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A summer Plum
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Guardian 20 July 1999

A summer Plum

Nancy Banks-Smith

It is a truth universally acknowledged that there is nothing viewers like better on a balmy evening than inspecting the innards of some recently deceased corpse. This, to my mind, is debatable. Unless, of course, it is the corpse of the programme scheduler.

What I fancy in summer is something that skips along the surface of life like a mayfly practising for the skipping Olympics. And that is where Plum: PG Wodehouse (UK Arena) came in. Wodehouse is synonymous with summer, as Dickens is with Christmas. I do not recall a drop of rain ever falling on Blandings.

This 10-year-old film by Nigel Williams had a charmingly eccentric cast, as if you had wandered into an undiscovered Wodehouse novel. My favourite was Lt Col Norman Murphy, who was leading a party of Americans on a tour of locations which, he claimed, featured in Wodehouse's books. His resemblance to Galahad Threepwood, spotting a promising gap in the market, was extraordinary. The word dapper just bounded to mind. A brisk and wiry figure in a hacking jacket and trilby, he would point his rolled umbrella, cry incisively, 'Follow me!' and plunge into the brushwood.

At one point we were looking for a pigsty. Or as the colonel put it, 'the pigsty of the immortal Empress of Blandings, who won the prize at the Shropshire Show three years running. A feat unparalleled in porcine history!' And he raised his dapper hat.

'It's this way!' he said confidently, forcing his way through thickening thickets. Then, for he is an honest man, 'I'm lost! I'm lost!' We had arrived at a dilapidated outdoor privy. He clambered into a tree to spy out the land. 'It's here somewhere!' I remember sharing a pigsty with Sir Ralph Richardson, Stanley Holloway and a fat sow during a thunderstorm. Well, you would remember something like that. The BBC was filming the Blandings stories on location and it was pouring down, as it will outside fiction. Stanley Holloway, who must have whiled away many a rainy day on Crewe station, regaled us with rude songs. It was all quite idyllic.

It seems there really was a fervent pig fancier in the Wodehouse family. The abundantly chinned Baron Wodehouse (Wodehouse was born on the sunlit lower slopes of the aristocracy) said proudly, 'I used to keep 50 pedigree breeding sows and two boars. In fact, I've given the kiss of life to a piglet.' Despite the colonel's tireless research, I'd say Wodehouse's world was wholly of the imagination, very like Raymond Chandler, who missed him at Dulwich College by a whisker. Wodehouse, as his wife's secretary remembered, used to put his head around the door of his study, smile, ask 'Everybody happy?' and, reassured, retire to write, as if he could not breathe long outside that seductive, summer scented air.

There were snippets from the BBC's 30-year-old series, World of Wooster, with Dennis Price as Jeeves and Ian Carmichael as Wooster. Frank Muir showed them to Wodehouse, who fell asleep. He was awoken by the sound of laughter. Muir rather liked that.

In Over 70, Wodehouse wrote: 'John Crosby is the fellow who watches television for the New York Herald-Tribune, than which I can imagine no more appalling job - just think of having to watch television.' Discuss sympathetically. Quote examples. Enclose money.

Otherwise we have a complete evening of ill health on BBC1. The best bet was Life Support, yet another hospital drama series, but featuring a hitherto unsuspected sort of doctor, the clinical ethicist. I hope you will not cross-question me too closely on what an ethicist does.

Evidently she crystallises the options available in increasingly complex cases and generally gets underfoot.

In the first programme she precipitates a murder. A young man is broken beyond repair. His mother, Barbara Rafferty, wants to keep him alive at all costs. (A strength of the series is the fine playing of smaller parts). His lover, Jackie Kane, believes he would rather be dead. There is a tightly scripted little scene in which she talks to him tenderly before killing him. An eye opens. Not his. His mother has woken and is hurrying to his side. The story will continue as a murder trial.

There is a raging new talent, Aisling O'Sullivan, as the ethicist. I need only say that in a scene with Richard Wilson, you look at her.

Copyright Michel Kuzmenko (gmk), The Russian Wodehouse Society © 1996-2008. Established 04/04/1996.