In 1985, Patrick Malahide starred as Mr. Alfred Jingle, strolling actor, charming con artist, and raconteur extraordinaire, in the BBC’s twelve episode miniseries, “The Pickwick Papers“, based on Charles Dickens‘ 1836 novel. By some accounts his favourite role, it’s a chance to see him play everything from slapstick comedy to serious melodrama.
Synopsis and spoilers for episode 1 to follow, or scroll down to view a gallery. UPDATE: Video clip added, courtesy of Angelinadi! 🙂
Setting Off on Travels
The action opens with Mr. Samuel Pickwick (Nigel Stock), founder of the Pickwick Club, resolving with the other members of the club to make journeys beyond London, record as much as possible, and return to report on their travels. Three other Pickwickians are to accompany him: Mr. Tracy Tupman (Clive Swift), the next eldest after Mr. Pickwick who nonetheless considers himself something of a ladies’ man; Mr. Nathaniel Winkle (Jeremy Nicholas), a self-proclaimed sportsman; and Mr. Augustus Snodgrass (Alan Parnaby), who has ambitions to write poetry. To say that the Pickwickians are inexperienced travellers is an understatement; Mr. Pickwick has barely reached his first destination when he runs afoul of an irate coachman who believes Pickwick’s copious note-taking is for the purpose of getting him into trouble. A rather one-sided (and not very dangerous) fist fight ensues to the distress of the Pickwickians, who are rescued from their predicament by an unlikely hero.
An Unlikely Rescuer
Their unknown rescuer is not a very prepossessing-looking fellow: he’s tall and thin; his well worn, dark green suit is too small for his frame and height; his hat is dented; his trousers and shoes are likewise worn; and while he’s wearing a coat, waistcoat, and stock, he’s not wearing a shirt (despite his claims of having suitcases “big as houses” awaiting him somewhere). He also has an odd way of speaking in short pronouncements, yet he bears himself with an attitude of utter confidence and aplomb. He strides into the situation with the coachman and quickly settles the unpleasantness to everyone’s satisfaction. He’s then invited for a drink by Mr. Pickwick in gratitude, whereupon he immediately takes charge of the situation and orders refreshments for everyone (not at his expense, of course) while counselling Snodgrass (the sole casualty) on the best way to deal with his blackened eye. We also see the first hints of his enormous powers of opportunism and near-limitless capacity for any kind of free food or drink. Upon hearing that he and the Pickwickians have their next destination in common, he agrees to travel with them.
Along the way, Jingle (for it is he) proves to have a keen insight into his travelling companions’ characters, even on such short acquaintance, and a huge gift for storytelling. He quickly ascertains each of the Pickwickians’ individual interests and manages to relate to each of them on that basis, enthralling them as he effortlessly moves from one topic to the other. He also regales them with stories of his own travels and his many encounters with various ladies, to the Pickwickians’ complete and utter fascination. None of them have ever encountered anyone (or anything) like Jingle before, and they’re spellbound. Mr. Pickwick eagerly begins filling his traveler’s journal with Jingle’s stories and asks to hear more.
A Memorable(?) Evening
Upon arriving at their destination, the Pickwickians courteously invite their benefactor to dinner. The words are barely out of Mr. Pickwick’s mouth before Jingle is specifying what courses they should order and asking what time he should be there. At dinner, if you watch carefully, you’ll notice that every time he tops up one of his companion’s glasses, he also tops up his own while distracting his companions with chatter. Within a short time, Jingle has drunk nearly the entire Pickwick Club under the table but is still functional despite his own impressive rate of consumption, and he’s ready to attend the hotel’s ball with the sole survivor of the Bacchanal, Mr. Tupman. The issue of Jingle’s lack of dress clothes is dealt with efficiently by Tupman’s suggestion that he borrow the now-unconscious Mr. Winkle’s new suit, and Mr. Tupman (surprisingly! not) loses the coin toss to buy the tickets. As it turns out, a lot ends up hinging on these borrowed clothes.
Once at the ball (where the self-professed ladies’ man, Tupman, seems totally out of his depth), Jingle quickly sizes up the situation and selects his prey for the evening, a wealthy widow. He’s completely unphased by the fact the widow already has an escort: “Old widow, lots of money. Pompous doctor — not a bad idea. I’ll dance with her.” To Tupman’s inquiry if he knows the lady, he replies, “Never seen her before in all my life — cut out the doctor.” And he proceeds to do just that. Check out the clip below to see:
As the evening goes on, the widow Budger has the time of her life, being vied for by both Jingle and Tupman (whenever Jingle takes time out to mooch a drink or two), and the doctor becomes progressively more infuriated. Jingle ignores all of the doctor’s efforts to catch his attention as he dances with the widow, until the doctor – Doctor Slammer (Gerald James) of the 97th Regiment, as he introduces himself, and never was a doctor so well named – finally confronts Jingle and Tupman on the stairs as they’re retiring for the evening. He berates Jingle for his conduct (never mind that the widow seemed to be having an exceedingly good time) and demands Jingle’s card in exchange for his own. Jingle says he doesn’t need a doctor as he’s not ill at present: “When I am, knock you up,” which only infuriates Slammer all the more. He departs, vowing that Jingle will hear from him in the morning.
But the Next Morning…
The following morning, the blue dress suit’s rightful owner, Mr. Winkle, is indeed roused out of bed by Doctor Slammer’s second, Lieutenant Tappleton (John Patrick), based on an identification of right clothes, wrong man. Tappleton informs Winkle that he’s being challenged to a duel by someone he doesn’t even know, for reasons he can’t remember. Winkle has little to no memory of the previous night and can’t say for certain if he did or didn’t offend Slammer; and besides, he feels he must answer for any potential besmirching of the Pickwick Club’s name and honour. To give him credit, he does show up for the duel (even though he has no idea of what’s going on, let alone how to duel with pistols), accompanied by the faithful Snodgrass as his second.
Whatever happens next?? Does Winkle survive?? Does Jingle mooch more drinks?? Stay tuned for a recap of Episode 2! 😉