Skip to main content

Toodle-oo, comrades.

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 field. 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 DahliaComrade 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, so make 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, 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?")


BertieOh, I like the patina.
Aunt DahliaYou don’t even know that a patina is.
BertieNo, 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… Well, actually I'll leave it to Bertie to explain, who has been discovered preparing for the crime by the picture's painter, resulting in 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:

BertieNo, 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 BittleshamEverard's painting Lord Sidcup at the moment.
BertieReally, what colour?
Lady BittleshamI 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) and is 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, he 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", flustering Bertie enough that he calls him "Lord Spodecup") and falling asleep during her recital ("You are a philistine, Wooster").


SpodeIt's my mother.
BertieWhat is?
SpodeAre you trying to be funny?

Spode wants to steal the painting because his mother modelled for it (all of this is Exton-invented), which 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 like its playing to audience response to 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 stole back the present to his son, regretting having gifted it to him in the first place.


BingoYou don't know how to raise fifty quid, do you?
BertieWork?

I’ve always found Comrade Bingo a particularly amusing little tale, and the translation to screen mostly does it credit. Pip Torrens takes over as Bingo from the delightfully blithering Michael Siberry; Torrens 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) on behalf of the Heralds of the Red Dawn. Bingo has, after all, had his previous lovelorn plans scuppered by Bittlesham marrying his cook, leading to a reduction in his allowance. Nevertheless, one can entirely believe in Siberry’s hapless and constantly newly-smitten Bingo, and there’s a harder edge to Torrens’ incarnation that doesn't quite work the same magic (I'd also very much have like to see Siberry give this communist sympathiser version a try). 


BingoHer father wants, amongst other things, to massacre the bourgeoise, sack Park Lane and disembowel the aristocracy. Can’t say fairer than that!

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 and marry Charlotte with the proceeds. Hence trying to blackmail the sum from him in a big red beard, on threat of his life. 


He 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) and Bertie fails to convince anyone they're equals when he's unable to use the kettle and 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").


BingoI 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, it would seem on the principle of what he deems to be inappropriate behaviour (Bertie concurs in the story, giving him all the money on the dresser), with Bingo unmasked at Goodwood (the racetrack is full of "capitalist hyenas") and a fracas developing 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").


BertieIf you ask me, Jeeves, art is responsible for most of the trouble in this world.
JeevesIt's an interesting theory, sir. Would you care to expatiate upon it?
BertieWell, as a matter of fact, no, Jeeves. No. The thought just occurred to me, you know. As thoughts do.
JeevesVery good, sir.

It's only left 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 loss of several recurring cast members, replaced with lesser incarnations (although the new Madeline is perfection). Nevertheless, there's no sign of its flagging in energy or Exton tiring in his inventive adaptations. 



Sources
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)


Recurring Characters:

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.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

And my father was a real ugly man.

Marty (1955)
(SPOILERS) It might be the very unexceptional good-naturedness of Marty that explains its Best Picture Oscar success. Ernest Borgnine’s Best Actor win is perhaps more immediately understandable, a badge of recognition for versatility, having previously attracted attention for playing iron-wrought bastards. But Marty also took the Palme d’Or, and it’s curious that its artistically-inclined jury fell so heavily for its charms (it was the first American picture to win the award; Lost Weekend won the Grand Prix when that was still the top award).

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…

The world is one big hospice with fresh air.

Doctor Sleep (2019)
(SPOILERS) Doctor Sleep is a much better movie than it probably ought to be. Which is to say, it’s an adaption of a 2013 novel that, by most accounts, was a bit of a dud. That novel was a sequel to The Shining, one of Stephen King’s most beloved works, made into a film that diverged heavily, and in King’s view detrimentally, from the source material. Accordingly, Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep also operates as a follow up to the legendary Kubrick film. In which regard, it doesn’t even come close. And yet, judged as its own thing, which can at times be difficult due to the overt referencing, it’s an affecting and often effective tale of personal redemption and facing the – in this case literal – ghosts of one’s past.

It’s like being smothered in beige.

The Good Liar (2019)
(SPOILERS) I probably ought to have twigged, based on the specific setting of The Good Liar that World War II would be involved – ten years ago, rather than the present day, so making the involvement of Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren just about believable – but I really wish it hadn’t been. Jeffrey Hatcher’s screenplay, adapting Nicholas Searle’s 2016 novel, offers a nifty little conning-the-conman tale that would work much, much better without the ungainly backstory and motivation that impose themselves about halfway through and then get paid off with equal lack of finesse.

I'm reliable, I'm a very good listener, and I'm extremely funny.

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
(SPOILERS) When I wrote my 23 to see in 2019, I speculated that James Cameron might be purposefully giving his hand-me-downs to lesser talents because he hubristically didn’t want anyone making a movie that was within a spit of the proficiency we’ve come to expect from him. Certainly, Robert Rodriguez and Tim Miller are leagues beneath Kathryn Bigelow, Jimbo’s former spouse and director of his Strange Days screenplay. Miller’s no slouch when it comes to action – which is what these movies are all about, let’s face it – but neither is he a craftsman, so all those reviews attesting that Terminator: Dark Fate is the best in the franchise since Terminator 2: Judgment Day may be right, but there’s a considerable gulf between the first sequel (which I’m not that big a fan of) and this retcon sequel to that sequel.

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…

You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012)
The final finale of the Twilight saga, in which pig-boy Jacob tells Bella that, “No, it's not like that at all!” after she accuses him of being a paedo. But then she comes around to his viewpoint, doubtless displaying the kind of denial many parents did who let their kids spend time with Jimmy Savile or Gary Glitter during the ‘70s. It's lucky little Renesmee will be an adult by the age of seven, right? Right... Jacob even jokes that he should start calling Edward, “Dad”. And all the while they smile and smile.

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…

The sooner we are seamen again, the better.

The Bounty (1984)
(SPOILERS) How different might David Lean’s late career have been if Ryan’s Daughter hadn’t been so eviscerated, and his confidence with it? Certainly, we know about his post-A Passage to India projects (Empire of the Sun, Nostromo), but there were fourteen intervening years during which he surely might have squeezed out two or three additional features. The notable one that got away was, like Empire of the Sun, actually made: The Bounty. But by Roger Donaldson, after Lean eventually dropped out. And the resulting picture is, as you might expect, merely okay, notable for a fine Anthony Hopkins performance as Bligh (Lean’s choice), but lacking any of the visual poetry that comes from a master of the craft.