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)

at Cheltenham College Cricket Ground, 17 July 2013
report by Susan Walker

Jeeves Centenary Brunch

Members of the P G Wodehouse Society (UK) were guests of Gloucestershire County Cricket Club (GCCC) and its Cheltenham and North Cotswolds Regional Committee, at the Cheltenham Cricket Festival: specifically, the first day of the Gloucs v Worcs match. The brunch marked PGW’s visit to the 1913 Festival: Gloucs v Warwicks, at which the real Jeeves, Percy Jeeves, played for Warwickshire. Sadly, he was killed in the First World War at the Battle of the Somme on 22nd July 1916.

Clearly, the name Jeeves was stored in Wodehouse’s brain, for in 1915 he wrote a short story, “Extricating Young Gussie”, in which a minor character is named Jeeves. Thereafter, over a period of 59 years, via a canon of 35 short stories and 11 full-length novels, the fictional Jeeves developed into the most famous gentleman’s personal gentleman in the world. His last appearance was in Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen, published in 1974.

It would be wonderful to say that the weather on 17th July 2013 was reminiscent of that depicted in Wodehouse’s Blandings Castle novels. In those stories, the days were always full of sunshine, blue skies and slight breezes. Unfortunately, we were short of the slight breezes. It was hot, very hot, with little respite. However, our marquee was splendid and open from side to side, so we did not suffer unduly.

On the top table were Dame Janet Trotter, Lord Lieutenant of Gloucestershire; Roger Cooke, Chairman, GCCC; Sir Robert Morland, Chairman of the Cheltenham and North Cotswolds regional Committee; Mrs Marie Journeaux; Mrs Sue Storey; Murray Hedgcock; Miss Georgie Isaac; Mr and Mrs Robert Bruce; and Sir Edward Cazalet. The remaining tables were filled by GCCC members, Regional Committee officials, Wodehouse Society members and guests of all three.

Before we tucked in, Sir Robert Morland welcomed us and then Dame Janet Trotter, in a kind address, declared she was both a Wodehouse fan and a cricket fan. The Reverend Penny Wright said grace, asking us to remain silent for a moment in memory of Percy Jeeves and the thousands of others who died in battle during the First World War.

At this point it is apposite to mention that at tables distant from the speakers it was difficult to catch every word. Everyone enunciated beautifully, with the somewhat haphazard help of a microphone but, even so, they did not reach the volume of Bertie Wooster’s aunts in The Inimitable Jeeves (1923): ‘... Aunt is calling to Aunt like mastodons bellowing across primaeval swamps ...’

The after-brunch speakers were the UK Chairman of the P G Wodehouse Society (our own Hilary, aka Mrs Robert Bruce) and the distinguished writer and journalist, Murray Hedgcock.

Hilary spoke first. She emphasised that the centenary we were marking might easily have slipped by unobserved (it originated when a young author simply made a mental note of a cricketer’s surname) but, thanks to the hospitality of GCCC and its regional committee, plus the diligence of Sir Robert and Andrew Ellis (a member of both GCCC and the Wodehouse Society), it did not slip by.

She went on to thank Murray Hedgcock for finding the time to attend the brunch as our principal speaker. ‘He is,’ she said, ‘a learned and beloved part of our Society.’ Moreover, he would be too modest to mention that his highly collectible Wodehouse at the Wicket was now revised and issued in paperback.

Hilary then drew our attention to the presence among us of two members of the Wodehouse family: PGW’s great-nephew, Nigel Wodehouse and his grandson, Sir Edward Cazalet. ‘Edward,’ she said, ‘has happy memories of Cheltenham.’ She was not referring to cricket but to the fact that he remains distinguished as the only High Court judge who was also a National Hunt jockey – one, moreover, who won the Kim Muir Challenge Cup at Cheltenham in 1958.

Then came a treat: Hilary read out PG’s poem “The Umpire”. All three verses, beginning with ‘I’m monarch of all I survey’ and ending with ‘How’s that? Off you go, sir, you’re out!’

