This rare footage on Youtube features P.G. Wodehouse in reminiscent mode

For some reason, which we would rather believe to be concerned with logistics than with denial, interviews with some very interesting persona from the literary world in the BBC archives are not available to viewers in India. But thanks to Youtube, a little of the disappointment is rescued out of its depths. Meeting P.G. Wodehouse on Youtube is a good experience only because you get to see and hear the author’s voice. But the video clip is a patchy work of interviews aired on BBC at different points of time. So much so that many words blur into the next clip, and the whole three-minute clip ends rather abruptly.

Wodehouse says genially that when he was a child, the young Plum, as he was called, would go with his aunts and uncles (many of whom were clergymen) to visit the local gentry. He recollects his time spent with the “gaggle of aunts” by saying, “There always came a time when the hostess would say, “Don’t you think it will be nice if your little nephew had tea in the servants hall?” and I go off to the servants hall full of sprightly footmen and vivacious parlour maids...and I loved it. I got on awfully well with them.” If this gives us an interesting insight into how he managed to make such a perfect Jeeves, there is more. Wodehouse, 90 years of age at the time of recording in 1971, had studied in boarding schools and so spent a lot of time with aunts and uncles. Therefore it is that aunts were integral to his books: Bertie too had two formidable aunts and there was one of them in the “Blandings Castle” series.

Wodehouse had been publishing for 70 years by then and was known for his unrelenting professionalism. “I always love revising. Getting the first stuff done is always hard. But once that is done you can see what is wrong with it, that one page ought to be five pages earlier and that sort of thing,” says Wodehouse.

Wodehouse had always wanted to be a writer. He tells us how the character Jeeves came to be. “I was writing a short story those days when Bertie, he was called Reggie Pepper those days...he and his friend got into a fix, an absolute was impossible for either of them to find a solution to it...then it suddenly occurred to me... why cannot Reggie Pepper have a valet who...was omniscient?” In one day Wodehouse sold two short stories, one for 200 dollars and one for 300 dollars.

Wodehouse chronicled the misadventures of the hapless Bertie Wooster and his unflappable, infallible Jeeves for the next 60 years. “I used to write by hand, very laboriously in a room of about 50 people playing ping pong, singing and so on,” says Wodehouse assuring the listener that he has no resentment for he too made noise when he wanted to.

Wodehouse is bald though not as plump as you would have imagined, for he is tall too. It is his pleasant paunch that makes you feel he is true to how you would have imagined him. And he has a smile that seems to be just waiting to break into a laugh. No wonder his pseudonym was Haha during the broadcasts in wartime. He married at the age of 32 and, unable to return to England, lived his later years in New York. It may come as a surprise to hear that Wodehouse was a man of routine. One of the other things he did every day, in addition to writing, was exercise.

Talking of his times, the humorist says, “When I started writing, sex was absolutely taboo, you could not even hint it and I suppose one got set in ones ways.”

The video clip ends without comfort as you hear Wodehouse saying the government has been gracious. One would guess he is referring to his knighthood.

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Keywords: P. G. Wodehouse


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