Appellate Judge James A. Stewart needs some Mulliner's Buck-U-Uppo.
"Fortunately, everything came right in the end."—P.G. Wodehouse
At the end of Pelham Grenville Wodehouse's life—he died in 1975—he was introducing the first season of Wodehouse Playhouse. The author first saw print in 1890; by 1915, when Blandings Castle was built and Jeeves first manipulated Wooster, he was known for his humor in both England and the United States. Almost a century later, Blandings is appearing on British TV.
Jeeves and Wooster, Wodehouse's most famous characters, aren't found in Wodehouse Playhouse, but you'll find an awful lot of Mulliners around, mostly played by John Alderton. For the first two seasons, Pauline Collins also is a regular, usually as his romantic interest. The stories adapted here deal with the passions of the early twentieth century, such as golf, crosswords, whodunits, and silent movies. For that matter, they'll also introduce you to another early twentieth century passion: the popular short story, as seen in magazines like Collier's and Strand.
Facts of the Case
Wodehouse Playhouse: The Complete Series features twenty episodes on six discs.
• "Romance of Droitgate Spa"—A magician's assistant is asked to conjure up good relations with her suitor's difficult uncle while working as a nurse. It's working until the sorcerer tries to reclaim his apprentice.
• "Portrait of a Disciplinarian"—Reggie Mulliner meets a childhood sweetheart again when they both visit a former nanny. Under her influence, they're acting like kids again, which isn't very romantic.
• "Unpleasantness at Bludleigh Court"—Two pacifist poets stay at a hunting household, and their bloodlust starts to emerge.
• "Rodney Fails to Qualify"—Golfer Jill likes poet Rodney, even though he's more interested in pens than putters. This tees off William.
• "A Voice From The Past"—The headmaster—yet another Mulliner—gets it into his head that a correspondence course on manure might help him with his love's father. He gets a self-confidence course instead, which doesn't help at all.
• "Mr. Potter Takes a Rest Cure"—A publisher needs to relax for his sanity, but the mischievous daughter of his hosts has a plan to escape an unwanted engagement. The rest cure doesn't have a chance.
• "Strychnine in the Soup"—Everyone in the house wants a copy of Strychnine in the Soup, a popular mystery novel. When the book goes missing, whodunit?
• "The Nodder"—Wilmot Mulliner is a professional nodder, or entry level yes man, at a Hollywood studio. An escaped gorilla lets him prove to Mabel that he's got at least a nodding acquaintance with manhood.
• "The Code of the Mulliners"—Certain his mother's gone bonkers, Archibald has decided that he can't marry Aurelia (Gabrielle Drake), but his family code means that she has to get the idea herself.
• "Trouble Down at Tudsleigh"—Poetry may be the way to a woman's heart, but it doesn't help with pugilistic rivals or bratty kid sisters.
• "Tangled Hearts"—Two men who've just had rows with their true loves take their attentions elsewhere—to each other's girlfriends. David Troughton guests.
• "The Luck of the Stiffhams"—An earl overhears his secretary and his daughter discussing their formerly secret romance. Soon, the secretary is off to America, where he finds himself in a game of craps.
• "Big Business"—A rich cousin leaves Reggie a fortune, but his fiancee's rich uncle has a plan to fleece him.
• "Mulliner's Buck-U-Uppo"—A "pale young curate" gets a bottle of a new tonic from his aunt. It works, perhaps a little too well.
There are a lot of lines like "I'm hardly likely to move in the same social circles as charging rhinoceros" in Wodehouse Playhouse. Surprisingly, they usually make sense within the context of the stories.
What's even more surprising is that these stories kind of make sense. The situations seem exaggerated—most people wouldn't normally expect to get mistaken for an escaped mental patient while practicing their exercises to cure stuttering, or at least they shouldn't—but as I watched, I started to realize that P.G. Wodehouse's characters aren't just caricatures. A jilted man reacts to "I'll be like a sister to you" like it's the ultimate horror—something you wouldn't expect—but, if you think about it, you kind of recognize a lot of polite phrases can often sound horrible. There's also a lot of emphasis on lovers trying to win over difficult parents and relatives; you don't really see much of that in romances anymore, but I doubt that's ever really gone away.
John Alderton's characters usually mix silliness and a hint of pomposity with underdog meekness; he's often seen dealing with bullies who might pop him one, trying to maintain dignity as he tries not to get popped, perhaps even as he struggles to get the words out. Pauline Collins' women are usually bold; she has a booming voice that'll knock your socks off if you stand too close. Most of the time, you'll want to see them win. Come to think of it, most of the time, they do. This is P.G.'s playhouse, after all.
Wodehouse Playhouse looks a little like a '70s British drama—and both Alderton and Collins appeared in Upstairs, Downstairs—but it has a laugh track for the few viewers who didn't realize it's comedy. The picture has flecks and occasional flaring, but isn't bad.
Text bios of Alderton, Collins, and prominent guest stars are included as extras. There are also picture galleries.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I'm not sure when the stories were originally written, but they're occasionally seen through a seventies prism. Occasionally, just the sight of 1920s bathing wear or silent movie titles is supposed to be uproarious, and "Mulliner's Buck-U-Uppo" is staged as an extended parody of The Six Million Dollar Man. At the same time, an unfortunate blackface scene made it into "Big Business."
If you're eagerly awaiting the arrival of Blandings on our shores, you'll find Wodehouse Playhouse: The Complete Series a good way to pass the time.
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