Mr. Tickle by Roger Hargreaves (1971)
Mr. Tickle was written in 1971 and if we wish to gain a greater understanding of this work, then we need to consider the political and historical landscape of the time, as so much of it is reflected in the subtleties of the text. This was the year that the UK changed its currency through decimalization. While Cambodia was ravaged by the Khmer Rouge, America opened Disney World as a shrine to capitalism and consumerism. These were turbulent times which saw the passing of old established world orders. The idea of whether the individual can have a meaningful impact upon the world during such an era is examined and stripped bare in Mr. Tickle, if one takes the time to find it.
Roger Hargreaves’ first work, Mr. Happy is regarded by many as his masterpiece. Mr. Tickle is something of a rarity amongst his body of work as it bucks the author’s previous style. The impact of excess or entrenched dogma, as seen in Mr. Greedy and Mr. Messy, are not explored in this story. Nor are the complex social ramifications of such monomanias dissected, as in those erudite cautionary tales, Mr. Nosey and Mr. Noisy. Mr. Tickle is a far more existential tale and easily the equal of Catcher in the Rye.
In many respects Mr. Tickle is an enigma, depicting a man free from the restraints of civilization. His pursuit of sensual enjoyment via the medium of tickling is both hedonistic and threatens the social order. For example he causes a postman drops all his letters in a puddle, the tickling of a policeman causes a traffic jam and his unbridled tactile stimulation of a Teacher leads to a rapid breakdown of classroom discipline. Yet it also demonstrates society’s inability to deal with anything outside of perceived social norms and customs. It is interesting to note that no sanction is taken against Mr. Tickle and the author cunningly infers that the protagonist actions ultimately liberate his “victims”, like a bizarre form of “Stockholm Syndrome”.
Does this make Mr. Tickle a terrorist? His weapons are laughter and his extraordinary long arms, yet they are as devastatingly effective to the establishment, as an AK-47 or a hand grenade. Though his principal targets wear uniforms, Mr. Tickle does not have the same goals as the contemporary revolutionary organisations such as the Red Brigade or the Baader-Meinhof Group. Hargreaves’ is not interested in over throwing the established order from without but seeking reform from within, by the removal of social conditioning. Freedom through “tickling” is used as a metaphor for existential self-realisation.
It should be noted that Mr. Tickle himself is not an unchecked force of nature. Indeed he is the embodiment of measured restraint and not tainted by the “shock and awe” excesses of the Robert McNamara generation. At the end of his day’s exploits he calmly reflects on events, in a sober and sanguine fashion from the comfort of his armchair. He extols the virtues of catharsis as an escape from restrictive social conventions and entrenched establishment dogma. He demonstrates that all humans need to embrace their desires to a degree and to deny them is to deny our very humanity. Cormac McCarthy takes two hundred and forty six pages to reach this conclusion, in his novel The Road. Hargreaves does it in thirty two.