15 Facts You Didn't Know About Sir P. G. Wodehouse
Celebrating this icon of humour on his 138th birth anniversary
1. Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse was ‘Plum’ to his friends and admirers who knew him since his childhood. Wodehouse thought his first name ‘Pelham’ was quite a mouthful and couldn’t pronounce it when he was very young. Somehow, Plum stuck.
2. While studying at Dulwich College, he represented his school in cricket as a fast bowler and played as a forward for the school football team.
3. At school, his academic achievements were not many. For instance, in the Classic Sixth Form exams for the summer term of 1899, he came twenty-fourth out of twenty-five in the class.
4. Among his classmates in school were Sir Ernest Shackleton, the world-renowned explorer, and writers A. E. W. Mason (author of Fire Over England, The Four Feathers) and C. S. Forester (author of the 12-book Horatio Hornblower series depicting a Royal Navy officer during the Napoleonic wars and others).
5. At the end of Wodehouse’s winter term in 1899, the headmaster of the school, A. H. Gilkes, wrote to Wodehouse’s parents, “He is a most impractical boy … He has the most distorted ideas about wit and humour; he draws over his books in a most distressing way, and writes foolish rhymes in other people’s books. One is obliged to like him in spite of his vagaries." (sic)
6. His father’s pension was not enough to fund Wodehouse’s ambition to go to Oxford for higher studies.
7. In his first job, Wodehouse joined Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank’s London branch as a clerk at a salary of £80 a year.
8. He left his boring bank job and joined The Globe newspaper in 1902.
9. The year 1902 also saw his first book The Pothunters, which was a novel. He sent this debut novel to his friend William Townend with a rather prophetic note. “To William Townend. These first fruits of a GENIUS at which the world will (shortly) be AMAZED (You see if it won’t) from the Author P.G. Wodehouse.” (Sic)
(Left) Cover of the first edition of Wodehouse's debut novel, The Pothunters; (right) Wodehouse in 1930 (Both images courtesy Wikimedia Commons)
10. At the outbreak of the World War II in 1939, Wodehouse and his American wife, Ethel, were living in Le Touquet in northern France. They were arrested by invading German forces and sent to an internment camp in Germany in 1940.
11. After he was arrested and put away in captivity by the Germans, he is said to have remarked, "Perhaps after this I shall write a serious book.”
12. In his 1941 broadcasts on German radio he appeared to be in good spirits and assured fans of his good health. He was later accused of being a ‘traitor’ in England for saying so.
13. George Orwell, in 1945, wrote a famous essay called 'In Defence Of P. G. Wodehouse’ after someone accused Wodehouse of “collaborating” with Nazi Germany.
14. He was quoted as telling the British intelligence agency MI5 in 1944, "I thought that people, hearing the talks, would admire me for having kept cheerful under difficult conditions."
15. Wodehouse moved to the US in 1945 and lived there until his death in 1975, aged 93.