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Wodehouse Playhouse - The Complete Collection
Wodehouse Playhouse - The Complete Collection
Actors: John Alderton, Pauline Collins, P.G. Wodehouse, Paul McDowell, Sydney Tafler
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Television, Mystery & Suspense
NR     2004     10hr 0min

The 20th century's most prolific English humorist, best known as the creator of Jeeves and Wooster, wrote about a raft of other equally entertaining characters. This sparkling BBC series brings 20 of these hilarious storie...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: John Alderton, Pauline Collins, P.G. Wodehouse, Paul McDowell, Sydney Tafler
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Television, Mystery & Suspense
Sub-Genres: Comedy, Love & Romance, Comedy, Drama, Mystery & Suspense
Studio: Acorn Media
Format: DVD - Color - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 08/24/2004
Release Year: 2004
Run Time: 10hr 0min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 6
SwapaDVD Credits: 6
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 2
Edition: Box set
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Into the "Playhouse"
E. A Solinas | MD USA | 09/25/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)

"P.G. Wodehouse wrote a staggering number of plays, short stories and novels over the course of his life. And while the stories about dim peer Bertie Wooster and his genius manservant Jeeves are the best known, the short films by husband-and-wife team Pauline Collins and John Alderton are enormous fun.

Among the kooky stories: Romance between a pair of ethereal young poets are threatened by a family curse -- which causes an urge to hunt animals. A stammering Mulliner struggles to overcome his "slight hesitance," so he can tell the girl he loves that he loves her. Mischievous Bobbie Wickham spins a web of lies to get rid of a dorky suitor. A young interior decorator finds that the only thing standing between him and his beloved is her very imposing mother... unless he can use her mystery novel against her, and several other stories of love, misunderstandings, and shooting elderly men with airguns.

If the author himself introduces each first-season episode, you can tell that it's a solid adaptation. And P.G. Wodehouse did introduce every episode from the first season -- with a big smile. Not only are the stories very funny, but also very faithful to the original stories.

The writing borders on gut-splittingly funny. "You will marry me, won't you?" "Yes of course I will, Mr... I'm sorry, I didn't catch the name." Not the mention the bloodthirsty poem that an enspelled animal lover writes: "When cares attack and life seems black/how sweet it is to pot a yak..." Yet despite all the absurdity, it's all done with a more or less straight face -- in Wodehouse's world, this is all perfectly normal.

Real-life couple John Alderton and Pauline Collins get to play different roles every episode -- golfers, peers, poets, magician's assistants, members of Parliament, interior decorators and other oddities. It's fun to see just how many roles they can manage, and for the most part they do a pretty good job. Some of the supporting actors aren't quite as good (the reincarnation lady is too hammy), but Collins and Alderton give it their all.

