A Blagger's Guide To: PG Wodehouse

You either love or hate the taste of Plum
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The Independent Culture

The first of six BBC1 adaptations of PG Wodehouse's Blandings Castle stories, broadcast last Sunday evening, received mixed reviews. As did Wodehouse, during his lifetime. Born in 1881 in Guildford, he attended a series of boarding schools, staying in the holidays with a gaggle of aunts, before ending up at Dulwich College in south-east London, where he was a prefect and played for the First XI at cricket. A lapse in his family's fortunes led to him working for two years at the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank (now HSBC).

As well as nearly 100 books, Wodehouse wrote stage plays, lyrics, and musical comedies, including collaborating with Cole Porter on Anything Goes.

Wodehouse was living at his house in Le Touquet, France, when the Second World War broke out, and was captured and interned by the Germans. He was released a few months before his 60th birthday – a fact which may or may not have been related to the broadcasts he subsequently made on German radio. The British were not amused, and Wodehouse was accused of everything from political naivety to treachery.

George Orwell was a fan, and in 1945 wrote an essay, "In Defence of PG Wodehouse", in which he attempted to explain Wodehouse's behaviour thus: "It is important to realise that the events of 1941 do not convict Wodehouse of anything worse than stupidity." He went on to discuss Wodehouse's books: "Most of the people whom Wodehouse intends as sympathetic characters are parasites … Wodehouse's real sin has been to present the English upper classes as much nicer people than they are." Some defence. From the two authors' correspondence, it appears that the pair lunched soon after the essay was published, and that Wodehouse twice thanked Orwell, writing: "You were absolutely right in everything you said about my work. It was uncanny." However, after Orwell's death, he described the piece as "practically one long roast of your correspondent. Don't you hate the way these critics falsify the facts in order to make a point?"

The quintessential Englishman did not live permanently in Britain after 1914, and died, in 1975, in New York.

PG stands for Pelham Grenville. He was known to his friends (and still is to some fans) as Plum.

Wodehouse did not follow fashion when it came to admiring other authors. He was "bored stiff" by Jane Austen, despised Hemingway's "short, breathless sentences" and described the experience of reading Shelley's "The Revolt of Islam" as "like being beaten over the head with a sandbag". In 1951, he wrote to the novelist Denis Mackail: "By the way, do you ever find that you have spells of loathing all poetry and thinking all poets, including Shakespeare, affected fools? I am passing through one now."

He was, however, a fan of The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Episode Two of Blandings, "The Go-Getter", is broadcast on BBC1 this evening at 6:30. In it, hilariously, "Connie hires a personal secretary, Baxter, to tidy up Blandings and Clarence and to impress the visiting Schoonmakers. But Freddie's attempts to sell them dog food contribute to the extreme discomfort of the occasion." The series' writer, Guy Andrews, says: "For any writer, it is the rarest privilege imaginable to have Wodehouse legitimately available as source material. Instead of just stealing from him as we usually do."