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)

If you opted to give the old Society Annual General Meeting a miss on the grounds of the general reputation of all AGMs, then I’m afraid – and you’re not going to like this – it could end up on your all-time list of not-very-good decisions. I hope you had a good time, whatever you were doing, because those of us who were at The George on November 13th most certainly did.

Another of those boring AGMs? – Hardly …

None of the usual format of an AGM – pages of boring facts and figures delivered by someone who hasn’t got past Module 1 of ‘How To Give An Effective Presentation’, a retired colonel from Droitwich droning on from the back row about something that doesn’t concern a single other person in the room, and the sound of gentle snoring – were in evidence. Instead, our esteemed Chairman rattled through the official business at a very acceptable lick, and the meat of the evening – an interview with Sophie Ratcliffe, author of P.G. Wodehouse: A Life In Letters – provided entertainment of the first water.

Obviously intent on at least matching last year’s all-comers’ record of 16 minutes, Hilary Bruce was first up to the microphone. Her Chairman’s report told us that our general position is good, and our membership numbers more or less stable. The first stage of the subscription increase appears to have gone pretty smoothly, although the tricky bit will be the standing order payers next year. She then followed with an account of the various events throughout the year, and the changes in committee – new Website Editor, and Alan Wood stepping down.

Then came the Treasurer’s Report which, if it had been delivered by its writer, would have had most of those assembled straining to hear, as Jeremy Neville had been unable to attend because he had lost his voice. ‘Step forward’ – or rather ‘stay where you are, Mrs Bruce’. Hilary informed the meeting that, had we not made a profit on the Norfolk weekend, the accounts would have shown a slight loss for the year, which vindicated the decision to raise the subscriptions. However, Jeremy had managed to compensate for his absence by managing to get five Plum titles – Uneasy Money, Money In The Bank, Little Nugget, Hot Water and Money For Nothing – into the report!

The election of officers and committee members was carried out without the need for any Whips, and the official part of the meeting was over. There then followed the customary stampede for the bar.

Upon our return we found our Chairman still at the mic, this time to deliver a few ‘parish notices’. These included the need for a volunteer auditor (please put your hand up if you can help – email the Website Editor), gift membership of the Society as ‘the’ present this Christmas, another reminder about the need to renew standing order mandates, photographs of the dinner, and then we were on the evening’s own main course – the interview with Sophie Ratcliffe.

By way of introduction before handing over to Paul Kent, Hilary recalled that Sophie was at our first meeting at The George in October 2007, “telling us that she was speeding along with the collected letters of PG Wodehouse, and it would be ready soon. What happened? Two new children happened, that’s what. But the book was launched last year, just a couple of weeks after the second child was launched, as I recall. There was a really lovely scene at the launch, of Sophie sitting behind piles of books to be signed, a tiny baby in her arms – surrounded by her achievements.”

Paul and Sophie then took their places at the table, and for the next hour we had a quite fascinating account of how the book had taken shape and come to fruition. Sophie told us of how she first conceived the idea (although conception of another kind then took over, as we had previously heard!) and the research and travelling that was involved. She estimated that she probably looked at around 3,000 of Plum’s letters, of which only about 500 actually made it into the book. There had been the usual moments of self-doubt along the way, wondering whether she was up to the job, whether she had done her illustrious subject justice, and the sleepless nights leading up to the launch and the reviews. She said her only slight regret was that there had perhaps not been as many letters about his relationship with Ethel as she would have liked.

And then, almost as soon as it had begun, it was over, leaves were being taken and ways home were being wended. Wodehouseans of all shapes and sizes oozed gently into The Strand, their hearts and minds in that pleasant state that almost always comes from simply having spent time in the company of like-minded people.

Mike Swaddling