Wimsey in various of the books is described as a "tow-headed supercilious blighter," "well-preserved for 40," "Bertie Wooster in horn rims," also slight, sensitive about his lack of height and a bit nervy in general. Other than the Bertie Wooster in horn rims line, much closer in looks and manner to Edward Petherbridge, who portrayed Wimsey in a later adaptation by BBC. One that I probably would have enjoyed much more if I hadn't seen Carmichael as Lord Peter a decade earlier. Carmichael may have not looked exactly the part, but he wore it like a bespoke suit, whose natural drape and fit created a much more believably real person named Lord Peter Wimsey. Which in truth is more than could always be said of Wimsey in the books as well.
The shows are just great fun to watch, even the ones based on the book generally recognized as Sayers' most tedious to get through—Five Red Herrings. And this is speaking as someone who grew up relatively video deprived (town too small for a movie theater, very limited TV options) and so someone who always prefers the book over the TV show or film. But the more I watched him, the less I remembered those early "who IS this guy, he doesn't look anything like Wimsey" reactions and the more I just enjoyed experiencing the stories through him. And of course, eventually Carmichael became Wimsey in my mind, much as Basic Rathbone will ever and always be Sherlock Holmes, magnificent as Jeremy Brett's depiction was.
I was sorry to read that Ian Carmichael had died on Friday at age 89, although truth be told, if someone had asked me a week before that, I doubt if I would have guessed that he was still alive. After all, part of the problem 35 years ago was that he looked too old then. Thinking of that while looking at the picture on the Telegraph site brought a big grin though, because however much he may or may not have looked like Wimsey 35 years ago, I couldn't help but think that picture today could easily be Lord Peter himself at the same age, looking like he had was still enjoying a long and satisfying life. Here's hoping Carmichael is now enjoying in the afterlife some of the well earned "spiffing claret" he said he'd put his million into if he won it, with the added benefit of no fear of hangovers to follow.
If you've never seen them, the BBC series are still available on DVD, or you can just listen to Ian Carmichael reading the audiobooks to get a taste of the characterization while avoiding that whole does he look the part issue. While if you have seen them, it's been 35 years... don't you think it's time for a rerun?