A silly ass, but not a traitor. At last, the real story of PG Wodehouse

Secret files opened: MI5 could not muster case against the author of Jeeves' books
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The writer PG Wodehouse was guilty of being a vain and stupid ass but nothing more, despite widespread baying for him to face treason or treachery charges, according to files released by the Public Record Office yesterday.

The creator of Jeeves and Bertie Wooster recorded five talks in 1941 for the Nazi authorities in Berlin which were later broadcast to Britain. Although no charges were brought against Wodehouse at the end of the war, in 1946 MI5 was still reluctant fully to abandon the case and was convinced it could be reopened.

The files released yesterday show the concern over Wodehouse's wartime activities reaching the senior echelons of the Foreign, Home and Cabinet offices, British Intelligence and the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill.

With the liberation of Paris in the autumn of 1944, Wodehouse, then living with his wife, Ethel, in the expensive Hotel Bristol, came back under the supervision of MI5.

The Foreign Office, two years after Wodehouse's Berlin broadcasts, had begun consulting the then Home Secretary, Herbert Morrison, about the likely public clamour for treason charges being brought.

Morrison, Churchill's astute socialist fixer, wrote: "I should think he [Wodehouse] must know enough to be aware that his position here [in the UK] will be, to say the least, unpleasant." Morrison and the British authorities then began a series of manoeuvres to ensure they never faced putting Wodehouse in the dock. There appears, from the files, to have been a fear that a treason trial could embarrassingly collapse from a lack of evidence.

With Wodehouse, in 1944, seeking to leave Paris and possibly head for Portugal, the authorities guessed he would not wish to return to the England he had characterised and parodied in the novels and plays that had made him wealthy and internationally famous.

Morrison, in February 1943, had written: "If the rat has enough intelligence to leave the sinking ship, I should suspect he must have enough intelligence not to put himself within the jaws of the British mastiff."

Wodehouse and his wife were at their home in Le Touquet in northern France when they were arrested by occupying German troops in 1940. They were initially interned in a camp but after Wodehouse's Berlin broadcasts had been living at the plush Adlon Hotel in Berlin. From there he and his wife were allowed to move to the Hotel Bristol. His rooms at the hotel were reserved, according to the hotel director, Marcel Vidal, by the German authorities in Paris.

When Britain reopened its embassy in de Gaulle's France in 1944, Duff Cooper, the appointed ambassador, found himself living at the Bristol alongside the Wodehouses. He was not pleased.

Duff Cooper, a former Minister of Information, said in a "most secret" dispatch that "Sir David Petrie is fully informed and has sent an officer to investigate." Sir David was head of MI5.

Wodehouse, known by the Germans as British Civilian Prisoner number 796 when he was interned, was later paid 250 marks by the Nazi authorities.

The paymaster was Werner Plack, a member of the German Paris embassy's press department. Plack's name also surfaces in a money transfer of 560,000F, which in late autumn 1944 made its way into Ethel Wodehouse's account via the Swiss consulate.

Why a Reich official, as his country was retreating back behind its own borders, would be anxious to pay a debt, as Mrs Wodehouse claimed the money was, is never fully explained.

An initial suggestion from Duff Cooper that the Wodehouses were short of cash was immediately dismissed on investigation. One assumption appears to be that the Wodehouses were still in the pay of the Third Reich whilst conveniently living and dining alongside senior diplomats of the Allies.Despite allegations listed in the newly released files from Wodehouse's fellow internees that he was a "collaborator", the writer himself wrote to the Home Secretary in late 1944, admitting he had been "criminally foolish" to broadcast on German radio.

One theory mentioned in the files details an interview with an Austrian detainee, Freddie Kraus. This states that the Germans had originally thought Wodehouse "was the English Goethe" and that the "FO in Berlin had made fools of themselves", once they found out he was merely a comic author.

Wodehouse left Paris for the United States in 1947. He died in 1975, aged 93, soon after receiving an honorary knighthood.

Spode of the Black Shorts

Could a Hitler sympathiser have written The Code of the Woosters, featuring the preposterous Mosley pastiche, Roderick Spode, founder of the "Black Shorts"? Wodehouse wrote of Spode:

It was as if Nature had intended to make a gorilla, and had changed its mind at the last moment. But it wasn't merely the sheer expanse of the bird that impressed. Close to, what you noticed more was his face, which was square and powerful and slightly moustached towards the centre. His gaze was keen and piercing.

I don't know if you have ever seen those pictures in the papers of dictators with tilted chins and blazing eyes, inflaming the populace with fiery words on the occasion of a new skittle alley, but that is what he reminded me of