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)

as Murray Hedgcock records

We go on the Wodehouse Trail in Norfolk

Three notable events mark this year of 2012 in Britain – the Royal Diamond Jubilee, the London Olympics, and A Weekend with Wodehouse in Norfolk.

Our celebration began on Thursday, May 24, with another famed Murphy walk, and a reception underneath the arches at Champagne’ Charlie’s, Villiers Street, where Sir Edward Cazalet welcomed us all, and old friendships were renewed. The next morning 39 adventurers (twelve from mainland USA plus a couple from Hawaii, with half a dozen other nationalities represented as well as the British contingent) fought their way through peak-hour London traffic, to gather by the Embankment Tube station.

Elin Murphy began the day by handing out mysterious packages to those who had the foresight to order copies of One Man’s London – Twenty Years On. This is Norman Murphy’s updated record of the London he researched so assiduously from schooldays, the original edition of 1989 long out of print, and commanding considerable prices online.

There was precious little time to read as we boarded our Scotland and Bates coach to renew acquaintance with the genial and unflappable Dave, our driver of five years earlier (on our tour A Week With Wodehouse – click here for details). In any case, each day we received ample reading matter hot off the press, prepared by the same indefatigable N.T.P.Murphy, the Society Remembrancer. Norman equipped us with the better part of 18,000 words overall of vital and entertaining information on what we were to see. He surely deserves a PhD for his thesis on The Wodehouse Norfolk Connection.

As is now traditional, the master of the revels was the ever-imaginative Tony Ring, who, short of roasting an ox for our delectation (difficult in a coach), did everything necessary and possible to provide entertainment en route.

Wodehouse in song and story was played at appropriate occasions, beginning with the late Jonathan Cecil’s inimitable reading of Jeeves and the Impending Doom, as a tribute to his mastery of the spoken Wodehouse. Eighteen poems by PGW, mostly Edwardian, were read by members, in a reminder that Plum could put an unerring finger on current events and concerns – not least politics.

A charming message linked to our tour ranged over the full gamut of the Wodehouse oeuvre, and it was no surprise to learn that it had been sent by Stephen Fry.

Volunteers then were required to summarise the personalities and careers of certain Wodehouse youngsters, with forecasts as to their future lifestyles. John Looijestijn gave us the world of Algernon Aubrey Little; Amara El Gammal, our only teenaged traveller, was highly effective on Joey Cooley; Tom and Betty Hooker portrayed Ogden Ford; Ken Clevenger recalled Blumenfeld Junior; Gloria Nakamura offered the double of Joey Cooley and Orlando Flower; and Tony Ring added a non-competing study of George Threepwood.

Your correspondent, commissioned to judge the offerings, suggested Plum must be looking down from on high with due appreciation of the expanded characters the competitors had offered, acknowledging that he had failed to recognise and develop their infinite potential. Regretting that no-one had chosen to talk about a personal favourite in Clarence Chugwater, the boy scout who saved England, the judge handed the prize to Bob and Andrea Rains for their imaginative peek into the future of Gladys and Ern. Their brother-and-sister adult enterprise would produce profits vast enough to allow them to buy the derelict Blandings Castle, and present it to a little-known group of enthusiasts celebrating the life and times of P.G.Wodehouse.

Two other Ring-devised competitions tested knowledge and imagination. One required former fiancées of B.W.Wooster to write to him, proposing marriage, and the task of adjudicator Chris Reece was complicated by the fact that Mrs (Sue) Reece presented a lively entry on behalf of the substantial – and somewhat earthy – shape of Trixie Waterbury. Tamaki Morimura argued the case for Heloise Pringle; Elaine Ring stretched competition rules to offer a proposal by “Cleopatterer”, as did Carey Tynan, who recorded the claims of one Lady Georgiana (who she?) Tim Richards was an improbable Madeleine Bassett advocate; Karen Shotting made the most of Pauline Stoker; and Christine Hewitt read a surprise item – the case for Elizabeth Bennett, written by Guy Andrews, scriptwriter for the new BBC Blandings series.

Adopting the Baldrick-like “cunning plan” of referring applications to Jeeves for guidance, Chris decreed that Karen Shotting, proposing on behalf of Pauline Stoker, was the only entrant to present a truly attractive case for marriage.

Trickiest of all Ring competitions was the presentation of nine Wodehouse covers, only one in English, with entrants required to nominate the English titles. Most of us were unable to manage more than a stab at a couple of titles. The winner was – again – Karen Shotting.

So where did we actually go in between these testing activities?

Heading out from London through the East End (PGW’s Bottleton East), we passed the Olympic site, and after a pleasant lunch at a 15th Century pub in Wymondham, made our first Wodehouse connection at Kimberley Hall, ancestral home of the Wodehouse family for centuries.

We saw tantalisingly little of the interior, but much more satisfyingly the entrancing garden setting – accompanied by a most friendly labrador named Dinka, who promptly constituted herself one of the welcoming party.

