Language According to Jeeves and Wooster: it’s Bally well brilliant and spiffing.
Jeeves and Wooster made their very first appearance in the 1915 short story ‘Extricating Young Gussie’ and they were a roaring success from the off, having subsequently appeared in films, on TV and radio as well as on stage.
I must confess to being a great Jeeves and Wooster not only because it is mainly set in the 1930’s, an era that I love, but because I find the tales of the misadventures of the impeccably dressed Bertie Wooster and his trusty and discerning gentleman’s gentleman, Jeeves addictively enthralling. Peppered with quirky dialogue and memorable, dim-witted and eccentric characters it is a literary work of genius.
As Bertie Wooster would say, ‘ P. G. Wodehouse, did a spiffing job of creating the wonderful duo that is Jeeves and Wooster, no wonder it was a ripping success’. Indeed Wooster and Jeeves remain not just Wodehouse’s best characters, but two of the most beloved and complementary literary creations of the last century; they go together like jam and scones or indeed tea and biscuits.
The character of Jeeves was based on a real-life butler Wodehouse actually employed named Eugene Robinson, Jeeves’ name is said to have come to Wodehouse one day whilst watching a cricket match, where he realised that the Warwickshire County Cricket Club player Percy Jeeves had the perfect name for his new character.
Whilst Jeeves and Wooster is now a hundred years old, the characters are still as appealing and relevant as ever and the Goodale Brothers latest stage show is testimony to this. I have avidly devoured the books, have chuckled along to the radio series, but perhaps the most notable incarnation of the work came in Stephen Fry’s portrayal of the trusty valet in the early-1990s ITV adaptation, opposite Hugh Laurie as the dim-witted Wooster. Not only did the actors play the famous fictional characters in a way that echoed the books they were born out of, but Fry and Laurie made one of the best and lovable duos in television history and for me this is the viewing I turn to on rainy days; when at a low ebb or a lost end. When an invitation to see the stage play Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense came my way I felt a mixture of excitement and apprehension – would it capture the true spirit of my beloved characters?
The day of the show arrived and my good friend , Nancy and I pottered off to the Theatre Severn in Shrewsbury in great anticipation of the show. Part of the allure of the tales for me is that they are riddled with charming English phrases and so dressed in period attire and looking rather fine and dandy, Nancy and I adopted the diction of Jeeves and Wooster and fully embraced the spirit of the theatre.
As we took our seats and the curtains went up I felt all of a twitter as I hoped that the stage show would live up to my expectations , but it turns out that I didn’t need to worry for by Jove, Robert Webb, Christopher Ryan and Jason Thorpe, put on a simply spiffing performance. These three brilliant actors treated us to a wonderfully entertaining evening in the company of Jeeves, Wooster, Gussie Fink-Nottle, Madeline Bassett, Sir Watkin Bassett, Dahlia Travers, Roderick Spode and Constable Oates. They all gave positively ripping performances and I haven’t laughed so hard in years.
In the course of the stage show the character of Bertie Wooster tells the bumbling tale of when a country house weekend takes a turn for the worse and he is unwittingly called on to play matchmaker and simultaneously instructed to also steal a silver cow creamer from Totleigh Towers. Naturally, the ever dependable Jeeves is there to prevent Bertie from making a complete fool of his self, but not before an array of confusing, engrossing and amusing activities have taken place.
The performance was memorably finished off by all three actors giving an admirably energetic demonstration of the Charleston Dance and I must confess I really want to learn the Charleston , even when not wearing my period attire.
After the performance we decided to round up the evening by indulging in a few glasses of Prosecco after which we were feeling a little tipsy or as Wooster would say we were,’ tight as an owl’. It was a positively lovely evening and one that I will treasure the memories of. I am most tempted to catch another performance, but then I have always been a huge fan of Jeeves and Wooster.
If you fancy a Jeeves and Wooster experience yourself then perhaps you will want to familiarise yourself with the lingo and so here is my Jeeves and Wooster Guide to the English Language:
Agog – Very eager or curious to hear or see something
Bally – bloody, damned [mild explicative]: “Get that bally dog out of my way’’.
Balderdash – drat or damn
To be all a twitter – To be anxious or excited about something
To biff – To strike or to punch
Blithering – Senselessly talkative, babbling.
By Jove! – used as a mild oath to express surprise or emphasis
Chin-chin – used as a toast when drinking to someone’s health
Dashed – A mild form of damned
Drivel – Silly nonsense – talking nonsense!
Gobbledegook – muddled, nonsense
Humdrum – Lacking variety or excitement; dull
I say! – used to express surprise or disgruntlement
Jolly well – very much; a phrase used for emphasis or enthusiasm: “I jolly well hope so!”
Look here! – used to express disgruntlement or agitation with a person or persons. “Look here, you cad! What do you think you’re doing?”
Milksop – A weak or ineffectual person; whimp: “Don’t be such a milksop, it’s only a dog.
Old man – term of endearment used in informal direct address
Old thing – term of endearment used in informal direct address
Pipped – To get the better of; defeated, ‘pipped to the post’.
Positively – “How positively lovely!”
Ripping – excellent, delightful: “What a positively ripping show!’
Rot – nonsense – “What utter rot!”
Rummy – queer, odd: “That was a rummy sort of thing to say, don’t you suppose?”
Ranygazoo – a prank or joke
To talk through one’s hat – To talk nonsense; especially on a subject that one professes to be knowledgeable about but in fact is ignorant of.
That’s not cricket – used to express dismay at an instance of unfair or ungentlemanly conduct or proceedings
Tight as an owl – drunk
Toodle-pip – good-bye, so long
What ho! – exclamatory greeting
Have fun incorporating some of these slightly archaic terms into your everyday speech- it’s quite enjoyable.
Jeeves and Wooster the Stage show is being at theatres around the country more information can be found at www.jeevesandwoosterplay.com