8th July 1941. The Joke Which Misfired.
The central joy of the novels of Pelham Grenville (P.G.) Wodehouse is the language with its allusions, Biblical, Classical and Shakespearean, richness of simile, character silliness, and between the wars, and later, there was a need for gaiety.
However in the early panic of World-War II, a Statement was made in the Commons Today in 1941, about the possible prosecution after the War of the pipe-smoking author P.G.Wodehouse (‘Plum’) for ‘assisting the enemy’.
In many ways this reflects a quote of his: ‘When a fellow is braced with things in general, Fate sneaks up behind him with a bit of lead piping’.
Wodehouse had been captured at Le Tourquet, France, where he lived in 1940, and persuaded to give a series of ‘whimsical’ talks about life, after being interned and spending a year in camps and a lunatic asylum in Upper Silesia.
On his release Wodehouse made six comic broadcasts about life in German internment camps, at a bad time after the blitz on Britain,, to the then neutral America, entitled, ‘How to be an internee without previous training’. Typical Wodehouse!
He was denounced as a traitor in the Press, and the Minister of Information, Duff Cooper forced Ian Olgilvie, Director General of the BBC to broadcast a Post-Script by ‘Cassandra’ (William Connor), of the Daily Mirror, calling him a Quisling and accusing him of ‘pawning his honour for the price of a soft bed’. British Libraries refused to stock his books.
Wodehouse’s denial came in a letter to the Foreign Office in 1942, in which he said, ‘I was guilty of nothing more than a blunder’, even MI5 was to say he was not a traitor.
In 1944 the French were keen to deport Wodehouse but we didn’t want him back, and he was moved from Paris to the country where he could be kept under surveillance.
Now the government representative with the French Committee of National Liberation, Alfred Duff Cooper said, ‘there is no doubt in mind that he has committed a grave offence for which apparently the laws of England make no provision’.
Wodehouse was to spend the rest of his life in exile at Remsenburg, Long Island near New York, until being rehabilitated in 1975 with a knighthood, a month before he died.
Ironically the Germans were keen on Wodehouse stories and believed in the dress styles of Wooster and the rest, so that an agent when dropped in the Fens was wearing spats.
All Wodehouse craved was quiet, his pipe and pets. He died on Valentine’s Day in 1975 with a half-finished MS of Sunset at Blandings, to be published 2 years later.
Last word to novelist Evelyn Waugh an ardent ‘Wodehousian’ :’He will continue to release future generations from captivity that may be more irksome than our own. He has made a world for us to live in and delight in’.
telegraph.co.uk.William Langley. 27.8.2011/ Cartoon Pic.