Jeeves and Wooster
3.6: Comrade Bingo
(aka Aunt Dahlia, Cornelia and Madeline)
PG Wodehouse wasn't famed for his piercing political insights. Indeed, he was vilified for a lengthy period over his apparent obliviousness in that area. But Comrade Bingo, a 1922 short story collected in The Inimitable Jeeves, found him taking pot-shots at the increasingly popular communist movement. Sprinkle in some Spode (just because, and to offer some groundwork for the final season's unlikeliest of marriages), and you have the author’s ridiculing of twin political extremes in one melee. Oh, and there’s a plotline involving Bertie stealing a painting from Jeeves Makes an Omelette.
Mr Rowbotham:Comrade Butt yearns for the revolution, just like you do.
Aunt Dahlia: Comrade Wooster never yearned for anything in his life, except a stone-dead cert at a hundred to one.
Both Comrade Bingo and Jeeves Makes an Omelette are big on outrageous incident. Perhaps why they make a surprisingly effortless symphony when combined, albeit Aunt Dahlia's presence at Red Dawn meetings is stretching things a tad. This time, Dahlia's played, for one time only, by Patricia Lawrence; Brenda Bruce (Season One) is obviously the highwater mark for Dahlias, and Lawrence is likeable but rather forgettable in the role. She's a little bit too laid back in delivery, even though she's given some expert jibes. Which are most notably levelled at both Bertie and Madeline (her responses to the latter's gooey-eyed pick for a winning gee-gee is "Has anyone told you you're not safe to be out?")
Bertie: Oh, I like the patina.
Aunt Dahlia: You don’t even know that a patina is.
Bertie: No, but it's generally safe to say something like that when confronted with a bit of art.
Dahlia's the one putting Bertie up to a spot of art thievery, her reasons being… No, I'll leave it to Bertie to explain, who has been discovered preparing for the crime by the picture's painter, leading to the latter experiencing rather a shock. Asked if he explained to Edward Fothergill (Chris Banks) why he was in the dining room at one in the morning covered in treacle, he responds thus:
Bertie: No, I didn't, Aunt Dahlia. I didn't tell him that I was hell bent on stealing his painting in order that his son might be cured of chronic dyspepsia so that his grateful daughter-in-law would then allow my aunt to publish said daughter-in-law's latest novel in her magazine of ladies of refinement. For one thing, I didn't think he’s believe me. And for another, he fainted.
This despite Bertie's protestations over being inveigled into the whole bally business ("Call me old fashioned, but I have a distinct antipathy towards bars on windows and eating off tin plates"). As in the story, Bertie swipes the wrong painting, but there's also a significant divergence – in replication of the safe-robbing incident last episode – as Spode is added to the list of those engaging in the underhand act.
Lady Bittlesham: Everard's painting Lord Sidcup at the moment.
Bertie: Really, what colour?
Bertie: Really, what colour?
Lady Bittlesham: I don't understand.
Spode, bedecked in crown and gown, is now seventh Earl of Sidcup, owing to the timely expiry of one of his relatives (an uncle). He is thus divesting himself of his more overtly fascist trappings ("Bidding farewell to my legions") in exchange for a seat in the Lords. Clive Exton's devotion to Spode means there's some consistency in his rather unnerving thing for Madeline, and with no Gussie in sight, Spode takes out his lack of satisfaction on Bertie. Who makes life difficult for himself, emptying a vase over her ("pestering her", as Spode puts it, warning he will "Tear your head off and make you carry it around in a bag"; this flusters Bertie enough that he calls him "Lord Spodecup") and falling asleep during her recital ("You are a philistine, Wooster").
Spode: It's my mother.
Bertie: What is?
Spode: Are you trying to be funny?
Spode wants to steal the painting because his mother modelled for it (all of this is Exton-invented). This leads to a curious scene, based on the short story but with added Spode, where Bertie is beaten senseless in order to provide an alibi of a break-in partially foiled. Spode is lent "hero" status, indulged in taking delight in bashing Bertie twice on the bonce ("Let me do it. Let me do it"). It feels a little too much as if it's playing to audience feedback on the character and laughing with him rather than at him.
Then there’s Edward's reaction when Jeeves fails to dispose of the picture before he wakes up ("I hate that picture. Oh, throw it on the fire, for God's sake"). Maybe just a little convenient; in the story, he simply steals back the present to his son, regretting having gifted it to him in the first place.
