David Copperfield
Radio Times cover with Christopher Guard
GenrePeriod drama
Based onDavid Copperfield
1850 novel
by Charles Dickens
Screenplay byVincent Tilsley
Directed byJoan Craft
ComposerJohn Hotchkis
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original languageEnglish
No. of episodes13 (9 missing)
ProducerCampbell Logan
Running time25 minutes
Original release
NetworkBBC 1
Release16 January (1966-01-16) –
10 April 1966 (1966-04-10)

David Copperfield is a BBC television serial starring Ian McKellen in the title role of the adaptation of Charles Dickens's 1850 novel[1] that began airing in January 1966.[2] It also featured Tina Packer as Dora[3] Flora Robson as Betsey Trotwood,[4] Gordon Gostelow as Barkis,[5] and Christopher Guard as young David.[6] The screenplay adaptation was written by Vincent Tilsley, who had previously helmed the 1956 adaptation almost a decade prior.[7]

It had a viewership of over 12 million for its initial airings.[8] Only four of the serial's thirteen episodes (3, 8, 9 and 11) are known to exist.[9] It is said to be remarkably similar to the 1956 adaptation that preceded it, although that version is now completely lost.


For a detailed plot, see David Copperfield (novel).


Archive status

After being rebroadcast in the late 1960s, the original master videotapes for all thirteen episodes were wiped by the BBC. The 16mm telerecordings made for preservation were junked sometime afterwards, most likely in the 1970s. Only four episodes (3 "A Long Journey", 8 "The Proposal", 9 "Domestic Tangles" and 11 "Umble Aspirations") are known to exist with the BFI, with episode 3 existing in the highest quality. Episodes 8, 9 and 11 suffer from notably lower sound and picture quality. Additionally, unedited studio footage of episode 3, featuring outtakes, mid-take conversations between actors and even director Joan Craft telling the crew to "shut up", is also held by the BFI and available for private viewing at their building on Stephen Street, London. All four episodes are available to view for free at their Southbank building via the Mediatheque service.

Critical reception

The BFI's Screenonline wrote "while this adaptation is occasionally light in the playing (comic music punctuates some of Micawber's gesticulations), it doesn't avoid the novel's tough incidents, and its length allows an unusual faithfulness to incident and character (finding room for Traddles and others omitted from shorter adaptations)."[10] Sir Ian McKellen himself later said, "I was new to television and got absorbed in the technicalities of it all: characterization was forced, I expect, and I'm very glad the original videotape has been destroyed."[11]


  1. ^ Sid Smith (21 January 1996). "A sly take on history: In his 'Richard III,' McKellen goes for the essential bard". Chicago Tribune. p. C7. Retrieved 18 February 2012.
  2. ^ Ben Hewes (23 January 2002). "All the world's a stage for the Burnley actors". Lancashire Telegraph. Retrieved 18 February 2012.
  3. ^ Kevin Kelly (5 January 1992). "Decisions difficult but exhilarating for actress-director". The Boston Globe. p. B31.
  4. ^ "Dickens - David Copperfield". The Bookseller. 22 January 1966. p. 218.
  5. ^ Gavin Gaughan (20 July 2007). "Obituary: Gordon Gostelow: From Shakespeare to classic serials - and a Methodist musical". The Guardian. p. 43. Retrieved 18 February 2012.
  6. ^ Films and filming, Volumes 340-351. Hansom Books. 1983. p. 30.
  7. ^ Joanne Shattock (2000). The Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature, Volume 4: 1800-1900. Cambridge University Press. p. 2098. ISBN 0-521-39100-8.
  8. ^ Papers by Command. HMSO. 23: 21. 1966. ((cite journal)): Missing or empty |title= (help)
  9. ^ "December delights". M2 Presswire. 26 October 1995.
  10. ^ "BFI Screenonline: David Copperfield (1966)". screenonline.org.uk.
  11. ^ "A Century of Charles Dickens' Beloved David Copperfield Onscreen".