Was P.G. Wodehouse a traitor?

PGWodehouseP.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, PGWodehouse.2and 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: 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

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Prices range from £/$0 – 15.00.

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2 thoughts on “Was P.G. Wodehouse a traitor?

  1. Rob Keeley

    I think it’s been generally accepted for some time that he wasn’t a traitor or a Nazi, particularly once official documents were released? The idea has been debunked by many, including his biographer Frances Donaldson. His letters show he definitely did know about the outbreak of war and the German invasion, even though he did his best to carry on. The transcripts of the broadcasts, far from being “dotty ramblings”, show a decent, if unworldly British man finding lightness and humour in what must have been a traumatic situation, and contain several clever coded digs at the Nazis as well as obviously being geared to helping others imprisoned or afraid cope with it better. In my view that’s astonishing bravery. His only error of judgement, admittedly a serious one, was in allowing them to be broadcast.

    I’m not sure we can call importing words from other languages treachery, as it’s how the English language was and is formed.

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    1. honoria plum

      The text of the broadcasts can be found online at : http://pgwodehousebooks.com/berlin.htm

      They are in keeping with the British tradition of maintaining a stiff upper lip in the face of adversity, and I think it came as great shock to him that they could be taken any other way. It is also worth mentioning that few people ever heard the broadcasts or knew what was in them– most of the ill-feeling against him was deliberately whipped up by one or two individuals (for questionable purposes of their own). Sadly, people naively accepted what they were told.

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