HOW TO LIVE LIKE JEEVES AND WOOSTER
Let’s get one thing straight right away: the world of Reginald Jeeves and Bertram “Bertie” Wilberforce Wooster is as fantastical as Middle Earth or Westeros. Sure, P.G. Wodehouse (which is pronounced “Woodhouse”) set the stories in England and New York in an ambiguous time that evidently falls between the world wars, so they can claim connections to places that actually exist. But Jeeves, the uber-competent valet to the well-heeled Bertie Wooster, had might as well be an elf or a dragon. A man of his skill and intellect finding satisfaction in serving a young, proudly idle Englishman whose greatest accomplishment seems to be making and breaking engagements to at least a quarter of the high-born daughters in his circle? Unbelievable.
Jeeves’s loyalty to Wooster, along with Wodehouse’s peerless writing, drives the enduring appeal of the stories. When the wizards who adapted them for the Jeeves and Wooster television series in the late 1980s and early 1990s, they tackled the task of translating the luxurious lives of Wooster and his friends into fittings and furnishings. They succeeded admirably. The only thing that eclipsed the achievement was their recruiting of the British comedians Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry to play the title characters. The television show, and not the books, were front of mind when rummaging the archives for auction results that evoke the early 20th-century backdrops the beloved Wodehouse characters moved through. With a friendly “What Ho,” we invite you to enjoy this collection of sold lots* that call to mind the rarified realm of Jeeves and Wooster.
How does Bertie Wooster take his tea? According to the television series, the answer is “in bed.” Several episodes picture him sipping his morning cuppa as he converses, muses, and schemes with Jeeves. The eagle-eyed author of the Look Back & Hanker blog identified the teacup Hugh Laurie holds in the first episode of the first series as belonging to Spode’s Sheffield pattern. In 2004, Auctions by the Bay offered a service in the long-running bone china pattern that included 13 teacups and 14 saucers. It sold for $850.
Shaken and Stirred: A Toast to Simplicity
Jeeves can’t stand sartorial crimes, and he judges Wooster guilty with some regularity. When he carries home a jacket or a hat that’s a little bit non-traditional (and why shouldn’t he—what’s the point of being absurdly rich if you can’t be eccentric?), Jeeves reacts as if Wooster had announced an intention to stride out of his apartment in an outfit comprised of a mink stole, hip waders, and a dickie. If panic roils Jeeves, he never shows it. He solves the problem by rescuing Wooster and his friends from the scrape du jour and banishes the offending item from his master’s wardrobe as payment. This is a somewhat long-winded way of saying just as Jeeves doesn’t tolerate fads in men’s clothing, he doesn’t tolerate it in barware, either. No way would he deign to prepare Wooster’s nightly tipple in a novelty cocktail shaker shaped like a penguin or a zeppelin or even a set of golf clubs. He relies on a plain but elegant silver cocktail shaker of the sort offered at Elstob & Elstob in January 2021. Dating to circa 1923, it was designed by Herbert Edward and commanded £950, or about $1,300.
Art Deco Tech
Wooster is young and wealthy and surrounds himself with the best of his era. For him, that means decorating his apartments in Art Deco style. Contrast his digs with the vaguely Edwardian feel of the interiors of his club and the imposing Victorian rooms of the country homes of his assorted aunts, and the difference is immediate and unmistakable. The Wooster of the television show unreservedly lives in the now; it so happens that “now” is decades ago to the viewer. Wooster owns a radio, or as he would have called it, a “wireless,” and it looks as good as it sounds. It’s placed between the writing desk and the piano in his London apartment, and it appears to be a circa-1928 Type 25 portable radio by Pye. Auction Team Breker sold one in 2015 for €240, or about $300.
Thrones for Drones
Wooster is a member of good standing in the Drones Club, which is named in honor of male bees that perform no work. It provides a haven for Wooster and a place where characters from P.G. Wodehouse’s assorted literary universes meet. The interiors assembled for the adaption of Jeeves and Wooster look exactly as one would expect—coffered ceilings and lots of cozy spaces finished with dark woods. Of course, a club requires club chairs. The Drones Club certainly doesn’t lack them, and the animated opening credits of the show depict a few Drones luxuriating in the embrace of just such a chair. This set of circa-1930 Arts & Crafts English leather club chairs isn’t a perfect match for those shown on screen—they have a little too much decoration—but they otherwise look the part. Offered at Treadway Toomey Auctions in May 2006, they sold for $3,250 against an estimate of $1,500 to $1,800.
The Country Life
A fair amount of the action of the Jeeves and Wooster television series takes place at the country homes of Wooster’s friends and family. Being English, virtually all of them keep spectacular gardens as a matter of national pride. A bronze of Diana, goddess of the hunt, reaching back to grab an arrow from her quiver appears on the grounds of Chuffnell Hall, the retreat of Lord Chuffnell, or as Wooster knows him, “Chuffy.” Ahlers & Ogletree Auction Gallery sold a similar-looking statue in November 2017 for $10,000 against an estimate of $3,000 to $5,000.
In All Things, Be Prepared
The television adaptation establishes early in its run that Wooster’s liquid intake largely alternates between tea and booze. Both must continue to flow no matter where he and his manservant are, be it at home or out in the boondocks of the Home Counties. Jeeves equips himself for this eventuality with a travel cocktail set that permits him to mix drinks from the “boot,” or trunk, of a car. An undated Louis Vuitton & Christofle cocktail set, nested in a black leather case, was offered by Abell Auction in December 2011, and while not of British manufacture, would not have been rebuffed, either by Jeeves or Wooster. French made, it’s the product of two impeccable firms that represent the best of the best. It sold for $3,250 against an estimate of $3,000 to $4,000.
Direct from the Source
Want to delight a Jeeves and Wooster superfan? Give them an antique silver cow creamer. The adventures of this jaunty piece of hollowware dominate one of the best-loved Jeeves and Wooster stories, The Code of the Woosters. It starts with Wooster’s Aunt Dahlia enlisting him to sneer at an antique cow creamer and accelerates hilariously from there. Looking at LiveAuctioneers’ archives yields several good results for silver cow creamers, with demand driven at least in part by Wodehouse fans. A 19th-century English example sold by Pook & Pook in December 2011 for $650 against an estimate of $150 to $250. Canonically, the cow creamer is supposed to date from the 18th century, but the friendly little silver bovine with its pert curling tail doubling as a handle looks much like the one showcased in the television series.
Clothes Make the Man
At least one happy bidder out there can embrace the idea of living like Jeeves and Wooster almost literally. A May 2020 Freeman’s auction of a P.G. Wodehouse collection included a tweed waistcoat supplied by Angels & Bermans that was actually worn by Stephen Fry in his portrayal of Jeeves for the television series in 1989. Estimated at $100 to $150, it sold for $350. We hope the winner was on the larger end of the menswear spectrum as Fry stands six feet, five inches tall.
As of April 2021, Jeeves and Wooster is not streaming on any platforms, but it’s easy to immerse oneself in the deeply likable duo’s world by reading or rereading P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster books. HP at Plumtopia, a site for Wodehouse admirers, composed a reading list for the series. Click to view it.
To learn about Jeeves and Wooster’s backgrounds, visit Look Back & Hanker’s blog post.