It’s been a 101 years since the first short story featuring Bertie Wooster and Reginald Jeeves was published, and till date, PG Wodehouse’s series delivers on the promise of a lot more than just a-laugh-a-minute.
The extensive set of writings that span 11 novels and 35 short stories doesn’t really need an introduction. But to those who may have found a way to never emerge from under the fossil-like rock under which they’ve been living and bask in the glorious sunshine that is Wodehouse’s brilliance, I’d like to say, “What ho!” and then proceed with a short introduction.
The Jeeves series, published from 1915 to 1974, follows an idle-rich English bachelor, Bertram Wilberforce “Bertie” Wooster, who has an unparalleled knack for getting tangled in awkward social situations. His personal gentleman’s gentleman, his valet Reginald Jeeves, remarkably rescues his employer from said situations. The stories follow a similar but never tedious format of confusions, mistaken identities, botched burglaries and repeatedly almost-doomed love stories. A century on, the humour never grows old and the language is an absolute treat.
The series has been adapted for the screen, stage, and radio a great many times. But many consider the 1990-1993 ITV production Jeeves and Wooster as one that is most definitive and memorable. Starring two of the funniest men in the world – Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie – the series is set between the 1920s and ’30s in the United Kingdom and the United States of America.
The hilarious duo is accompanied by a cast that magnificently translates the unique characters from the books to the screen. There is Gussie Fink-Nottle, Bertie’s friend and newt-enthusiast whose on-off relationship with the painfully poetic Madeleine Basset is a constant cause of grief to Bertie. There are also Bertie’s many aunts, such as the kind and loving Aunt Dahlia and Aunt Agatha who, in his own words, “chews broken bottles and kills rats with her teeth”. Add to that a generous helping of his friends in trouble, most of them, members of the Drones club.
The show faithfully reconstructs the language, behaviour and visual details of a certain kind of Englishness. The disasters that Bertie has to frequently deal with are wonderfully aristocratic, and the ensuing humour is not lost on even the dullest of newts.
Stealing paintings, policemen helmets, cow creamers, or diaries full of the most harmful rants against the hosts of the house – call Bertie anything, he is a good friend and the Code of the Woosters is strong and infallible.
Hugh Laurie is a complete picture of Bertie in his nonchalance and general absent-mindedness, and Stephen Fry’s Jeeves is perfectly helpful, all-knowing and self-assured. His impeccable taste in clothes is only matched by his unimpeachable grasp on any possible situation in which Bertie may land himself.
The music and the opening credits of the series are iconic too. The original score won composer Anne Dudley a BAFTA. As the animation of the credits rolls through the screen, it fills the viewer with the excitement that only a whole new hour of great English humour can bring.
The series is available on YouTube. Keep watching, I say.