PG Wodehouse was born in Guilford, England, in 1881. He was educated at Dulwich College. From 1903 to 1909 he edited the humorous “By the Way” column for the London Globe. His reputation as a humorous novelist was established with Psmith in the City (1910). He maintained his enormous popularity with nearly 100 novels depicting amusing characters in absurd and involved situations. Among them are Very Good Jeeves (1930), The Butler Did It (1957), and Bachelors Anonymous (1974). Perhaps best known of his fictional creations are the hapless young gentleman Bertie Wooster and his efficient butler, Jeeves.
Wodehouse was also the co-author of numerous plays and musical comedies with Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, and George Gershwin, including O, Kay (1926) and Rosalie (1928), produced mostly in America, where he did much of his early writing.
Since 1934, Wodehouse and his wife Ethel had been living in Le Touquet on the north coast of France. He was a rich man of 58 years old, leading a very sheltered life. When the Germans invaded France in May 1940, the Wodehouses’ followed the British advise and stayed put in Le Touquet. However, like a lot of other people they were taken by surprise with the speed of the German invasion of France.
On 22 May 1940, Le Touquet was occupied by the German invasion forces. The Wodehouses’, together with other British residents, were ordered to report to the German Authorities in Paris-Plage. Wodehouse continued working on his book “Money in the Bank”, until 27 July 1940 when he was informed that he and other British residents of military age were being taken into custody.
Wodehouse was first held in Lille, then moved via Liège and Huy in Belgium before arriving at Tost in Upper Silesia. Although he was an internationally renowned author, Wodehouse was treated no differently to the other inmates. He shared the same food, quarters and performed his share of the various jobs. Despite the shattering of his isolated existance, he was in a far more secure position than his other inmates. He was very wealthy through his written works, and he had a large following of fans in the still neutral USA. He also received many letters from his admirers in the USA.
In 1941, the Germans allowed Wodehouse to write an article for the “Saturday Evening Post” titled “My War with Germany”. This produced even more letters to be sent to Wodehouse. Also Wodehouse was cheered by the knowledge that when he reached 60 years old in 1941, he would be released as he was deemed to be passed military age; a policy that the Germans later scrapped in 1942.
In May 1941, a German Officer enquired whether Wodehouse would like to make a radio broadcast to the USA, and thank his many friends in the USA for all the letters he had received. Wodehouse was concerned that his friends would think it rude of him for not replying (as Wodehouse was only allowed to communicate with immediate family members), so Wodehouse rather foolishly accepted.
Wodehouse made a total of 6 radio broadcasts from Berlin. The first was an interview conducted by Harry Flannery, a CBS employee based in Berlin. Flannery, who held strong anti-Nazi views, found Wodehouse to be either a dupe or a collaborator. The 6 radio broadcasts seemed to have been describing Wodehouse’s own experiences in typical Wodehouse style.
Wodehouse was surprised that his radio broadcasts, which he had intended to be well intended, had been viewed as propaganda broadcasts, and that he had been branded as a traitor. He decided that he would do no further broadcasts for the Germans.
In September 1943, the Wodehouses’ were moved to the Hotel Bristol in Paris, where they remained until Paris was liberated in August 1944.
Following a detailed MI5 investigation after the end of World War Two, it was felt that Wodehouse had acted very naively and foolishly, but no further action was taken.
In 1955 he became an American citizen, and in the 1975 New Year’s Honours List, he was knighted shortly before his death.