Sunday, 17 May 2015

“Lord Peter Wimsey was a kind of Bertie Wooster with Brains” … The Unique, Unforgettable, Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey/ BBC / VÍDEO /Ian Carmichael OBE - BBC Obituary

LORD PETER WIMSEY The Complete Collection starring Ian Carmichael. "No crust has even been more upper, no sleuth more of a hoot." —Los Angeles Times The acclaimed BBC dramas seen on PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre! Here at last are all five of the original BBC adaptations of Dorothy L. Sayers’ crime thrillers featuring Ian Carmichael as the brilliant aristocratic sleuth. Hailed by critics as one of the finest mystery series ever filmed, it was so successful on PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre that it single-handedly inspired the spin-off Mystery! Running at least three hours each, these dramas do full justice to Sayers’ vivid characters and elegant 1920s settings. THE MYSTERIES: Clouds of Witness, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, Murder Must Advertise, The Nine Tailors, Five Red Herrings DVD SPECIAL FEATURES INCLUDE exclusive Ian Carmichael interviews, filmographies, interactive trivia and Dorothy L. Sayers materials.

Ian Carmichael starred as Wimsey in radio adaptations of the novels made by the BBC, all of which have been available on cassette and CD from the BBC Radio Collection. In the original series, which ran on Radio 4 from 1973–83, no adaptation was made of the seminal Gaudy Night, perhaps because the leading character in this novel is Harriet and not Peter; this was corrected in 2005 when a version specially recorded for the BBC Radio Collection was released starring Carmichael and Joanna David. The CD also includes a panel discussion on the novel, the major participants in which are P. D. James and Jill Paton Walsh. Gaudy Night was released as an unabridged audio book read by Ian Carmichael in 1993.

    In How I Came to Invent the Character of Lord Peter Wimsey, Sayers wrote:
    Lord Peter's large income... I deliberately gave him... After all it cost me nothing and at the time I was particularly hard up and it gave me pleasure to spend his fortune for him. When I was dissatisfied with my single unfurnished room I took a luxurious flat for him in Piccadilly. When my cheap rug got a hole in it, I ordered him an Aubusson carpet. When I had no money to pay my bus fare I presented him with a Daimler double-six, upholstered in a style of sober magnificence, and when I felt dull I let him drive it. I can heartily recommend this inexpensive way of furnishing to all who are discontented with their incomes. It relieves the mind and does no harm to anybody.

    “Lord Peter Wimsey burst upon the world of detective fiction with an explosive "Oh, damn!" and continued to engage readers in eleven novels and two sets of short stories; the final novel ended with a very different "Oh, damn!". Sayers once commented that Lord Peter was a mixture of Fred Astaire and Bertie Wooster, which is most evident in the first five novels. However, it is evident through Lord Peter's development as a rounded character that he existed in Sayers's mind as a living, breathing, fully human being. Sayers introduced detective novelist Harriet Vane in Strong Poison. Sayers remarked more than once that she had developed the "husky voiced, dark-eyed" Harriet to put an end to Lord Peter via matrimony. But in the course of writing Gaudy Night, Sayers imbued Lord Peter and Harriet with so much life that she was never able, as she put it, to "see Lord Peter exit the stage".

    Sayers did not content herself with writing pure detective stories; she explored the difficulties of First World War veterans in The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, discussed the ethics of advertising in Murder Must Advertise, and advocated women's education (then a controversial subject) and role in society in Gaudy Night. In Gaudy Night, Miss Barton writes a book attacking the Nazi doctrine of Kinder, Kirche, Küche, which restricted women's roles to family activities, and in many ways the whole of Gaudy Night can be read as an attack on Nazi social doctrine. The book has been described as "the first feminist mystery novel."

    Sayers's Christian and academic interests are also apparent in her detective series. In The Nine Tailors, one of her most well-known detective novels, the plot unfolds largely in and around an old church dating back to the Middle Ages. Change ringing of bells also forms an important part of the novel. In Have His Carcase, the Playfair cipher and the principles of cryptanalysis are explained. Her short story Absolutely Elsewhere refers to the fact that (in the language of modern physics) the only perfect alibi for a crime is to be outside its light cone, while The Fascinating Problem of Uncle Meleager's Will contains a literary crossword puzzle.

    Sayers also wrote a number of short stories about Montague Egg, a wine salesman who solves mysteries.

    “Lord Peter begins his hobby of investigation by recovering The Attenbury Emeralds in 1921. He also becomes good friends with Scotland Yard detective Charles Parker, a sergeant in 1921 who eventually rises to the rank of Commander. Bunter, a man of many talents himself, not least photography, often proves instrumental in Peter's investigations. However, Wimsey is not entirely well. At the end of the investigation in Whose Body? (1923) he hallucinates that he is back in the trenches. He soon recovers his senses and goes on a long holiday.

    The next year, he travels (in Clouds of Witness, 1926) to the fictional Riddlesdale in North Yorkshire to assist his older brother Gerald, who has been accused of murdering Captain Denis Cathcart, their sister's fiancé. As Gerald is the Duke of Denver, he is tried by the entire House of Lords, as required by the law at that time, to much scandal and the distress of his wife Helen. Their sister, Lady Mary, also falls under suspicion. Lord Peter clears the Duke and Lady Mary, to whom Parker is attracted.

    As a result of the slaughter of men in the First World War, there was in the UK a considerable imbalance between the sexes. It is not exactly known when Wimsey recruited Miss Climpson to run an undercover employment agency for women, a means to garner information from the otherwise inaccessible world of spinsters and widows, but it is prior to Unnatural Death (1927), in which Miss Climpson assists Wimsey's investigation of the suspicious death of an elderly cancer patient.

