A nicely matched par if British dramatic series will open on Channel 26 Friday and Sunday.
The first is 12 one-hour programs of short stories by Graham Greene, author of "Our Man in Havana," "Brighton Rock" and other novels, many of which have been made into films.
The second is a 13-part dramatization of stories by the late P. G. Wodehouse, the beloved humorist who created the aristocratic dimbulb Bertie Wooster and his resourceful valet, Jeeves.
While the first two samples aren't going to set your TV screen on fire, they are fun to watch. The acting done - as in just about every British export we have seen - makes them worthwhile.
"Shades of Greene" opens Friday at [WORD ILLEGIBLE] p.m. with a short-short with Dencolm Elliott and a longer piece featuring Sir John Gielgud. Future shows will use Paul Scofield, Donald Pleasence, Elaine Stritch and other first-rate talents. And as usual, even the smallest parts are handled with delicious skill.
Geilgud plays an industrial magnate, surrounded by marvelous production values in the form of famous paintings and elaborate furnishings, who fears for his soul. Told that he can shorten his inevitable stay in Purgatory by gaining indulgences through prayer, he hires a woman to do his praying for him.
The story may prove slightly weird to non-Catholics, and the ending is a little lame. But Greene's wry, quiet humor carries the viewer along. The scene that has the rich man toting up his days off Purgatory on his computer brings a chuckle if not a guffaw. And the servile arrogance of Gielgud's personal assistant is a tiny masterpiece.
For readers raised on Greene's serious studies of the human conscience, such as "The Power and the Glory" and "The Heart of the Matter," this neat little jab at our self-delusions makes and elegant postscript.
Sunday at 10 p.m. the Wodehouse premiere will be "Anself Gets His Chance," starting John Alderton and Pauline Collins of "Upstairs, Downstairs" fame.
Unfortunately, there is a laugh track. It almost kills the whole number, which sets out delightfully with charming photo-montage credits. If P. G. Wodehouse needs a laugh track to tell use when he's being funny, we might as well all go home. But again, it is a treat to see such beautifully controlled acting. For this farce is played in a period style, camped just enough and not too much. The big problem with camp being, as we know, that it nearly always get out of hand.
Alderton droops his head with exactly the right unctuous humility for a curate. He does for eyeglasses what John Garfield used to do for cigarettes. And his sermon - a set piece that is the heart of the show - captures all the delicate pauses and theatrical subtleties we can remember from all the sermons in our lives.
Everyone overacts. This is the only way to get Wodehouse across today. He really was a shameless formula writer. And after an initial anxiety, we realize that we are in the hands of experts: everyone overacts, but just so much and no more. It's always a pleasure to see skilled artists at work.