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…

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.

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.

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

It seemed as if I had missed something.

Room 237 (2012)
Stanley Kubrick’s meticulous, obsessive approach towards filmmaking was renowned, so perhaps it should be no surprise to find comparable traits reflected in a section of his worshippers. Legends about the director have taken root (some of them with a factual basis, others bunkum), while the air of secrecy that enshrouded his life and work has duly fostered a range of conspiracy theories. A few of these are aired in Rodney Ascher’s documentary, which indulges five variably coherent advocates of five variably tenuous theories relating to just what The Shining is really all about. Beyond Jack Nicholson turning the crazy up to 11, that is. Ascher has hit on a fascinating subject, one that exposes our capacity to interpret any given information wildly differently according to our disposition. But his execution, which both underlines and undermines the theses of these devotees, leaves something to be desired.

Part of the problem is simply one of production values. The audio tra…

I am so sick of Scotland!

Outlaw/King (2018)
(SPOILERS) Proof that it isn't enough just to want to make a historical epic, you have to have some level of vision for it as well. Say what you like about Mel's Braveheart – and it isn't a very good film – it's got sensibility in spades. He knew what he was setting out to achieve, and the audience duly responded. What does David Mackenzie want from Outlaw/King (it's shown with a forward slash on the titles, so I'm going with it)? Ostensibly, and unsurprisingly, to restore the stature of Robert the Bruce after it was rather tarnished by Braveheart, but he has singularly failed to do so. More than that, it isn’t an "idea", something you can recognise or get behind even if you don’t care about the guy. You’ll never forget Mel's Wallace, for better or worse, but the most singular aspect of Chris Pine's Bruce hasn’t been his rousing speeches or heroic valour. No, it's been his kingly winky.

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.

Believe me, Mr Bond, I could shoot you from Stuttgart und still create ze proper effect.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
(SPOILERS) Some of the reactions to Spectre would have you believe it undoes all the “good” work cementing Daniel Craig’s incarnation of Bond in Skyfall. If you didn’t see that picture as the second coming of the franchise (I didn’t) your response to the latest may not be so harsh, despite its less successful choices (Blofeld among them). And it isn’t as if one step, forward two steps back are anything new in perceptions of the series (or indeed hugely divisive views on what even constitutes a decent Bond movie). After the raves greeting Goldeneye, Pierce Brosnan suffered a decidedly tepid response to his second outing, Tomorrow Never Dies, albeit it was less eviscerated than Craig’s sophomore Quantum of Solace. Tomorrow’s reputation disguises many strong points, although it has to be admitted that a Moore-era style finale and a floundering attempt to package in a halcyon villain aren’t among them.

The Bond series’ flirtations with contemporary relevance have a…

Yes sir, that is how it is happening, all times.

The Owl Service
Episode Two
Huw tells the story of the Mabinogion (“Yes sir, that is how it is happening, all times”). Roger takes on both an investigatory position and a reluctant one (he conceals Alison’s scratch with a plaster, perhaps embarrassed by the carnal passions it implies). And no one seems all that concerned about the vanishing plate designs (although the others think Alison must have done it).

The tensions between the trio have started to mount up. Most effective is the scene where Gwyn confronts Alison. Clad in a bikini, she lies on a sun lounger reading the Mabinogion. As Gwyn angrily sends the book flying, we see quick cuts of her painted face (“You shouldn’t have done that!”) and the sound of fluttering pages/birds as he flees, apparently pursued by something. And then they make up, as if all is fine and it was just a lover’s tiff. Now Roger, wearing, Alison’s sunglasses and with an impassive expression suggesting subdued jealousy, observes them. Roger gets many of the …