P.G. Wodehouse, creator of Bertie Wooster and the butler, Jeeves, has been one of the most popular writers of English comic fiction for decades. His books remain in print and are frequently adapted for television.
But during the Second World War he became deeply unpopular in Britain, owing to his alleged siding with the Nazis, and his work was banned from libraries and the BBC. In 1940, he was living in Le Touquet, an enclave of Englishness on the French side of the channel complete with golf course and club. Being by all accounts extremely unworldly, Wodehouse appeared not to have noticed the outbreak of war, and the invasion of France. That is, until German troops arrived in Le Touquet and he was interned for a year (spending some of the time in an asylum for the mentally ill).
On his release he agreed to do a series of programmes on the Nazi radio station. Listening to these now, they sound like little more than dotty ramblings, and he utters no word of support for the German cause. But he did not denounce it either, so his broadcasts caused outrage in Britain.
Wodehouse himself says he agreed to do them to re-assure his fans that he was still alive, and it is unlikely that he was a Nazi supporter (his story, Code of the Woosters, suggests he rather disapproved of Nazism). However his actions provoked an enquiry by MI5 after the war. This resulted in a decision that, whilst he could have done more to disassociate himself, he had not consciously assisted the enemy, so should not be prosecuted. The author subsequently went to live in America, where he continued to write. His reputation as a great comic writer was soon restored.
However, what is easily proved by reading his work (and is seen by some English language purists as a heinous treachery) is that he was prsonally responsible for a great number of American words and phrases entering common English usage this side of the pond:
Awol, bender, buckle down, hook line and sinker, on the blink, sitting pretty ... These words and phrases, and many more, first came to the attention of British readers via his books.
If you want to read more about American words used in Britain, a new book has been written by Matthew Engel, That’s the Way it Crumbles . If you want to read more of my work, please go to one of my Amazon Author pages:
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