In response to this post, a reader asks how did I like the Fry and Laurie TV adaptations? Well, only up to a point is my answer. They are, probably, as good an effort as television can muster but they still, to my mind, fail to cut the mustard. An honorable failure, then. Or rather, to put it more charitably, they were closer to being a success than anyone had ay right to hope they would be.
Fry was, I always thought, rather too oleaginously piscine as Jeeves while Laurie played Bertie as - hard though this may be to believe - too much of a fat-headed ass. They got away with these excesses largely because the two friends act so well together; their timing and ease in each others company rescued them on numerous occasions. Equally, the costume, set design and music was as good as you could desire, I think, giving the series an attractive sheen that helped the viewer believe in this light-hearted nonsense. It was all agreeably frothy.
And in the end its failure wasn't really anyone's fault. The problem lies in the material. Wodehouse's England seems superficially real - I mean, the houses, the gardens, the clothes, the servants, the gentleman's clubs and all that all exist - but of course it isn't real at all. But it's the sort of fantasy that's very hard to put across on film or television.
The language problem is more significant however.
There's a further difficulty with the Jeeves & Wooster stories: unlike, say the adventures at Blandings, these are told in the first person. Much of the charm rests upon the tone of Bertie's monologue. But it's a narration that exists on the page and can't easily be transferred to the screen. Thus we may smile when Bertie says "I pronged a moody forkful of eggs and b" but all television can do is show Bertie eating breakfast with a puzzled, or thoughtful, look on his face. Not quite the same thing at all, old bean.
That's one reason why I think one might have more success with a Blandings adaptation, especially since the country-house drama is such an established genre in its own right. Of course, in Wodehouse the drama is twinned with farce, requiring a light touch and, crucially, actors who don't think they're takin part in farce...
Still, even then a screen adaptation
struggles with this sort of stuff: "Unlike the male codfish, which, suddenly finding itself the parent of three million five hundred thousand little codfish, cheerfully resolves to love them all, the British aristocracy is apt to look with a somewhat jaundiced eye on its younger sons." Well, yes, indeed.