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CHRISTMAS time. Small Victorian house. Roaring fire... and a newborn baby.

It's an opening scene that could come straight from the pages of a novel by Great Expectations author Charles Dickens.

And the little boy you see here, cradled in the arms of his doting mum Holly by the fireside, is certainly a Pip off the old block.

For three-week-old Joe Alan Charles Robinson is the famous writer's great-great-great grandson.

His arrival has been so timely even his ancestor would have been hard pressed to have made it up.

Holly, 25, gave birth to Joe just as Dickensmania was about to grip Britain, with nearly seven million viewers tuning into a BBC version of Great Expectations starring heartthrob Douglas Booth as penniless hero Pip.

And the latest chapter in the Dickens dynasty also begins as the world gears up to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the author's own birth this year - with more lavish adaptations of his novels planned, plus a film of his life starring Ralph Fiennes.

But aptly-named Holly, Dickens' great-great-great granddaughter, is just pleased sixth-generation Joe arrived in time for Christmas.

"It was lovely and I'm sure Charles would have approved," smiles the 25-year-old, who carried the family name before her marriage to Joe's dad Tom, 33.

"We want Joe to grow up knowing about his heritage and to be proud of it. He's lucky to be one of so many Dickens' relatives who keep in touch and can trace their roots back.

"I think it's important for every person to know who their ancestors might be. In our case, it happens to be one of the greatest ever writers.

"At school I was always immensely proud of the connection, even if I didn't show it. A new teacher would call the register and say, 'Dickens? No relative of Charles, I expect, ha ha!' And I'd say 'Well yes, actually I am'.

"I've learned to live with his fame, I grew up knowing all about him, but I still think, 'Wow! What a privilege this is!'"

Privilege it may be but, unlike some of Dickens' best-loved plots, there is no vast secret inheritance to be found anywhere in the family story.

There's a common belief among outsiders that the Dickens clan - which numbers almost 300 worldwide - must all be living idly on the proceeds of Charles' greatest works such as Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol and A Tale Of Two Cities.

But hard-working Holly was a hairdresser by trade before landing a job working for fashion brand Ralph Lauren. And Tom runs a small painting and decorating business when he's not doing up their comfy twobedroom home in Bedfordshire.

The log fire crackles merrily as Holly tells how while there may not be a fortune there is great pride in their famous ancestor. Her Uncle Gerry performs oneman recitals of Dickens' works, and her actor cousin Harry Lloyd, 28, plays Herbert Pocket in the latest Great Expectations.

And there'll be no Uriah Heep of cash to be collected from the TV dramas, or the movie, or the inevitable increase in book sales, simply because any copyright the family had ended long ago, 50 years after Dickens' masterpieces were written. "It's the way it should be, we all agree on that," says Holly. "None of us wants to be living off the success of a relative from a couple of centuries ago."

Even the great man himself made only a fraction of what his talent

ld earn him now. The first print run Christmas Carol - still selling 6,000 es a week over this festive season - ught him a cheque for just pounds 137. Most is work was for magazines who paid t fee.

woul of A copie brou of hi a flat He a glob and w whe 1870 Bu sprea child An tC e was the 19th Century equivalent of bal celebrity, hugely popular in Britain with two tours of the US behind him n he died of a stroke at 58 in 0. ut he left only pounds 93,000 which had to be ad among the eight survivors of his 10 dren, as well as charities he supported. nd the family line today stretches back to only two of those children - Charles Culliford Boz, who ran modestly success-

ful magazines, and Sir Henry Fielding Dickens, who became a judge.

"There wasn't a great deal to go round, and much of that never filtered to the next generation," says Mark Charles Dickens, 56 - the writer's great-great grandson and current head of the family.

He says most of the others had no offspring. Two sons joined the Indian army, one went into the Mounties, one went into the Navy and two emigrated to Australia.

One of Dickens' two daughters stayed a spinster - perhaps after witnessing her father's behaviour towards her mother Catherine. Mark says: "It has to be said he was beastly to his wife. He treated her very cruelly, forcing her to move out while he began an affair with a young actress, Nelly Ternan.

"But at least he made sure Catherine was financially secure, and that the children were all cared for. His private life might have been a mess, but that's not what people remember him for.

"He was the first popular author to write about ordinary people. He wrote the first soap operas, the Coronation Streets and EastEnders of their time.

"He shone a light on the shocking social conditions people had to endure." Dickens' books about the plight of orphans like Oliver Twist and poor families like the Cratchits shocked Victorian society. But he knew first hand how the working-class suffered.

Dickens was only 12 when his naval clerk father John was thrown into debtor's prison followed by his mother and seven siblings. He escaped the same fate because he was taken in by a family friend.

But he was forced to leave school and work 10 hours a day for six shillings a week in a rat-infested boot-blacking factory - and the horrific conditions he saw there stayed with him for the rest of his life. "It was Charles Dickens who stirred the nation's conscience about the plight of the poor," says Mark, who is looking forward to his ancestor's bicentenary, which will be celebrated next month with a service in Westminster Abbey.

"As for the family, he's a force that binds us together." That force has been strengthened by Joe's birth. And Holly plans to make sure he knows all about his history... in a thoroughly modern way.

"We will introduce him gently into the works of his four-greats grandad," she says. "First on the list will be A Christmas Carol - definitely the Muppets version. Then maybe a children's adaptation of Oliver Twist, always my favourite book.

"I hope Joe will feel the same way I do about our legacy. It's not about money. It's more precious than that.

"It's about knowing that, so many generations later, this great man in our family wrote stories which are still loved by millions around the world."

The family tree

Charles Dickens Born 1812 WED Catherine Thompson Hogarth 10 children

Sir Henry Fielding Charles Dickens (Dickens' son) born 1849 WED Marie Therese Roche Four children

Admiral Sir Gerald Charles Dickens (Dickens' grandson) born 1876 WED Anne Birch Three children

David Kenneth Charles Dickens (Dickens' great grandson) born 1925 WED Flora 'Betty' Hoyt Four children

Ian David Charles Dickens (Dickens' great great grandson) born 1955 WED Anne Toye Two children

Holly Elizabeth Dickens (Dickens' great great great grandaughter) born 1986 WED Tom Robinson One child (so far!)

Joe Alan Charles Robinson (Dickens' great, great, great, great grandson) born Dec 7, 2011

297 The total number of Dickens' descendants... including his TEN children

25 The languages Dickens has been translated into, including Cornish and urban slang

180 Cinema and TV adaptations of Dickens' books, the first a silent movie of The Pickwick Papers

200m The number of copies his most popular novel, A Tale of Two Cities, has sold around the world

10 Number of miles Dickens would walk every day - or night - before sitting down to write

14 Major novels he wrote. He also wrote 30 short stories and numerous tales for magazines


Next chapter... mum Holly with Joe, the great-great-greatgreat grandson of Charles Dickens Relative... Harry in drama Hit... Douglas as Pip in Great Expectations
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Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 1, 2012
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