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I see where the Beeb is riding the renewed Period Drama teevee craze to have a go at Blandings Castle.  The Telegraph’s reviewer is not impressed with the results:

The characters that fill [P.G.] Wodehouse’s work are untroubled by money, unfettered by society’s conventions, and perhaps, most importantly, unscathed by the Great War. In other words they exist in an England that never was.

Yet Wodehouse has a perspicacity and wisdom that prevent him from being mere froth. And that was the problem with Blandings (BBC One), a six-part adaptation of the Blandings Castle stories. There was no authorial voice, wry, gently mocking, poised with a sinuous metaphor or sprightly adjective. Instead we were on our own with Lord Emsworth (Timothy Spall), his baleful sister Connie (Jennifer Saunders), vapid son Freddie (Jack Farthing) and beloved pig, the Empress, as they went about their lives in a crumbling English stately home.

You can’t invest psychological complexity into Wodehouse’s characters, the clarity and depth comes from the writing, and so the cast were all at sea. The performances weren’t bad exactly, but there was an impression that the cast had raided the charity shop and were merely having a spiffing time in vintage clothing.

[Snip]

[T]he lively chat could not save what was ultimately an arch and rather empty effort. Never were you drawn into the world of Blandings and never did you get a sense of the precise and comic world which Wodehouse created. Jeeves & Wooster, filmed by ITV in the Nineties, failed on this level, too, but at least there, you were rewarded with two performances from Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, who knew each other well and understood perfectly the relationship between the
hapless socialite and his capable valet.

As an aside, I would say that the reviewer’s initial observation is two thirds wrong.  True, the Great War plays no part in any of Wodehouse’s character psychology (although I recall Jeeves making a vague reference in one story to having served in Military Intelligence).  On the other hand, virtually every plot – especially of the Blandings Castle novels – focuses precisely on money and social conventions, usually involving an effort to slip an impoverished and unsuitable young suitor past the basilisk-like eye of Aunt Constance.

Nonetheless, he says the same sort of thing about teevee adaptations of Wodehouse’s work that I’ve been saying for years and years:  That Plum’s writing is so finely and precisely balanced – that the genious is in how he tells his stories –  that such efforts invariably cause it to collapse like a ruined soufflé.  The adapters are then forced to fall back on slapstick.

I recall having seen a Blandings adaptation years ago starring Peter O’Toole, of all people, as Lord Emsworth.  In the scale of these things, it wasn’t a bad effort, but it, too, suffered from this slapstickization, thus ruining the thing for me.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo had another one of his specialty bizarro dreams last night, which I record here for the amusement of my fellow port swillers, the consternation of staffers at future Senate confirmation hearings and the consideration of the probate court in which the gels eventually will challenge my mental capacity to make a valid will.

In this one, I found myself at a large, sprawling resort-looking place, which I was given to understand was actually the private residence of a family of the Beautiful People.  (I eventually stumbled across them – they were all together in one room arguing over cable channels).  The place was filled with various groups of people – I recall some undergrads getting ready for a Mardi Gras party and a collection of elder Church officials.  I thought I was there myself for an alumni reunion, and indeed did spot one old classmate sitting on some steps.

However, as I was making my way to my own room to change clothes, I stumbled into a large library.  It was full of a group of bantering, hijinxing people who were all evidently very fond of each other and had about them a certain “we have heard the chimes at midnight” air.  Somehow, from my interaction with them, I came to understand that they were members of a secret society devoted to large-scale pranks of an elegant nature, and that they were considering me for membership.  The trouble was in the communication:  It wasn’t exactly a “first rule of Fight Club is that you don’t talk about Fight Club” situation.  Instead, you weren’t permitted to talk about the society and its doings directly – everything was coded in the form of allusion, riddle and word-play.  Also, all the members tended to speak of four or five different things at the same time in this secret slang.  I recall concentrating frantically in order to keep up with what was going on.  The whole thing was very jolly.

Eventually, the Director came into the room.  He bore a striking resemblance to Robert Hardy in both looks and personality, and it was evident that he was adored and worshipped by the other members.  After joking around with some of them, he came up to me and began to speak in this same coded language.  Somehow, I understood that they wanted me to try a simple “test” prank, and that my mission was to hypnotize a small town mayor and cause him to go into hibernation.

This prank evidently involved some special water, to be found in a particular pool at a particular water park.  I found myself standing there.  The pools were laid out like a checkerboard and it seemed that many of them were being used for kiddy birthday parties.  I got to the one indicated to me and began to set about some kind of special ritual through which I was supposed to go in retrieving the water.  I wanted to get it absolutely right because I really wanted to join the society.  But I was hampered in my efforts because the air was full of no-see-um’s.  Also, lemons kept rolling over from a nearby pool party.  I picked up the lemons and tried to lob them back to the women who were running the party – a pair of zaftig matrons in gold bikinis – but for some reason kept throwing them too hard, either hitting the women or launching the things far over their heads.   I remember being embarrassed, and also frustrated that I was losing the thread of what I was supposed to be doing.

The scene suddenly shifted, and I found myself looking at an airplane.  It was flying high, but somehow I was at the same altitude.  I wasn’t sure if I was actually there or else watching some incredibly life-like 3D movie.  At any rate, there seemed to be some kind of advanced spy training going on:  Men were jumping out of the plane from time to time, with the task of fashioning parachutes from ordinary household items before they hit the ground.   I wasn’t sure if I was watching simply for entertainment purposes, or if I was supposed to undergo the same training as part of my society membership.

And then, as they say, I woke up.

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