Hugh Laurie

by Harry on February 13, 2006

In the comments to Kieran’s incendiary post, christine asks a clever trick question:

Hugh Laurie in House or Hugh Laurie in Blackadder?

The answer, of course, is

Hugh Laurie in Jeeves and Wooster.

When I heard they were remaking the Bertie Wooster stories for television, I raised my eyes to the heavens. Who could beat the aging Ian Carmichael cast in the 60s/70s versions? But then, hearing who the replacements were, I thought “Oh yes, of course, they were born to play them”. And they are brilliant. Not only is the acting routinely fine, but the writing has the odd quality that, whereas on the first viewing several stories seemed to sag a bit in the middle, after several viewings each seems perfectly paced. (My 9 year old assures me that each episode splices together 2 of the short stories, but I confess that I haven’t read them since my teens and have only the vaguest memory of the plots).

What I never guessed was that 15 years later I would be surrounded by images of Hugh Laurie and the greatest living Englishman. My daughters, aged 5 and 9, are obsessed with the show—the 9 year old can recite whole gobs of dialogue, while the 5 year old insists on taking the DVD cases to bed with her; and has their picture on the wall beside her bed (birthday present from the 9 year old). My 5 year old has even picked up on the latent suggestions of homosexuality: “Bertie doesn’t ever want to get married, dad, because he just wants to stay with Jeeves”. our local PBS is re-showing them on Saturday nights, but, for once, you might just want to buy the set. (UK).

{ 2 trackbacks }

Tim Worstall
02.14.06 at 4:55 am
Jeeves » The Cartoon Blog by Dave Walker
02.15.06 at 6:09 am

{ 40 comments }

1

Tad Brennan 02.13.06 at 3:36 pm

wow. my kids, too. (11 and 8). They know every episode by heart, it seems.

And I think they’re good, too. Not just the principals–many of the minor characters are incredibly good. Spode, for instance, is a masterpiece of characterization. Tuppy Glossop manages to sport a sickly reptilian smile that never comes near to softening the calculating rage in his eyes.

And my kids have strong opinions about *which* Madeleine Bassett is their favorite, and *which* Gussie Fink-Nottle is better, since the players changed from series to series. (Unfortunately, no single episode features both the good Madeleine and the good Gussie).

Uh, can’t decide whether I’m reassured or not that other kids have this obsession.

2

Jonquil 02.13.06 at 3:36 pm

Hugh Laurie on toast. Hugh Laurie between the sheets. All forms of Hugh Laurie known to man. How can you make me choose between Hugh Lauries? (Note: Hugh Laurie in Peter’s Friends.)

The Jeeves and Wooster DVDs are our comfort watching; when we’re all tired after a long day, it’s either Jeeves or the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes. Dream casting in both cases.

3

Ancarett 02.13.06 at 3:39 pm

Jeeves and Wooster is great! So are the sketch comedy pieces of “Frye and Laurie” which I don’t see around anywhere these days.

My girls are still stuck on Hugh Laurie in Blackadder, I’m afraid. We still hear strains of the theme song echoing from upstairs on occasion and we’re happy to say that our children now have a fairly good understanding of what was constituted a “rotten borough” even if their picture of Pitt the Younger is rather peculiar!

4

Dirk 02.13.06 at 3:49 pm

I live in the US, and I mostly know Laurie from Jeeves and Wooster. In fact, although I was aware of House and saw many promotions for it, it was a long time until I realized that was the same actor. I’ve seen a couple of Laurie’s Blackadders, too. When Jeeves and Wooster was on PBS, I tuned in loyally.

5

Kieran Healy 02.13.06 at 3:55 pm

I seem to remember things weakening a bit in the third and fourth series — maybe because the writers started doing their own thing rather than adapting the stories? There seemed to be much more pantomime chasing about the place toward the end.

6

nick s 02.13.06 at 3:56 pm

I’m feeling a bit smug that I guessed the first line below the fold. My American wife adores the Fry & Laurie J&W, though I sometimes have to explain the context.

