The Inimitable P.G. Wodehouse

P G Wodehouse was a prolific writer, with nearly all of his stories set among British aristocracy and/or in the proverbial ‘polite society’ of 1920s and 30s Britain. Knowingly or not, he somewhat reflected the naïve obliviousness of a few of his characters in his real life. After moving to France and being captured by the Germans in 1940 he wrote and performed several broadcasts on German radio. Although comical and apolitical, the mere act of broadcasting over German radio during the war was incredibly controversial, and fueled a charge of treason back in Britain. Never quite understanding the ostracism, in 1947 he moved house to the US where he lived until his death at age 93 in 1975.

His characters are wonderfully stereotypical, as Wodehouse himself said, “a real character in one of my books would stick out like a sore thumb.” Even so, they become perfect players in his explorations and send-ups and show his deep understanding of human nature and behavior.

Here are three television adaptations that showcase Wodehouse’s insights into the (well-mannered) human condition.

Blandings – Clarence Threepwood, the 9th Earl of Emsworth lives in Blandings castle with his sister Lady Constance Keeble, his son Frederick Threepwood, a prize-winning pig named Empress, and a rotating list of house guests.

Lady Constance, played by Jennifer Saunders (AbFab, French & Saunders) is all too aware of the importance of retaining their standing in the aristocracy and, true to her name, is constantly needling Lord Emsworth into performing the ‘duties of his station’, something the Dukes and Earls among us all understand well (though it may go right over the head of the Barony). All Clarence wants to do, however, is wander the property, monologue at the pig Empress, and occasionally have quick conversations with the very Scottish, very disrespectful, and very unintelligible, gardener Angus.

The start of every episode has young Frederick, played by Jack Farthing, careening down the drive and invariably crashing into the exact same tree.

Jeeves & Wooster – One of the best known Wodehouse series, the comedy team of Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie brought it to the small screen brilliantly. No doubt you recognize the names; Hugh Laurie went on to play the titular role in the US series House, and is also an accomplished musician, touring to support his 2010 album Let Them Talk. (I was lucky enough to snag tickets to the Seattle show. Wonderful!) and Stephen Fry is probably considered one of the most British people on the planet and is an incredibly brilliant man. When one looks up high-brow British humor is the dictionary (Oxford edition, presumedly) one will see Stephen’s picture as evidence. The host of the UK panel show QI (Quite Interesting) for many years, Mister Fry is an outspoken advocate for treatment and removal of the stigma regarding mental health.

In the four-season series, Fry personifies the proper valet Jeeves to Laurie’s cluelessly affable Bertie Wooster. In each episode, the intelligent and resourceful Jeeves guides young Wooster through the perils of late 1920s high society by working the levers of true power, the household help.

Wodehouse Playhouse– As usual, this three-season show is set in a loosely defined 1920s and 30s ‘polite society’ setting, though these adaptations pull from several of Wodehouse’s literary series. Mostly they’re Mister Mulliner shorts, but some pull from the Drones Club or the golf club’s Oldest Member stories. Wherever they’re from, they’re classic PG Wodehouse in their style and humor.

A wonderful feature in the first series is the introduction of each story by P G Wodehouse himself setting up the story and about its writing. The intros were filmed in January 1975, the month before his death, so unfortunately there are no intros for the second and third seasons.

The library has an extensive collection of Wodehouse’s work in several forms besides books and DVDs including downloadable audiobooks and ebooks. These stories are a humorously genial get-away for that lazy afternoon or an evening’s decompression.

     ~ Posted by Jay F.

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