The Pickwick Papers


Broadcast on:
November 20, 1938
Based on:
"The Pickwick Papers" by Charles Dickens (1837)
The Pickwick Papers

“Mr. Pickwick was a philosopher, but philosophers are only men in armour, after all.”

Welles brings a spectacular energy to the character of Mr Jingle in this third and final adaptation of Dickens undertaken by the Mercury Theatre, though his role is a modest one compared to the other shows. The series of comic vignettes, tied together by the president of the eponymous Pickwick club, are held together by an appropriately playful score from Bernard Hermann.

The delight is evident as the performers fly around the alehouses of England, recounting their tales of the "quaint and curious phenomena of life". The production wisely selects some of the livelier tales from the novel and recounts them all with glee. Although followed by productions of "Clarence" by Booth Tarkington and "The Bridge of San Luis Rey" by Thornton Wilder, these are both thought to be lost and this is the last surviving broadcast of the Mercury Theatre on the Air.


The Novel

Dickens' first novel, published in serial form, is a comic tale full of vividly-painted characters exploring the countryside, accumulating tales of adventure and misadventure. With the introduction of Samuel Weather (absent from this version), the serial became a huge success, with bootlegged copies circulating through London society. In spite of the novel's light, comic tone, there are moments of the biting satire which characterised Dickens' later works, as the English legal system is held as an object of ridicule.
The book was, unusually, based on the drawings of the illustrator Robert Seymour, who committed suicide during the novel's serialisation. This led to an acrimonious feud between the publisher and Seymour's widow, Jane, who claimed Seymour's work on the stories had not been properly acknowledged. Somewhat lacking in grace, early editions included a disclaimer stating that Seymour contributed nothing to the stories themselves, and that "...he took his own life through jealousy, as it was well known that Seymour’s sanity had been questioned."

Full Cast

Orson Welles (Sergeant Buzzfuzz, Mr. Jingle), Ray Collins (Samuel Pickwick), Alfred Shirley (Augustus Snodgrass), Frank Readick, Elliott Reid, Edgar Barrier, Eustace Wyatt, Brenda Forbes.

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"We're born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we're not alone."

Orson Welles