Penultimately, Hilary read a message from Mike Griffith, President of the MCC. Mike is a Wodehouse Society member and godson of PG. He would have been with us but the small matter of a Test Match against Australia got in the way. Mike wrote: ‘My first match as captain of Sussex was against Gloucester. Having won the toss I put them in to bat and at tea Gloucester were 324 for 2. I sometimes wonder what [the fictional] Jeeves would have said about my decision to field. “I think sir, you were unduly optimistic about your bowling attack”, perhaps?’ Mike wished us a very special occasion in Cheltenham and said he would raise a glass from MCC to PG and Jeeves.

Finally, Hilary declared we should take our cue from Mike and raise our own glasses in honour of the day. ‘Please stand,’ she said, ‘and drink to the memories of two men whose names live on wherever English is spoken. To P G Wodehouse and Percy Jeeves.’

Murray Hedgcock’s address was, as everyone expected, erudite and, above all, great fun. Summarising is a difficult task. He began by telling us about the ‘Wodehouse glide’ – a smoothly executed escape from the crowd, an exit from everyone around him. Therefore, how much big cricket did Plum see, required to sit with hundreds of others? He did write of watching Surrey in the early twenties and of being a spectator at the Oval in 1902, where he is said to have snatched time in a rushed lunch-hour visit from his bank job in the City. He watched three England wickets fall before rain interrupted play and he returned to work.

Importantly, he was at that match in 1913 which we were celebrating today. Percy Jeeves was, of course, in the Warwickshire team. Murray said that he had recently bought the 1913 volume of the journal Cricket – and found to his pleasure that the first article in the November issue was “A Chat with Percy Jeeves”. The reporter wrote: ‘Good judges consider that, given good health, Jeeves may well gain the highest honours on the cricket field.’

In 1914 Percy Jeeves’s batting fell away, but he played for the Players against the Gentlemen at The Oval, helping the professionals win by taking four cheap second innings wickets. The old England captain ‘Plum’ Warner was much impressed, saying Jeeves would be an England bowler in the near future. But within a month, war was declared and Jeeves joined the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. He was, as has already been said, killed on the Somme on 22nd July 1916, aged 28.

What if he had survived? Might he have been a member of the 1920-21 team in Australia, the first post-war Ashes series, perhaps helping to trim Australian success from that unprecedented 5-0 result? Wisden recorded Percy Jeeves as a ‘right-handed bowler on the quick side of medium-pace, who with an easy action came off the ground with plenty of spin’. His death meant England ‘lost a cricketer of whom very high hopes had been entertained’. His obituary in the Almanack concludes with the comment: ‘He was very popular among his brother players.’ A charming tribute.

And now we benefit from Brian Halford’s excellent book The Real Jeeves (2013), published by Pitch Publishing, A2 Yeoman Gate, Yeoman Way, Durrington BN13 3QZ. Murray commended Brian for his research, saying that it made him well aware of how little he knew about Percy Jeeves and his brief cricketing career.

Back to PGW. Murray said he played at least one game in Gloucestershire – in 1907, when he appeared for Bourton Vale against MCC, at Bourton-on-the-Water. Batting no 9 in a 12-a-side match, Plum took one wicket, made three and 24, and MCC won by nine wickets. He played his last recorded match in August 1912, at Lord’s, for Authors v Publishers. The Authors were led by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Plum’s next cricket involvement on the record was at Tost internment camp in Upper Silesia, where he was playing an impromptu game with other inmates when told he was to be released, on 21st June 1941.

Murray ended his address by speculating that if PGW were here today – who might he pick as his gentleman’s personal gentleman? Murray liked the appeal of the Gloucestershire captain: ‘My man Klinger’ sounded just right. However, ‘Michael Klinger had the good sense to be born not merely in my home city of Melbourne, but specifically in its rather genteel and upmarket suburb of Kew, so genteel that he would probably have his own gentleman’s personal gentleman, rather than being one ...’

The brunch ended with everyone once more raising their glasses to pay tribute to the man who died on the Somme in 1916, but who remains immortal in the magical world of P G Wodehouse. Then everybody poured out into the sunshine to watch the cricket ...