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OU on the BBC: Mark Steel Lectures - Chaplin

Updated Monday, 13th February 2006

Find out more about Charlie Chaplin in this programme from the BBC/OU Mark Steel Lectures.

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Charlie Chaplin was one of the 20th century’s greatest and richest rebels. From austere beginnings in the squalid streets and workhouses of South London, he rose to become one of the most famous faces in the world; adored by millions and at the same time despised by an American Government who eventually conspired to have him barred from returning.

In this latest edition of his BAFTA nominated series of lectures, writer and comedian Mark Steel turns his attentions to the life and times of a man who, on the one hand, counted Churchill and Gandhi as personal friends and who, on the other, fell down stairs for a living.

Charlie Chaplin was born in 1889, his father, an alcoholic singer, left when Charlie was very young, leaving his mother to bring him and his brother up in tiny rented rooms. Soon she fell ill and the family were forced into the Lambeth Workhouse – an experience which left an indelible impression on the young boy. Music Hall was his saviour; its rise in popularity was accelerated when the working week in factories was reduced to 60 hours and a teenage Charlie discovered his abilities as a natural clown. Whilst touring America in 1912 with Fred Karno’s Music Hall Company, Chaplin was spotted by Mack Sennet, creator of the Keystone Kops and was offered a job.

Join Mark as he charts Chaplin’s course through 20th century history, how through the initial success of the Little Tramp character he managed to negotiate the right to direct his own films and how this character came to be seen as a symbol of resistance to the regimented rules of modern society. He transformed the way comedy films were made, taking control of every aspect of the production process; he taught himself to read music so he could write his own film scores; He even insisted on having a pool of 21 trained studio dogs, all of whom were well versed in the art of comic timing….

First broadcast: Tuesday 7 Oct 2003 on BBC Four

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