Very Good, Jeeves by PG Wodehouse

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Table of Everyman Wodehouse editions at Waterstones, Piccadilly

Just over a year ago, I thought that I’d read some Jeeves and Wooster stories set in and around Christmas. Looking around, it seemed that Very Good, Jeeves was my best bet. It included Jeeves and the Yuletide Spirit – a Christmas story if ever there was one surely? 

Now for the past few years, I’ve been vaguely collecting the Everyman PG Wodehouse novels. I probably have a dozen or so, with the notion that I’d like to get a complete set at some point. So, it was an Everyman edition I was after. 

The obvious place to look was Amazon. Yes – local bookshops exist, but they’re not necessarily going to have copies of Everyman editions of Wodehouse. Amazon didn’t have any in stock, but claimed it could get one for me.  

In my experience Amazon tends to give longer lead times for titles that it doesn’t have in stock than is strictly necessary – underpromise and overdeliver. Publishers seem to give Amazon preferential treatment, and so I was confident that I should get the book reasonably quickly. 

A few weeks passed, and we were getting close to Christmas. I still didn’t have the title, but I knew how to remedy that. I headed down to Piccadilly where there were two likely shops that would help me. First up was Hatchards. These days it’s owned by Waterstones, but it maintains its own very distinct presence despite there being a very large Waterstones just a 100m further along Piccadilly. 

When the most recent Le Carré novel, A Legacy of Spies, was published, it was to Hatchards I went in search of a signed copy. I wasn’t alone in that hope, as a gentleman at the counter was asking that very question.  

“No, we don’t have any signed stock at the moment. But we may get some. He does come in here fairly regularly, and he always signs books when he’s in.” 

(In fact, I managed to snag a signed copy from Foyles.) 

Anyway, Hatchards tends to carry a good quantity of the Everyman Wodehouse editions, but when I searched the shelves I found just about every title except Very Good, Jeeves. No matter, I would check the large Waterstones just along the way. It too carries a significant number of Wodehouse novels – I’m sure they sell well to tourists amongst others. However, again I was out of luck. 

I gave up on being able to read the book for Christmas. Certainly, I could easily have obtained a paperback edition. But I wanted a hardback. My search would prevail. 

Christmas 2017 came and went, and on a regular basis, an email would drop into my inbox from Amazon assuring me that they were still trying to get hold of it, but that they hadn’t yet. They pointed me towards the paperback edition, but my order stayed live. They weren’t cancelling it. 

By now, I was just curious to see if they ever came through. 

Then, before Christmas this year, I happened to be close to Hatchards again. So, I popped in on a wet Saturday and wandered to the table and shelves where they keep their Everyman Wodehouses and wouldn’t you know it? There was a stack of copies of Very Good, Jeeves! I bought a copy and promptly cancelled my 13-month-old order with Amazon. 

Over Christmas I finally read it. The first thing to say is that although there are two Christmas-set stories in the book – itself a collection of short stories – they’re only very loosely set at that time of the year.  

But, as always, it’s laugh-out-loud funny. The running thread throughout the book is that Bertie is trying to get his own back after Tuppy bet him one evening at the Drones Club, that he couldn’t swing across their pool using rings. However, the final ring had been kept out of reach and Bertie had ruined a very good dinner suit as a result.  

To be honest, I’m not even sure why I’m providing that much “plot” information. It’s a Jeeves and Wooster book. You know exactly what you’re getting unless you’ve never read or seen a Jeeves and Wooster book. 

As a side note, having finished the book, I fancied re-watching some of the Fry and Laurie TV series. I happen to own DVDs of the full collection, but I was away from home at the time, with family for Christmas. No matter. Even if it cost me a few quid, I would rent or buy digital copies. 

It seemed unlikely, but I thought I would first check streaming services to which I already subscribed. But it seems that Netflix has not sprung for much 1980s ITV programming. I looked at Amazon, thinking that at least I’d be able to buy digital copies there even if it wasn’t available as a “Prime” series. But it wasn’t. Indeed, although two of the four series of the programme seemed to have once been available, a note informed me that, “Our agreements with the content provider don’t allow purchases of this title at this time.” 

Hmm. 

I checked over on Google Play, but there was no sign of it. Finally, I headed to the service that seems to maintain the fullest library – iTunes. I’d have to watch on my iPad, but not matter. However, even there, I was out of luck. 

Even the ITV Hub, where I knew that I would at least have to put up with dozens of adverts, was unable to help me.  

Incidentally, if you do fancy the DVDs, they’re a snip at just £79.99 on Amazon! I’m sure my set cost less than £20 a few years ago. 

In essence, this is another case of a TV series being essentially unavailable anywhere. I simply don’t understand why it at least isn’t available for sale. I had ready money to buy episodes and the rights owners simply won’t take my cash. 

I’ve moaned before about this situation with regard to even quite recent films. As HMV totters and DVD players begin to become a thing of the past (we are fortunate that BluRay and HD BluRay players are backwards compatable), it seems that we continue to enter a film and TV dark age

For what it’s worth, on my return home I did indeed dust off my old DVDs and rewatched the first series, which happily still stand up. Several stories from Very Good, Jeeves feature in reworked forms in that first series. Look out too for Highclere “Downton Abbey” Castle doubling as Totleigh Towers. 

The series could do with a bit of restoration. I believe the series was shot on 16mm film, but it was then transferred to U-matic tape where the editing probably took place. If the original prints or negatives exist, to properly restore it would perhaps require someone to re-edit the right takes from the filmed elements and painstakingly rebuild it, layering in sounds and colour grading it all. A lot of effort, but it could look fabulous! Sadly, with a lot of ITV/Granada programmes, even if the programmes are restored, they don’t bother releasing them in their new state in the UK. See also, Brideshead Revisited, The Jewel in the Crown, and the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes series. 

It would be lovely to think that the reason you can’t buy episodes today is because these restored editions are just around the corner. Sadly, that’s a pipe-dream. 

The Everyman books, however, are marvellous! 

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Bookshelves of Everyman Wodehouse editions at Hatchards, Piccadilly