It’s been a while, but “Pickwick Papers” recaps are back! 😉 When last seen, that cad, bounder, and ahc-tor Alfred Jingle had absconded with spinster Miss Rachel Wardle (Freda Dowie) from her brother’s home in order to elope with her in London (simultaneously borrowing money from and breaking the heart of Pickwickian Mr. Tupman (Clive Swift), who was sweet on Miss Rachel, in the process), with the end in mind of marrying Miss Rachel for her money. Mr. Pickwick (Nigel Stock), Mr. Wardle (Colin Douglas), and Mr. Perker (Milton Johns) were hot on their trail and managed to locate the lovebirds-to-be at the White Hart Inn, with the help of expert footwear knowledge provided by “Boots” Sam Weller (Phil Daniels).
As the action opens, an upbeat Jingle (is he ever any other way? wait, I’d better not answer that yet…) has just returned to the inn triumphant, marriage license in hand. Miss Rachel is ecstatic for all of a few seconds until the arrival of her brother, Pickwick, and Mr. Perker, brings an abrupt end to her matrimonial hopes. Mr. Wardle is all in favour of soundly thrashing Jingle on the spot, but Perker hastily reminds him of the ugly scene and potential lawsuits that might ensue. It’s worth noting that Jingle does not appear in the least surprised or discomfited by the sudden appearance of his brother-in-law-to-be, nor is he at all phased by Wardle’s threats.
As it turns out, there’s an ugly scene anyway. Wardle is determined to bring Miss Rachel back to Dingley Dell posthaste even if he has to carry her, and chastises her for taking up with a “vagabond.” Miss Rachel is equally determined to stay (who wouldn’t, at the prospect of marrying Jingle?) and defies her brother’s will. Jingle comes to Miss Rachel’s defense and says she should be able to make up her own mind, being “more than one and twenty”; Wardle immediately blows this kind lie (okay, not really a lie… more like a heavily sugar-coated truth) out of the water by revealing that Miss Rachel is, in fact, “over one and forty” – fifty, to be exact – at which point Miss Rachel has what might be best described as an epic meltdown and needs to be comforted by her fiancé (not without some exasperated eyerolling).
Wardle, Pickwick, and Perker regroup for a hasty strategy discussion, and Perker counsels that Wardle should be prepared to suffer some “pecuniary loss” in order to make the situation (and Jingle) go away peacefully (I must mention that Jingle does produce one of the most lovely satisfied smirks ever seen at the words “pecuniary loss,” even while a distraught Miss Rachel is sobbing all over his sleeve). Jingle ushers Miss Rachel out of the way, bidding her to leave everything to him and, with a certain amount of done-this-before panache, steps into another room to negotiate with Perker.
Perker basically outlines Jingle’s motives, which he understands very well as they are both “men of the world”; Jingle is not the slightest bit interested in Miss Rachel, though he is interested in her money. Perker explains that Miss Rachel’s current worth is only “a few hundred” until the death of her mother. Jingle seems to be willing to wait, even upon hearing that Old Mrs. Wardle comes from notoriously long-lived stock. Perker soon gets down to brass tacks while Jingle remains mostly silent, offering only soft-spoken, monosyllabic replies (and the occasional incredulous eyeroll); it does seem that he’s done this before a few times. Perker says his opening offer of £50 “and liberty” is better than “Miss Wardle and expectation”; Jingle replies that the offer is “not half enough” and obdurately holds out for £150. They eventually settle on £120, in part for “breach of honour” (presumably Jingle’s), “compensation,” and “loss of the lady.”
There’s a little last minute quibbling over the final £20, but Perker writes a cheque which Jingle snatches away before the ink is even dry, staring at it with a kind of fascination; it’s probably a lot more money in one sum than he’s seen in quite some time, if ever. He bids Pickwick farewell, tossing the marriage license at him and suggesting he get the name altered for “Tuppy.” Pickwick is incoherent with rage at Jingle’s perfidy and has to be physically restrained by Sam Weller and Wardle as Jingle makes his grand exit.
And that’s the last we see of our favourite charlatan for a while. An inconsolable Miss Rachel is packed off back to Dingley Dell on an ocean of tears, Mr. Pickwick hires Sam Weller as his manservant while unintentionally giving his landlady, Mrs. Bardell (Jo Kendall), the mistaken impression he’s proposing marriage to her (this becomes very important later), and the Pickwickians bemusedly observe an election in Eatanswill.
A Breakfast Party and Bad Poetry
Following the election, the Pickwickians are invited to a breakfast fancy dress party being thrown by Mrs. Leo Hunter (Fenella Fielding). They each select costumes, with the exception of Mr. Pickwick, who, in fact, gives Mr. Tupman a rather hard time over his “Italian bandit” outfit, saying he’s both too old and too fat for it and that his jacket tail, at two inches long, is too shockingly short! Mr. Tupman’s vanity is sorely wounded and they nearly come to blows (as nearly as any of the Pickwickians ever get to physical violence), but he and Pickwick do the gentlemanly thing and apologize, patching up their differences before the party.
Their hostess, Mrs. Leo Hunter (always referred to by her full name) is a socialite and execrably bad poetess who likes to surround herself with minor celebrities and hangers-on; what in today’s parlance would be termed an entourage. Dressed as Minerva, she decides to favour the crowd with her latest magnum opus, “Ode to an Expiring Frog”, which simply must be heard to be believed. It really is about a dying frog, and Dickens must have nearly killed himself laughing while he wrote it. The Pickwickians are bemused, but the rest of the crowd seems to know what to expect from her poetry, interrupting her with applause the instant she’s finished. Mrs. Leo Hunter makes a spirited bid for an encore, but there’s a tacit mob uprising; the crowd declares that they couldn’t possibly “take advantage of her good nature” as she’s done quite enough already, and they cut her off before she can recite her poem again. Then someone says the magic words, “Let’s have breakfast!” which distracts everyone. Smart crowd! I should also mention here that despite many re-viewings of this series, I finally noticed that Job Trotter (Pip Donaghy) is one of the first in the frenzied scrum to load up a plate in the food pavillion.
A Visit from “Charles Fitz-Marshall”
Just as the Pickwickians are sitting down with Mrs. Leo Hunter, she receives word that one of her favoured guests, Mr. Charles Fitz-Marshall, has just arrived. We soon hear a familiar and unmistakable voice: “Coming, my dear ma’am, quick as I can… Crowds of people… Hard work, very. Regular mangle. No crease in my coat after all that squeezing. A trying process, very.” It is indeed Jingle, who apparently put the £120 to good use buying himself an entirely new wardrobe, and is now masquerading as a military officer (though I must say that it suits him to perfection and he looks great in it!). He’s uncharacteristically taken aback to see the Pickwickians there and resorts to a lame excuse: “Quite forgot. No directions to postillion. Get ’em at once. Back in a minute!” before beating a hasty and undignified retreat.
A Narrow Escape!
A shocked but still quick-thinking Pickwick demands “Charles Fitz-Marshall’s” address from his hostess, and discovers he’s staying at the Angel Inn at Bury. Pickwick and Tupman take off in pursuit, arriving in time to see Jingle’s carriage driving away from the Leo Hunters’ while he sarcastically waves a handkerchief out the window in farewell. Missed him by that much! Pickwick vows to hunt Jingle down at the Angel Inn and expose him before he can work his wiles (but what wiles they are!) again!
What happens next?? Will Pickwick catch up to Jingle? Who gets to be beguiled by Jingle next? Will anyone ever want to hear “Ode to an Expiring Frog” again? Stay tuned for the next episode! 😉