P G Wodehouse is the funniest writer in the English language --period. No one else is even close. The other great humorists I admire --James Thurber, S J Perlman, Mark Twain, Woody Allen (as a writer and filmmaker)-- none can match his sheer skill with the language. I used to read his stories aloud to my wife, at night, and even though I'd read all of them before there were times when I couldn't read a word for laughing so hard. She literally fell out of bed laughing.
But as much as I loved his works, I was a bit worried when I saw that his Mulliner stories were being adapted for television. I was apprehensive for two reasons: First, was there a screenwriter skillful enough to translate his lunacy to the screen, faithfully. Secondly, were the actors up to it? I needn't have bothered on either count. John Alderton and Pauline Collins are absolutely brilliant. Alderton in particular is a marvel. His ability to play a variety of roles, from the clueless but goodhearted lover to a sneering villain to a whimsical man-about-town and then a mild-mannered curate, is a sheer joy to watch. Pauline Collins is marvelous, and she will live forever in my mind as she narrows her eyes, purses her lips and intones "Produce the Peke!". (Okay, you'll have to see Portait of a Disciplinarian to understand.) But they're not alone: The Wodehouse gallery is full of extraordinary portraits. The single funniest line in any of these shows, and one of the best in all of Wodehouse's works comes from a young woman golfer --big, hearty outdoors type-- who receives a phone call from a devastated but petulant Alderton, playing Reginal Muilliner, who has recently argued with his fiancée and had her break off the engagement. (Engagements in Wodehouse stories are fragile things.) The young Mulliner calls up the formidable Mabel, and says: "I say, Mabel: Will you marry me?" Her response is a classic of comedic language: "Certainly. Who's speaking?" Fortunately these shows are now available on DVD, and if you have to trample small children and infirm old ladies, run to the store (Borders for sure has them, and perhaps Barnes and Noble does too) and buy them. Then reserve an entire evening for laughter.
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