How to be an Internee with No Previous Experience, Radio 4
What ho! Me, a traitor to my country? Utter piffle
Sunday 21 December 2008
The Afternoon Play on Radio 4 is, by and large, execrable. The scripts are all too often trite, the subject matter all too often trivial, the acting all too often embarrassing. All the boxes get ticked: regional accents? Check. Immigrants? Check. Not too middle class? Check.
On Tuesday, though, Colin Shindler came up with something that was closer to hitting the spot.
PG Wodehouse – didn't have a good war. As the Germans yomped through France he refused to leave his Le Touquet villa, and was interned in Upper Silesia for a while. "If this is Upper Silesia, one wonders what Lower Silesia must be like," he's supposed to have said. After his release he was persuaded by his German hosts to make a series of broadcasts to America, and with the war almost won he was interrogated by MI5, with the real possibility that he could hang for treason.
Malcolm Muggeridge was the liaison officer for British intelligence, while Major EJP Cussen, later to become a High Court judge, did the actual questioning. Was Wodehouse treacherous or plain naive, an innocent abroad?
Muggeridge, it's clear, fell under the spell of this holy fool, though Cussen didn't. "I just wanted to thank my American readers," Wodehouse protested. "It was just a bit of fun ... I had no idea that my words could be so catastrophically misconstrued."
But while the play's script was good, there's still the problem of the acting. Tim McInnerny, Alex Jennings and Anton Lesser (Wodehouse, Muggeridge and Cussen respectively) are all top-drawer thesps. But all the time you can hear them acting, the nuts and bolts of their performances audible to the naked ear. I don't know, maybe it's just me.
In the end, Cussen concluded that Wodehouse was guilty of aiding the enemy, but it would be difficult to prove intent. Though he was eventually forgiven by his countrymen – even his most venomous critic William Connor, "Cassandra" of the Daily Mirror – he never came back to Blighty. "I have been the most awfully silly ass, haven't I?"
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