The splicing isn’t always two-to-an-episode, though; it’s sometimes a single story, sometimes three shorter ones. And very well done, of course. Also, seeing that gorgeous Aston Martin…

7

Delicious pundit 02.13.06 at 4:09 pm

It is always sad to me when comic actors move over to dramas. Hugh Laurie seemed so alive on Blackadder and J&W and, good as he is on House, it isn’t the same. Same deal with Tom Hanks: a fine comic temperment thrown away on Oscar-winning roles.

8

Tad Brennan 02.13.06 at 4:09 pm

kieran, yeah, I think that’s a fair complaint about the plotting getting weaker in the later years. But actually it confirms your point, you see, because those are also the episodes where they keep going to the *States*, see, so it gets contaminated by American cooties.

(Though one of the laughs at our house is when they use the U. of London Senate House facade as a stand-in for a Really Tall Manhattan Sky-Scraper, by shooting straight up from the pavement. If you’ve been in and out of Senate House a few hundred times, it seems very comical to imagine that as the Empire State Building or the like.)

9

Mark Schmitt 02.13.06 at 4:29 pm

You mean Hugh Laurie’s been in something besides Stuart Little? I must find out more about this.

10

paul 02.13.06 at 4:50 pm

Having seen just a few of Wodehouse’s stories translated to TV, I have never been able to figure out why anyone would rather watch them than read the originals. Now, those are (generally) priceless.

11

Russell Arben Fox 02.13.06 at 5:04 pm

“The Jeeves and Wooster DVDs are our comfort watching; when we’re all tired after a long day, it’s either Jeeves or the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes.”

Weirdly enough, Jonquil, I just finally finished my viewing of all the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes episodes. The first two series were tremendous, and even the third, “Casebook of Sherlock Holmes,” held its own. They should have never made that final series though; poor Brett was a walking dead man, and the writing was slapdash. Which Watson do you prefer, David Burke or Edward Hardwicke?

And oh–I’ve never seen an episode of Jeeves and Wooster. Obviously, I have some catching up to do.

12

derPlau 02.13.06 at 5:16 pm

We get Jeeves & Wooster on Saturday nights, too (actually, not all that surprising, given that Harry apparently lives in Madison, just like me) — followed by the UK version of The Office, which makes a disturbing but oddly fitting followup.

13

Ann 02.13.06 at 5:48 pm

Hugh Laurie in BBC’s Spooks (known in the U.S. as MI-5)!!! He’s only in two episodes but after seeing them I feel like I know everything there is to know about Britain’s upper-crust politicians.

14

Tom F 02.13.06 at 6:37 pm

…and has their picture on the wall beside her bed

I suppose that’s better than posters of Michael Jackson and Leif Garrett.

15

Matt Weiner 02.13.06 at 7:04 pm

Bertie doesn’t ever want to get married, dad, because he just wants to stay with Jeeves

But is this homosexuality or Peter Pan-style arrested development? Jeeves takes care of Bertie’s every need and keeps him from the shocks of growing up, which getting married certainly represents. Somewhere someone explicitly says, “We are as children, wandering in the dark, and Jeeves takes us by the hand and…” “…switches the light on.”

BTW, from the linked site, most of the episodes look to combine two stories, but some of them (e.g. season 1 episodes 4-5, season 2 episodes 1-2) are parts of the novels. Kieran at 5, it looks to me as though most of those do come from original stories, although “Lady Florence Craye Arrives in New York” originally took place in Steeple Bumpleigh.

And I can’t tell which is Jeeves and which Bertie.

16

dave heasman 02.13.06 at 7:06 pm

“Hugh Laurie and the greatest living Englishman.”

I didn’t know Humphrey Lyttelton appeared in J & W.

17

Backword Dave 02.13.06 at 7:32 pm

Matt Weiner,
the Gentleman is the Gentleman’s Gentleman; the other one is the Gentleman.
I hope that’s clear.
BTW, I’m so glad that “Jeeves” has left Ask. He was never a bulter. What a boring staid post for a man of his abilities!

18

Anarch 02.13.06 at 7:33 pm

I too am proud that I knew the correct answer before clicking on the link. The Fry & Laurie Jeeves & Wooster may not be perfect but it’s about as damn close as one can hope to be.

[And incidentally, Stephen Fry is a giant. HUUUGE. Which, for some inexplicable reason, makes his gentle ministrations as Jeeves all the funnier.]

