembered as a comic partner to the inimitable Julie Walters, they first acted together in Wood’s 1978 play In At The Death. More than a few chuckles were raised With their 805 TV series Wood And Walters.

Bit of a Vic of all trades, then? As playwright, stand-up, folk and pop mUSICIal'l, author, star of stage, screen and numerous Videos, Wood has indulged in almost everything.

What now? Dinner/adies. Reunited With old buddies Walters and Celia Imrie, favourites from the classic 'Acorn Antiques’ sketches featuring Walters as the clearly insane Mrs Overall. Wood gets cackles from catering for kids as she plays Bren in the second series of this self-penned, Six-part SIICOm.

Significant other The one and only Geoffrey ’Great Suprendo’ Durham. You remember him, he did magic tricks on Cracker/ack. He disappeared only to re-emerge on Countdown, raping With Richard Whiteley and performing card tricks.

Not a lot of people know She was awarded an OBE in 1997.

Not to be confused with James Woods, Sherwood Forest, Queen Victoria. (Mark Robertson)

I Dinner/adies, BBC 1, starts Thu 25 Nov, 9.30pm.

t t t * * Unmissable

1: ii i t Very 00d

t t * Wort a shot

at * Below average

t You've been warned