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Slice him where you like, a hellhound is always a hellhound.

Television

Jeeves and Wooster
2.1: Jeeves Saves the Cow Creamer
aka The Silver Jug

 

Season Two of Jeeves and Wooster continues the high standard of the previous year’s last two episodes, appropriately since it takes after its literary precedent; Season One ended with a two-part adaptation of Right Ho, Jeeves, which PG Wodehouse followed four years later with The Code of the Woosters. Published in 1938, it was the third full-length outing for Bertie and his genius gentleman’s gentleman, and the first time Plum visited Totleigh Towers, home of imperious nerve specialist Sir Watykn Bassett. If I say “Spode”, and add “Eulalie”, its classic status in the canon will no doubt come flooding back to you.

Sir Watkyn has already graced our screens, of course, in the very first episode, adapting Bertram Wilberforce’s recollection from this very The Code of the Woosters of his policeman’s hat-stealing incident, and for the most part, like the season finale before it, Clive Exton recognises a good thing when he sees it and is remarkably faithful to the novel. There are omissions, in particular the subplot concerning Anatole the cook, and Bertie delivers the cow creamer into Sir Watkyn’s eager hands via a piece of superbly timed, cat-tripping slapstick (no need to utilise cold lobsters and sliced cucumbers to delay Uncle Tom from its purchase), but it’s very much a case of pruning rather than serious truncation.

Bertie WoosterI expect it’s absolutely rotten.
ShopkeeperIt’s a beautiful cow creamer!

Simon Langton (Smiley’s People, the BBC Pride and Prejudice) does a terrific job keeping the episode rattling along (variable Totleigh weather and all). Events are ignited by Bertie’s reluctant obeyance to the wishes of his Aunt Dahlia (Vivian Pickles). He makes his way to Bond Street in order to “sneer at a cow creamer”, so warming the seller up for Uncle Tom, who will offer a lesser price. Bertie has a sore head, having attended Gussie’s bachelor party (picking up from the events of Brinkley Manor), albeit given the subsequent altercations, he might have thought twice about toasting him as “a good egg, and a persuasive man with a newt”. Particularly amusing is Jeeves suggestion that his master assert the creamer to be of modern Dutch manufacture (“The Dutch, sir, while an admiral people in many ways and renowned for their domestic hygiene, are not considered to be of the first rank in matters of argentine craftsmanship”).

Sir Watkyn recognises Bertie at the shop, sort of, believing he sent Bertie down for bag snatching, giving him a shilling and instructing him “Don’t spend it on drink” before setting the police after him when he believes Wooster has attempted to purloin the creamer; in a truly venerable moment, the pursuing bobby is unlucky enough to enter the Drones Club where, to the universal cry of “Bluebottle!”, he is assaulted with dozens of bread rolls.

Bertie WoosterGussie made an ass of himself again.

While the episode is blessed with the return of Richard Garnett as Gussie, unfortunately Pickles is a much less effective Aunt Agatha, lacking the superior warmth towards her nephew Brenda Bruce brought to the previous season; it would be Pickles’ sole appearance in the role (with two more one-off Agathas to follow). The new Barmy, Martin Clunes (replacing Adam Blackwood) is a splendid fit though, Clunes exerting a cheerfully baffled air at every turn (he even entertains Spode’s unseemly notions).

Rather than threats of a withholding Anatole’s cooking, it’s the prospect of the nuptials between Gussie and Madeline falling through that inspire Bertie to visit Totleigh; Gussie has been haplessly arousing her suspicions of infidelity (finding a speck in Stiffy’s eye), and Bertie is desperate to have them tie the knot post haste (“You can’t be married too soon to a chap like Gussie”). Madeline is also new, and Diana Blackburn looks closer to the part than Francesca Folan, but she’s still not quite insipid enough; Elizabeth Heery in the last two seasons is easily the best.

Bertie isn’t the only one on a cow creamer-fuelled mission. The forceful Stephanie “Stiffy” Byng (Charlotte Attenborough, who played her in this and the last season) attempts to coerce Bertie into snatching it in order that Bertie’s old pal and purveyor of muscular Christianity Reverend HP “Stinker” Pinker (Simon Treeves) may garner the approval of Sir Watkyn to wed Stiffy (he’s Stiffy’s ward and disapproves of marriage to a “penniless curate”).

It’s a rotten plan, one that ends with Stinker bashing Spode on the head with a cricket bat. Stiffy spends more time harassing and insulting the hapless and dim Constable Eustace Oates (Campbell Morrison, also recast in the next two seasons). When her dog Bartholomew isn’t, that is. Bartholomew doesn’t like bicycles, and Stiffy has no truck with Oates’ protest that he can’t walk (“Do you good get some of the fat off you”).

Stiffy ByngYou don’t mean you won’t do it.
Bertie WoosterI do mean I won’t do it.

