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World of Wooster, The (1965-67)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of World of Wooster, The (1965-67)
BBC, tx. 30/5/1965-17/11/1967, 20 x 30 min episodes in 3 series, black and white
Production CompanyBBC
Produced byMichael Mills
Adapted byRichard Waring
Short story byP.G. Wodehouse
Signature TuneSandy Wilson

Cast: Ian Carmichael (Bertie Wooster), Dennis Price (Jeeves), Timothy Carlton (Claude), Simon Ward (Eustace), Clive Morton (Sir Humphrey Wardour), Fabia Drake (Aunt Agatha)

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The farcical adventures of young upper-class twit Bertie Wooster and his invaluable manservant Jeeves.

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Although there are numerous peaks in the vast literary output of Pelham Grenville Wodehouse (1881-1975), he has always been regarded with special affection for the novels and stories about young upper-class twit Bertram ('Bertie') Wooster and his invaluable manservant Jeeves, whose incalculably superior intellect is constantly needed in order to extricate his master from his latest scrape.

But despite their popularity, the Bertie Wooster stories present major challenges to those seeking to adapt them for television. The glory of Wodehouse's writing lies in his being one of his century's greatest English prose stylists, the mastery of language ("He spoke with a certain what-is-it in his voice, and I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.") soaring far above the farcical plots and sketchy characterisation.

There had been earlier big-screen adaptations (starting with Right Ho, Jeeves, US, 1934), but The World of Wooster (BBC, tx. 1965-68) was the first sustained attempt at translating a number of the stories into a different medium. The results were very popular at the time, running for three series and followed by The World of Wodehouse (BBC, tx. 1967-68), which adapted the Blandings Castle stories.

However, on the evidence of the episodes that survive (like much pre-1970s BBC light entertainment, most of the original recordings were wiped to recycle then-expensive videotape), they do Wodehouse a grave disservice by presenting the stories as a domestic sitcom. Most damagingly, this incorporates studio audience laughter, which is especially intrusive and unnecessary with this material, given that the biggest laughs in Wodehouse usually arise from the deftest linguistic subtlety.

Wodehouse himself was apparently less than impressed with Ian Carmichael's performance (in his mid-to-late forties, Carmichael was at least a decade too old to make a truly convincing Bertie), and although he was much more positive about Dennis Price's suavely avuncular Jeeves, he remained firmly convinced that the characters' rightful place was between the pages of a book.

25 years later, Wodehouse's stories would be adapted by Granada Television as Jeeves and Wooster (ITV, 1990-93) with Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie benefiting both from much more lavish production values and, crucially, from Clive Exton's far more nuanced scripts.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. A horror of cats (3:51)
2. Aunt Agatha (3:38)
3. Poor dear boys (3:13)
Complete episode (33:13)
Jeeves and Wooster (1990-93)
Carmichael, Ian (1920-2010)
Price, Dennis (1915-1973)