He didn't ask Jeeves

9th December 2005 at 00:00
Talk about frightful scrapes. It was the sort of utter pickle you might expect Bertie Wooster to get himself into. But unlike Wooster, Pelham Grenville Wodehouse had no Jeeves to extricate him. And when that awful business of the Berlin broadcasts blew up, Wodehouse could certainly have used some extrication.

The whole sad story began in Le Touquet, the fashionable seaside resort where Wodehouse was living at the outbreak of the Second World War, and where, having bungled two escape attempts, he continued to live after the German occupation of France. It was a third attempt to flee that in 1940 resulted in him being arrested and taken to an internment camp in Poland. There he could have expected to remain until his 60th birthday. But some months before that, he was released, probably to appease public opinion in the US, which had not yet entered the war. And what happened next was almost certainly intended by the Germans to serve the same propaganda purposes.

Wodehouse was invited to Berlin, where, at the suggestion of an old friend, he made a series of humourous radio broadcasts about his 10 months in the camp. His intention, he said later, was to get in touch with the many readers in the USwho had sent him messages of support. But when news of his broadcasts reached Britain, there was uproar.

The public, egged on by the press, branded the amiable writer at best a Nazi dupe and at worst a traitor. Despite his protestations of innocence - Wodehouse characteristically described his actions as "idiotic" and insisted that he had been tricked by the Germans - the BBC immediately banned all his works, including his many popular song lyrics.

Subsequent investigations, first by the government and more recently by a succession of writers, have established beyond reasonable doubt that Wodehouse was neither a Nazi sympathiser nor a collaborator, and shortly before his death in 1975, he was knighted. But so devastating and so total had been his fall from grace that the creator of that most English of aristocratic asses never set foot in his homeland again.

David Newnham

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