Radio's King of Comedy

The Oldie Magazine|The Oldie magazine - July issue (389)

Radio's King of Comedy
Martin Jarvis has now recorded 195 Just William stories and PG Wodehouse’s funniest books, he tells Valerie Grove
Valerie Grove

No sooner had Esther Rantzen said on Radio 4, ‘Make us laugh during lockdown – give us Martin Jarvis reading Just William, give us P G Wodehouse,’ than it was done.

By a stroke of luck, the latest Wodehouse production from the husband-and-wife team of Martin Jarvis and Rosalind Ayres was already in the pipeline. And when the BBC implored them for more Just Williams, Jarvis found five he’d never done before, adapted and recorded them ‘at the speed of light’, even though he was by now stuck in Los Angeles.

That’s how we’ve been getting wall-to-wall Jarvis on Radio 4. There’s the Jarvis-directed Michael Frayn sketches, Mobile Magic. And the two-part Leave It to Psmith, starring Edward Bennett, who was ideal as Wodehouse’s agreeable rogue Psmith (‘The p is silent, as in phthisis, psychic and ptarmigan’). And there was Jarvis himself playing Lord Emsworth, ‘drooping like a damp sock’, as his sister Constance (Patricia Hodge) says. As a bonus, there was a new William story at noon each day – including Jumble, the tale of how William acquired his beloved mongrel companion.

The ageless Jarvis (in fact, he’s 78) has been doing Just William since 1973. It was his idea and he’s now read 195 of Richmal Crompton’s 335 stories.

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The Oldie magazine - July issue (389)