Christmas has arrived, so Fearless Admin and I thought the time was right for a little party… a party crashed by Alfred Jingle, of course. He just seems to perfectly suit the festive season; no one else has fun like he does. And rather like Bugs Bunny, he’s always at his best when someone else pays for it.
In this scene from the very first episode of 1985’s “The Pickwick Papers“, Jingle has only just met the rest of the Pickwickians, who are touring coach inns outside of London. He has already saved them from an angry coachman, charmed their socks off in conversation, and drunk them under the table at their expense. With everyone else sleeping off the effects of a well-liquored, hearty meal, only self-proclaimed ladies’ man Tracy Tupman (Clive Swift) is awake (and sober) enough to join Jingle in crashing a dance at the inn… and coincidentally, is able to pay for the tickets. Partying and mayhem ensue!
Since the only clothes Jingle owns are a rather threadbare, too-small dark green coat that’s seen better days and a shirt and trousers in indifferent repair, he borrows Mr. Nathaniel Winkle’s (Jeremy Nicholas) custom-tailored, one-of-a-kind blue suit for the occasion – without asking Mr. Winkle, of course. Mind you, of all the Pickwickians, only Mr. Winkle’s clothes have a hope of possibly fitting Jingle. But our hero obviously knows he looks great in his borrowed finery as he shows off a bit for Tuppy on their way into the dance.
Tuppy: You look splendid!
Jingle: Queer set-out. [Shows Tupman one of the suit’s gold buttons] Old fellow’s likeness and “P.C.”. What does “P.C.” stand for? “Peculiar coat”, eh?
Tuppy: Oh, no. It’s the proposed uniform of the Pickwick Club, of which I also have the honour of being a member.
Jingle [bored already]: Tickets?
Tuppy: Mm-hmm. [hands over two tickets]
RF: Winkle’s borrowed duds are probably the newest clothes Jingle has worn for a while, so one can’t really blame him for swanning about a bit; he does look good – and he knows it. I also like how the mercurial Jingle almost immediately becomes bored with Tuppy’s explanation about the button. He’s not that interested in the Pickwick Club, except in that its members are extremely susceptible to his charm, and will therefore pay for his drinks. By the way, the reason Tuppy ended up paying for the tickets was because he lost a coin toss with Jingle – who’da thunk it? 😉 So, I guess technically it’s not a party crash, but I’m sure Jingle crashes a lot of parties anyways.
Admin: I like the little flourish Jingle gives as he presents himself to Mr. Tupman. He cleans up well. 😉 His smile when he says ‘tickets’ seems rather snake-like. Indeed he couldn’t care less about their goofy club, but you know he took it all in and that it further reinforces in his steel-trap mind what he already knows: The Pickwickians are a group of boyish innocents with more money than sense.
RF: You’d think Tuppy might take a warning from seeing how easily Jingle works the room and charms the widow later, but he doesn’t. Besides, what fun would it be if he did?
[They walk into the ball.]
Door Announcer: Name, sir?
Jingle: No names at all.
Tuppy [confused]: No names?
Jingle: Names won’t do. Not known. Very good names in their way, but not great ones. Incog, the best thing. Gentlemen from London, distinguished foreigners… anything.
RF: Something tells me Jingle has gone “incog” a lot, whether it’s to hide from someone who’s out to get him after he seduced their wife/sister/daughter/aunt/mother/grandmother, or because he owes them money, or just because it’s much easier to seduce ladies when they think you’re a distinguished foreigner. Of course, as an *AHC*-tor he’s used to assuming exotic roles at the drop of a hat. I also love his conspiratorial, yet epigrammatic way of explaining all this to Tuppy who, surprisingly enough, seems to get it.
Admin: Well, if you seldom use a name, then you have one less thing to remember since we later learn he sometimes uses pseudonyms anyway. Jingle knows all the good con tricks. I like the way he just swans right past the doorman. He clearly knows the best way to handle a situation in which you are already acting abnormally is to completely own it. Tuppy does seem very happy to let Jingle take charge. He fully understand that Jingle is the expert when it comes to partying with ladies.
[They check out the room. Jingle takes particular interest in an older-looking lady, seated on a couch near an older man in uniform.]
Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen, will you now take your partners for the first waltz?
Jingle [to Tuppy]: Old widow, lots of money. Pompous doctor — not a bad idea. I’ll dance with her.
Tuppy: You know her?
Jingle: Never saw her before in all my life. Cut out the doctor.
RF: Just as he did with the Pickwickians when he first met them, Jingle has sized up the room at a glance, identified the rich widow, and also (correctly) picked out Dr. Slammer (Gerald James) as being pompous. He quickly realizes he’d be a far more entertaining date for the Widow Budger (Mary Maxted), even though he’s never seen her before. He outlines his plan to Tuppy with incredible self-assurance and confidence; he knows he won’t fail. As for Tuppy, I’m sure he’s never seen anyone operate this smoothly and quickly before.
Admin: Alfred Jingle would give Sherlock Holmes a run for his money! That was some exquisite sizing up of a situation there. I mean, apart from Slammer being pompous (that part even I could see), Jingle was doing some very fine guess work. Jingle’s manner of speech seems to truly reflect the way he makes plans on the fly. It is really cute the way he explains it all to Tuppy. They remind me of a couple of teens, with Jingle being the cooler but rebellious youth leading the more privileged but innocent one astray. Although The Pickwick Papers deals exclusively with adult characters, there is a lot of innocent boyishness on display.
[Doctor Slammer, for it is he, leaves on some errand. Jingle sees his chance.]
Jingle [to Tuppy]: Excuse me. Here goes.
[Jingle goes over to the Widow Budger and leans on some bric-a-brac while gazing at her meaningfully. The widow coquettishly drops her fan and Jingle picks it up. Then Jingle invites her to dance just as the doctor returns with drinks for himself and the widow. The doctor is perplexed.]
RF: To her credit, the Widow Budger realizes what’s going on right away, as soon as Jingle sidles over and gives her The Look. She’s got game even if she’s a wee bit old-fashioned, what with dropping her fan and all, but Jingle knows the score. He doesn’t even have to say anything! It seems likely that he’s wooed a few older women in his time. 😉 The widow can probably hardly believe her luck as she dances off with such a dashing young fellow, while a bewildered Doctor Slammer stands by with drinks in his hands. Best of all, the entire thing plays out without dialogue, but is instantly understandable.
Admin: Goodness, that is some intense eye contact Jingle makes there. She kept her cool. 😉 But, as you say, she seems to know what the deal is and has just decided to take advantage of the situation. Their mutual gasps when she drops the fan is cute. Tuppy is watching so intently, obviously trying to glean as much as possible.
[Admiring Jingle’s smoothness and technique, Tuppy decides to try his own luck with two ladies seated at a table.]
Tuppy [bowing deeply]: May I have the pleasure?
[The two ladies giggle and totally ignore him. Deflated, Tuppy goes back to the main ballroom to watch as Jingle happily dances by with the by-now thoroughly charmed widow.]
RF: Poor Tuppy! Jingle has made it all look so easy that he decides to try his luck. Unfortunately, he lacks Jingle’s charm and charisma – his bow is a little too deep and a little too awkward – so the ladies just giggle at him and don’t even acknowledge his presence. Obviously deflated and disappointed, he goes back to the ballroom to be a wallflower. Maybe if he just studies Jingle’s technique a little more…
Admin: Awwww, I felt bad for him there. But, it was also really funny.
RF: Unfortunately, we already know that Tuppy is destined to be unlucky in love, especially when Jingle’s around.
[Jingle and the widow are still at it as a more lively dance goes on. Dr. Slammer clenches his fists in impotent rage as he watches. Finally, Jingle takes a beverage break and lets Tuppy dance with the widow for a while.]
RF: The Widow Budger appears to be having the time of her life dancing with Jingle – and who wouldn’t? He also appears to be having the time of his life dancing with her (and he knows all the dances), but I’m sure he makes all the ladies feel that way. He finally takes a break for one of his other favourite things (free drinks) and lets Tuppy have a turn for a while. Meanwhile, Dr. Slammer, who hasn’t gotten a chance to dance with the widow at all, is fuming off to one side.