Bingo: You don't know how to raise fifty quid, do you?
I’ve always found Comrade Bingo a particularly amusing little tale, and the translation to screen mostly does it credit. Pip Torrens takes over from the delightfully blithering Michael Siberry as Bingo. He suits Bingo's more combative tone in this story, donning a fake beard and slinging insults at his uncle Lord Bittlesham (the returning Geoffrey Toone, Hepesh in The Curse of Peladon). Nevertheless, one can entirely believe in Siberry’s hapless and constantly newly-smitten Bingo; there’s a harder edge to Torrens’ incarnation that doesn't quite work the same magic (I'd also have liked to see Siberry give this communist sympathiser version a try). Bingo's behaviour is ostensibly on behalf of the Heralds of the Red Dawn, but it's really about love. Bingo has, after all, had his previous romantic plans scuppered by Bittlesham marrying his cook, leading to a reduction in his allowance.
Bingo: Her father wants, amongst other things, to massacre the bourgeoise, sack Park Lane and disembowel the aristocracy. Can’t say fairer than that!
Mostly, though, Bingo is smitten with Charlotte Rowbotham (Rachel Robertson), whose father (Peter Benson, Bor in Terminus) heads up the Heralds of the Red Dawn. He's intent on prising fifty quid from his uncle to put on the same's horse Ocean Breeze in the Goodwood Cup. he can then marry Charlotte with the proceeds. Hence trying to blackmail the sum from his uncle in a big red beard, on threat of his life.
Bingo has competition for Charlotte in the form of Comrade Butt (Colin Higgins, Tak in Blake's 7 Killer): "Don't trust that Comrade Little". Butt "looks like a haddock with lung trouble" and is constantly stirring, particularly when Bingo invites everyone to Bolshevist tea at Bertie's flat. Jeeves is required to pretend to be Bertie's chum ("Comrade sir, sardines, sir?"; he particularly grimaces at being required to serve communist food such as sardines). Bertie fails to convince anyone that they're all equals when he shows himself unable to use the kettle and reveals he doesn't know the flat runs on electric rather than gas ("Full blown bourgeois decadence, that's what I call it" charges Butt). Butt is somewhat swayed by Jeeves, however, who knows his Stalin ("It is as well to know exactly what tunes the devil is playing, sir").
Bingo: I tell you, this country won’t be a fit place for honest men to live in until the blood of Lord Bittlesham and his kind runs in rivers down the gullies of Park Lane!
Jeeves outright sabotages Bingo's plan. This would seem to be on the principle of what he deems to be inappropriate behaviour (Bertie concurs in the story, giving him all the money on the dresser). Bingo is thus unmasked at Goodwood (the racetrack is full of "capitalist hyenas"), and a fracas develops between the black shorts and Red Dawn. Almost everyone takes a hit financially, except for Jeeves, who observed something disquieting in the gait of Ocean Breeze, and Madeline who "thought I heard a little fairy voice saying his name over and over" (Jeeves admits to the feasibility: "Possibly sir, but I received the same information as Miss Basset from a rather spotty stable lad").
Bertie: If you ask me, Jeeves, art is responsible for most of the trouble in this world.
Jeeves: It's an interesting theory, sir. Would you care to expatiate upon it?
Bertie: Well, as a matter of fact, no, Jeeves. No. The thought just occurred to me, you know. As thoughts do.
Jeeves: Very good, sir.
It's left only for Bertie to make unsubstantiated assertions regarding the problematic role of art in society. Season Three of Jeeves and Wooster isn't quite assured as the previous two, getting off to a bumpy start in "New York" and suffering from the replacement of several recurring cast members with lesser incarnations (although the new Madeline is perfection). Nevertheless, there's no sign of the series flagging in energy or Exton tiring in his inventive adaptations.
Comrade Bingo (Chapters 11 & 12, The Inimitable Jeeves)
Jeeves Makes an Omelette (Chapter 4 of A Few Quick Ones, Chapter 33 of The World of Jeeves)
Aunt Dahlia (1.2, 1.4, 1.5, 2.1, 3.6)
Madeline Basset (1.4, 1.5, 2.1, 2.2, 3.4, 3.5, 3.6)
Sir Roderick Spode (2.1, 2.2, 3.5, 3.6)
Bingo Little (1.1, 1.3, 2.6, 3.6)
Lord Bittlesham (2.6, 3.6)
Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.