BBC Radio 4, 28 March - 5 April 2009
The broadcast media has enjoyed a long love-affair with Wodehouse. Ever since the days of the classical Hollywood cinema when Robert Montgomery starred in Piccadilly Jim (1939), and Arthur Treacher played Jeeves in a series of 'B' Pictures, adaptations have regularly appeared on films, television and radio. In the 1960s the BBC broadcast The World of Wooster with Ian Carmichael and Dennis Price, and the Lord Emsworth sequence of novels with Ralph Richardson as the eponymous peer. A decade later John Alderton and Pauline Collins acted in Wodehouse Playhouse; in the 1990s Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie played Jeeves and Wooster for Granada Television. On radio the same two characters were memorably portrayed by Richard Briers and Michael Hordern: repeats of this series regularly appear on BBC7.
Martin Jarvis's production of Something Fresh went some way towards explaining Wodehouse's popularity. His novels are peppered with a motley crew of eccentrics - dotty aunts and uncles, crazy members of the nobility and their oh-so-efficient (or not so efficient) staff. Lord Emsworth (Jarvis himself) spends so much time looking after his pigs that he cannot even remember what he has just said to someone. A rich American, Peters (Hector Elizondo) has made his money the hard way, but possesses little or no sympathy with the rituals of English upper-class life. Wodehouse likes this type of character: Peters's counterpart in the Bertie Wooster tales is the eloquently-named J.Washburn Stoker, whose daughter Madeleine enjoys an on/off (mostly off) relationship with Bertie. Something Fresh also contains a hypochondriac butler, assorted grandes dames and a secretary memorably ycleped "the efficient Baxter." Jarvis's cast - including Joanne Whalley and Jill Gascoine - clearly enjoyed playing these parts.
At heart Something Fresh is a love-story involving two characters Mason (Ioan Gruffudd) and Valentine (Helen McCrory) who disguise themselves as servants and invade a houseparty at the Emsworth country seat in the hope of recovering a valuable scarab that Emsworth inadvertently steals from Peters. The plot shows the two competing with one another in a series of hair-brained schemes to obtain the scarab, all of which come to naught. As customary in Wodehouse's stories, the scarab is eventually returned to its rightful owner while the two central characters get married. Wodehouse's universe is one of unbridled optimism in which virtue is rewarded and vice given nothing more than a playful slap on the wrist (as in the case of Emsworth's theft). Despite the fact that he largely confines his attention to the English upper class, Wodehouse's appeal is universal with his gift for memorable comic creations. He might not be a canonical author, but his novels - whether read, watched or listened to - are consistently entertaining.