Jeeves and Wooster – Low on Costume, High on Hilarity

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The British series Jeeves and Wooster aired on PBS’ Masterpiece Theater ages ago and currently it can be found streaming on Acorn and Hulu, maybe other places too. If you haven’t seen it yet, this is 10000000% worth paying for. I mean, if you want to laugh your asses off for a few hours, at least. If that’s of no interest to you, continue on with your dreary life, that’s fine. Otherwise, I mean it, time to get with the program, stream it, borrow / rent / buy a DVD or VHS tape, or hunt YouTube for illegal rips of the series. The series is that good.

Jeeves and Wooster (1990-1993)

Based on the P.G. Wodehouse short stories written mostly in the 1930s, Jeeves and Wooster has 23 episodes that originally aired from 1990-1993. Jeeves is the quintessential gentleman’s gentleman, taking care of every little thing his charge requires, usually before he knows he needs it. Bertie Wooster is a prototypical British upper-class twit, idle and rich, completely useless, but not a bad sort at all. Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie are a fantastic pair to play these characters because they’d already been performing a comedy double-act since attending university at Cambridge in 1980 (mutual friend Emma Thompson, who Laurie had dated, introduced them). They were all over British TV together — you may recall their bits in the Blackadder series — and their own TV show A Bit of Fry & Laurie started in 1987. They’ve each often stated that they’re best friends, and the camaraderie between the actors shows in the ease of their performances.

Jeeves and Wooster (1990-1993) Jeeves and Wooster (1990-1993)

Now, this isn’t a series that’s chock-full of historical costume eye-candy. Sure, Jeeves and Wooster looks correct for the 1930s period it’s set in. The Brits could obviously figure that out like the not-rocket-science it is. But since the lead characters are men and one of them is a valet, their costumes are primarily a stodgy suit for Jeeves and normal upper-class suits and occasional casual wear for Wooster. The only women who show up are Wooster’s elderly Aunt Agatha, who dresses in old-biddy garb, and the string of ladies Auntie unsuccessfully tries to get Bertie to settle down and marry. Or the ladies his pals are besotted with, wherein various hi-jinks ensue. But all these females are in the background. Jeeves and Wooster are the stars, and they don’t have much more than basic sartorial grace.

Jeeves and Wooster (1990-1993)

Aunt Agatha, rockin’ the Edwardian dress.

Jeeves and Wooster (1990-1993)

They do dress for dinner & balls, but the ladies don’t count for much.

So you’ll primarily want to watch Jeeves and Wooster for the wit and the comedy gold, for sure. Also, some swanky historical architecture and period settings, if that kind of thing floats your boat (it helps keep mine aloft). We see plenty of Bertie’s smart little Art Deco bachelor pad (check out this blogger’s details), plus all the ah-may-zing English country houses he parties at with his lads and would-be fiancées. A couple episodes were even filmed at and around Highclere Castle, later to be known as Downton Abbey. Oh, and Wooster often plays piano in the series (Laurie is an accomplished musician), and between that and the series theme, there’s quite a jazzy ’30s feeling to the whole thing.

Jeeves and Wooster (1990-1993)

Fabulous British estates!

Jeeves and Wooster (1990-1993)

Much tea is had.

Jeeves and Wooster (1990-1993)

Just a typical day at the beach.

Jeeves and Wooster (1990-1993)

Rubber duckie, you’re the one.

Jeeves and Wooster (1990-1993)

It wouldn’t be a British comedy without men in drag.

Jeeves and Wooster (1990-1993)

This actually isn’t Jeeves in drag; Stephen Fry was in drag to play a female author in this ep.

Jeeves and Wooster (1990-1993)

Bertie tries to sort out his friend’s romantic entanglements. Oops.

Jeeves and Wooster (1990-1993)

But love confounds Bertie Wooster!

Jeeves and Wooster (1990-1993)

So formal, so posh!

Jeeves and Wooster (1990-1993)

Leave this job to Jeeves, Bertie.

 

Have you watched Jeeves and Wooster yet? What’s stopping you?

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About the author

Trystan L. Bass

Twitter Website

A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

15 Responses

  1. karenbs333

    Always loved the Wodehouse stories, so funny! I’ll definitely watch these. I think Dorothy Sayers was inspired by Bertie and Jeeves when she wrote the Lord Peter Wimsey series. (Who wouldn’t be!)

    Reply
    • MoHub

      Even before the Laurie and Fry Jeeves and Wooster, Pauline Collins and John Alderton did Wodehouse Playhouse , which included a lot of the fabulous Mulliner stories. There was some fiddling with a few of the plot points, but on the whole, they were very well done—especially “The Truth About George.”

      And Wodehouse himself introduced each episode.

      Reply
    • K.

      I think the first Jeeves and Wooster stories were published the same year as Sayers’ first Wimsey mystery (1923), so no, not that likely. It was an established type, populating lots of British fiction, well before then. Wimsey was the inspiration for Allingham’s Albert Campion, though, but that’s very obvious and completely above-board; Campion started life as a Wimsey parody but grew into a distinct character of his own.

