Fringe Box



Parke’s People No.2: P. G. Wodehouse

Published on: 24 Apr, 2012
Updated on: 24 Apr, 2012

P. G. Wodehouse was born in a house in Epsom Road, Guildford.

In the second of an occasional series about people who have had a connection with Guildford in one way or another, Bernard Parke recalls Pelham Grenville Wodehouse.

P. G. Wodehouse

The houses along Epsom Road are, no doubt, a product of the railway age; which, it could be said, made Guildford one of the early garden suburbs.

One of the houses bears a plaque proclaiming that “P. G Wodehouse writer and humorist” was born there in 1881.

P.G. Wodehouse, as he is better known, was born there prematurely when his mother was visiting Guildford. Soon after his birth he was baptised at St Nicolas’ Church. So perhaps Guildford can claim him for one of our own.

The Wodehouses were a privilege family, perhaps one of “the upper ten thousand.” They were a class of elite and drones who Wodehouse would later exploit in his writings with so much humour.

He was much neglected in his childhood, as his parents spent much time abroad; leaving a nanny to look after the wants of this brilliant prodigy.

Not only through English literature have we enjoyed his writing, but the arts in general also benefited from his great talent.

The house in Epsom Road, Guildford, where P. G. Wodehouse was born.

In 1934, Wodehouse moved to La Touquet with his wife who owned a small dog called Wonder. However, the dog was to shape Wodehouse’s whole future and shake his reputation to the core in English society.

He had little time for politics and world affairs, so when the Second World War started he discounted it. As his wife did not wish to leave their dog in France, they did not return to the UK.

Naturally, under the Geneva Convention he was interned by the German occupying force. He was first sent to Liege and later to Tost in Upper Silesia. In his usual humour, he was to say later that, as Upper Silesia was so bad what must Lower Silesia be like?

He was released by the Germans on his 60th birthday and, in a typical Bertie Wooster, fashion fell victim to the machinations of the Geobels propaganda machine.

The Nazis asked him to conduct a series of broadcasts from Berlin on the lighter side of a German occupation as he alone saw it. (The stiff upper lip syndrome.)

Being politically naïve, he agreed totally misjudging the effect the broadcasts would have in in England. He was declared a traitor and was placed at home in the same class as Lord Haw Haw (William Joyce).

Wodehouse moved back to Paris after making six such broadcasts where he remained for the rest of the conflict. MI5 ruled him to be both foolish and naïve, but not a traitor.

He was so disturbed by such adverse criticism that he moved to New York and in 1955 took US citizenship. He was never to visit his homeland again.

As late as 1975 he was knighted, but the honour was bestowed on him by The British Consul. His death followed a few months later.

Perhaps a tragic end to a man whose talent is so enjoyed, even today, with television comedy such as Jeeves and Wooster.

The plaque on the house in Epsom Road.

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