This Day In Writing History - September 18 - P.G. Wodehouse
Updated: Sep 22, 2019
On September 18, 1915, P.G. Wodehouse's short story "Extricating Young Gussie" was published in that day's edition of The Saturday Evening Post. The story marked the British humorist's first work featuring the characters of Bertie Wooster and Jeeves. They would go on to feature prominently in Wodehouse's already extensive bibliography, figuring into many short stories or novels up until publication of the last in 1974, becoming the best-known of Wodehouse's creations.
Always set in an approximation of contemporary London, the stories feature Wooster, an aimless but affable English gentleman finding his way into social trouble from which he is saved by the efforts of the courteous and clever Jeeves, his loyal valet. The stories would often serve as humorous send-ups of the British class system, demonstrating just how much help the upper classes needed maintaining their dignified facades and poking fun at various elements of high society, such as arranged marriages and gentlemen's clubs. Wodehouse's lively writing style was well-received, full of vibrant comic vignettes that helped his characters receive wide readership and multiple adaptations that included radio, theater, film, and television.
Many of these adaptations bore little resemblance to Wodehouse's work; he was particularly displeased with a pair of 1930s films featuring Arthur Treacher as Jeeves (the first also featured David Niven as Wooster) that dispensed with much of the airy humor in favor of unfamiliar thrills and melodrama. Sporadic radio productions followed in later decades, involving such luminaries as Terry-Thomas, Richard Briers, and David Suchet. During that span, the most ambitious adaptation was probably the musical "Jeeves", featuring music from Andrew Lloyd Webber, which earned a short theatrical run in London. Like the early films, it was only loosely related to Wodehouse's material.
The most faithful adaptation has to be the "Jeeves and Wooster" television comedy, which ran for four series on British broadcaster ITV in the early 1990s. Featuring Stephen Fry as Jeeves and Hugh Laurie as Wooster, the show drew heavily from Wodehouse's most memorable stories and often used dialogue as written. Most memorably, the show utilized the musical talents of its leads to further add color to Wodehouse's world. Already well-known comedians, "Jeeves and Wooster" further elevated the careers of Fry and Laurie, who would both go on to distinguished film careers.
There may be no writer who has delivered agreeable absurdity quite like Wodehouse, and the witty Brit is well worth a read, particularly when life may have gotten just a little too silly.