Gerald Dickens talks about his famous great great grandad's legacy as he performs in Preston
Growing up, the great great grandson of Charles Dickens didn't think much of his works.
But as Gerald Dickens pursued a career in the theatre, he realised how great his ancestor was.
Now, the 54-year-old is championing his works by performing on stage across the UK.
One special trip will be to Preston Playhouse, just a few yards away from where Dickens himself once tread the boards, at Preston Theatre Royal, with his tale of Doctor Marigold back in 1867.
The famous writer made at least three visits to Preston between 1854 and 1869. It is said he was influenced by the place and its people when he wrote the novel Hard Times. His last trip was in 1869 when he was booked to appear at the old Guild Hall. But he was forced to cancel the performance of Oliver Twist just hours before curtain-up on doctor’s advice. He died the following year aged 58.
Gerald, who grew up in Kent, adds that despite the family connection, he never felt pressured to be enthusiastic about Dickens’s works.
He admits: “My dad, David, was a massive fan of his great grandad and was a scholar.
“He used to write articles and speeches about his work. Yet none of my brothers and sisters connected with Charles Dickens.
“But he never showed any disappointment or upset. He wanted us to do what we wanted to do and supported us.
“Then when I first started taking an interest and doing performances, he exploded with enthusiasm and told me to read certain books and speak to certain people.
“I realised how much he had held back for all those years. He obviously didn’t want to put much pressure on us.
“It is funny as I have an 18-year-old son, Cameron, who is studying astrophysics and Leicester University. He shows as much interest in him as I did at that age.
“I probably had my first experience of my great great grandad’s works at high school. I was reading Oliver Twist but it didn’t do anything for me. I found it dull and long and it didn’t mean anything. But the problem was the fact it was badly taught. Even at the beginning of Hard Times, he talks about bad teaching and about learning facts that don’t matter.
“But years later, I realised that these books are actually like scripts and were so well written. I realised how much he loved theatre and that meant something, I was then hooked.
“When I properly read his books, I realised there were so many levels to what he was doing.
“He was a real entertainer and creative fantastic characters and great plots.
“He also looked at a lot of issues, in particular the poverty gap and the difference between the rich and poor. The reasons he wrote a lot of his stories was to raise awareness.
“In fact, the idea for A Christmas Carol came whilst he was delivering a charity speech to factory and mill workers in Manchester.
“He was saying how poor children needed to be educated otherwise the next generation would be doomed.”
It was A Christmas Carol that started Gerald’s Dickensian tour, in 1993.
He recalls: “I was asked to do a reading of A Christmas Carol to mark the 150th anniversary of the book for charity. I realised what a great idea that was and I carried that on.
“I know charity meant a great deal to him.”
Gerald, who lives in Oxford, admits his first role on stage was as a cockerel.
He adds: “I was cast in the nativity play when I was nine. I walked on stage with his huge cockerel costume and everyone bust out laughing. I was a very shy boy but when I saw everyone clapping and laughing, I thought this was great. There was nothing else I wanted to do.”
Dickens Returns to Preston! Mr Dickens is Coming & Doctor Marigold will be at the city’s Playhouse on March 25.
Gerald adds: “The show is going to be fun and entertaining, with lots of laughs. The second half will be a reading of Doctor Marigold which is the same show my great great grandad dad in the same city, and so it is very exciting.
“I am really looking forward to it.”
For tickets, priced at £15, ring 07801 446099 or email [email protected] All proceeds will go towards North West charity PIES – Partners in Education Swaziland. For more information visit http://www.piescharity.org.uk/