"Wodehouse Playhouse - the Complete Collection" is a good adaptation of Wodehouse's lesser-known stories, with Alderton and Collins giving each one a couple to root for. Solid comedy with an upper-class edge."
The best of all Wodehouse television
Brian Taves | Washington, DC United States | 12/05/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The third major British Wodehouse television series consisted of twenty stories developed to half-hour form as Wodehouse Playhouse. Most of the source material were the Mulliner stories, with a few others of Golf and the Drones club. The series was broadcast in the United States over Public Television, and subsequently syndicated to many local PBS stations well into the 1980s, before finally appearing in home video in 2003.
The television screen naturally opened up new storytelling possibilities not available in prose. For instance, "Big Business" was able to use a recording of Paul Robeson singing "Ol' Man River" when Reginald Mulliner is supposed to have been sad enough to express it with the proper emotion, adding a new layer of comedy to what could only be hinted at in the original story. However, even when elaborating on the original, David Climie's scripts frequently used dialogue and scenes directly from the stories, and managed to create a near-seamless whole.
The first two series of Wodehouse Playhouse, of seven episodes in 1975, and another six in 1976, starred the husband-and-wife team of Pauline Collins and John Alderton, but the final series of seven episodes in 1978 featured only Alderton. Some in the British audience quibbled with the casting as reflecting the wrong accents and class sensibilities, but American audiences were oblivious to such details. There was overacting in many of the episodes, however, and Collins and especially Alderton played different types of roles, which, while commendable as an acting challenge, robbed the series of continuity in character types. His often secondary part outshined the ostensible romantic lead. While Collins's roles varied considerably, Alderton demonstrated the anthology nature of the original Wodehouse stories, with an infinite number of variations possible on the same basic character premise. (A 1981 series for Jackanory Unit Productions, Welcome to Wodehouse, presented Alderton's readings of five stories on minimally decorated sets.)
The individual episodes varied widely in quality, with the result that the series is better when blurred in memory than when reexamined episode by episode. The first series of Wodehouse Playhouse began with seven episodes in 1975, and the first two were disappointments. "The Truth about George," although amusing, had as its subject matter a stutter, a subject which evokes a certain discomfort today when used for humor. The second episode, "Romance at Droitgate Spa," was a complete mis-fire, predictable, tiresome, and unfunny. Only Raymond Huntley was appropriately cast, while the romantic lead was dreadful. However, by the third episode, "Portrait of a Disciplinarian," the writing and acting of the series began to convey the humor of the Wodehouse stories, both in dialogue and situations. "Unpleasantness at Bludleigh Court," "Rodney Fails to Qualify," and "A Voice From the Past" were all of an equal calibre; only "The Rise of Minna Nordstrom" demonstrates weaknesses. However, as whole, the first series failed to convey the wit of the stories, while sometimes capturing their hilarity and slapstick.
Alderton recalled that when presented with a list of the stories intended as the source, Wodehouse excused himself from the room to re-examine them. Laughs could be heard until he re-emerged, smiling, saying "Some of them are awfully good." Although he had been exhausted by the ordeal of the 90th birthday interviews, saying he never wanted to see a camera again, he liked Wodehouse Playhouse so much that he agreed to do brief introductions that were filmed in January. He had just received his knighthood with the New Year. All this provided a further toll on his constitution, and he checked into the hospital. On Valentine's Day, 1975, he died, age 93.
The second series of Wodehouse Playhouse, in 1976, replaced producer David Askey with Michael Mills, veteran of The World of Wooster and The World of Wodehouse a decade earlier. It was a wise decision, as the series quality notably improved. "Anselm Gets His Chance" gently tackles its subject, church formalities and piety, managing to be unobjectionable without losing any of the humor or pungence, as represented by ministers who constantly sprinkle their conversation with Biblical quotations, fully cited as to source. In "Mr. Potter Takes a Rest Cure," the madcap whirl gradually widens as beautiful but manipulative Bobbie Wickham, hoping to avoid a marriage her mother is encouraging, convinces Mr. Potter that Gandle is from a family with homicidal tendencies, while telling Gandle that Potter wants to commit suicide and must be prevented. It is slapstick, and unoriginal, but could not more accurately mirror the source.
By midpoint in the season, the series fully hit its stride, with such epsodes as "Feet of Clay," "The Nodder", and "The Code of the Mulliners." The series finally conveyed the wit of the Wodehouse dialogue, the satire of the character types (such as the self-advertising adventurer Captain Jack Fosdyke and the vampish female novelist in "Feet of Clay"). Most notably, the superlative "Strychnine in the Soup" reflects the humor, satire, and manipulation of genre formula and different character types from a range of narratives. A mistaken deduction leads to the romantic conclusion while the two explorers, potential in-laws, prove to be out of their depth in a drawing room whodunit. Running through "Strychnine in the Soup" is the predicament of the lovers, united by their love of the thriller, until finally its spell wins the mother's consent for the hero to marry her daughter.
The third series of Wodehouse Playhouse, seven episodes produced in 1978 by Gareth Gwenlan, revealed Alderton's persona and the repertory casting had so evolved as to be ideal. Such episodes as "The Smile That Wins," "Tangled Hearts," and "The Luck of the Stiffhams," maintained the high standard of the second season. Even those that fail to quite match their quality, such as "Big Business," are still memorable. (That episode, particularly, uses a portion with Alderton in blackface, a situation that kept a later Jeeves and Wooster episode, "Kidnapped," from being broadcast in America.) They were uniformly well enacted, capturing the humorous nuances and situations, such as the advice-dispensing know-it-all in "Tangled Hearts" who must be humbled. On the other hand, "Trouble down at Tudsleigh" has a riotously amusing first half but sputters with the introduction of a child performer, who has much the same effect on the viewer as she is intended to have in the story and succeeds all too well in making performance and episode quickly annoying. Perhaps the pinnacle of the series was "The Editor Regrets," ideally adapted, perfectly enacted, with every pause, nuance, and line impeccably delivered. Only the Drones played by middle-aged actors was out of sync, but the situation of Bingo Little, editor of Wee Tots, the journal for the nursery, could not have been better brought to life.
The last dramatization, "Mulliner's Buck-u-Uppo," overcame the inherent narrative difficulty of visualizing a tonic that provides almost magical human strength and personal dominance, by combining a light balance between persuasive power with slow motion movements that resemble something out of the contemporary television series the Six Million Dollar Man. "Mulliner's Buck-u-Uppo" was a fitting end to an exploration of different ways of bringing various Wodehouse milieus to the screen in a range of stories, succeeding to different degrees but usually bringing his prose vividly to the screen."
A Fine Appetizer Before the Jeeves & Wooster Meal
diskojoe | Salem, MA USA | 03/20/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

