A castle, a pig called Empress and a rather porky aristocrat

Timothy Spall goes posh in a new PG Wodehouse adaptation

"Getting comedy right is very difficult indeed. It's like trying to make an immaculate cut-glass wine decanter," says Timothy Spall. "It has to amuse people while being beautifully shaped and at the same time a bit strange and barmy."

Spall is talking about his latest role, playing Lord Emsworth in the BBC's new take on P G Wodehouse's classic Blandings stories. Adapted for the screen by Guy Andrews (Lost in Austen) and set in 1929, the series about a family of unconventional aristocrats and their equally unorthodox servants aims to capture Wodehouse's tone of lovable eccentricity with a crack comic cast including Jennifer Saunders as Lord Emsworth's domineering sister, Connie, and David Walliams as his snooty secretary Rupert Baxter.

"With comedy, your aim is to please people, so if you're not managing to make them happy, they find it disproportionately disappointing", says Walliams, who very much looks the part of the imperious secretary in Baxter's little round spectacles, immaculate black three-piece suit, a gold watch chain across his stomach, stiff wing collar and impeccably smeared-down hair. "Comedy comes under greater scrutiny because viewers have much stronger feelings about what's funny than about what's dramatic. If people are trying to make you laugh and don't succeed, it's just really annoying. It just grates."

Blandings Castle, in reality Florence Court, a mid-18th century stately home in County Fermanagh, described by Andrews as "dysfunction junction", is the scene of a relentless battle between Lord Emsworth, known as Clarence, and his sister. He wants nothing more than to be left alone to spend time with his much-adored pig, The Empress. His only ally is his ever-loyal butler, Beach (Mark Williams). It's an archetypal comic clash between a lethargic, lazy bloke and an exasperated, efficient woman.

"There is an ingenue quality about Clarence," says Spall. "Even though he has massive responsibilities at the castle and finds his sister's bossiness a complete rectal ache, he remains one of the world's innocents. That's a very nice quality."

Saunders, 54, sitting in the make-up truck wearing a fetching plastic rain hood to protect her bouffant blonde wig from the elements, concurs that the characters are depicted not with sneers, but with sympathy. "Connie runs everything, and because she is much more able than he is, Clarence defers to her about everything – except his ruddy pig! But thanks to primogeniture, he still has the title. That means that Connie is in a rage all day long. Sometimes it's pure rage, but a lot of the time it's affectionate rage. She is actually something of a frustrated romantic. Despite all their differences, when they are threatened by outsiders, Connie and Clarence stick together as a family."

These lords and ladies from nearly a century ago may seem remote figures to us but Spall argues that there is a universality about them. "Wodehouse is saying that just because these people are aristocrats, it doesn't mean that they're not as frail and daft as the rest of us. Blandings works as a comedy because it juxtaposes these characters' supposed nobility with their ludicrousness and fallibility."

Contemporary audiences will find particular resonances in Blandings because during a recession we yearn to lose ourselves in a universe far, far away, thinks Spall. "Recession brings a great desire for nostalgia – hence the popularity of Downton Abbey. People romanticise the past. It's intriguing that during the Depression, Hollywood had its biggest ever success. Escapism always does incredibly well when times are hard."

Blandings should also score because of its parallels with modern-day society. "There is quite a lot of satire in this series which will strike a chord with viewers today," says Walliams. "There is still a lot of comedy about class in this country. Class still conditions us. It is still an issue that we have a prime minister and a chancellor who went to public school and Oxbridge."

"Twits are twits, and snobs are snobs. That endures wherever and whenever you are," adds Saunders. "It's a lovely little comedy with robust characters that could run and run. It's about human frailty and ambition. It doesn't have to do you good, or to mean anything. You can enjoy it for itself."

'Blandings' begins on Sunday at 6.30pm on BBC1

Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
    She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

    Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

    The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
    American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

    Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

    James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
    Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

    Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

    Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution