A homage to Wodehouse

A homage to Wodehouse

What ho! Nearly every review of the new Jeeves and Wooster chapter begins with ‘What ho!’ or ‘Right ho!’ or some Wodehousian variation in welcoming Sebastian Faulks-authorised tribute novel, Jeeves and the Wedding Bells.

Except for a few unbending critics who felt it was feeble, this Wodehouse tribute seems to have been joyously embraced. In the author’s note, Faulks hastens to tell the reader that he is not a Wodehouse expert or mastermind, just a fan who has admired Wodehouse. It’s quite possible, he adds, that this homage is ‘lamentably short’, but he hopes the reader will see Jeeves and the Wedding Bells as a nostalgic variation on the peerless originals.

Because Wodehouse’s prose is a glorious thing, he isn’t attempting an imitation or parody but an introduction to the world of Jeeves and Wooster, especially for those who may have missed out on The Mating Season or Right Ho, Jeeves.

Many Wodehouse staples such as ‘unrequited love’, ‘a village cricket match’ and ‘the cocktail hour’ (as ever, Bertie’s shining moment) make their timely entrances in this long-awaited homage. Someone at the match asks Jeeves, “I say, have you ever played professionally? Wasn’t there a Jeeves who played for Worcestershire?” And Jeeves replies: “Warwickshire, sir. A distant relation. I believe he took four wickets for the Players against the Gentlemen at Lord’s in 1914. Alas, it was to be his swan song.”
T G Vaidyanathan, a beloved teacher who once taught at Bangalore University, wrote often of Wodehouse and the Master’s great fondness for cricket. In one of his celebrated pieces, T G V traced Plum’s own cricketing origins.

“The first record of cricket activity for Plum is found in The Alleynian (college magazine, 1894), when he appeared for Upper III B against Upper III A in July. Batting No 11, Plum bagged a ‘pair’, bowled on both occasions by a certain H A Green. This inauspicious beginning did not come in the way of his earning his cap in the First XI in 1898.

In June that year, Plum appeared as cricket writer for the first time, reporting four Dulwich games, in which he had taken part. Plum continued to make his favourite score — duck — in several innings.”

The plot of Jeeves and the Wedding Bells is fashioned after the intricate, mischievous plots of the typical Jeeves and Bertie escapades, except Faulks adds one interesting twist: here Jeeves begins to pretend he is a lord, a peer of the realm! ‘On this occasion,’ notes the jacket blurb, ‘however, it is Jeeves who is to be seen in the drawing room while Bertie finds himself below stairs — and he doesn’t care for it at all’. Yes, Bertie is forced to ‘pass himself off as a servant when he has never so much as made a cup of tea’.

It is all, of course, Jeeves’s master plan, and it only remains to be seen with what comic aplomb such a case of mistaken identity is pulled off by this ‘gentleman’s personal gentleman’.

Sebastian Faulks, you will remember, is the one who gave us Devil May Care some years ago, the James Bond adventure commissioned by the Ian Fleming literary estate to mark Fleming’s 100 birth anniversary.

(An interesting aside to that homage is how Faulks first discovered Fleming’s novels during his school days — through an Indian classmate who urged James Bond on young Sebastian. Over the years, Faulks lost contact with this classmate, and when Devil May Care had its book release in 2008, he traced him to Mumbai and had him flown to London for the book release).

There’s much new Wodehouse going around today: Blandings is a new BBC comedy series adapted from the Master’s Blandings Castle stories with Timothy Spall as Lord Emsworth. And much more recently, a BBC feature film on Wodehouse — Wodehouse in Exile.

Blandings disappoints, but the film with Tim Pigott Smith playing P G Wodehouse is a wonderful bit of Wodehousiana. It’s a dramatisation of a period in Wodehouse’s life that led to his permanent exile from England. In 1941, Wodehouse was a prisoner in a German camp, and when the German Foreign Office found out they had one of the world’s most beloved comic writers in their prison, they tricked him into making broadcast for them on radio. Wodehouse was completely naïve about how he was being used as a propaganda pawn and eagerly looked forward to his radio broadcasts when he would read out his witty prison diaries.

This, alas, came to be seen in England and America as betrayal. Tim Pigott Smith (whom you may remember as the rigid, cruel British Raj policeman from The Jewel in the Crown puts in a gentle, likeable performance as Wodehouse. He keeps his prison inmates entertained with his funny diary entries, even as he bears the internment cheerfully.

When the war is over, Wodehouse doesn’t return to England but stays in France first (where he is sympathetically and reluctantly interrogated by Malcolm Muggeridge, a young intelligence officer then!) and then moves to the States. If you are keen on seeing the film (and it’s not likely to make an appearance in Bangalore), it’s available (at least when I last checked a week ago) on YouTube.

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