Skip to main content

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

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 Wooster: I expect it’s absolutely rotten.
Shopkeeper: It’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 Wooster: Gussie 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 the 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 Byng: You don’t mean you won’t do it.
Bertie Wooster: I 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 succeed 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).


Spode: Tell him I’m going to break his neck.
Bertie Wooster: Oh, why?
Spode: Because he’s a butterfly who toys with women’s hearts and throws them aside like soiled gloves.
Bertie Wooster: Do 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 instead Jeeves craftily attaches it as a hood ornament to the Rolls, 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 11, 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 Wooster: Spode 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… (Jeeves hands Bertie a piece of paper with the correct word) Eulalie!”) So it’s very fortunate that Jeeves is on hand, 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.



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)









Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

You look like an angry lizard!

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
(SPOILERS) I can quite see a Queen fan begrudging this latest musical biopic for failing to adhere to the facts of their illustrious career – but then, what biopic does steer a straight and true course? – making it ironic that they're the main fuel for Bohemian Rhapsody's box office success. Most other criticisms – and they're legitimate, on the whole – fall away in the face of a hugely charismatic star turn from Rami Malek as the band's frontman. He's the difference between a standard-issue, episodic, join-the-dots narrative and one that occasionally touches greatness, and most importantly, carries emotional heft.

I'm a sort of travelling time expert.

Doctor Who Season 12 – Worst to Best
Season 12 isn’t the best season of Doctor Who by any means, but it’s rightly recognised as one of the most iconic, and it’s easily one of the most watchable. Not so much for its returning roster of monsters – arguably, only one of them is in finest of fettle – as its line-up of TARDIS crew members. Who may be fellow travellers, but they definitely aren’t “mates”. Thank goodness. Its popularity – and the small matters of it being the earliest season held in its entirety in original broadcast form, and being quite short – make it easy to see why it was picked for the first Blu-ray boxset.

Must the duck be here?

The Favourite (2018)
(SPOILERS) In my review of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, I suggested The Favourite might be a Yorgos Lanthimos movie for those who don’t like Yorgos Lanthimos movies. At least, that’s what I’d heard. And certainly, it’s more accessible than either of his previous pictures, the first two thirds resembling a kind of Carry On Up the Greenaway, but despite these broader, more slapstick elements and abundant caustic humour, there’s a prevailing detachment on the part of the director, a distancing oversight that rather suggests he doesn’t feel very much for his subjects, no matter how much they emote, suffer or connive. Or pratfall.

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

I don’t know if what is happening is fair, but it’s the only thing I can think of that’s close to justice.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
(SPOILERS) I think I knew I wasn’t going to like The Killing of a Sacred Deer in the first five minutes. And that was without the unedifying sight of open-heart surgery that takes up the first four. Yorgos Lanthimos is something of a Marmite director, and my responses to this and his previous The Lobster (which I merely thought was “okay” after exhausting its thin premise) haven’t induced me to check out his earlier work. Of course, he has now come out with a film that, reputedly, even his naysayers will like, awards-darling The Favourite