Bertie’s unwavering refusal to submit to Stiffy’s wishes is at least refreshing (“And then I go off and do my stretch in Dartmoor”), parting with “A pig maybe, but a shrewd, level-headed pig who wasn’t born yesterday and has seen a thing or two”. This firmness fails to keep him out of trouble, however, since Aunt Dahlia has also rocked up with designs on the creamer, while the dreaded Spode is convinced he’s up to no good.

John Turner makes for a magnificent Roderick Spode, blustering leader of the Black Shorts (also called the Saviours of Britain), an entirely transparent and glorious dig at Oswald Mosely (who, in his time, was a conservative MP, an independent, labour, founded the New Party, and then the British Union of Fascists). Spode assumes mantle of amateur dictator, wistful for a Britain past, complete with nonsensical statements even Nigel Farrage might blanche at.

He demands “the right, nay the responsibility, of every freeborn Englishman to grow his own potatoes”, an immediate ban on foreign root vegetables into the United Kingdom, and the compulsive scientific measurement of all adult male knees (“The British knee is firm, muscular, on the march”). His vegetable fixation includes plans for allocating produce according to county: turnips and broad beans in Wiltshire, potatoes in Scotland and the lowlands (“It has all been scientifically worked out, I assure you”).

This eventually results is one of Bertie’s rare articulate rebukes, as he gives it to the moustache-wearing bully with both barrels: “The trouble with you, Spode, is that just because you’ve succeeded in inducing a handful of halfwits to disfigure the London scene by going about in black shorts you think you’re someone. You hear them shouting, ‘Heil Spode!’ and you imagine it is the voice of the people. That is where you make your bloomer. What the voice of the people is saying is, ‘Look at that frightful ass Spode swanking about in footer bags. Did you ever in your puff see such a perisher?

It takes some time for Bertie to get to that point, however. In the novel, Sir Watkyn is looking to getting hitched to Spode’s aunt, absent here, although Spode’s interest in little Madeline is present and correct, which means he takes a particular dislike to Gussie. When he isn’t threatening Bertie, calling him a “miserable worm” and instructing him that if he discovers he has stolen the creamer he will “beat you to a jelly” (“It might be an improvement” responds Dahlia), he is bursting in on him looking for Gussie (“Wooster!” he exclaims, to which Laurie reacts with another masterful slice of slapstick, cigarettes flying everywhere).

SpodeTell him I’m going to break his neck.
Bertie WoosterOh, why?
SpodeBecause he’s a butterfly who toys with women’s hearts and throws them aside like soiled gloves.
Bertie WoosterDo butterflies do that?

Bertie has been reading The Ghost of Moreton Manor, so he’s naturally quite concerned when he hears emanations from the wardrobe (“Do you bring a message from the other side?”) It’s just Gussie, though, indulging in craven scooting (“I thought these dictators were meant to be thorough” notes Bertie of Spode’s slackness). It should be noted that much of the cow-creamer business has been altered; it isn’t stashed in Gussie’s suitcase, and Jeeves instead craftily attaches it to the Rolls as a hood ornament, dropping it off to Dahlia on departure. As such, after it is stolen, Bertie remains oblivious to its whereabouts until the final scene.

The most memorable part of a highly memorable episode is the saga of Eulalie, which requires Jeeves to “get the goods on Spode” through a visit to the Junior Ganymede. We learn of Rule Eleven, whereby full information on masters, past and present, is required by the gentleman’s gentlemen members, making for entertaining reading on wet afternoons (“… came home from Pongo Twistelton’s and mistook the lampshade for a burglar” is a particular favourite). We even get to see Jeeves announce of his master, “Really quite promising. I always suspected I could make something of him”.

Bertie WoosterSpode qua menace, if qua is the word I’m after, is a thing of the past.

Jeeves’ simple instruction – he cannot divulge its pertinence, at least, not in this episode; Spode’s particular secret is, of course, that he designs and sells women’s underwear – that Bertie “Inform him you know all about Eulalie” inevitably goes terribly wrong when Wooster, with Spode in hot pursuit of Gussie, throws a “You fat slob!” the amateur dictator’s way but has a difficult time recalling the crucial word (“Spode, I know your secret. I know all about… Ephymol… Eureka… Euclid… Eucalyptus… Euripides… Eucharist… Eunuch… Euphonium…) Fortunately, Jeeves materialises to hand him a piece of paper with the correct word (Eulalie!”), resulting in Spode instantly volte facing (“Say goodnight nicely to Mr Fink-Nottle” instructs Bertie sternly). This is classic farce, ranking as both one of the best Woodhouse novels and one of the best adaptations.

Our Score

Sources:

The Code of the Woosters

Recurring characters:

Aunt Dahlia (1.2, 1.4, 1.5, 2.1)
Sir Watkyn Bassett (1.1, 2.1)
Sir Roderick Spode (2.1)
Madeline Basset (1.4, 1.5, 2.1)
Gussie Fink-Nottle (1.4, 1.5, 2.1)
Rev H P “Stinker” Pinker (2.1)
Stephanie “Stiffy” Byng (2.1)
Constable Oates (2.1)
“Barmy” Fotheringay-Phipps (1.1, 1,2, 1.4, 1.5, 2.1)

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