Quotations from P G Wodehouse are copyright of, and reprinted by permission of, the Trustees of the Wodehouse Estate © 2019 The P G Wodehouse Society (UK)

The P G Wodehouse Society (UK)

The Autumn PGW Society Meeting found itself in new surroundings on November 19th, at the Savoy Tup Public House. Several pre-satnav members had early difficulties tracking down the venue, having been sidetracked to The Savoy, but eventually some 30 members and guests settled down in the cosy Function Room, looking forward enthusiastically to the AGM and an unspecified entertainment afterwards.

Too Many Highlights – A Year To Remember

As always, Chairman Hilary Bruce was on top form, controlling the meeting by use of Remembrancer Norman Murphy’s pipe, although with a total time of 15 minutes she once again missed the record of nine minutes set some years ago! Within that we witnessed a packed Chairman’s Report, election of Officers and Committee – thankfully all re-elected, and heard the excellent financial situation enjoyed by the Society.

Her Report could of course have been much briefer, when she opened by describing the Society’s general position as ‘Good’, but there were too many highlights to keep her down. One of these was of course the induction of our new President, Sir Terry Wogan, who won over any doubters (surely there were none!) by his Wodehouse background, enthusiasm and knowledge as revealed in a brilliant inaugural speech at yet another triumph of the Biennial Society Dinner at Grays Inn (report here).

Special events during the year had included the Jeeves Centenary, celebrated at a brunch during the Cheltenham Cricket Festival (report here), where PGW saw Percy Jeeves play before the latter went off to war, sadly killed on The Somme in 1916. There had been a major poetry event at Kings Place in London, which had celebrated prolific author Tony Ring’s latest offering, a volume of PGW’s best poetry (details of which can be found here).

Sebastian Faulks CBE, who had joined with Sir Michael Gambon as guests in the entertainment at the Society Dinner, also made a major contribution to the Wodehouse canon with his superb novel, which catches PGW’s style so brilliantly, Jeeves and the Wedding Bells.

Whilst not directly connected with the Society, the enormously successful West End comedy Perfect Nonsense, packed with Wodehousean characters and prose, has spread the word, and is now poised for a national tour.

All these events, along with the continued publication of the complete novels of PGW by Everyman, each containing an advertisement for the Society, and especially our secretary Christine Hewitt’s inspired brainwave of the gift membership, have served to publicise and encourage membership of the Society. As Hilary reminded us, with Christmas coming up, gift membership of the PG Wodehouse Society is surely a must for some.

Sprinkled with other little nuggets, the Chairman’s Report should have been the highlight of the evening, underlined by Norman throwing himself off his chair in excitement, but the entertainment that followed surely trumped it.

I must confess that initially I was not too excited when the topic was revealed, which centred around the illustration of the works of Plum. The plan was for the speaker, Graeme Davidson, to be interviewed by committee member Paul Kent, although the latter rapidly lost control of the situation. For Graeme entertained as only a Glaswegian can, enthralling us all with his non-stop expert journey into the specialist world of the book illustrator.

In the cold light of day, a discourse on the wearing of monocles in book illustrations appears a little dry but, taking it through from the first appearance by Psmith in Leave it to Psmith, leading onto a discourse on whether Bertie Wooster should have worn a monocle, it turned out to be highly entertaining. Graeme came down decidedly in the ‘no’ camp, along with Andrzej Klimowski, the illustrator of the new Everyman edition, although artist Paul Cox in the Folio Edition thought otherwise.

The other major controversy of the night turned on the colour of Empress of Blandings. All readers will of course know that the Empress is a Black Berkshire, so why do so many illustrators picture her as pink? Everyman even used the two colours in different editions. Graeme’s solution was that this was illustrators’ licence, with pink being chosen to make a more aesthetically pleasing picture.

In one of his many fascinating diversions Graeme wandered on to the difference between American and British editions with for example, an American interpretation of a butler’s pantry turning into a magnificent chamber, and other interesting errors in illustration. However, when Paul managed to get a question in on when was the Golden Age, Graeme plumped firmly for the American magazine illustrations of the 1920s-40s, observing that across the pond, illustrators had enjoyed a far higher status than in Britain.

He concluded by talking about his own extensive collection of illustrations, first editions and dust jackets, showing off two of his favourite originals which attracted great interest and debate.

Somewhat to my regret, both Hilary and Graeme made reference to the selling exhibition of original Wodehouse illustrations at Chris Beetles Gallery earlier this year, as this has proved an expensive piece of information!

My other regret was the low turnout, perhaps wrongly put off by fear of the AGM. If so, you missed a treat, those present being greatly disappointed when a spell-binding presentation came to what was clearly considered a premature end, as we could have taken much more.

Peter Read