Archivist Spotlight: Rudyard Funn
[Spoilers primarily for Season 4 of Wooden Overcoats!]
Rudyard Funn runs a funeral home in the village of Piffling Vale.
It used to be the only one.
It isn't anymore.
Created by David K. Barnes, who's also the lead writer and the voice of Dr. Henry Edgware, Wooden Overcoats follows the exploits of the Funn twins, Rudyard (Felix Trench) and Antigone (Beth Eyre), who run Funn Funerals in Piffling Vale, a family business that has existed for centuries. They're joined by their assistant Georgie (Ciara Baxendale) and Rudyard's pet mouse Madeline (Belinda Lang), an aspiring author. Unfortunately, the Funns find themselves with competition for the first time ever when Eric Chapman (Tom Crowley), a mysterious yet charming stranger, arrives in the village and sets up another funeral home right across the street. Hilarity ensues as Chapman proceeds to outdo the Funns at every turn, becoming the most popular man in the village. There's so much more to be said about the show; the ensemble cast of adorably delightful and frustrating villagers, Antigone's entire character arc, and a certain episode involving chocolates and embalming fluid, but that's for you to discover.
I wasn't prepared for how quickly I'd fall in love with Wooden Overcoats, but after hearing the first, "Now look here!" from Rudyard answering the phone I was pretty much a lost cause. I was even more delighted when, at the end of season 3, Rudyard was approached by the newly married Reverend Wavering (Andy Secombe) and Mayor Desmond (Sean Baker) about serving as the village archivist. It was unexpected and then I instantly became invested in how effective Rudyard would be in the role going into the fourth and final season.
It turns out, Rudyard is well suited and surprisingly effective as an archivist.
Throughout the previous seasons, the audience understands Rudyard to be a stiff, arrogant, and relatively repressive personality all of which obscure his fears of inadequacy and change. He's not a bad person, just uncomfortable with the speed at which the world around him stops making sense. Mostly because of Chapman. But he grows, incrementally, as we see how fiercely he loves and protects his family and friends and how much he values his place and position in the village - even if sometimes it's just to get one over on Chapman.
As Piffling Vale's archivist, however, Rudyard finds something unexpected: happiness. He loves researching and the detail-oriented nuances of history even if it's dull and mundane. In fact, Rudyard like it even more if it's dull and mundane! Of the ten episodes of season four, roughly half of them feature Rudyard's work as an archivist. The first to bring the archive into focus is Episode 3, "The Big Cheese," where the village comes out for the unveiling of the Archive Annex after Rudyard's been researching Piffling Vale's history for about six months. Unfortunately, the big reveal is that Piffling has done nothing of historical importance in the entirety of its existence, which doesn't go over as well as you might think. The most Rudyard has to offer is mops, toilets, plungers, and a book of records containing all major leaks and blockages of the village sewer system from 1800 to 1981.
But, as Rudyard says, and pay attention because this will be very important: If you really want to know a place, you’d better start with the plumbing!
This ends up being crucial to the final episode and Piffling Vale's goal of becoming a town and I love how it's very carefully set up in "The Big Cheese" while also couching it in the reality of working with historical documents and performing public outreach. Everybody wants the exciting bits of history and people could care less about the hours of work and the environmental factors of clearing out a new space that mostly contains old fax machines and spiders!
Public outreach and the archives is brought to even greater comical heights in Episode 5, "Dead Man's Chest," when, after Rudyard is literally "buried in Piffling's history due to a bookcase falling on him, it's discovered that Piffling was once briefly ruled by pirates in 1565. In order to capitalize on this find, Mayor Desmond puts Rudyard in charge of creating an event in honor of their brief pirate overlords. One that will have a parade and a brochure that can be submitted to the Tourism Board! Said event, The Big Lug, involves building a recreation of the ship that was hauled onto land by the pirates to retrieve their ball before thanking the villagers and hauling the ship back out to sea.
Unfortunately, the public perception of pirates from movies and television gets in the way of Rudyard's desires for historical accuracy. Even as he tries to correct the cultural misconceptions predating the Golden Age of Piracy, his words go unheard as the villagers proceed to impose their misconceptions as fact. In order to appease the public and secure funding, concessions are made, like adding a plank and a Jolly Roger flag and burying some treasure, but Rudyard holds on to the hope of completing the event and earning the village's adoration. While also getting one over on Chapman. And it seems things might be going his way until reporter Sid Marlowe (Paul Putner) publishes an article full of piratical inaccuracies and encourages the village to go full swashbuckler, which of course means the village pillages and plunders itself.
I felt for Rudyard during "Dead Man's Chest" because a lot of archivists find themselves in similar positions when it comes to exploiting what excites the public but also providing the necessary context. It's difficult to watch people take your work and apply their own preconceived ideas of the subject matter without consultation or care, but outreach is still part of the job and compromises happen. Hopefully, those compromises can become teaching moments, but I don't imagine Rudyard's going to show up at a conference any time soon.
The remaining episodes of Season 4 mostly feature Rudyard's research as an impetus for the main story. In Episode 7, "In the Buff," Rudyard brings attention to a file containing pictures of a nude statue dedicated to a female scientist, Abigail Abernathy, that prompts the village to create a nude calendar. In Episode 8, "Once Upon a Long Time Ago," a note Rudyard found in the archives several episodes earlier leads him down a path to discovering the truth about Eric Chapman. There are lots of little details sprinkled throughout the episodes that I find fun to spot upon a second listen. Like Rudyard purposefully making an office for himself in the cellar of the village hall. This might be the first case of a self-imposed basement archives, which I don't know how to feel about but kinda makes sense for Rudyard. I also enjoy Antigone's stance on history as something to be interpreted, which is definitely a thing that happens.
But the culmination of Rudyard's efforts occurs in the series finale, "A Funn Farewell," in which Chapman's former colleague, Zoey Adeyinka (Amy Rockson) reveals that she works for the census. After skulking around the island, observing the village, and rooting through the newly established archive, she proclaims that the village of Piffling Vale is now, in fact, the town of Piffling Vale! She even reprises Rudyard's words as part of her decision:
Expertly compiled. If you want to understand a place, start with the plumbing and work your way up.
I love that this is what cinches the deal on making Piffling Vale a town. It would be easy enough to have Rudyard's work as an archivist remain unacknowledged within the village, his work unsung as part of the joke of never being as good as Chapman. Luckily, the Wooden Overcoats team went beyond the easy joke and instead gave Rudyard's passion project some actual stakes even if the audience wasn't aware of them at the time. Because he was so anal retentive about details and research, because he wanted to sift through the "boring" bits of history, Rudyard secured the town's fate. It's such a great payoff for a character whose personal catharsis often comes with a lot of kicking and screaming.
I also want to say that Felix Trench as the voice of Rudyard Funn brings so much levity and weight to the words on the page. Rudyard isn't an easy character to like. You really have to be on board with his antics and foibles in order for any of what comes afterwards to pay off, but Trench gives just the right amount of prickliness and pathos to balance the character. You feel for Rudyard as a person even while you want to strangle him, which is my way of complimenting the writing and acting. Quite frankly, the entire cast is amazing and deserve all of the awards and accolades coming to them. Rudyard is only as good as Antigone is only as good as Georgie is only as good as Chapman, etc., etc.
And, maybe one day, we'll get another glimpse at the town of Piffling Vale. Perhaps we'll even get to see how Rudyard's archive has grown in the interim. Wouldn't that be something?
Anyway, enjoy yourself and listen to Wooden Overcoats!