19

schwa 02.13.06 at 7:56 pm

#9 – Wash your mouth out!

20

garymar 02.13.06 at 10:28 pm

All very amusing. I also think that J&W was much funnier when they stayed in England and avoided contamination by American “cooties”.

Frye, Laurie, and Emma Thompson had bit parts as posh university types on one of the first episodes of The Young Ones.

But I can never get out of my head Prince George attempting, for 2 days, to pronounce “antidisestablishmentarianism”:

anti-distinctly-minty-Monty!

21

Tom T. 02.13.06 at 10:35 pm

I’m not a big fan of House, but when I see Hugh Laurie in Blackadder, I can’t get past that ridiculous English accent. It just sounds so fake.

22

djw 02.13.06 at 10:45 pm

This post makes me want to have children. I was enough of a ridiculous nerd when they first came out that I was preturbed they mixed and matched storylines. When I watched the DVDs years later, and all the stories were sufficiently muddled in my head, I adored them. Fry and Laurie have the high/low repartee so down.

(Russell, get cracking)

23

djw 02.13.06 at 10:48 pm

This is as good of a time any to remind you to visit the Wodehouse quote generator at least once a day:

http://www.drones.com/pgw.cgi

24

winna 02.14.06 at 12:07 am

Jeeves being the nurse that switches on the light is from a discussion Bertie has with his Aunt Dahlia.

No, I’m not an addict or anything.

25

Matt Weiner 02.14.06 at 12:15 am

Fink-Nottle, saith Chad Orzel.

26

Maria 02.14.06 at 7:37 am

Seconded: Hugh Laurie in Spooks.

He doesn’t play a politician, but rather a senior civil servant from another agency. Though this may not have been clear in the US version which cut 15 minutes an episode. The scene where he pulls a shady political memoir out of his underpants in priceless. And the class friction between him and ‘terrier Tom’ was a marvel. Ruff!

27

Russell Arben Fox 02.14.06 at 7:42 am

All right, all right, David; next Christmas or birthday, it’ll be the Jeeves & Wooster boxed set, and nothing less.

Incidentally, so long as I’m making a list, what other fine British comedy imports ought I to be familiar with by now? (Don’t say Monty Python; I’ve been memorizing those episodes since high school.)

28

Alan Jacobs 02.14.06 at 8:57 am

Laurie’s best moment as Bertie: when he’s trying to spread treacle on a sheet of brown paper — to place upon a window so that it may safely be broken, silly — and the paper keeps rolling up, thus preventing spreading. Bertie, after some reflection and unsuccessful experimentation, holds down one corner with the treacle jar and the other with his forehead.

29

Moss Collum 02.14.06 at 9:03 am

For the Jeeves and Wooster fan who happens to have on hand such a thing as a ten-sided die, I must recommend the Drones Club Role Play Game.

30

Edward 02.14.06 at 9:44 am

Russell,
From my perspective
BBC;
Absolute Power (inc. Stephen Fry)
The Thick of It
The League of Gentlemen (surreal, predates little britain and more intelligent)
also
Help
The Mighty Boosh
C4;
Spaced
Black Books
Peep Show
also
Green Wing
Phoenix Nights
Nathan Barley (which died a death, but…)

Would be my start at a list for the 00’s

31

delagar 02.14.06 at 10:15 am

My kid also loves that Hugh Laurie — in all his incarnations — can play the Jeeves and Wooster song on her recorder (the instrument, not the electric box), can quote most of the J&W episodes by heart, has her own copy of all the Blackadder scripts, which she studies with Talmudic intensity (my favorite moment? when she asked her father, with all seriousness, “Daddy, does ‘prick’ have two meanings?”), and this morning was dancing in delight because, yes! a new episode of _House_ is, indeed, on television tonight! O joy! O bliss!

She too has noted that Bertie won’t marry so that he can stay with Jeeves — though she put it the other way: that Jeeves doesn’t want Bertie to marry, because he wants to keep Bertie for himself. Hmm, I said: no doubt, no doubt. Wouldn’t you,I said. Oh, yes, she agreed, blissfully.

