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)

A report of the Society’s meeting on 10 February 2016

Why I Love Wodehouse

We have had cross-talk acts; we have had serious speakers and we have had humorous speakers giving us their views on Wodehouse. But never has anyone expressed his views in song, accompanying himself on a ukulele!

Perhaps because of the cold weather, only about 20 or so Society members made it to the Savoy Tup on the 10th February. But what we lacked in numbers, we more than made up for in a spirit of bonhomie that saw the room filled with laughter.

After a respectable period of preliminary sluicing, Chairman Hilary Bruce delivered a few brief parish notices, including word of a special tree planting in Cheltenham in July to commemorate the death of Percy Jeeves on the Somme 100 years ago.

Paul Kent and Tony Ring then discussed the recently published books concerning Wodehouse’s period as an employee of the Globe & Traveller between 1903 and 1909, for most of which he edited a front page column, entitled ‘By The Way’.

Tony explained that an international team of Wodehousean researchers had been gathered together by an American, John Dawson, to obtain and study copies of the column for the period during which Wodehouse was involved. They wanted to see whether, although contributions were unsigned, it might be possible to identify authorship of poems or prose paragraphs to Wodehouse with a reasonable level of certainty. 1,200 columns, involving perhaps 14,000 separate paragraphs or poems, were studied by members of the research team, selecting those having sufficient Wodehouse characteristics to convince the panel of his probable authorship.

The outcome was published in 2015 in two volumes entitled P. G. Wodehouse in the Globe Newspaper. At the time of writing, the books were still available for purchase (details here). But most of the 250 sets published have now been sold, and there are no plans to have a reprint in the immediate future, so members are encouraged to try to obtain any copies wanted immediately.

The first half of the evening concluded with the first – and the most unusual – contribution on 'Why I Love P. G. Wodehouse'. Mark Smith, an archivist, had travelled down from Derby to give us his views and set a precedent for our meetings. It was a tour de force a la ukulele. It was musical, the rhymes rhymed, and we were all impressed by the number of Wodehouse characters whose names fitted surprisingly well into Mark's musical eulogy. For those who couldn’t make it on the night Mark has posted a video of the song, complete with ukulele here.

After the break the meeting resumed with short addresses (none of them in song) on the same theme, the contributors all being rather luminaries of our society.

Paul Kent took the stand first to tell us that his appreciation of Wodehouse was an evolving relationship. He started young but as he grew older, he stopped reading Wodehouse as the fiction seemed to mock the trials of real life. But further maturity brought a new and real appreciation, Wodehouse’s fiction showing that the world can be better than it appears.

Elin Murphy told us of her multi-layered connection to Wodehouse, across two continents. Her interest started as a young child when her whole family were avid readers. Some years later she joined the U.S. Wodehouse Society and eventually became its president. And of course she met her husband, Norman, because of Wodehouse.

For our Chairman, Hilary Bruce, Wodehouse had given her firstly an education from about the age of 10, mainly in long and unusual words and how to use them in grammar and in writing, making much of her career possible. A love of Wodehouse was the basis of the bond with many of the people in her life, and an ongoing feeling of connection to family members who are now not with us.

Norman Murphy told us that it took him 50 years to find the five things he appreciates in Wodehouse: (1) he made him laugh; (2) Wodehouse’s great use of metaphors; (3) his use of quotations and especially funny mis-quotations; (4) he is the finest writer of English; and (5) for full appreciation, he needs reading out loud because comedy needs rhythm in the words to work.

Finally, an uncommon privilege. Edward Cazalet shared some reminiscences of knowing Wodehouse well during the 1950s and 60s. He told us that Plum was not fond of talking about politics or current affairs, but that a good knowledge of cricket, rugby, and football was essential to converse with him. Edward told us that he mainly appreciated Wodehouse for his commitment to his family and for being the kindest man he knew. He then shared some excerpts from personal letters. The feeling we were left with, of close contact to Wodehouse himself, was priceless.

(Thanks to Iain Khan-Gilchrist, Tony Ring, and Norman & Elin Murphy for contributing to this report. A real team effort!)

Mark Smith