David Blackburn

In praise of Plum

This blog post is not going to say anything original. You’ll have read it all before. Its sole purpose is to convince you that P.G. Wodehouse is the master so everyone else should give up, particularly the people who’ve tried to adapt Blandings for the telly.

Blandings on TV is not all that bad. I’ve laughed at the gentler moments of farce. Some of the dialogue sparkles. The performances are good-ish. The setting has some charm. But I’m inclined to agree with everyone else who has spent brain power on it: the screen can’t do Wodehouse.

My father once told me that he kept copies of The Code of the Woosters and Right Ho, Jeeves in his desk at work. He referred to them, he said, whenever he suspected that his prose had grown pallid. Read a few pages, he said, and the colour returned.

The old man’s message was not to mimic Wodehouse’s humour (one cannot), but observe the simplicity of the style and structure. Replicate that, he said, and you will get better. This advice, as life has transpired so far, is among the most useful he has given me. It certainly beats his post-prandial assertion: RBS can’t go lower than 364p, worth a punt.

I’ve been testing the theory behind this advice this morning. Wodehouse’s style is not merely a vehicle for his jokes. The style is why the jokes are brilliant. Its clarity, its minimalism and its even pace emphasises the humour. Take this random example from The Code of the Woosters:

‘It is no use telling me there are bad aunts and good aunts. At the core, they are all alike. Sooner or later, out pops the cloven hoof.’

The words preceding the punch line are so well balanced that the cloven hoof pops you between the eyes.

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