Wodehouse Playhouse

John Alderton and Pauline Collins star in these superb adaptations of the famous short stories, introduced by P G Wodehouse himself in one of the writer's last recordings. The stories are based around three general themes: The Mulliners, relating to the rather bizarre extended family of Mr Mulliner; The Oldest Member stories, which take place in and around the golf club, and The Drones Club, and all male society whose members include Freddie Fitch-Fitch and Adolphus Stiffham. This double video contains all the seven half hour stories that comprised the first series and were originally broadcast on BBC 1 in 1975. This series has also got a more recent airing on UK Drama (at some unGodly hours of the morning), but can now be yours (without advert breaks!!!) for just 16.99. The Truth About GeorgeGeorge Mulliner's attempts to profess his love to Susan are hampered by his speech impediment. The cure turns out to be rather drastic. Romance at Droitgate SpaPeople can be so snobbish about illness. Freddie Fitch-Fitch requires the blessing from his uncle on a forthcoming marraige, however, he must use subterfuge to obtain it. Portrait of a DisciplinarianReginald Mulliner is invited to tea by nurse Wilks. He finds that his formidable old Nanny has lost none of her charms and neither has his old friend Jane Oliphant! Unpleasantness at Budleigh CourtCharlotte Mulliner falls in love with a fellow poet, however, the course of true love does not run smoothly when the family home of her suitor casts a spell on them both. The Rise of Minna NordstromA story which charts the rise to stardon of Minna Nordstrom and how she uses her guille to land a lead role in Hollywood. Rodeny Fails to QualifyA heart-rending tale fo love amongst golfers and peots! Can William get a birdie or will his approach be below par? A Voice from the PastThe meek and mild Schevereli Mulliner mistakenly takes a correspondace course in orin Will and Self Confidence, which proves rather too effective for his fiancees liking. Starring John Alderton and Pauline Collins, these stories are all introduced by P G Wodehouse himself, and were adapted for TV by David Climie, and produced bu David Askey. Although probably best known as the creator of Jeeves, the ultimate gentleman's gentleman, the prolific P. G. Wodehouse created an entire universe of eccentric, mostly upper-class Brits, and his short-story gems get smart dramatization in Wodehouse Playhouse Series One. Pauline Collins and John Alderton are the star repertory players in these charming adaptations, playing different characters in each episode, always to great effect. Wodehouse's genius lies first and foremost in his use of language, with characters vividly drawn through his brilliant command of slang and idiom. The verbally agile Collins and Alderton are always up to the task, breezing through a variety of accents -- upper-class, lower-class, and every strata in between. Wodehouse's Mulliner stories account for quite a few of the episodes here, including "Unpleasantness at Bludleigh Court," which, as any fan knows, contains the famous poem about shooting gnus. But the marvelous Drones Club stories and Oldest Member golfing stories are worked in as well, including the standout "Rodney Fails to Qualify," where a dreamy (and extremely irritating) poet intrudes on the love affair of a pair of avid linksters. Wodehouse fans -- and they are legion -- generally regard these BBC shows as the best Wodehouse ever to hit the screen, and some added charm comes from the short introductions provided for each episode by Wodehouse himself. Jeeves aside, this is Wodehouse at his very best. How to introduce the humor of P.G. Wodehouse? Those who are fond of British humor (or as they would write, "humour") know perfectly well what it's like, and don't need it described to them. For those who are unfamiliar with the peculiar subtleties of comedy as created by the inhabitants of the British isles, no simple explanation will suffice; you essentially have to experience it to appreciate it. That said, I'll give it a try. P.G. Wodehouse's short stories, presented here on DVD as the Wodehouse Playhouse series, have a certain air of daffy, good-natured charm about them, playing up the absurd in human nature, pointing out the silly things we do as a matter of course, and throwing in a handful of puns and a dash of slapstick for good measure. Monty Python, probably the most famous example of British humor in the United States, is on the wackier end of the spectrum; Wodehouse is on the more restrained and quietly playful end. In the Wodehouse Playhouse: Series One, each thirty-minute episode is a self-contained piece, based on one of P.G. Wodehouse's short stories; the seven episodes included here are from the show's first year, 1975. What's at first startling and then quite charming is that the same two actors take the starring role in every episode. John