Just Enough Information: Based on the play and adventure novel of Reign of Terror-era France written by Baronnes Emmuska Orczy, The Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel starred Marius Goring as Sir Percy Blakeney, dandified fop of the Prince Regent’s court who in secret is the “cursed elusive Pimpernel”, who rescues aristocrats and they sympathizers from the frenzied bloodlust of mob rule. And if you’re saying to yourself “Yeah, but that’s not how that stupid poem goes!”, well, welcome (yet again) to 1950s television. The show, originally made for British TV in 1956 before being syndicated in America, was produced by Harry Alan Towers, who was also behind several well-remembered radio drama series as well as giving the fledgling British commercial television quality homemade product when they needed it.
The Christmas Episode: “The Christmas Present”. Original Broadcast (in the UK): Well, that’s a tricky one. TV.com lists May 11, 1956, while whoever compiled the list for Wikipedia claims that ATV in the Midlands region ran it on April 27, 1956, with a note that other ITV regions may have aired them on different days and in a different order. Regardless, the result is another “Christmas episode” airing in the middle of spring.
And probably the only time a title like this appears over a guillotine in action without being darkly ironic.
We begin in the home of Sir Percy, who is considering Christmas plans and generally doing the Sir Percy dissolute twerp thing with a couple of the other fancy lads in his running crew.
Mrs. Burton, his housekeeper, is sadly waxing on about the old days when the ancestral halls were filled with the scampering of little kid feet when she presents Blakeney with a an invitation…which turns out to be an invitation to adventure! Da-da-da-daaaaaaaah!
A group of aristocrats have been rounded up, which is all part of the Pimpernel gig, but what really piques Blakeney’s interest is that they’re being held in a house, not a prison. So he’s off to the continent to investigate, with all kinds of climbing and hiding and such. After dodging the guards, he runs into a small boy and asks where he can find the first name on his list, the Marquis du Chalon. When the kid tells him that he is the Marquis du Chalon, the Pimpernel is startled, although not as startled as I was when I discovered how horribly dubbed the child’s voice was. Then when he finds out all the other aristos are also kids, he’s horrified. The Pimpernel knows all too well what happens to the gentry in Revolutionary France, even children. Obviously a cunning plan is called for.When Blakeney sees that they’re still being tended to by a physician, because obviously they need to stay healthy for their date with the guillotine, he shows up as Thomas Dolby…um, some other doctor with a cover story designed to spirit them away.
He’s been blinded. With SCIENCE!
(highlight for spoilers) When Blakeney and company are forced to seek shelter in the house of a pro-Revolution hardass, Blakeney wears the man down with the story of Christmas, and everything turns out about as well as can be expected. We end the show with a surprise visit from the Prince of Wales and one of the most horrifying Father Christmas costumes I’ve ever seen.
I’m Father Chrismas, and I’m here to eat your kidneys!
Very nicely done show, hinging on the Pimpernel being clever rather than being a crack shot or good with his fists. Good for the whole family.
Our Holiday Lesson For Today: “Tonight it is Christmas everywhere in the world…except France.” And a bunch of heathen places that nice English gentlemen don’t talk about, but let’s not go there. Anyway, it is a historical fact that the government during the Reign of Terror was actively anti-Catholic, and even made efforts to “de-Christianize” France when the majority of the clergy wouldn’t play along with the new regime. You should read up on it…y’know, just to recognize that a real war on Christmas looks nothing like a ginned-up two-day controversy as told by some media crackpot.
Once again, videowise we have nothing, soooo…
Next: Red Skelton!