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Dickens on the Web Micawber Review by Robert Giddings


Written by John Sullivan, starring David Jason. ITV December 2001.

In May 2000 that news leaked out of a bust up twixt John Sullivan (Only Fools and Horses) and the BBC. Sullivan walked out after his projected Millennium Christmas dramatization of David Copperfield was rejected as "not up to scratch." Bankable David Jason, (Micawber) star of the show, left in support. The BBC hastily brought in Bob Hoskins, with (I think) mixed success.

Sullivan had been paid a six figure sum for his version of the Dickens novel and had developed storylines for Micawber, a drama series featuring the patron saint of all optimists. Something turned up in the form of an alternative offer from Yorkshire Television. Unofficially, the BBC acknowledged the Sullivan/Jason combo was a disaster. But had the blossom had been blighted, the leaf withered, the God of day gone down on the dreary scene? David Reynolds, Micawber's executive producer said at the Montreux Television Festival said: "Everything did get pretty evil and silly with the BBC. I think they have realized they did not treat John Sullivan the way a top writer should be treated. ITV is better at looking after their talent."

John Sullivan might well had said he'd merely fallen back before making a spring. He used the six figure sum the BBC had paid for his version of David Copperfield to buy back rights for storylines of Micawber he had developed. David Jason, hoped to make Micawber a household name: "He's a lovable rogue with a heart of gold. Always jovial with a generosity beyond his means. It's terrific to work with the same team again and I hope some of the old magic will return." Well, has it? That is the question...... A classic, it's been said, is something everybody knows and nobody reads. But the collective subconscious can offer something even more impressive than that-instantly recognizable figures from the classics who have taken on a life of their own above and beyond the pages on which they were created - Hamlet, Faust, Pickwick, Don Quixote, Falstaff, Don Juan-and now, it seems, Micawber. These archetypes-for that is what they are despite the fact that we can probably trace them all back to their origins in specific literary works rather than more mystic origins in the deep Jungian well of the collective psyche-seem touchingly to body forth some quality which strikes a chord in all of us. It is of course fascinating to ponder the way in which various of these figures seem to exert a more powerful appeal at different times. Hamlet obviously suited the enquiring spirit of the renaissance and Pickwick the reforming optimism of post Reform Act Britain. Micawber's vital energy is fueled on getting and spending, speculation, interest, faith in money as the guarantor of progress and happiness. His was the age of the Bank Charter Act, Railway Mania, J.S.Mill's Principles of Political Economy and its reverse side-Marx and Engels's Communist Manifesto. His resurrection in the age of globalization seems right and fitting.

It was a good wheeze to seize on such an immortal figure and invent some new adventures for him by exploring his life before we meet him in David Copperfield. My final feelings about John Sullivan's Micawber are that the immense promise of the idea was not fully realized. But it was fun.

Robert Giddings
Bournemouth University.