Something a little bit different here… Fearless Admin and I frequently discuss episodes in detail as part of a series, but we haven’t yet stopped to discuss which episodes of a series are our favourites, or why. So we thought we’d kick off a new category of “Our Favourite Episodes” with one of Mr. Malahide’s best, “The Pickwick Papers” (1985). For those who might be unfamiliar with the series… shame on you! Go rent it on DVD right away! Or go read my recaps! But in short, it’s a twelve-part series based on the Charles Dickens novel by the same name. Mr. Malahide plays a charming con man, raconteur, and sometime strolling actor named Alfred Jingle, who never met a sheep he couldn’t fleece – and make the sheep happy about the experience. And these sheep happen to be the members of the Pickwick Club.
RFodchuk’s Favourite Episode:
This was a reeeally difficult choice, but I had to decide on… episode 7, in which Mr. Pickwick (Nigel Stock) – who has put up with the direct effects of Jingle’s shenanigans in one way or another for the previous six episodes, resulting in various degrees of embarrassment and humiliation – finally manages to track down Jingle at the home of the Nupkins, before Jingle can pull of his latest scheme. Jingle, who hasn’t been seen in person since episode 4, apparently put the money he extorted from Mr. Wardle (to not elope with Mr. Wardle’s very spinster sister, Miss Rachel) to good use, investing in a couple of snazzy military uniforms. When not getting Mr. Pickwick into awkward situations at girls’ boarding schools, Jingle has been ingratiating himself into the Nupkins’ household as the dashing Captain Charles Fitz-Marshall, supplanting Miss Henrietta Nupkins’ former fiancé, Sidney Porkenham (you can just guess what he must be like from the name), in record time.
Unfortunately for Jingle’s plans, Pickwick appears on the scene in time to denounce him in front of the Nupkins. (Actually, Mr. Nupkins, who’s also a magistrate, was about to prosecute Pickwick for duelling… long story.) However, Jingle doesn’t even bat an eye as Pickwick reveals all of his previous nefarious deeds, including dumping Miss Rachel Wardle for a “pecuniary consideration” (Jingle merely rolls his eyes modestly at that one). He even smirks slightly in amusement when Mr. Pickwick mentions the girls’ school. Nor does he appear especially devastated when Miss Nupkins declares that she has “always hated” him. In fact, Jingle and his scruffy manservant, Job Trotter, are seen off the property with a flea in their ears from Pickwick and a little physical humiliation from Pickwick’s manservant, Sam Weller. So why is this episode a favourite?
Why is This Episode a Favourite?
I love this episode for Jingle’s perfect aplomb, even as he’s been caught red-handed, so to speak. Like Bugs Bunny, he’s never at a loss. He’s completely unsurprised at being rumbled by Pickwick and entirely unashamed of what he’s done; I’ve argued that all he’s really done is keep Mr. Pickwick active and entertained for a few months. He just owns it all, and even has a great deal of pride in his pranks – as he should. I think it’s partly Jingle’s pride that drives Pickwick especially insane. He’s supposed to be contrite and embarrassed, and just isn’t. Nor does he seem afraid of any consequences. In fact, he finds the whole thing incredibly amusing.
Not only that, Jingle turns the tables on his accusers, pointing out – with his usual abilities of acute observation and sharp wit – that they were absolutely fine with him up until a few minutes ago:
Jingle: Oh, of course. Tall young man. Old lover. Sidney Porkenham? Rich, fine fellow. Not so rich as Captain though, eh? Turn him away! Off with him! Anything for Captain! Nothing like Captain anywhere! All the girls raving mad, eh, Job?
I love how he sketches out the whole thing in just a few of his usual epigrammatic sentences. You just know that Miss Nupkins dropped Sidney Porkenham like a hot rock as soon as she met “Captain Fitz-Marshall”. 😀 Mr. Nupkins even mentioned to Pickwick earlier that “Fitz-Marshall” had become a great favourite with the ladies in his household.
He’s equally unafraid that Mr. Nupkins will detain him and Job and charge them with being imposters:
Jingle: Pride, old fellow, pride! Wouldn’t do. No go. Caught a captain, eh? Ooh, very good husband for daughter. Biter bit. Make it public. Look stupid, very.
I love Jingle’s devilish, sideways smirk as he says, “Look stupid, very.” He’s holding the trump card and he knows it. No way will the Nupkins reveal they’ve been deceived by a mere strolling actor, especially to the point of considering him marriage material for their daughter. And Job seems to be enjoying his master’s victory, too, doing a bit of gloating from behind his shoulder. Job might be incredibly scruffy and unkempt-looking, but he’s very loyal to Jingle.
Nor is Jingle overly concerned about Pickwick’s bad opinion of him. After Pickwick delivers a lecture castigating Jingle for being “a rascal and a ruffian, and worse than any man [he] ever saw or heard of”, Jingle shows not the slightest sign of shame. Instead, he takes his leave of Pickwick with a breezy, “Good fellow, Pickwick! Fine heart! Stout old boy. But must not be passionate… Bad thing, very. Well, bye bye. See you again someday. Keep up your spirits!” You get the impression he’s done this a lot, and he’s not too worried about having to up stakes and move on to greener pastures. In fact, it seems kind of out of place for him to be tripped up by Sam and look foolish, even if only momentarily, but I guess Dickens couldn’t let him get away entirely unscathed. So anyway, because this episode is a near-perfect distillation of everything that makes Jingle Jingle, it’s my favourite Pickwick episode.
Admin’s Favourite Episode:
Choosing a favourite Jingle episode of this charming series isn’t easy. But, my favourite is episode three where Mr. Jingle ingratiates himself into the Wardle household. Mr. Pickwick and chums are guests of country gentleman Mr. Wardle, and Mr. Tupman is becoming romantically involved with Wardle’s spinster sister Miss Rachel. Drama!
