Jeeves and Wooster
2.2: A Plan for Gussie
(aka The Bassetts’ Fancy Dress Ball)
The cow creamer business dispatched, the second part of this The Code of the Woosters adaptation preoccupies itself with further Gussie scrapes, and the continuing machinations of Stiffy. Fortunately, Spode is still about to make things extra unpleasant.
Sir Roderick delivers more of his winning policies (“the Right to be issued with a British bicycle and an honest, British-made umbrella”) and some remarkably plausible-sounding nonsense political soundbites (“Nothing stands between us and victory except our defeat!”, “Tomorrow is a new day; the future lies ahead!”) while Jeeves curtly dismisses Spode trying to tag him as one of the working masses. It’s in Spode’s ability to crush skulls that we’re interested, though, and it looks as if his powers have deserted him at the start.
Jeeves has given Gussie a pep-talk in how to get over his terror of Spode (“We don’t fear those we despise… fill one’s mind with scornful thoughts”) but Bertie’s quite right to be sceptical about its efficacy (it doesn’t make Gussie any good at cricket, for starters), particularly since it leads the newt fancier to write all his insults down in a book so he won’t forget them. Which falls into Stiffy’s hands (she is still set on her plan to curry favour with Sir Watkyn; Stinker must steal Oates’ helmet and “If you can’t, you’ll never be bishop!”).
Her light-fingered approach naturally leads to scrapes for Bertie, most dynamically when, during their hunt for the notebook in her room, he and Jeeves leap from a roused and yapping Bartholomew to the safety of the top of a chest of drawers (querying Jeeves’ cowardice, the valet draws his master’s attention to “the number and size of teeth”). Compounding this, Stiffy then gives Spode the notebook and lays the finger on Bertie when the theft of Oates’ helmet comes to light.
Bertie Wooster: Have you ever thought about love, Sir Watkyn?
With Bertie under threat of marital damnation from Madeline (“I will be your wife, Bertie”), the idea of announcing to Spode he will be wedding Stiffy (such that Stinker will seem like a good choice) doesn’t exactly elicit the expected response (Jeeves must be off the fish this week), since Sir Watykn is only relieved she isn’t Madeline, who told him earlier Bertie was due to become his son-in-law (“Oh, well, in that case. I’m delighted”).
Gussie Fink-Nottle: You silly old ass! You unmitigated, pudding-headed old jobbernow!
The juggling of elements is particularly deft in this episode, and the scenes with Spode are as delightful as ever. Come the fancy dress party climax, with Spode as centurion, Bertie as T E Lawrence and Gussie as the devil, it’s time for more farcical chasing, mostly of the variety of Spode pursuing Gussie (“Come out, you putrid little earthworm!”) or Sir Watkyn doing likewise (Gussie unwisely insults him, handing him his notebook to read after Sir Watkyn pulls the plug on his newts).
Bertie Wooster: You can’t be a successful dictator and design women’s underclothing.
The Eulalie ruse is such a good one, it’s only right that Plum chose to dismantle if after this. As Bertie notes before the climax, having the word alone is rather like holding up a bank and not knowing if your gun is loaded or not. He essentially admits it’s a masterful deus ex machina (“Isn’t anyone else I can use it on, is there?”) It’s interesting that Exton chose to alter the novel’s ending, in which Jeeves reveals that Spode is a designer of women’s undergarments of his own accord. Perhaps he considered it a little too indiscreet, as here, Bertie (very conveniently) happens to see Spode with a slip through a shop window.
Bertie Wooster: Are these the actions of rational human beings?
Jeeves: Difficult to say, sir.
Bertie Wooster: Is it for this we dragged ourselves from the primeval ooze, to stir up the notions of simple honest people to a frenzy, and then to go around playing tennis and gigging?
Jeeves: An interesting question, sir.
On the Bertie front, he’s given to opine on the mysteries of the female of the species as a source of incipient pain and disaster for his truly. It’s been said that Wodehouse’s female characters aren’t very fully formed, and that may be true, but I’m not sure the charge is really any more the case than any of his other broad-stroke supporting characters. The real point is his (comparative) lack of female lead characters. It feels idle to single out the author on this area.
Bertie Wooster: Jeeves, you may get rid of those handkerchiefs. I owe it to you. Thank you, sir. I did it last night.
Also on the put-upon Bertie side, he upheld a rare non-capitulation to Jeeves with regard to the latter’s pulling for a world cruise in the previous episode (accusing his gentleman’s gentleman of a Viking strain, and a desire to witness the dancing girls of Bali; Bertie refuses to be decanted in some ocean-going liner and lugged off round the world). He’s less resilient this week, as Jeeves is wonderfully belittling over his latest fashion faux pas: “novelty” handkerchiefs. Initially, Jeeves is reluctant even to label these monogrammed monstrosities as such (“I think not, sir. They appear to have writing on them”), his masterstroke being the suggestion that anyone needing them must be “in danger of forgetting their name”.
With The Code of the Woosters completed, there would be equal parts picking and choosing and proper adaptations for the rest of the season. Certainly, the four-episode run from 1.4 might rank as the most consistently high quality of the entire run, but the mix and match of the rest, which includes the brief tenure of valet Brinkley, ensure there’s still a high standard of material for the picking.
The Code of the Woosters
Sir Watkyn Bassett (1.1, 2.1, 2.2)
Sir Roderick Spode (2.1, 2.2)
Madeline Basset (1.4, 1.5, 2.1, 2.2)
Gussie Fink-Nottle (1.4, 1.5, 2.1, 2.2)
Rev H P “Stinker” Pinker (2.1, 2.2)
Stephanie “Stiffy” Byng (2.1, 2.2)
Constable Oates (2.1, 2.2)
“Barmy” Fotheringay-Phipps (1.1, 1,2, 1.4, 1.5, 2.1, 2.2)
“Oofy” Prosser (1.1, 1.2, 1.4, 1.5, 2.2)
Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.