      I love Honoria Glossop. I can relate to her frustration with being pressured into marrying a hopeless guy like Wooster for no very good reason.

      Reply
  2. Lexi

    Absolutely love this series too. Fry and Laurie created pure gold here. That said, am I the only one who thought Wodehouse had an incredible disdain for women by proof of how they are portrayed in these stories?

    Reply
    • Al

      Read some of his other stories to see real solid disdain for women in action. Seriously appalling, but he just writes so well that you keep reading anyway.

      Reply
    • Teresa

      I absolutely do not sense “disdain for women” in Wodehouse’s work. And I’m a lifelong feminist (was a feminist long before I ever heard that word) who’s been reading Wodehouse since the age of fourteen.

      Sure, Madeleine’s a dimwit. And so is Veronica Wedge. Any takers on Gussie Fink-Nottle (who actually did seem like the perfect match for Madeleine), Bingo Little, Stilton Cheesewright? (Incidentally, Georgette Heyer’s novel The Foundling features a young woman who’s got to be an ancestor of Veronica Wedge.)

      Wodehouse created so many hilarious characters: the bullies, the airheads, the schemers. But these types seem to be pretty evenly distributed as to sex and age. The author seems hardest on the very beautiful (male or female), pretentious but untalented artists and poets, and wealthy snobs. Oh yes, and explorers and Empire builders.

      Reply
    • jayoungr

      Sorry, I know I’m responding to an old post, but this has been chewing at me for weeks since I read it, and I simply have to defend Wodehouse from the charge of disdaining women. I can see how you might get that idea if you just look at the Jeeves series, but Wodehouse’s many, many other books are simply stuffed with delightful female characters, many of whom are American. (It’s my pet theory that the inspiration for those characters is Adele Astaire, whom Wodehouse met.) Try the Blandings series, for example–which also has some prime battleaxes and airheads.

      Reply
  3. Sarah Faltesek

    Pure gold. That scene where Gussie imitates a newt, and the guys at the club make it their new dance to 47 Ginger Headed Sailors is one of my favorite TV moments of all time.

    Reply
  4. Andrew.

    One of the things I really enjoy about this series is the attention to the social detail of the men’s clothing. Jeeves is always correct for his role and location. For example, following the dictum that when wearing formal clothing, servants should always wear it a little bit ‘wrong’, Jeeves always wears a four-in-hand tie with morning dress as opposed to the ‘proper’ plastron tie. Similarly, Bertie wears clothing appropriate to his activities. He has a striped, dark ‘City’ suit, a medium grey herringbone suit, a wide variety of country suits and jackets, and his formal clothes: morning suit, dinner jacket, and tails.

    Regarding Bertie’s formal clothing, the episode involving his wearing the off-white spencer jacket is spot on to 1933. That year, (among civilians), those jackets were all the go for the season but very quickly fell into disfavor as one has to have a trim athletic body to successfully carry it off, and more importantly, the jacket became associated with waiters and bellhops. Jeeves wisely kept Bertie from being more of a source of amusement than he already was.

    Reply
  5. Susan Pola

    I love Jeeves and Wooster. Both in book and Fry & Laurie. The men’s clothing looks spot on and you never stop ROTFLI. I even believe that the Drones Club invented pelting TV screens (in their case movie screens) with food.
    I don’t believe Woodhouse was per se anti-woman. What he was was a typical Englishman who was educated with the Victorian attitudes towards women. They were okay in their proper sphere. And that elderly ones were a force of nature.
    I will have to re-watch them soon.

    Reply
    • M.E. Lawrence

      Well, yes, the Wodehousian upper-class male does view women as a completely different species, although Wodehouse himself seems to think them smarter–apart from Madeline– and more ruthless. My favorite moment might be when Honoria Glossop gets her suitor on the phone and snaps, “Let me talk to someone with a brain.” (Also when Bertie is entertaining some would-be lefties, and Jeeves addresses him as “Comrade Sir.”)

      Reply
    • MoHub

      The Wodehouse books and stories definitely need to be read. His turns of phrase simply do not communicate in dramatizations, funny and clever as they may be. Wodehouse is one of the few authors who makes me laugh out loud as I read, and I’ve had a couple of close calls when reading and drinking at the same time.

      Reply
  6. Loren Dearborn

    I have such great love for this show. I’m re-watching the series now with my kids and we’re loving it! So much hilarious banter and 20s slang.

    I would beg to differ on the costumes though. Pretty much every episode has really nice examples of ladies’ country/sportswear from the era. All that time spent in country houses shooting, rambling, golfing, playing tennis, motoring means a lot of tweed, plaid and other sporty attire. Yeah, it’s not Downton’s endless parade of evening gowns, but I love me a great houndstooth jacket and skirt ensemble.

    Reply

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