We arrived at Norwich in good time to pass control to local member Ian Alexander-Sinclair, who had garnered an astonishing amount of information about the connections of the Wodehouse family with the wonderful cathedral, dating from the 11th Century.

Most notable is the Wodehouse family memorial window, installed in memory of Edmund Wodehouse MP (1784-1855), his wife and their children.

Norwich offered the hospitality of the 15th Century Maid’s Head hotel, opposite the cathedral, where it seemed the staff had yet to come to terms with the 21st Century in the form of computerised bookings. Remarkable oddities were apparent in the room allocations, with the spelling of occupants’ names diverging wildly from the norm. Membership Secretary Christine Hewitt at first found no allotted room at all, while your correspondent was taken aback at being handed his registration form in the name of “Christine Hegdcook”.

But there was time to settle and share a welcoming drink before dinner, after which many of the party did a modest pub crawl through the ancient city.

Saturday saw us at Hunstanton Hall, where Plum and Ethel stayed frequently in the Twenties and Thirties, and which provided the setting for Money for Nothing, while featuring also in the short stories, Mr Potter Takes a Rest Cure, and Jeeves and the Impending Doom. Norman posed for the cameras by the pig-sty which Plum spotted and seized upon to introduce the Empress of Blandings, and we gazed reverently at the remains of the moat in which PGW established himself in a punt, his faithful Royal on an impromptu desk, to allow him to write in peace.

Perhaps the highlight – if briefly threatening to be a lowlight – was our inspection of The Octagon, where Jeeves demonstrated in his usual masterly fashion how Cabinet ministers and men-about-town could be rescued from resentful swans. We were delighted to find it all so like the illustration on the cover of the Penguin edition of Very Good, Jeeves! that Tamaki was inspired to leap at the wall and clamber up via the grooves so thoughtfully provided by the builder – as Plum had recorded. This foray perhaps came under the category of “it seemed a good idea at the time”, as our intrepid climber found it difficult to complete the ascent, and had to leap off the wall some feet from the ground, bringing a hurrying host of attendants as her ankle folded under her.

Revived and recovered, Tamaki bravely made a second, successful attempt on The Octagon, to be joined on the roof by Frank Hammerle – who had earlier regaled us with the pleasing tale of his pre-tour arrival from Hawaii at passenger-clogged Heathrow. Expecting long delays at passport control, Frank reached the desk surprisingly quickly – and on being asked his reason for entering England, explained that he was to take a Wodehouse tour. The immigration officer responded eagerly, explaining that he had been a Society member – and the couple discussed the work of The Master while the queue built up behind them.

Another pleasing meal – well beyond the basic phrase “pub lunch” – sent us on our way to Blickling Hall, a delightful Jacobean mansion where both Anne and Mary Boleyn were born. Mary had two children by Henry VIII, and her great-granddaughter married a Wodehouse. The National Trust set up its first second-hand bookshop here, and collectors made a beeline for the shelves (sadly, by the time your correspondent got there anything Wodehousean had been snapped up by early arrivals).

Our final dinner at the Maid’s Head was marked by well-deserved tributes to those who had organised and run our excursion – Norman, Tony, Elin Murphy, and above all, Society Chairman Hilary Bruce. She had been involved non-stop in the planning and organising, and then in briefing and chivvying us through the actual travel and visits.

Lesley Tapson said all the right things, and presented a gift to Hilary, who for once in her long career of Wodehouse activity was almost lost for words. The applause must have threatened the ancient rafters of this jigsaw puzzle of a hotel, many times rebuilt and extended over its long life.

Sunday morning took us to the extraordinary Castle Rising, where the 13th-Century castle keep stands out within towering earth ramparts (John Wodehouse was Constable here in 1404) – and our final stop was Sandringham House, where, as Norman pointed out, for the first time en route, the landed proprietor of a stately home was not there to greet us in person. At Kimberley, our younger hosts had been Robbie Buxton and his wife Iona; Robbie’s father bought the Hall from the Earl of Kimberley 50 years ago. The hosts at Hunstanton Hall were Michael Meakin and his son, Charles LeStrange Meakin; Michael owns the Estate, but not now the Hall. At Castle Rising, we were greeted by the direct descendant of the man who built it – Lord Howard of Rising.

Sandringham’s gardens and museum, as well as the ground floor rooms of the House, were a delight. And as Norman wrote in his briefing; “I wonder if PGW ever visited Sandringham? One more thing to chase up, one day …”

Back in London, there were farewell hugs and promises to keep in touch as we went our separate ways from the Embankment, our last memory being of Big Dave guarding the coach that had seen so many happy hours of travel, laughter, entertainment and Wodehousean fellowship.

This is the bone china commemorative plate, using the tour logo designed by Jane-Ann Cameron, a Lewes-based artist, and made by Chris Aston Ceramics of Elkesley near Retford, which everyone who went on the trip received