Simon Callow: ‘Dickens knew what it meant to have bailiffs knocking on the door’
Plaque to the early home of Mike Leigh and Alison Steadman
Published: 19 December, 2013
BY DAN CARRIER
PLAQUES marking the Somers Town homes of Charles Dickens, film director Mike Leigh and actress Alison Steadman were unveiled on Monday.
Actor Simon Callow, who has performed a one-man show based on Dickens’ life, pulled back a curtain to reveal the plaque on the front of Brook House, in Cranleigh Street, marking the writer’s time in the area.
He revealed that Dickens had based parts of David Copperfield in the street. Then, 100 yards down the road, Camden Mayor Councillor
Jonathan Simpson unveiled a plaque marking the early marital home of Alison Steadman and Mike Leigh.
Mr Callow said: “Charles Dickens was really a Camden boy. His formative years were spent here – he lived in Bayham Street and, while he moved about, Camden played a big role in his life.”
The actor pointed out that Dickens also lived in Little College Street – now Royal College Street – and used the area in many of his novels.
He said: “The back streets of Camden – Cranleigh Street included – feature in David Copperfield, and he went to school here for two years.”
Mr Callow added that Dickens’ books resonated with Mike Leigh’s films: the director set his gritty social realism film High Hopes in Somers Town.
Mr Callow said: “It is always good to be reminded that when Charles Dickens wrote about the poor and wrote about social justice it was because he knew what he was talking about. He knew what it meant to not know where the next meal was coming from. He knew what it meant to have bailiffs knocking on the door, trying to turf him out of his home.
“As an 11-year-old he worked 10-hour days, six days a week and therefore it isn’t surprising that Charles Dickens today is still a byword for social justice. Nobody spoke more eloquently than him – he had been there.
“It is important to honour the words that give us such vivid characters and created such a vision of the society. It is pessimistic in terms of government, but optimistic in terms of human beings.
“Now is the season we read books like A Christmas Carol – and its foundation is the sickening disparity in incomes in his time and it is heartbreaking to face the truth that this still stands today.”
Drama student Bleon Blaca, from nearby Regent High School, performed a self-penned sketch on the pavement featuring Fagin from Oliver Twist talking about Dickens’ early life.
Brook and Cranleigh Tenants’ and Residents’ Association member Ceri Thomas, who helped organise the event along with Association Chairman Lord Tim Thomas, said: “It is interesting to think that three people whose work features social comment – Charles Dickens, Alison Steadman and Mike Leigh – lived within 100 yards of each other, albeit 150 years apart.”