In the aftermath of a terribly brief twitter conversation this evening, I have been pondering why, exactly, the BBC’s Blandings series does not, as I opined, fly. I am, after all, pretty much its target audience having been a P.G. Wodehouse fan since the age of at the very latest ten (though I believe I was primed before then by Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie’s rendition of Jeeves and Wooster) - and being, at heart, a Blandings girl. I do appreciate the exquisite joy of Jeeves and Wooster as, probably, the highest form of Wodehouse, but it was the addition of Summer Lightning to a school summer reading list that seized my heart.
Blandings Castle slept in the sunshine. Dancing little ripples of heat-mist played across its smooth lawns and stone-flagged terraces. The air was full of the lulling drone of insects. It was that gracious hour of a summer afternoon, mid-way between luncheon and tea, when Nature seems to unbutton its waistcoat and put its feet up.
(If you don’t love this opening paragraph, I’m not sure we can be friends…)
It is not entirely a media problem. Although Wodehouse, like Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat does work best either in book or audiobook form, or - indeed - in radio drama - leaving the visuals up to your own immagination, there have been Wodehouse adaptations on TV that have, in fact, flown.
The aforementioned Jeeves and Wooster for a start, but also a BBC film version of Heavy Weather from (gulp) 1995, which worked rather nicely. Peter O’Toole helps, obviously.
I have moved on to wondering if it is a length problem. For all Wodehouse’s books are a pithy 200–300 pages, there is a lot of tightly plotted farce in those pages, which does not boil down to a half hour Sunday evening comedy. This is so much the case that last week’s Hallo to All This incorporated the tiniest essence of the story about Uncle Galahad’s memoirs that runs through several books. Adapting plots in farce (or anything that is particularly plotty) is more like canablisation - and in the case of Wodehouse you not only lose some delightful plot, you lose the joyous, ratcheting, insanity as everything spirals out of everyone’s control, including Gally’s. Length, I think, might be required for the resolution to achieve maximum pay-off.
The current London production of Jeeves and Wooster only serves to illustrate the point, I think, as it's a full length production of the story of The Code of the Woosters, which not only lets the plot do it's fabulous thing, but amps up the the farcial tension by performing it as a performance of the story by Bertie, Jeeves, and Aunt Dahlia's butler Seppings. It is, Fry and Laurie notwithstanding, possibly the best adaptation of Wodehouse I have ever seen.
p.s. this was basically an excuse to watch bits of Wodehouse on YouTube and listen to Martin Jarvis read Heavy Weather