1 9 5 7 (UK)
10 x 30 minute episodes
The BBC brought the great novel by Charles Dickens to television as a 10-part Friday night serial which set its tone – the struggle between Nicholas (William Russell) and his Uncle Ralph (70-year-old Malcolm Keen) – within the first few minutes of the first episode. It was a struggle fought out with increasing intensity as the plot unfolded, and reached a climax of terrible power.
These two violent personalities dominated the story and, although Nicholas was the hero, he was by no means perfect.
He had a violent temper, a great inclination to use his fists, and was often extremely stupid. Yet the fact that he had such obvious faults made him the more credible as a character and the more endearing as a personality.
By the same token, Uncle Ralph was not a complete dragon. He had an unsuspected softer side to his nature, which Nichola’s sister Kate (Jennifer Wilson) touched upon.
Moreover, he was an honest villain. He hated the world but was more than ready to take on the whole of it in battle.
Drawn up behind these two enemies were battalions of rich characters: villains like Arthur Gride (Anthony Jacobs) and Wackford Squeers (Esmond Knight, pictured above); tragic ones like Smike (Brian Peck, pictured below); fantastically funny ones like the Mantalinis (Fabia Drake and Carl Bernard) and the mad “gentleman in small clothes” who lived next door to Mrs Nickleby (Gillian Lind) and wooed her by hurling cucumbers over the garden wall.
Veteran comedian Leslie Henson was to have played the “gentleman in small clothes” in episode 8 but died of a heart attack on Monday 2 December, four days before the episode was due to be broadcast. He was 66. Future Till Death Us Do Part star Warren Mitchell was brought in at extremely short notice to play the part instead.
Richard Wordsworth’s portrayal of Newman Noggs was outstanding, and a young Rosalind Knight appeared playing Fanny Squeers, the daughter of Wackford Squeers, played by her real-life father, Esmond.
Debuting on Friday 18 October 1957, the series reproduced the costumes and the setting of the period perfectly and the whole series was beautifully produced.
A camera fault interrupted the concluding episode but the serial was brought to a satisfactory end with the downfall of the villainous Ralph.
Wackford Squeers Sr.
Wackford Squeers Jr.
Miss La Creevy
Mr Charles Cheery
Sir Mulberry Hawk
Mr Alfred Mantalini
Mr Ned Cheeryble
Lord Frederick Verisopht
Miss Fanny Squeers