As Mr. Wardle, Pickwick and the Pickwickians are out watching cricket, they decide to stop at the refreshments tent. From the tent we hear Mr. Jingle’s loud booming voice with its epigrammatic shorthand style of speech. He pops out of the tent and spies Mr. Pickwick and delightedly drags the old fellow inside. Mr. Jingle immediately realizes that not only does he have the Pickwick Club at his beck and call, but there is a brand new mark in the affably jolly and conveniently wealthy Mr. Wardle. After drinking his new friends under the table, Mr. Jingle accompanies them all back to the Wardle estate, Dingley Dell.
Back to Mr. Tupman and Miss Rachel: Their romance is sweet as they are both innocents who are unaccustomed to the world of love. Mr. Jingle quickly breaks them up and “steals” Miss Rachel for himself. Of course, his motivation is entirely financial. Poor Miss Rachel is essentially tricked into giving up the very real affections of Mr. Tupman for the much more handsome and dashing (and poor) Mr. Jingle.
Jingle and Miss Rachel run off to a London inn. There we are introduced to a bootblack named Sam Weller. Jingle asks Sam where he might go for a marriage license. Sam describes what sounds like a rather dodgy set-up where fellows “tout” for licenses and shares a goofy but funny story of how his widowed father was sold a marriage license without even having to go through the formality of getting engaged first. With the necessary information Jingle runs off for the license giving Miss Rachel a rather unromantic kiss on the forehead. The intelligent Sam seems to find the whole thing rather dubious.
Thankfully, Mr. Wardle, Mr. Pickwick, and Pickwick’s lawyer Mr. Perker are in London investigating the inns in search of the errant couple. Eventually they meet Sam Weller who lets them know they are at the right inn. Just in the nick of time too!
Why is This Episode a Favourite?
I love this episode because it hilariously showcases Mr. Jingle’s ability to quickly read all of those around him. He already has Pickwick and the boys under his thrall and wastes no time in realizing that Mr. Wardle will be equally friendly, welcoming and gullible. He immediately begins plying them with drink, knowing full well that he can hold his liquor far better than they can.
Then one of my favorite scenes in the whole series occurs. Everyone returns to Dingley Dell and Mr. Jingle and a very, very drunk Mr. Wardle are holding hands while singing and dancing to What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor. It is hilarious. Mr. Jingle’s high stepping dance moves show that he is still as nimble and well-balanced as ever. Drunk Mr. Wardle…not so much. Wardle’s daughters and sister, Miss Rachel, run in and are disgusted by the spectacle. Mr. Jingle immediately reads their disapproval and feigns contrite concern for their benefit.
Mr. Jingle: “Dreadful, dreadful….horrid spectacle. My sincere apologies, ladies.”
The ladies are impressed. Miss Rachel says he is a “nice man” and Miss Emily finds him “good looking, too.” Yes, he is good looking…and he knows it. As everyone leaves the room, Miss Rachel stays for a brief moment while Jingle stands before her deliberately displaying his elegant form. Cue Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away.”
As mentioned already, Miss Rachel and Mr. Tupman are in the early stages of an awkwardly adorable romance. The Wardles’ fat houseboy Joe spies the couple canoodling in the arbor and can’t wait to tell Miss Rachel’s mother Old Mrs. Wardle. I like Joe, he is hilarious and there is something of the modern internet troll about him that I find amusing. He wants to make poor Old Mrs. Wardle’s “flesh creep” (his words no less) by telling her that Miss Rachel is having a fling with Tupman. The old woman, who happens to be sitting in the disgraced arbor, takes it poorly. “My dotter [daughter] at her time of life. Ooooh! She should have waited til I was dead.”
Anyway, who should be skulking around the grounds enjoying a (mooched?) cigar but Mr. Jingle. He hears every word and seems to formulate a plan that very instant. His mind is always on the go.
He returns to the home and bursts in on Miss Rachel. There he puts his “strolling actor” skills to use. I love it because it is pretty clear that Mr. Jingle isn’t exactly the best actor in the world, but he still completely plays Miss Rachel for a fool by convincing her that Tupman is really interested in her niece Miss Emily and only wants Miss Rachel for her money. He gives Miss Rachel looks of unrequited love using puppy-dog eyes to their fullest effects. If Mr. Tupman isn’t interested in her, than Mr. Jingle is more than happy to be next in line. Upgrade! It is a brilliant scene made even better with Mr. Malahide’s physical theatrics and deliberately OTT facial expressions.
Jingle also plays Tupman for a fool by convincing him that Miss Rachel wants him to show interest in Miss Emily so as to disprove Joe’s story. Tupman merrily complies, unwittingly breaking off with Miss Rachel. Not only that, but Jingle borrows £10 from Tupman which he uses for the planned elopement.
Jingle’s love struck theatrics continue in London where he is to secure the marriage license. As Sam Weller shares the funny story about his father and the marriage license tout, Mr. Jingle’s expression shows a bemused rapture. It is like he can’t believe what he is hearing, but is extraordinarily impressed and delighted by it. He must be filing it away for future reference. His con man’s mind is always gathering new strokes to pull.
And, OK, what he did to the naive and friendly Miss Rachel and Mr. Tupman is probably one of the worst things we saw him do (at least the haughty and unpleasant Nupkins deserved their fate), but Jingle’s utter charm, ability to read people, and exuberance shine through magnificently in this episode. His intense energy is a force of its own. Mr. Jingle is in full chaos mode in this episode, and for that he is an absolute joy to watch.