BBC Radio 4, 4-11 July 2010
The plot of Summer Lightning, another in the cycle of Lord Emsworth novels, is preposterous, involving two sets of lovers, an eccentric aristocrat preoccupied with his prize-winning pig, another aristocrat trying to write his memoirs, two secretaries, an intransigent matriarch and a luckless gossip columnist turned private detective. In Archie Scottney's adaptation these events were narrated in playful tones by Wodehouse himself (Ian Ogilvy), as if inviting listeners not to take them very seriously. At the same time we felt that Wodehouse was very fond of his characters - despite their foibles, they were never going to harm anyone. On the contrary they helped sustain a world of perpetual late afternoon sunshine in a Shropshire country house where the birds sang and nature went to sleep, in the secure knowledge that nothing could ever disturb it.
Martin Jarvis' production contained a clutch of memorable character-studies, beginning with Jarvis himself as Lord Emsworth, full of guffaws and miscellaneous throat-clearing sounds, as he vainly tried to keep up with his sister Lady Constance's (Patricia Hodge's) endless chatter. In truth he really preferred to spend his time with the Empress of Blandings, the prize-winning pig. Charles Dance's well-meaning Galahad Threepwood seemed outwardly respectable, but this was soon shown to be a facade; in truth he took a childlike delight in writing his memoirs down, even if they proved embarrassing to those closest to him. Galahad was not as much of a stuffed shirt as people assumed; in his youth he fell for a chorus-girl, which made him sympathize with chorus-girl Sue Brown's (Lisa Dillon's) plight as she tried to woo Ronnie Fish (Matthew Wolf). The two young male lovers, Fish and Hugo Carmody (Samuel West) were both well-intentioned yet fundamentally buffoon-like, falling in and out of engagements with monotonous regularity. If they ever were to commit themselves to one women, the world as they knew it would probably collapse. Hodge's Lady Constance remained preoccupied with social propriety, while despairing of the menfolk's idiocies. And then there was Matt Lucas' memorable cameo as Percy Pilbeam, society turned detective, whose suburban whine revealed his sense of inferiority to those whom he had been paid to watch. Although driven by the desire for money to expose them, it was clear that Wodehouse would never let him come out on top: Pilbeam lacked both breeding and generosiy of spirit. Eventually he ended up ignominiously hanging from from the outside wall, making a vain attempt to steal Galahad's manuscript (which Galahad had decided not to publish anyway).
Summer Lightning depicts an English never-never land of perpetual social stability, where chorus-girls can fraternize with aristocrats in the secure knowledge that marriage will never be on the cards (despite the lovers' propensity for getting engaged). This adaptation proved once again why Wodehouse is such wonderful material for production, giving the actors the chance to exercise their vocal skills, while offering listeners the chance to escape into a fantasy-world.