on January 5, 2009
At first glance this would appear to be yet another result of the current revival of British humorist P.G. Wodehouse, who, to put it lightly, is a worldwide phenomenon. Given the stellar treatment of his most popular duo in Granada Television's four season series, Jeeves and Wooster, one might think this the small screen follow-on of his other characters and books. In fact, these BBC shows date from the mid- '70s, and only recently made their DVD debut in the U.S.
"Playhouse" here is used in the old sense to mean minimal sets and staging, with an ensemble troupe consisting primarily of John Alderton and Pauline Collins, both known from "Upstairs, Downstairs", an early presentation in the U.S. on "Masterpiece Theater", as well as in numerous British shows. Both are also known to SF fans also, Alderton from the cult film Zardoz, and Collins from Dr. Who.
There have been numerous attempts to bring Wodehouse to the big screen, to radio, and in a limited way, to TV, many of which are not generally known in the states. When this series came out, however, Wodehouse was over 90 years of age. He gave the Playhouse his stamp of approval, and makes a brief cameo with voiceover at the beginning of each thirty minute show. Each DVD contains three shows, and they are available in three sets of two slipcased DVDs each, as well as in this complete collection.
What a longtime Wodehouse reader would want to know, of course, is how the shows stack up to the books. I tend to say, some better than others. "Anselm Gets His Chance", from set two (and included in this collection), is to my mind a small masterpiece. Others sent me back to the books to reread the stories, which, after all, might be the whole idea. All six DVDs include the same liner notes flyer, unusual in such a set, but extremely helpful. In this leaflet, Tony Ring, president of the International Wodehouse Association gives a brief introduction, as one possibly may be a viewer of the shows before a reader of the books, although it's difficult to imagine remaining unaddicted to the Wodehouse fever. U.S. viewers may suspect that his name is actually something more Wodehousian, such as Rimblesnottinghamshirefarsnworthing, but in the world of P.G.W., that would still be pronounced "Ring".
He dips into the Mulliner Stories, the Golf Stories, and the Drones Club Stories, these three comprising, aside from the Jeeves and Wooster tales, the Best of Wodehouse. There's also a colourful chart linking each episode to "Story Collections; U.S. Book Title", "U.S. Periodical Publication Date", and "Principal Characters". This is because many of the stories and books began as serials and short stories in such magazines as The Saturday Evening Post, and were later gathered into books and collections on both sides of the Atlantic, the U.S. and U.K. versions often having different titles (see my Amazon lists for comparative titles).
The cozy circle of Wodehousian addicts is every day growing, and this series cannot but help increase its numbers. Longtime readers of the Master will everywhere toast the health of those who find their way via the tele, although the most heard comment will likely be, "May I borrow that set when you've finished?"