Admin: I notice that Jingle kicks his legs a lot higher than the other gentlemen during the dance. So, the Widow Budger has easily the most dashing and nimble dance partner. Well, that is until Tuppy starts dancing with her, but she’s having a good time with him too which is very sweet. We all want Tuppy to have a nice time also. And Jingle looks so incredibly cute as he enjoys his drink. He has a rather sly and delighted expression; he knows full well he now has Tuppy eating out of his hand.
Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen. If you will now take your partners for the Rochester Gallop.
[Dr. Slammer inaudibly remonstrates with the widow while she throws up her hands, evidently pleading innocence. With perfect timing, Jingle steps in and whisks her away for the next dance from under Slammer’s nose.]
RF: The widow’s face says it all: she looks absolutely delighted when Jingle shows up and she abandons the doctor without a further word. Nor did she look especially guilty as Slammer obviously accused her of standing him up. I get the impression the Widow Budger knows how to handle her men. 😉 I also think Jingle is taking a certain delight in infuriating Slammer so thoroughly.
Admin: That is bit is hilarious the way Jingle just runs up and snatches her away again. He’s being very naughty yet charming, and I agree, he’s fully enjoying tweaking the pompous doctor’s nose.
[Dr. Slammer finally decides he’s had enough and tries to put a stop to it by cutting in.]
Dr. Slammer: Excuse me, sir. I say! You, sir! You, sir! You, sir! You, sir!
[Ignoring him, Jingle dances off with the widow while Slammer fumes. Later, Jingle, the widow, and Tuppy all dance by in a threesome while Slammer goes apoplectic.]
RF: Jingle – and Tuppy, who has fallen under his evil influence! – don’t even acknowledge Slammer’s presence, even when he taps Jingle’s shoulder and tries vainly to get his attention in the middle of the dance floor. Jingle’s attention is riveted on the widow. Or, more likely, he’s done this many times before, knows how it usually works out, and has no intention in getting mixed up in a fight, so he’s just going to ignore Slammer until he hopefully goes away. Not a bad strategy. The bit where Jingle, the widow, and Tuppy dance past the camera, obviously having a smashing time (Jingle waving a finger in the air) is so cute and hilarious. 😀 I bet this is the most fun Tuppy has ever had at a dance before. The Widow Budger, too. She thought she was going to be stuck with a boring army doctor all night, but instead she’s dancing with the most dashing fellow in the room. And Doctor Slammer can do nothing but sputter helplessly.
Admin: The energy is just fantastic and Mr. Malahide is going full throttle. I notice the dance area is kind of small and everything seems rather cramped and close, that might have been a budgetary issue on behalf of the BBC, but it completely lends itself to the intensity. It helps make it abundantly clear that Jingle completely dominates and electrifies everything in his wake.
RF: Yes, Jingle absolutely dominates the scene. 🙂 And with all those candles burning (they all seem to be leaning to one side for some reason) and that many people in the room, it would’ve indeed been very hot and close. Maybe it’s no wonder Victorian ladies were prone to fainting – in books, anyway.
[After the ball, Slammer races down the inn’s stairs and confronts Tuppy.]
Dr. Slammer [angrily]: Sir!
Tuppy [a wee bit tipsy]: La?
Dr. Slammer: Where is Mrs. Budger, sir!
Tuppy: My friend, Mr. … um… is… is escorting her to her carriage.
Dr. Slammer [disgustedly]: Aarrrhh!
RF: Good for Tuppy! He remembered about the “incog” thing and didn’t reveal Jingle’s name. Mind you, it just might cause a few difficulties for Mr. Winkle, the blue suit’s real owner, later…
Admin: That was pretty sharp of Tuppy. Good for him. As you say, bad for Mr. Winkle, though. 😉
[Slammer leaves just as Jingle comes back, then turns back to confront him.]
Dr. Slammer [to Jingle]: Sir! My name is Slammer, sir, Dr. Slammer, 97th Regiment. My card, sir, my card!
Jingle [also a bit tipsy]: Ah. Slammer.
Dr. Slammer: Yes, Slammer.
Jingle: Much obliged. Polite attention. I’m not ill now, Slammer. When I am, knock you up.