"I first saw this set when I finally decided to take the plunge to purchase the complete Jeeves & Wooster set. I haven't gone through all the episodes in the set, but from what I've seen so far (and I have seen episodes from all the DVDs), I feel that this set is, as I stated in my title, a fine appetizer to Jeeves & Wooster, pleasant sweetmeats before you gorge on the main meal. The episodes are structured in the typical 1/2 hr. sitcom style, with a laugh track & the production values are typical 1970s BBC, which is to say that the budget was probably calculated in pence. However, these episodes are faithful to the original stories & the fact that a husband & wife team does most of the main characters gives these episodes a charming amateur theater troupe vibe. Also, at least in the early episodes, you get the pleasant surprise of seeing P.G. Wodehouse himself doing the introductions. I do recommend this fine piece of televised British Rubbish (a term I use w/affection not malice) to Wodehouse fans as a supplement to Jeeves & Wooster."
The Playhouse is the thing.
Gord Wilson | Bellingham, WA USA | 01/06/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"At first glance this would appear to be yet another result of the current revival of British humorist P.G. Wodehouse, who, to put it lightly, is a worldwide phenomenon. Given the stellar treatment of his most popular duo in Granada Television's four season series, Jeeves and Wooster, one might think this the small screen follow-on of his other characters and books. In fact, these BBC shows date from the mid- '70s, and only recently made their DVD debut in the U.S.

"Playhouse" here is used in the old sense to mean minimal sets and staging, with an ensemble troupe consisting primarily of John Alderton and Pauline Collins, both known from "Upstairs, Downstairs", an early presentation in the U.S. on "Masterpiece Theater", as well as in numerous British shows. Both are also known to SF fans also, Alderton from the cult film Zardoz, and Collins from Dr. Who.

There have been numerous attempts to bring Wodehouse to the big screen, to radio, and in a limited way, to TV, many of which are not generally known in the states. When this series came out, however, Wodehouse was over 90 years of age. He gave the Playhouse his stamp of approval, and makes a brief cameo with voiceover at the beginning of each thirty minute show. Each DVD contains three shows, and they are available in three sets of two slipcased DVDs each, as well as in this complete collection.

What a longtime Wodehouse reader would want to know, of course, is how the shows stack up to the books. I tend to say, some better than others. "Anselm Gets His Chance", from set two (and included in this collection), is to my mind a small masterpiece. Others sent me back to the books to reread the stories, which, after all, might be the whole idea. All six DVDs include the same liner notes flyer, unusual in such a set, but extremely helpful. In this leaflet, Tony Ring, president of the International Wodehouse Association gives a brief introduction, as one possibly may be a viewer of the shows before a reader of the books, although it's difficult to imagine remaining unaddicted to the Wodehouse fever. U.S. viewers may suspect that his name is actually something more Wodehousian, such as Rimblesnottinghamshirefarsnworthing, but in the world of P.G.W., that would still be pronounced "Ring".

He dips into the Mulliner Stories, the Golf Stories, and the Drones Club Stories, these three comprising, aside from the Jeeves and Wooster tales, the Best of Wodehouse. There's also a colourful chart linking each episode to "Story Collections; U.S. Book Title", "U.S. Periodical Publication Date", and "Principal Characters". This is because many of the stories and books began as serials and short stories in such magazines as The Saturday Evening Post, and were later gathered into books and collections on both sides of the Atlantic, the U.S. and U.K. versions often having different titles (see my Amazon lists for comparative titles).

The cozy circle of Wodehousian addicts is every day growing, and this series cannot but help increase its numbers. Longtime readers of the Master will everywhere toast the health of those who find their way via the tele, although the most heard comment will likely be, "May I borrow that set when you've finished?""