Robert Webb talks about being Bertie Wooster

Jason Thorpe (Jeeves), Robert Webb (Bertie Wooster) and Christopher Ryan (Seppings). Pic: Hugo Glendinning
Jason Thorpe (Jeeves), Robert Webb (Bertie Wooster) and Christopher Ryan (Seppings). Pic: Hugo Glendinning
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BEST known as one half of comedy double-act Mitchell and Webb, Robert Webb won hearts aplenty as socially dysfunctional flatmate Jeremy in Channel 4’s award-winning sitcom Peep Show.

At The King’s this week he’s likely to do so all over again when he steps back in time to play PG Wodehouse’s nice but dim English gentleman Bertram Wilberforce, otherwise known as Bertie Wooster, who seldom ventures far without his faithful valet Jeeves.

One of life’s innocents, Bertie’s stupidity ensures even those who were not born with a proverbial silver spoon in their mouth can’t help but warm to him. After all, money can’t buy brains?

Webb agrees, “Yes, he’s a clot. The joy of the Jeeves and Wooster stories partly lies in the fact that Bertie is completely lost without Jeeves.

“He’s rich but he can’t put his trousers on the right way round without help, but he’s also basically decent.”

In Perfect Nonsense, a country house weekend takes a turn for the worse as Bertie is unwittingly called on to play matchmaker, but also to steal a silver cow creamer from Totleigh Towers.

Naturally, the ever dependable Jeeves is there to prevent Bertie from making a fool of himself in front of a cast of Wodehouse’s finest creations including Gussie Fink-Nottle, Madeline Bassett, Sir Watkin Bassett, Dahlia Travers, Roderick Spode and Constable Oates.

“The adaptation is based on The Code of the Woosters,” elaborates Webb. “Bertie is prepared to marry Madelaine Basset even though there’s nothing he’d like to do less.

“There’s been a misunderstanding about his intentions but he may have to go through with it because... ‘well, you have to be civil’. Such is his ‘code’.”

No stranger to the Capital, the 42-year-old is looking forward to returning to the city and recalls how Edinburgh played a very important part of his early career, helping cement his double act with David Mitchell.

“Very important,” he says, “Student shows and then, with David, we marked our progress by seeing whether we had a better Fringe slot that the year before.”

Webb and Mitchell met in 1993. It became obvious fairly quickly that they shared a comic chemistry.

“The first time I saw David, he was doing a show with his friends at Cambridge and I immediately thought he was funny.

“We wrote a few sketches together afterwards and just really made each other laugh.

“With writing and acting, the ‘chemistry’ is just a question of having overlapping senses of humour.

“And that looks more and more natural to the audience with time and practice.”

At the Fringe they were able to hone that easy rapport.

“Producers come to Edinburgh to look for new talent.

“There was never a ‘here’s the standard rich and famous contract’ moment but there’s a cumulative thing where the people in the business gradually become aware of what you do and realise that you’re not going to go away.”

That said, one particular Fringe performance sticks in his mind.

He laughs, as he reveals, “Pleasance Upstairs 1997, 11.05am slot, three in the audience, two of them awake.”

It was a good training ground, however, and stood both Webb and Mitchell in good stead when TV came calling in the form of Channel 4’s Peep Show, which has now run for eight series.

“We always knew that the scripts were good. But every recommission was a fantastic surprise.

“It always had good reviews and picked up some awards but the ratings were never anything special so we always expected it to be cancelled.

“At some point it became part of the Channel 4 furniture but we didn’t really notice that happen.

“It’s been hugely important to us. It was our big break.

“Even though the audience was small and cultish, it was still a case of having our own sitcom on terrestrial TV and that doesn’t happen to many people, so we’re well aware of our luck.

He continues, “That was probably reassuring to the BBC when they came to commission That Mitchell and Webb Look.

“The two shows helped each other for a while - both channels being slightly annoyed that they didn’t have us to themselves.”

At The King’s Webb is joined by Jason Thorpe as Jeeves, while the role of Seppings will be played by Christopher Ryan, best known as Mike in the anarchic BBC sitcom The Young Ones.

So, are Peep Show fans surprised when they see ‘Jez’ in upper class mode?

“Most of the audience are Wodehouse fans and then I guess there are about 30% younger people who may or may not be Peep fans.

“I don’t know how surprised they are but the audiences as a whole have all been extremely warm and supportive. Everyone leaves the show with a smile on their face. It’s audience proof, it’s even tired actor proof,” he laughs.

Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense, King’s Theatre, Leven Street, until Saturday, 7.30pm (matinees 2.30pm), £14-£29.50, 0131-526 0000