a book that changed me

FRANK MUIR on the Jeeves stories of P G Wodehouse

How old were you when you first read the stories? I was quite young, seven or eight I should think, when I first read some of the Jeeves stories. Previous to that I had been reading stuff that was quite different, quite juvenile. I was reading Just William in The Happy Mag, a blotting paper magazine that often had rather flat comedy stories that seemed very tragic and sad. Suddenly someone gave me or lent me a book of Jeeves and Bertie Wooster short stories, I can't remember the name, but it's really not important. It was so different to anything I had read before.

Why did it strike you so much? It was this extraordinarily different kind of prose. I loved it, the use of language and the similes, the sparkling similes. Lines such as "Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French ..." There is also Evelyn Waugh's favourite Wodehouse line - "the unpleasant acrid smell of burned poetry" - which is just wonderful.

People often mistake Wodehouse, taking his characters for chinless wonders, but they're not, they're complicated. People misunderstand Bertie: in all the silly episodes he is involved in he was actually trying to help his friends; he thought he could do a better job than Jeeves! Wodehouse also had terrible things to say about aunts. There was always aunt calling to aunt across the room. But there was nothing at all Freudian, he simply wanted a woman around but didn't feel you could have a mother. But it is strange that women don't enjoy these books. I don't know why, I wish they did.

Have you re-read them? Oh yes , I pick them up all the time, and when I was head of comedy at BBC1 put on a Jeeves and Bertie Wooster show. I think it was called The World of Wooster, I'm not sure, but Dennis Price was Jeeves. I took the show to P G Woodhouse's home in America and he thought Dennis Price was the best Jeeves he'd ever seen.

Do you recommend these stories or are they a private passion? Oh I recommend them without question, but there's really no need as everybody knows them already.

Frank Muir's 'A Kentish Lad' is published by Bantam Press at pounds 16.99

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