32

Russell Arben Fox 02.14.06 at 10:56 am

Good grief, Edward, talk about giving me some homework…

Regarding Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry, some odd notes that ought to be also mentioned:

1) Hugh played Mr. Palmer in Emma Thompson and Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility, and got more dry comedic distance out of that toss-away character than any other comparable role I can remember.

2) Stephen directed the very clever adaptation of Waugh’s Bright Young Things, the best film that no one saw back in 2003.

33

Richard J 02.14.06 at 11:09 am

I saw it. I was comparing it to the book perhaps too much, and was sorely disappointed that it tore out the book’s satirical core (particularly the ebony-black humour of the last chapter), and replaced it with the vaguely nostalgic sheen of a BBC Sunday teatime series.

34

Tad Brennan 02.14.06 at 12:39 pm

#32–

Yes, mention should be made of the music, which is uniformly splendid throughout, and which is, if I’m not mistaken, not present in the Wodehouse stories. I mean: not only do they not have a soundtrack (of course), but I don’t remember Wooster being terribly musical in them. That seems to come straight from Hugh Laurie’s own talents. He really can play, and my kids have adopted many of the horrible contemporary music-hall tunes as their own (“Sonny Boy” is especially favored for irritating the sibling). The bit where he has trouble counting out “Putting on the Ritz” is fabulous.

35

Russell Arben Fox 02.14.06 at 1:02 pm

Richard J., you have a point, but then again I don’t think Waugh himself would have written Vile Bodies in quite the same way if he’d known in 1930 what was going to become of all those “bright young things” in about a decade’s time. Yes, he darkly satirized them, but I suspect he wouldn’t have left the tone at that level if he’d been writing with a knowledge of the civilizational calamities ahead. The ending of the movie was, admittedly, too neat, but I think Fry made the right choices for an audience which is fully aware that the target of Waugh’s invective did not simply collapse from within, but was actually blown away.

36

harry b 02.14.06 at 1:47 pm

Tad,

in one of the Michael Williams George Cragge stories (In the Red, In the Balance, In the ?? and In the End, the radio comic/mystery series from which Absolute Power was a spin off) Laurie plays a guitar-playing Prime Minister (guess who?) and, just as in Jeeves and Wooster, is hilariously good at playing not quite well. My kids keep singing “Hi de Hi de Hi de Hi, Ho de Ho de Ho de Ho…” etc.

37

djw 02.14.06 at 3:58 pm

Bertie once acquired a Ukelele that he was so monstrous at playing that Jeeves temporarily moved out. At various other points Bertie references popular songs, usually struggling to recall a particular lyric or something. But music was some part of his life in the books. There’s also at least one storyline that involves Bertie being cajoled into singing for some sort of rural entertainment, which he resists because he prefers to sing in the shower.

38

Christine 02.14.06 at 5:26 pm

I did think of Jeeves and Wooster, but I regret to say I only found out about 2 weeks ago that there was such a series (got them at the local library). I’ve been on a slight Wodehouse reading binge recently, and can therefore confirm djw’s point on Bertie’s musical talents. Though I don’t think he really struggled to remember the lyrics to songs so much. I don’t recall him really struggling with any such intellectual heavy lifting at all, really.

My son is not yet a big fan of Laurie’s work. But he loves Stephen Fry, in his incarnation as the Narrator of a short cartoon called ‘Pocoyo’. And I see he’s filled about every possible narrator position recently including The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide and Harry Potter. Wow.

39

Liz 02.14.06 at 5:46 pm

‘A Bit of Fry and Laurie’, their skit show, is available on video/DVD in a best-of format. I used to show snippets to my comp. classes, to get them thinking about word play. I have no idea if it worked, but we all had a good laugh.

If you’re obsessed with things Wodehousian, and particularly the Laurie/Fry show, try the Hat Sharpening Shop website:

http://www.hatsharpening.com/j&w/

Includes the wonderful soundtrack, and Jeeves & Wooster singing Minnie the Moocher.

40

Eleanor 02.15.06 at 5:42 am

Nathan Barley (which died a death, but…)

Clever but unsatisfactory, I thought; the kind of comedy where you sit unsmiling and occasionally say “That’s quite funny”, rather than actually laughing.* Sharp script, but I hated almost all the characterisation (which isn’t quite the same as hating the characters).

*except for “Erm, could you not rap?”, which made me hoot.

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