AT THE end of the Second World
War, as a book-loving warrior, I advanced into the public library of
Southport - a Lancashire resort where I was billeted - and asked for a PG
The female librarian regarded me as one who, if God
had reached down to pull me from the sink of iniquity would not have
dragged me further than the depths of degradation. In a voice like the
rasp of steel wool, she said: "Wodehouse was a traitor and we do not stock
With the book-issuing bedlam in my sights, I
pressed my verbal trigger and let her have a short rat-a-tat. "Wodehouse
is no traitor," I blazed as I left her sagging behind her literary
My view, formed more with faith than evidence, has
been reinforced by innumerable books on Pelham Grenville Wodehouse -
"Plum" to his friends - who, while interned by the Germans in a converted
lunatic asylum in upper Silesia, made five humorous, non-political radio
broadcasts for American readers who had sent him food parcels.
extract: "The only concession I want from Germany is that she gives me a
loaf of bread and tells the gentlemen with muskets at the main gate to
look the other way. In return, I am prepared to hand over India, an
autographed set of my books and to reveal the secret process of cooking
sliced potatoes on a radiator ..."
Hardly credible treachery, and
not comparable with that of William Joyce (Lord Haw Haw) or the American
poet, Ezra Pound, whose war-time, anti-democratic broadcasts from Italy
led to his indictment in America for treason, the trial abandoned because
he was adjudged insane.
IN POLITICAL awareness, Plum was probably a verb
short of a simple sentence, but he apparently aided the enemy and Britain
reacted furiously. I remember the broadcast of Cassandra (William Neil
Connor), the Daily Mirror columnist, that compared Britain’s sufferings
and bravery with Wodehouse’s comparatively easeful life in Germany; he was
released from internment shortly after the broadcasts, but not in a quid
It was a poisonous polemic and his
character-assassination was continued by other writers and broadcasters,
although shops continued to sell Wodehouse books and, while some public
libraries banned them, Edinburgh’s, if I recall aright, did not.
that his well-loved, fairy-tale creation was ingrained deep into Britain’s
literary psyche and not all the slings and arrows of outrageous
anti-Wodehouse propaganda could change it.
Essentially Edwardian and
1920s Britain in character, it was a page-scape of well-heeled young men,
sometimes, in early novels, with monocles and spats, amiable but often
"mentally negligible", dotty earls, aunts with carrying voices like
"mastodons bellowing across primeval swamps", public schools, steeped in
"play the game" ethos, determined young women, one with a laugh "like a
squadron of cavalry charging over a tin bridge", aristocratic estates,
upper-class London clubs and expensive golf ones. The Wodehouse world was,
apart from some exceptions, as close to social realism as Earth to the
THAT was its prime attraction, a construction of
hilarious situations and dialogue, neatly-intricate plots, masterly use of
English and memorable characters such as Bertie Wooster and Jeeves his
manservant who, like the butler in Barrie’s The Admirable Crichton, towers
in intellect and general ability over his employer.
Working-class characters, often in the comic mould of Dickens’s Sam
Weller, appear as well as one with risible Fascist tendencies, called
Spode. There is no sex in the revelatory sense - double-beds are only
useful if made into apple-pie ones.
Generally, plots are sunny
with a breezy facetiousness. Lord Emsworth wins first prize with his pig,
the Empress of Blandings, Ukridge, visionary and quasi conman, still seeks
his fortune and Jeeves once again rescues Bertie from designing females,
predatory aunts, tasteless ties or purple socks.
a new biography, entitled Wodehouse: A Life by Robert McCrum.
books there are about the master, the more people will realise that we had
one of the finest humorous writers in the English language who was cleared
of treachery, became an American citizen and, in a fitting gesture of
British reconciliation, was created KBE in 1975.
told Jeeves, "You absolutely stand alone", and received the reply, "I
endeavour to give satisfaction, sir." Wodehouse did - on both counts.