RF: Jingle really does deal with his enemies much the same way Bugs Bunny does: completely misunderstand what they’re getting at, react with complete aplomb no matter what, and distract them with something else while they fume. They’re both extremely good at handling bullies, too. Jingle’s not the slightest bit afraid of Slammer’s bluster, nor is he impressed by his army credentials. I also like the way he sways slightly as he leans against the stair railing and stares at Slammer’s card before taking it; they’re the only signs he shows that he’s been imbibing all night. But he holds his liquor extremely well and can still quip back at Slammer.
Admin: Yes, Jingle is a wee bit tipsy, but his mind is as sharp as ever. Of course, he’s probably also acting up with the swaying a bit just to be both more plausible and infuriating at the same time.
Dr. Slammer [enraged]: You are a shuffler, sir! A poltroon, a coward! A liar! Will nothing induce you to give me your card, sir??
Jingle [to Tuppy]: Oh, I see. Punch too strong here. Liberal landlord, very foolish! Lemonade, much better. Hot rooms, elderly gentlemen, suffer for it in the morning — cruel, cruel!
RF: I had to google it, but a “shuffler” in Victorian parlance is apparently “one who acts in a shifty or evasive manner; a slippery, shifty person”, which could certainly describe Jingle. Anyway, Slammer is dealing out grievous insults which should send Jingle into a righteous, self-defensive rage, but don’t (of course). Instead, he pricks Slammer’s vanity (probably his most vulnerable point, already damaged by Jingle monopolizing his date all evening) by first, blatantly ignoring the fact he’s deliberately cut Slammer out of the widow’s attentions, acting as though he’s just noticed him for the first time. Then Jingle insinuates – to Tuppy, not even to Slammer himself – that Slammer is too old to handle drinking and partying, which just infuriates Slammer all the more. See? Bugs Bunny. 😉 And once again, I love the way he sketches it all out in his abbreviated, epigrammatic speech.
Admin: I had to look up poltroon which means “utter coward.” 😀 Jingle is not a coward, he’s a survivalist, but not a coward.
RF: Totally agreed that Jingle is a survivalist, not a coward. He just never reacts the way his enemies expect him to, and he’s far too SMRT to wait around to be beaten up.
Dr. Slammer: You are intoxicated, sir, but you shall hear from me in the morning, sir. I shall find you out, sir! I shall find you out!
Jingle: Rather you found me out than found me at home.
[Done with Slammer, Jingle turns and makes his way up the stairs.]
Tuppy [to Slammer]: Good night.
[Slammer clenches his fist in impotent rage again as Tuppy and Jingle go upstairs to their rooms.]
RF: And once again Jingle gets the last word in with a little wordplay. He’s still not bothered at all by Slammer’s bluster; he looks like he just wants to go upstairs and conk out. And even Tuppy is merely offhandedly polite. Of course, neither of them will mention anything about this to the other Pickwickians, leading to further consternation and confusion when Slammer returns to settle the score.
Admin: Yeah, Jingle just makes a little joke out of it all, and completely dismisses the doctor. He is far too tired to be messing around with a minor irritation (in Jingle’s eyes at least) such as a pompous buffoon who is just sore about being snubbed.
RF: I absolutely adore this scene, from the moment Jingle shows off his blue suit and inveigles Tuppy into buying the tickets, to the way he sizes up the room and decides to woo the widow – and does, successfully. It’s such quintessential Jingle in action. 😀 He’s a natural charmer and knows it. The widow likely knows he has ulterior motives, but she’s having fun and doesn’t care – plus she didn’t have to settle for dancing with that boring doctor all night. Mr. Malahide does a wonderful job embuing Jingle with an amazing joie de vivre and utter self-confidence that serve the character extremely well. Jingle would be a really fun date. 😉 Unfortunately, poor Tuppy suffers a bit by comparison, but at least he gets a few crumbs from the table. And Jingle shows up Slammer as the bully he is, too.
Admin: It is a charming scene. It is very brief, but it packs so much energy and characterization into it. No gesture or line is wasted. It makes us like Jingle because all he did was show two otherwise likely dull people a fantastic time while tweaking the nose of officious authority. True, Jingle goes on to do somewhat worse things, but in this scene he is for all intents and purposes the hero.