Tuesday, 15 October 2019

My name is Jeeves, Reginald Jeeves

The comment by nundanket (I have never been sure why there is no capital letter in that name) about Fry and Laurie being the definitive Jeeves and Wooster raises a couple of questions in my mind.

The first is that as this list appears to be getting longer, do we have any rules as to what qualifications character and actor need in order to be on it. I would suggest the following:

  • The original character needs to have appeared in a book or books which have subsequently been adapted for radio, television or film.
  • Several different adaptations need to have been made featuring different actors in the role.
  • One actor needs to stand out from the others to such an extent that when one reads the original literary work it is that actor whom one sees in ones mind's eye.
So, even though he clearly qualifies for the last point no one would claim that Ian McKellen is the definitive Gandalf, because let's be honest he's the only Gandalf; ditto Daniel Radcliffe et al. Colin Firth might well make the list as Mr Darcy, as we all know there have been many adaptations even if we don't know who was in them, but I'm going to disallow Clark Gable as Rhett Butler. I also won't include any of the Bonds, James Bonds because even if one has a favourite (Sean Connery obviously) the books and films are so different that visualising actor from printed page isn't by any means automatic.

That issue - congruence between book and adaptation - was raised by David Suchet when he spoke about being offered the role of Poirot in the first place. After mentioning that his brother advised him not to touch it with a barge pole, he said that his own reaction was that although it had been interpreted many times before (and rather bizarrely Suchet once played Inspector Japp to Peter Ustinov's Poirot) no one had ever really portrayed the Belgian detective as Agatha Christie wrote him; and so that's what he set out to do. Indeed it was that which caused him to decline to appear in dramatisations of those Poirot novels commissioned in the last few years by Christie's estate and written by Sophie Hannah. 

What Fry and Laurie's Jeeves and Wooster shares with Suchet's Poirot, Brett's Holmes etc is fidelity to the character even when the transfer to a different medium requires the plot to be messed about somewhat. So do I concur with nundanket's view that they are also definitive? No, and the reason is because I am so very old. I have fond memories of listening to the 1970's Radio 4 dramatisations featuring Richard Briars and Sir Michael Horden and so, despite Fry having been a much more appropriate age to have played Jeeves than Horden, it is Horden's voice I hear when I read P.G. Wodehouse.

And being as old as I am, the black and white television Wooster of my youth was Ian Carmichael (with Dennis Price as Jeeves), which reminds me of another entry for my list: Ian Carmichael is the definitive Lord Peter Wimsey.

1 comment:

  1. I bow to your superior age. And I have no idea why there is no capital letter in my name nor a space between the N and the D.