I have very dim memories of seeing this series many years ago. What I do remember about it is that is was superb and very funny.
If you’re going to adapt the Jeeves stories you really need to get the casting just right and that’s exactly what the BBC did. Ian Carmichael (one of the great British comic actors of the 20th century) is the perfect Bertie Wooster. The trick with getting Bertie’s character right is that he is certainly a silly ass but he’s not a drooling halfwit. He even displays, on rare occasions, traces of what might even be taken as rudimentary signs of intelligence. His problem is not that he’s a complete idiot. He’s not terribly bright but mostly he gets into scrapes because he overestimates his ability to extricate himself from awkward situations. His schemes for getting himself out of trouble are often ingenious but they’re impractical and he tends to overlook the ways in which they’re likely to backfire. And invariably they do backfire.
Bertie is not a character we are supposed to regard with contempt. He’s a good-natured kindly generous soul even if he is lazy and irresponsible. We’re supposed to regard Bertie with amused affection. Ian Carmichael captures all these qualities perfectly, Carmichael made an entire career (and a very successful one) out of playing good-natured but not overly intelligent characters who somehow manage to bumble their way through life and avoid disaster.
Other attempts to portray Bertie Wooster on television have succeeded less well because they end up pushing the character too far into the realms of mere caricature.
Dennis Price is equally good as Jeeves. Jeeves has a very low opinion of Bertie’s intelligence but he is the perfect gentleman’s gentleman. He is calm and unflappable and he is used to getting his employer out of scrapes and he has sublime confidence in his own ability to do so. It’s all part of the job. He does these things in the same way he performs his other duties, efficiently and without fuss. He is never smarmy.
On this occasion Bertie doesn’t even consider trying to devise a hare-brained scheme of his own to save the situation. He realises that this is a job for a man of gigantic intellect. It is a job for Jeeves.
One of the reasons the 60s was such a golden age for British television was the wealth of truly marvellous character actors available to fill the supporting roles. In this case Clive Morton as Sir Humphrey Wardour, Fabia Drake as Aunt Agatha, Timothy Carlton as Claude and a very young Simon Ward as Eustace all give just the right performances and in the right Wodehousian spirit.
The World of Wooster is in my opinion one of the two totally successful attempts to bring the delightful works of P.G. Wodehouse to the small screen (the other successful attempt being the BBC’s 1974-78 Wodehouse Playhouse anthology series). It’s a tragedy that such a wonderful series has been almost entirely lost to us. The surviving episode at least gives us a glimpse of what we’ve lost.