07/02/2012 08:08 GMT | Updated 07/02/2012 16:20 GMT

Prince Charles To Lead Day Of Charles Dickens Celebrations

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall will be leading celebrations today to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens.

Events to be held across the country include a wreath-laying ceremony at Dickens' grave in Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey, and at his birthplace in Portsmouth, Hampshire.

The congregation at Westminster Abbey will include the largest ever gathering of descendants of the Victorian novelist as well as representatives from the worlds of literature, film, theatre and the media.

Charles will lay a wreath on Dickens' grave where he was buried in 1870.

The author had asked to be buried at Rochester Cathedral but a public outcry led to him being placed in Poets' Corner.

Ralph Fiennes, who will next be seen as Magwitch in a new film adaptation of Great Expectations, will read an extract from Bleak House with readings also being given by Mark Dickens, great-great-grandson of Charles Dickens, and biographer Claire Tomalin.

The Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, said: "Dickens' humanity and compassion made an extraordinary impact on Victorian England through his writings, which remain immensely popular.

"This bicentenary should help renew our commitment to improving the lot of the disadvantaged of our own day."

Before the ceremony, Charles and Camilla will visit the Charles Dickens Museum in Doughty Street, London, where they will be given a reading by Gillian Anderson, who played Miss Havisham in the BBC's recent adaptation of Great Expectations.

Star of Four Weddings And A Funeral and biographer of Dickens, Simon Callow, will be heading events in Portsmouth.

Dickens' parents, John and Elizabeth Dickens, moved to Portsmouth when his father was transferred from London by his work in the Navy Pay Office.

Dickens was born on February 7 1812 at 1 Mile End Terrace, Landport, Portsea, - which is now 393 Old Commercial Road - but his family returned to London in 1814.

Callow, author of Charles Dickens And The Great Theatre Of The World, will read from David Copperfield at a service being held at St Mary's Church, Portsmouth.

He said: "It's going to be a dangerously moving occasion. I really made the strong decision to come to the place where he was born rather than to Westminster Cathedral where he never wanted to be."

Actress Sheila Hancock will also read from Oliver Twist at the service along with a message from the Prince of Wales.

Stephen Baily, Portsmouth City Council's head of culture, said: "As a city we are proud of our famous son and hope that all residents, and visitors, take the opportunity to get involved with the celebrations."

Celebrations will begin at Dickens' birthplace with the laying of a wreath by Ian Dickens, great-great-grandson of the author.

Other events include an appearance by Brian Conley who is playing Fagin in a touring production of Oliver!, giant Dickens puppets, and 10 members of the Pickwick Bicycle Club will be appearing on penny farthings.

Portsmouth is also celebrating the bicentenary by giving away, in association with Vintage Classics, 4,000 copies of Oliver Twist and placing vinyl stickers of Dickens' characters around the civic offices.

The celebrations come as reformed miser Ebenezer Scrooge was voted the most popular Charles Dickens character, according to a poll held to mark the 200th anniversary.

Seven out of the top 10 characters chosen by Penguin readers were villains or some of Dickens' darker creations, with vengeful Miss Havisham from Great Expectations coming second.

The jackal-like Sydney Carton, the pick-pocketing Artful Dodger and his criminal ring-leader Fagin completed the top five.