The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

Broadcast Sundays 1500-1600 1st, 8th & 15th of June 2008 on BBC Radio 4

Repeated Saturdays 2100-2200 14th, 21st & 28th of June 2008 on BBC Radio 4


Dirk Maggs



Rebecca Pinfield

Johnny Vegas


Adaptation By

Andy Lynch


Written By

Robert Tressell penname of Robert Noonan in 1910


Production By

Above The Title Productions Ltd for BBC Radio 4




A tale of socialism and political awakening, Tressell's book tells the story of a group of painters and decorators who are exploited by their unscrupulous bosses.


This inspirational novel is a moving fable in which hope triumphs over experience. It follows a year in the lives of a band of builders, decorators and occasional undertakers. Ragged trousered, poor, and ironically named philanthropists because they donate their labour for a barely living wage in order to contribute to the wealth of their 'betters'.



Episode 1

A shock is in store for the workmen as their boss singles out one of the group.


Episode 2

Jack Linden is struggling to keep his family out of the workhouse. Easton, under pressure to provide for his family and keep his job, turns to drink.

Ruth is left at home with the baby and the new lodger, with shocking consequences.


Episode 3

Ruth is deserted once again as Easton goes out with his workmates. Things take a dramatic turn when Ruth goes missing.

Meanwhile the workers are united in tragedy, and an unexpected revelation could change Frank's life forever.

Cast for all Episodes


Timothy Spall
Johnny Vegas
Paul Whitehouse
Mrs Linden
Gwyneth Powell
Charlie Linden
Jake Pratt
John Prescott MP
Steven Radford
Philip Jackson
Andrew Langtree
Andrew Lincoln
Frankie Owen
Robert Madge
Des O'Malley
Bill Bailey
Nora Owen
Raquel Cassidy
Rupert Degas
Rupert Degas
Tony Pitts
Kevin Eldon
Mary Linden
Emma Fryer
Elise Linden
Yasmin Garrad
Tom Goodman-Hill
Tony Haygarth
Ruth Easton
Shirley Henderson


Production Crew

Foley Artist

Alison McKenzie

Alison McKenzie


Recording Engineer

Gerry O'Riordan

Gerry O'Riordan


Recorded at

Studio 3 The Soundhouse Ltd London England


Recorded on

During May 2008


Music composed & Arranged

Not known at this time


Comment by Dirk Maggs

"There's an awful lot of suffering in this play, but it's always touched with kindness. Getting the balance between the two isn't easy. Luckily, we've got this incredible cast. I mean, just look at the people in front of the mic! They instinctively know what's needed. Put them in a studio and they bring those words to life."


Running Time

3 Episodes of 60 Minutes 180 minutes in total


Cast Pictures

Johnny Vegas

Paul Whitehouse

Philip Jackson
Des O'Malley
Tony Pitts
Shirley Henderson
Andrew Langtree
Timothy Spall
Tom Goodman-Hill


What Other's have said

From Jane Anderson Radio Times

Fat-cat bosses cream off the profits while their workers accept longer hours for less pay in order to keep their jobs. There's a modern resonance here, but this three-part drama is based upon the 1914 novel of Robert Tressell, published after his death. Brought to the radio by Johnny Vegas and writer Andrew Lynch, the story follows a group of builders renovating a house in the early 1900s. They exist just above the poverty line, with their only fall back being the workhouse or an early grave. Vegas has assembled a terrific cast who inject a dark shot of humour into the veins of this challenging story of exploitation. Paul Whitehouse is particularly brilliant as the vile Christian hypocrite Mr Hunter (aka Old Misery). His voice oozes malevolence as he keeps the workers where they should be -crushed. And Andrew Lincoln is perfectly cast as the young socialist who tries to set a working-class cat among the broken-winged pigeons. It's a powerful brave drama, spared from being worthy by the wit and quality of the acting and writing.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is a novel by Robert Tressell (17th April 18703rd February 1911), first published in 1914 after his death. An explicitly political work, it is widely regarded as a classic of British working-class literature.

Robert Tressell was the nom-de-plume of Robert Noonan, who chose the surname Tressell as a pun on the trestle table, an important part of his kit as a painter and decorator. Based on his own experiences of poverty, exploitation, and his terror that he and his daughter whom he was raising alone would be consigned to the workhouse if he became ill, Tressell embarks on a detailed and scathing analysis of the relationship between working-class people and their employers. The "philanthropists" of the title are the workers who, in Tressell's view, acquiesce in their own exploitation in the interests of their bosses. The novel is set in the fictional town of Mugsborough, based on the southern English coastal town of Hastings, where Tressell lived. The original title page of the book carried the subtitle: "Being the story of twelve months in Hell, told by one of the damned, and written down by Robert Tressell."

He completed The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists in 1910, but the 1,600 page-long hand-written manuscript was rejected by the three publishing houses to which it was submitted. The rejection severely depressed Tressell, and his daughter had to save the manuscript from being burnt. It was placed for safekeeping in a metal box underneath her bed.

After he died of tuberculosis, his daughter Kathleen was determined to have her father's writing published, and showed it to a friend, the writer Jessie Pope. Pope recommended it to her own publisher, who bought the rights to the book in April 1914 for £25. It appeared that year in Britain, Canada, and the United States, and was in the Soviet Union in 1920 and Germany in 1925.

Plot introduction
Clearly frustrated at the refusal of his contemporaries to recognise the iniquity of society, Tressell's cast of hypocritical Christians, exploitative capitalists and corrupt councillors provide a backdrop for his main target -- the workers who think that a better life is "not for the likes of them". Hence the title of the book; Tressell paints the workers as "philanthropists" who unselfishly (read: stupidly) throw themselves into back-breaking work for poverty wages in order to generate profit for their masters.

The hero of the book, Frank Owen, is a socialist who believes that the capitalist system is the real source of the poverty he sees all around him. In vain he tries to convince his fellow workers of his world view, but finds that their education has trained them to distrust their own thoughts and to rely on those of their "betters". Much of the book consists of conversations between Owen and the others, or more often lectures by Owen in the face of their jeering, which seems likely to have mirrored Tressell's own experiences.

Major themes
The book is a fascinating glimpse of social life in Britain at a time when socialism was beginning to gain ground. It was around this time that the Labour Party was founded and began to win seats in the House of Commons.

Espousing socialism, the book makes little reference to trade unionism, instead advocating a socialist economy where work is performed to satisfy need rather than to generate profit. A key chapter is "The Great Money Trick", in which Owen organises a mock-up of capitalism with his workmates, using slices of bread as raw materials and knives as machinery. Owen 'employs' his workmates cutting up the bread to illustrate that the employer - who does not work - generates personal wealth whilst the workers effectively remain no better off than when they began, endlessly swapping coins back and forth for food and wages. Without saying so, Tressell illustrates the Marxist concept of surplus value, which is generated by labour under the capitalist system.


Other Links

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

Mugsborough 1917

Mugsborough 1926


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