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)

1 November 2011

Society Meeting and AGM

Annual General Meetings are normally events people shy away from, but P G Wodehouse Society AGMs are different. Firstly, our AGMs are as light-hearted as any AGM could be; secondly, all our members appreciate their chairman realises the vital importance of keeping them as short as possible; thirdly, there is a bar handy to strengthen us for the ordeal; and lastly, they are always followed by a good speaker to make up for any shortcomings in the AGM.

And that is why the upper room of The George in the Strand was crowded for the AGM on Tuesday, the 1st November (or 1.11.11 as our chairman meant to point out but forgot). There were some familiar faces but a heartening number of newcomers, and the evening had just about developed into the happy state of everybody having to talk at the tops of their voices when Hilary Bruce brought us to order by banging her gavel (a briar pipe bequeathed by her predecessor).

In a move that instantly endeared her to her audience, Hilary announced that, instead of each officer reporting on his or her area, she would speak on behalf of all of them, save only for the treasurer. She then gave us a masterly review of the last year, of events past and events to come, and she informed us that there were now about 1,200 members in the Society; that we had a continuing and seemingly-growing number of members from overseas; and that, taking all things into consideration, we were doing very well. Even the comments that we had lost a little money in the last year and that subscriptions would probably have to be raised to meet increases in postage and printing costs for Wooster Sauce were happily accepted when she reminded us it was the first rise in fifteen years.

Hilary detailed the tasks carried out by members of the committee and thanked them on our behalf for all their hard work. She told us that Andrew Chapman was stepping down as treasurer to be replaced by Jeremy Neville (treasurer) and David Lindsay (database and membership manager) and concluded by reminding us that it was we, the members, who made the Society what it is and thanking us for our support.

Andrew Chapman then gave us a short treasurer’s report, assured us the finances were sound, and provided copies of audited accounts sheets to prove it before ending with good wishes for his successors. Andrew’s speech was then followed by the election of officers, and the AGM officially closed with Hilary announcing proudly that we had completed it in 16 minutes.

After a short break, Paul Kent, our impresario, introduced our speaker for the evening, Marcus Berkmann. As we realised when Paul reminded us, nearly all of us knew Marcus since he writes regularly for Private Eye, the Spectator, and the Oldie, and we were not disappointed.

Marcus told us how he had first encountered Wodehouse at the age of 14 and of his delight in finding there was more to life than reading Joyce Carey or William Shakespeare. His account of how certain writers still seemed funny to him after thirty years, and some did not, struck a strong chord among his listeners, especially his comment that the cartoonist Charles Schultz is still in a league of his own. He told us how he had watched far too much television as a boy, marvelled at Morecambe and Wise, and worshipped at the shrine of Monty Python, and that Wodehouse was the next obvious step. And then he added: “What I didn’t realise at the time was that there wasn’t another step beyond that.”

Marcus then made the point that is often overlooked by Wodehouse enthusiasts but picked up by professional actors such as Patricia Routledge and Simon Callow. “People tend to talk about Wodehouse’s jokes and for very good reason, but it’s the rhythm and the flow of sentences that really feed my soul.” And to illustrate his argument, he read a few sentences from The Old Reliable, showing once again how Wodehouse’s use of words is best demonstrated when he is read out loud.

It was an excellent talk, delivered with a deadpan humour that kept our attention throughout and several splendid cracks at well-known personalities that I wish I could repeat here – but I had better not. A pity all AGMs aren’t like this.

– Norman Murphy