    As recounted in the short story "The Adventurous Exploit of the Cave of Ali Baba", in December 1927 Wimsey fakes his own death, supposedly while hunting big game in Tanganyika, to penetrate and break up a particularly dangerous and well-organised criminal gang. Only Wimsey's mother and sister, the loyal Bunter and Inspector Parker know he is still alive. Emerging victorious after more than a year masquerading as "the disgruntled sacked servant Rogers", Wimsey remarks that "We shall have an awful time with the lawyers, proving that I am me." In fact, he returns smoothly to his old life, and the interlude is never referred to in later books.

    During the 1920s, Wimsey has affairs with various women, which are the subject of much gossip in Britain and Europe. This part of his life remains hazy: it is hardly ever mentioned in the books set in the same period; most of the scanty information on the subject is given in flashbacks from later times, after he meets Harriet Vane and relations with other women become a closed chapter. In Busman's Honeymoon Wimsey facetiously refers to a gentleman's duty "to remember whom he had taken to bed" so as not to embarrass his bedmate by calling her by the wrong name.

    There are several references to a relationship with a famous Viennese opera singer, and Bunter – who evidently was involved with this, as with other parts of his master's life – recalls Wimsey being very angry with a French mistress who mistreated her own servant. The only one of Wimsey's earlier women to appear in person is the artist Marjorie Phelps, who plays an important role in The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club. She has known Wimsey for years and is attracted to him, though it is not explicitly stated whether they were lovers. Wimsey likes her, respects her, and enjoys her company – but that isn't enough. In Strong Poison, she is the first person other than Wimsey himself to realise that he has fallen in love with Harriet.

    In Strong Poison Lord Peter encounters Harriet Vane, a cerebral, Oxford-educated mystery writer, while she is on trial for the murder of her former lover. He falls in love with her at first sight. Wimsey saves her from the gallows, but she believes that gratitude is not a good foundation for marriage, and politely but firmly declines his frequent proposals. Lord Peter encourages his friend and foil, Chief Inspector Charles Parker, to propose to his sister, Lady Mary Wimsey, despite the great difference in their rank and wealth. They marry and have a son, named Charles Peter ("Peterkin"), and a daughter, Mary Lucasta.

    While on a fishing holiday in Scotland, Wimsey instigates and takes part in the investigation of the murder of an artist, related in Five Red Herrings. Despite the rejection of his marriage proposal, he continues to court Miss Vane. In Have His Carcase, he finds Harriet is not in London, but learns from a reporter that she has discovered a corpse while on a walking holiday on England's south coast. Wimsey is at her hotel the next morning. He not only investigates the death and offers proposals of marriage, but also acts as Harriet's patron and protector from press and police. Despite a prickly relationship, they work together to identify the murderer.

    Back in London, Wimsey goes undercover as "Death Bredon" at an advertising firm, working as a copywriter (Murder Must Advertise). Bredon is framed for murder, leading Charles Parker to "arrest" Bredon for murder in front of numerous witnesses. To distinguish Death Bredon from Lord Peter Wimsey, Parker smuggles Wimsey out of the police station and urges him to get into the papers. Accordingly Wimsey accompanies "a Royal personage" to a public event, leading the press to carry pictures of both "Bredon" and Wimsey. In 1934 Wimsey in (The Nine Tailors) must unravel a 20-year-old case of missing jewels; an unknown corpse; a missing World War I soldier believed alive; a murderous escaped convict believed dead and a mysterious code concerning church bells.

    By 1935 Lord Peter is in continental Europe, acting as an unofficial attaché to the British Foreign Office. Harriet Vane contacts him about a problem she has been asked to investigate in her college at Oxford (Gaudy Night). At the end of their investigation, Vane finally accepts Wimsey's proposal of marriage.

    The couple marry on 8 October 1935, at St. Cross Church, Holywell Street, Oxford, as depicted in the opening collection of letters and diary entries in Busman's Honeymoon. The Wimseys honeymoon at Talboys, a house in east Hertfordshire near where Harriet had lived as a child, that Peter has bought for her as a wedding present. There they find the body of the previous owner, and spend their honeymoon solving the case, thus having the eponymous "Busman's Honeymoon".

    Over the next five years, according to Sayers' short stories, the Wimseys have three sons: Bredon Delagardie Peter Wimsey (born in October 1936 in the story "The Haunted Policeman"); Roger Wimsey (born 1938), and Paul Wimsey (born 1940). However, according to the wartime publications of The Wimsey Papers, published in The Spectator, the second son was called Paul. It may be presumed that Paul is named after Lord Peter's maternal uncle Paul Delagardie. "Roger" is an ancestral Wimsey name. Sayers told friends orally that Harriet and Peter were to eventually have five children in all.

    In the final Wimsey story, the 1942 short story "Talboys", Peter and Harriet are enjoying rural domestic bliss with their three sons when Bredon, their first-born, is accused of the theft of prize peaches from the neighbour's tree. Peter and the accused set off to investigate and, of course, prove Bredon's innocence.”

1 comment:

NCJack said...

I've been re-reading the Wimsey novels, and I have to agree with one critic: Sayers fell in love with her hero.

Lord Peter went from being a very intelligent man with a high degree of competence in several fields, to unfailing brilliance in all he touched.

While I really liked Carmichael, there was another Wimsey/Vane series that had a younger man, Edward Petherbridge, who, I think, did an excellent job.