Bertie Changes His Mind by P. G. Wodehouse, performed by Martin Jarvis

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BBC Radio 4, 26 March 2010

Another jolly jape from the Wooster canon, this time narrated by Jeeves himself. This one-person rendering of the tale, recorded in front of a live audience at the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham by Martin Jarvis, told of Wooster’s desire to adopt a child, which was abruptly thwarted due to an unfortunate incident at a remote girls’ boarding school, where Wooster was asked to give a guest lecture but proved himself eminently unsuited to the task. To add insult to injury, he was also caught passing cigarettes on to one of the girls, one Peggy, who had befriended him in the hope of being able to return back to school without being discovered (and subsequently apprehended) by the formidable head teacher Miss Tomlinson. Bertie had no other option than to bid a hasty retreat, returning eagerly to his bachelor life of nightly baths and a whisky-and-soda served at eight p.m. sharp.


“Bertie Changes his Mind,” like all the Jeeves stories, is set in a never-never land of inter-war Britain, where all the rich young men are silly asses, perpetually menaced by romantic young ladies and gorgon-like older women. Miss Tomlinson is simply another incarnation of Aunt Agatha. The story dramatizes Wodehouse’s largely nostalgic memories of school, where education takes second place to friendship and charming wheezes (remember his Psmith stories?) The story is mildly amusing, but never really departs from the familiar Wodehousian bill of fare.


What interested me most about this reading, however, was how Martin Jarvis’ characterizations faithfully conformed to our mental images of the characters. Bertie was given a nasal upper-class whine, while Jeeves spoke in dulcet tones; the voice of reason keeping his errant employer under control. Such stereotypes were formed many, many years ago, when the late lamented Ian Carmichael and Dennis Price performed in The World of Wooster on BBC Television: and re-invoked when Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie revived the stories for ITV during the 1990s. Wouldn’t it be nice, just for once, if producers could put a different spin on the material – for example, by making Bertie less of a duffer and Jeeves less of a wiseacre? Alas this was not to be in Rosalind Ayres’ (Mrs. Martin Jarvis’) production.