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I wish the world were a newt!

Jeeves and Wooster
1.4 The Hunger Strike

The Hunger Strikeand the season finale are effectively a two-parter, and give Exton to stretch and allow the interweaving plotting of the novels a chance to take effect. That would be because he’s adapting Right Ho, Jeeves, Wodehouse’s second full-length Jeevesnovel. It bases itself around Brinkley court and the trials and tribulations Bertie must face at the behest of his Aunt Dahlia, unwanted felicitations of love and finally the machinations of Jeeves in order to resolve the situation.


Exton shows due fidelity to the source material, which includes one of the best scenes in the series (adapted from one of the best scenes in the books) as Gussie Fink-Nottle, thoroughly-sloshed and dull of love for Madeline Basset, presents prizes at the Market Snodsbury Grammar School. This has been foisted upon him by Bertie (on pain of no future servings of prize chef Anatole’s dinners), who in turn was pressed with the task by Aunt Dahlia.


But that is yet to come, for The Hunger Strike concerns itself with one of Bertie’s less-than-bright schemes; the titular activity is not such a stinker in theory, but when applied en masse it has understandably undesirable consequences, thus hoisting Bertie by his own petard (“Jeeves is not the only one with a brain. On this occasion, I’m your man”). Bertie advises three different parties to abstain from Anatole’s heavenly dinner in order to sell how individually upset they are to their other halves.


Bertie’s attempts to forestay a visit to Brinkley Court falls apart when Aunt Dahlia informs him that Angela (Amanda Elwes, who emphasises her disdain for Tuppy perfectly, in one of only two appearances along with the next episode) has broken up with Tuppy Glossop (Robert Daws, once again wonderfully short-tempered, obnoxious, and food-fixated). Bertie is instructed to visit in order to help her with his “loathsome friends” (that would be Tuppy and Gussie).


His plan finds him advising Aunt Dahlia to starve herself in order to manipulate a concerned husband Tom (Ralph Michael, who would return in the final season) into lending her the money to keep her rag Milady’s Boudoir afloat (she lost the money he previously gave her at gambling). These two episodes are Brenda Bruce’s last appearance as the character, and she is instantly the perfect fit for the character; she is certainly the actress who comes to mind when I think of the Dahlia in the series, so I’ll have to pay attention when I get to the subsequent runs. As Bertie notes to Jeeves, aunts are noted for their strong opinions, “Aunt calling to aunt like mastodons bellowing across primeval swamps”.


Tuppy is on the receiving end of a cavalcade of abuse from Angela, whom he has belittled over an incident with a shark (“probably a flatfish”). He is referred to as the “blasted Glossop”, a “lump of dough”, and “always thinking about food” (to which he responds “I am not devoted to food!”); it is because of this that Bertie persuades him to reveal his love and adoration for Angela by abstaining from eating.


As Tuppy comments, pushing away dinner cooked by Anatole is “pretty extreme” and the plate of sandwiches Angela presents him with in the next episode is the natural follow-up to the climax of the episode in which the famished Tuppy raids the larder at night for steak and kidney pie. He is duly discovered, and Angela comments that he needs “three or four good meals during the night. It keeps him going until breakfast”. Daws is quite marvellous playing a great pig, his mouth stuffed full of food (a porcine apple is lodged there at one point), and Robert Young shoots the various trips to the larder in the spirit of great bedroom farce, with a series of near misses until the accumulation of events explodes in a flourish of discovery.


This episode introduces both Gussie and Madeleine (Francesca Folan). Madeleine was played by three different actresses, but it is Elizabeth Morton in the last two seasons who really gets her off to a tee. Folan isn’t quite wet and simpering enough, although we’re more than informed of the necessaries of how she believes the starts are God’s daisy chain.


Gussie, we are informed, is “just the sort of chap Madeline would scoop up with a spoon”. Bertie tells Tuppy he held feelings for her during a recent Cannes trip (which isn’t true; he’s attempting to avoid accusations that he has intentions towards his cousin Angela); his response that she is not, in Tuppy’s expert evaluation, “a weird Gawd help-us”, is on the chivalrous side, as she most certainly is. Madeline, as ever mistakes that “same dumb, yearning look in your eyes” as Bertie being thoroughly smitten with her.


If Folan isn’t the best Madeline, she nevertheless spews forth appropriate Madelinisms; “Oh, look. The little bunnies. How still they are” (referring to stone rabbits); “Oh, Mr Moon is ever so shy, he keeps hiding behind the clouds”.


In contrast, we’re blessed with the first and best incarnation of Gussie Fink-Nottle here, in the form of Richard Garnett. He’s the personification of one who gets “over-stimulated when he comes to the city” and Garnett’s ruminations (“Oh Bertie, life would be so much simpler if we were newts”, to which Bertie responds “Yes, well I’ve said the same thing myself a hundred times”; “I wish the world were a newt!”) Predictably, Gussie’s declaration of love to Madeline goes awry (he discusses the marked sexual dimorphism in newt species instead) and his response has the resigned apologetics of John Merrick (“Everybody’s been very kind. No complaints. No complaints at all”). Gussie’s teetotalism will be intrinsic to the next episode, but here he is inveigled into joining The Wooster Diet so as to impress upon Madeline that he is pining for her.


The resulting rejections of his cooking cause the sensitive Anatole to quit. Bertie advises Jeeves that Anatole is foreign, and therefore excitable (“I shall bear that in mind, sir”), but such assurance doesn’t wash with Aunt Dahlia. She banishes Bertie (“This is all your fault, Wooster”), who to be fair has just destroyed a chandelier with Tom’s shotgun, so setting up a grand finale in which Bertie is the subject of all-round opprobrium that serves to provide his salvation from unwanted entanglements.


There are no piano recitals from Bertie this episode or next, presumably because there was too much intricacy of plot to squeeze in, but the interplay between Fry and Laurie over Bertie’s white mess jacket is a delight (“I assumed it had got into your wardrobe by mistake, sir, or else it was placed there by your enemies”). Jeeves’ putdowns are effortless; replying to Bertie’s suggestion that women tried to catch his eye he snubs with “Presumably they thought you were a waiter, sir”. The doomed battle Bertie engages in over the jacket sees him bringing it along even though his valet conveniently forgot it (“Er, which way up does it go, sir?”)


This episode and the following are about as good as the first season gets in terms of sustaining a plot for the duration. It helps considerably to have a narrative that fills the 50 minutes, rather than having to pick-and-mix. And, in Right Ho, Jeevesand the burdens of Brinkley Court, Exley draws on one of the best Wodehouse plots.


Featuring:

Aunt Dahlia (1.2, 1.4)
Tuppy Glossop (1.1, 1.2, 1.4)
Madeline Bassett (1.4)
Gussie Fink Nottle (1.4)
Anatole (1.4)
Tom Travers (1.4)
Angela Travers (1.4)

Brief Appearances:

Barmy Fotheringay Phipps (1.1, 1.2, 1.4)
Oofy Prosser (1.1, 1.2, 1.4)







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