Jeeves and Wooster
4.1: Return to New York
Oh Gawd. It’s taken me a few years to return to the final run of this series, and for good reason. Jeeves and Wooster’s New York often has me inwardly groaning. That’s generally down to its budget trappings and makeshift accents, and Return to New York is no exception, complete with a very English-looking Long Island retreat and a supremely cost-conscious car crash. Ferdinand Fairfax is calling the shots, as he would be for the entire season, and while Clive Exton has blended three tales here with relative finesse, it’s very evident that some are more successful than others.
The one I’m calling out is the earliest Wooster story of the three – although not the earliest story here. The Delayed Exit of Claude and Eustace finds the twins, expelled from Oxford and bound for South Africa at Aunt Agatha’s behest, absconding from duties due to their infatuation with actress Marion Wardour, whom they proceed to pester to the point of her distraction. That much is common to both versions. In both accounts too, Agatha is led to conceive of her husband’s sighting of one of the twins as a wraith or “phantasm of poor dear Eustace”, and they don disguises to avoid being recognised.
In Exton’s account, however, Uncle George doesn’t feature, and the resolution, whereby Jeeves has Marion – a singer – trick them into heading to South Africa through claiming she is going, is absent. The short story is also set in England, not NY, which puts it immediately ahead on points. Claude and Eustace last made a showing all the way back in the first episode, where I believe I said then they were far from my favourite characters. Jeremy Brock and Joss Brock (limited credits, usually together, also in The Camomile Porn and Bugs), replace Season 1’s Hugo E Blick and Ian Jeffs; they appear to share disdain for the pair, ensuring they’re invidiously odious specimens, such that you’re fully on-board Marion Wardour (Janan Kubba) having her fill of them.
More significantly on the recasting front, Aunt Agatha is now played by Elizabeth Spriggs. Fans of Paradise Towers (starring radio Bertie Richard Briers) will appreciate the symmetry of Spriggs, there paired with Brenda Bruce, one of this series’ Aunt Dahlias, taking on the role. And Spriggs is a fine, imperious, robust Agatha (her portrait is all sorts of magnificent, even if it is of “somewhat too hungry impression” and “a little like a dog regarding a distant bone” (per Jeeves). Nevertheless, after three seasons of Mary Wimbush firmly stamping the role, you rather wish she’d made a clean sweep.
There are some positives in this yarn. The absurd idea that Agatha would fall for Eustace being a wraith (Eustace: That’s why I’m going to the wraith track) has a certain appeal, and her insistence “The veil can be pierced” is as much as the series dips into PG’s regular notice of all things spiritualist and theosophist clearly lubricating his circles around that period. Unfortunately, the essential riff – party-happy tearaways cause Bertie considerable headaches – is a very overfamiliar one, not least in the series itself. Added to which, Jeeves’ solution to the problem is much more satisfying than the one here, whereby he simply drops Claude and Eustace in it when they return Tootles (see below) to his rightful owner.
Short story The Spot of the Art provides the episode with its head and tail, concerning as it does a portrait and Bertie being smitten with its painter, Gwladys Pendeblury. Lucius Pim has a car accident caused by the aforesaid and Bertie must put him up (reluctantly) and be blamed by Pim’s sister Mrs Slingsby for the accident (so as to avoid her prosecuting Gwladys). Her husband is the owner of Slingsby’s Super soups, who later visits Bertie and slips up on a golf ball with which the latter has been practising.
Jeeves: The gentleman does seem to have an ample supply of effrontery, sir.
As far as differences go, Gwladys (Deirdre Strath) has painted Bertie’s portrait in the story – the portrait ends up as soup advertising in both versions – rather than Aunt Agatha’s. Additionally, the story features Aunt Dahlia rather than Agatha, and Pim (Marcus D’Amico, Hand Job in Full Metal Jacket) is an artist (rather than working for Harry Ditson’s Slingsby). Also, again a relief to all, it takes place in London.
A problem encountered here is that Exton has so much to get through, and via types we’re familiar with, that it needs the cast to make a strong impression. None of them really do. Not Slingsby, not Mrs Slingsby (Marcia Layton) and not Gwladys. D’Amico seems to be a UK-jobbing Yank, but he still delivers one of those strained period performances. He is smugly annoying, though, so well cast in that sense (“His hair waves” observes Bertie disapprovingly).
Jeeves: I’m sure Mrs Glossop will lose not time in expressing her opinion of the work, miss.
Exton makes capital from the switch in portrait subject, even if the rationale is thin (Bertie believes the picture will curry Agatha’s favour and objects to Jeeves’ objection: “The look to which you refer is one of wisdom and tolerance”). Jeeves is also given Agatha’s observation regarding Gwladys (“A most vigorous young lady”), and it’s something of a classic: “In my opinion, sir, ladies who spell Gladys with a ‘W’ are seldom known for their reliability, sir. It gives them romantic notions”.
Also a bonus is idiot Tuppy trying to sell a soup recipe to Slingsby’s Superb Soups. It is, alas for Tuppy, for his grandmother’s cock-a-leekie soup; Slingsby tells him, eventually, he’ll get nothing, as it features in “every cookbook from here to Vladivostok”. It’s duly branded as “Granny’s Favourite”, granny being Aunt Agatha, and provides Bertie with inspiration for Laurie’s customary final piano ditty (“You do something to cock-a-leekie…”)
Mention of Tuppy brings us to the third story used by Exton, Fixing It for Freddie, which was itself reworked by Wodehouse, as it originally featured Reggie Pepper rather than Bertie. It includes the kernel of a child (Tootles) used as a means for reuniting sundered hearts, but Exton transposes Freddie Bullivant for none other than Tuppy Glossop. Marvis Bay changes to Bay Shore (Dorsetshire becomes New York), and Tuppy is engaged to Elizabeth (Briony Glassco), not Angela West. Common to both is Bertie having the bright idea of abducting the child – whom, it turns out, Angela doesn’t know – and Jeeves having the movie-based notion of persuading the oik to announce “Kiss Freddie” when they are together, having been trained via the lure of sweets; while it doesn’t go quite as planned, Angela’s amusement does lead to their reconciliation, much as here.
Indeed, the Bay Shore sequence is probably the best part of the episode; there’s minimal Claude & Eustace and maximum Tuppy, with the ever-reliable Robert Daws encountering frustration and fulmination as everything goes wrong for him. He’s been on the out and out with Elizabeth since heeding Marion’s singing (“You haven’t taken your eyes off that fat singer since she came on”), and his return of the child elicits accusations of being “a liar, an outcast and a worm”.
Jeeves: No, you must say, “Kiss Tuppy”.
The chain of events of Bertie trying to extract the identity of Tootles’ parents (he’s “vapid and uninformed about current events”) and his and Jeeves’ approximation of infant talk – “Dada, doesn’t oo love Mummy no more?”; “Boo-ful lady, doesn’t oo love Tuppy?” – are most amusing, as is the farce of Tootles eventual parroting of the key phrase on cue (Jeeves has come back with “A hundred weight of toffees” by this point). So a decent episode on balance, and only two more before we’re back in Blighty.
The Spot of Art (Very Good, Jeeves, Chapter 6) 1929
The Delayed Exit of Claude and Eustace (The Inimitable Jeeves, Chapter 10) 1922
Fixing it for Freddie (Carry on, Jeeves, Chapter 8) 1911
Tuppy Glossop (1.1, 1.2, 1.4, 1.5, 2.6, 3.1, 4.1)
Aunt Agatha (1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 2.3, 3.3, 3.4, 4.1)
Eustace Wooster (1.1, 4.1)
Claude Wooster (1.1, 4.1)