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Published by jack elliot

P.G Wodehouse 

 

 

When the Germans made their rapid advance through Belgium in the early 
summer of 1940, they captured, among other things, Mr. P. G. Wodehouse, 
who had been living throughout the early part of the war in his villa at 
Le Touquet, and seems not to have realised until the last moment that he 
was in any danger. As he was led away into captivity, he is said to have 
remarked, "Perhaps after this I shall write a serious book." He was 
placed for the time being under house arrest, and from his subsequent 
statements it appears that he was treated in a fairly friendly way, 
German officers in the neighbourhood frequently "dropping in for a bath 
or a party". 

Over a year later, on 25th June 1941, the news came that Wodehouse had 
been released from internment and was living at the Adlon Hotel in 
Berlin. On the following day the public was astonished to learn that he 
had agreed to do some broadcasts of a "non-political" nature over the 
German radio. The full texts of these broadcasts are not easy to obtain 
at this date, but Wodehouse seems to have done five of them between 26th 
June and 2nd July, when the Germans took him off the air again. The first 
broadcast, on 26th June, was not made on the Nazi radio but took the form 
of an interview with Harry Flannery, the representative of the Columbia 
Broadcasting System, which still had its correspondents in Berlin. 
Wodehouse also published in the SATURDAY EVENING POST an article which he 
had written while still in the internment camp. 

The article and the broadcasts dealt mainly with Wodehouse's experiences 
in internment, but they did include a very few comments on the war. The 
following are fair samples: 


"I never was interested in politics. I'm quite unable to work up any kind 
of belligerent feeling. Just as I'm about to feel belligerent about some 
country I meet a decent sort of chap. We go out together and lose any 
fighting thoughts or feelings." 


 

 


"A short time ago they had a look at me on parade and got the right idea; 
at least they sent us to the local lunatic asylum. And I have been there 
forty-two weeks. There is a good deal to be said for internment. It keeps 
you out of the saloon and helps you to keep up with your reading. The 
chief trouble is that it means you are away from home for a long time. 
When I join my wife I had better take along a letter of introduction to 
be on the safe side." 

"In the days before the war I had always been modestly proud of being an 
Englishman, but now that I have been some months resident in this bin or 
repository of Englishmen I am not so sure... The only concession I want 
from Germany is that she gives me a loaf of bread, tells the gentlemen 
with muskets at the main gate to look the other way, and leaves the rest 
to me. 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. This offer holds good till Wednesday week." 


The first extract quoted above caused great offence. Wodehouse was also 
censured for using (in the interview with Flannery) the phrase "whether 
Britain wins the war or not," and he did not make things better by 
describing in another broadcast the filthy habits of some Belgian 
prisoners among whom he was interned. The Germans recorded this broadcast 
and repeated it a number of times. They seem to have supervised his talks 
very lightly, and they allowed him not only to be funny about the 
discomforts of internment but to remark that "the internees at Trost camp 
all fervently believe that Britain will eventually win." The general 
upshot of the talks, however, was that he had not been ill treated and 
bore no malice. 

These broadcasts caused an immediate uproar in England. There were 
questions in Parliament, angry editorial comments in the press, and a 
stream of letters from fellow-authors, nearly all of them disapproving, 
though one or two suggested that it would be better to suspend judgment, 
and several pleaded that Wodehouse probably did not realise what he was 
doing. On 15th July, the Home Service of the B.B.C. carried an extremely 
violent Postscript by "Cassandra" of the DAILY MIRROR, accusing Wodehouse 
of "selling his country." This postscript made free use of such 
expressions as "Quisling" and "worshipping the F�hrer". The main charge 
was that Wodehouse had agreed to do German propaganda as a way of buying 
himself out of the internment camp. 

 on the  whole it seems to have intensified popular feeling against Wodehouse. One 
result of it was that numerous lending libraries withdrew Wodehouse's 
books from circulation. Here is a typical news item: 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Within twenty-four hours of listening to the broadcast of Cassandra, the 
DAILY MIRROR columnist, Portadown (North Ireland) Urban District Council 
banned P. G. Wodehouse's books from their public library. Mr. Edward 
McCann said that Cassandra's broadcast had clinched the matter. Wodehouse 
was funny no longer." (DAILY MIRROR.) 


In addition the B.B.C. banned Wodehouse's lyrics from the air and was 
still doing so a couple of years later. As late as December 1944 there 
were demands in Parliament that Wodehouse should be put on trial as a 
traitor. 

There is an old saying that if you throw enough mud some of it will 
stick, and the mud has stuck to Wodehouse in a rather peculiar way. An 
impression has been left behind that Wodehouse's talks (not that anyone 
remembers what he said in them) showed him up not merely as a traitor but 
as an ideological sympathiser with Fascism. Even at the time several 
letters to the press claimed that "Fascist tendencies" could be detected 
in his books, and the charge has been repeated since. I shall try to 
analyse the mental atmosphere of those books in a moment, but it is 
important to realise that the events of 1941 do not convict Wodehouse of 
anything worse than stupidity. The really interesting question is how and 
why he could be so stupid. When Flannery met Wodehouse (released, but 
still under guard) at the Adlon Hotel in June 1941, he saw at once that 
he was dealing with a political innocent, and when preparing him for 
their broadcast interview he had to warn him against making some 
exceedingly unfortunate remarks, one of which was by implication slightly 
anti-Russian. As it was, the phrase "whether England wins or not" did get 
through. Soon after the interview Wodehouse told him that he was also 
going to broadcast on the Nazi radio, apparently not realising that this 
action had any special significance. Flannery comments [ASSIGNMENT TO 
BERLIN by Harry W. Flannery.]: 


"By this time the Wodehouse plot was evident. It was one of the best Nazi 
publicity stunts of the war, the first with a human angle. ...Plack 
(Goebbels's assistant) had gone to the camp near Gleiwitz to see 
Wodehouse, found that the author was completely without political sense, 
and had an idea. He suggested to Wodehouse that in return for being 
released from the prison camp he write a series of broadcasts about his 
experiences; there would be no censorship and he would put them on the 
air himself. In making that proposal Plack showed that he knew his man. 
He knew that Wodehouse made fun of the English in all his stories and 
that he seldom wrote in any other way, that he was still living in the 
period about which he wrote and had no conception of Nazism and all it 
meant. Wodehouse was his own Bertie Wooster." 

 

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