Alderton and Pauline Collins are in each episode, but in different roles... often very different, with Alderton ranging from a sweet stutterer to a haughty stage magician, and Collins from the Cockney magician's assistant to a stately upper-crust lady. This style of presentation is dramatically different from the typical comedy series, and as such it's both refreshing and creative; it's fun to watch for the main characters and see "who are they this time?" Add to it the fact that both Alderton and Collins handle the comedic style quite well, consistently bordering on absurdity without going over the line into farce, and viewers will be pleased that the Wodehouse Playhouse took this approach. The episodes themselves take on a variety of comic plots, generally having to do with amiable people in rather absurdly difficult situations, often with the two leads playing characters who are in love or some kind of romantic entanglement. The series actually opens with one of the weaker episodes, "The Truth About George," which relies more heavily on standard slapstick rather than the funnier situational humor that we find in the later episodes. "Romance at Droitgate Spa" is rather odd but with its definitely funny moments, with Alderton as The Great Boloney. When we get to "Unpleasantness at Bludleigh Court," with its skewering of the English mania for hunting, the series is in full swing and there's plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. "Portrait of a Disciplinarian," in which Alderton's character visits his old, fierce nanny, is simply hilarious. In addition to these four that I've mentioned, the set also includes "The Rise of Minna Nordstrom," "Rodney Fails to Qualify," and "A Voice from the Past." The DVD Video Originally aired on British television in 1975, the Wodehouse Playhouse episodes are presented in their original aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and offer a solidly respectable transfer overall. A few problems crop up here that seem to be fairly typical of DVD transfers of older British television shows. The outdoor scenes look uniformly terrible: very noisy, grainy, and muddy, and often with scratches and speckles on the print. Fortunately, these scenes take up only a tiny proportion of the running time of the feature: a brief clip of one of the characters at a garden party, or boarding a train at the railway station, for instance. The indoor scenes are vastly better in image quality. The transfer of the Wodehouse Playhouse episodes is quite good on the whole. Some shots are impressively clean and sharp, while others show a small to moderate amount of noise. The colors are natural-looking and mostly very clean; I did notice an occasional colored halo effect, but it was infrequent. Edge enhancement is pleasingly minimal. Audio The Wodehouse Playhouse episodes are presented in a clean, no-frills Dolby 2.0 soundtrack. I would have appreciated an audio option to hear the episodes without the laugh track, but at least the audience reacts fairly naturally and doesn't overdo it; it's less distracting than in many shows. The dialogue is nicely clear, with no background noise; the theme music in the credits (and menus) is perky and fits the tone of the episodes perfectly. Extras The funniest "extra" is a short video clip of P.G. Wodehouse himself introducing each episode; it runs immediately after the credits of each episode, and will be missed if you press skip to go directly to the start of the episode, so this is one instance where it's best to let the credits roll. I'm not sure when the footage was taken of the author, but since he died in 1975, the year that Series One of the Playhouse was filmed, fans should count it as fortunate to have his introductions. These very brief introductions are rather quirky but seem somehow to capture the sense of cheerful whimsy that appears in the episodes themselves. Apart from that, we get a set of text biographies for the main duo, John Alderton and Pauline Collins, as well as a large number of the supporting actors who appear in the different episodes. The menus are straightforward and easy to navigate. The episode selection screen has small clips from each episode next to the name, but fortunately they're not the kind of thing that spoils the episode before watching. The set is presented on two DVDs in individual keepcases, inside a glossy paper slipcase. Final thoughts Viewers who enjoy British humor should look to the Wodehouse Playhouse as a pleasing sampler of very British, rather peculiar, and quite funny short pieces. The style of the Playhouse episodes, with each one being a new story with different characters rather than a recurring "situation comedy" setup with the same characters, makes for an entertaining change of pace. The DVD presentation is quite satisfactory, offering a solid audio and video transfer for the episodes. The Wodehouse Playhouse: Series One is recommended.