Officials blocked Wodehouse honour
The Foreign Office for years blocked a knighthood for the comic writer PG
Wodehouse - creator of Bertie Wooster and his resourceful manservant
Jeeves - because of wartime broadcasts he made while being held by the
Eventually Woodhouse received a knighthood in 1975, after a decision by
the government of Harold Wilson.
Even then the Foreign Secretary of the day, James Callaghan, was doubtful,
saying: "Wodehouse put himself out of court during the war."
The story is told in documents released after 30 years by the Public
It is similar to one in which an honour for Charlie Chaplin was also held
Wodehouse was captured by the Germans in his villa in Northern France in
He was transferred to an internment camp, but in 1941 he made a series of
broadcasts which enraged public opinion in Britain.
In one, he said: "I'm quite unable to work up any kind of belligerent
"Just as I'm about to feel belligerent about some country, I meet a decent
sort of chap.
"We go out together and lose any fighting thoughts."
He spoke lightly of internment as being useful "for keeping you out of the
Wodehouse also made a remark to an American correspondent in Berlin (the
United States had not entered the war at that stage) about "whether
Britain wins the war or not".
The anger in Britain at such remarks lingered long afterwards, though his
defenders, including George Orwell said that he had simply been
In 1967, Wodehouse was proposed as a Companion of Honour.
He had by then become an American citizen and the British Ambassador in
Washington, Sir Patrick Dean, wrote: "The award of this high honour to him
now would revive the controversy of his wartime behaviour and would also
give currency to a Bertie Wooster image of the British character which we
are doing our best to eradicate."
Even by 1971, resentment remained.
When then Foreign Secretary Alec Douglas-Home suggested that "we are
inclined to bury the wartime hatchet", the then British Ambassador in
Washington, Lord Cromer, replied: "I certainly could not bring myself to
support such a recommendation."
The Foreign Office also put the argument that since Wodehouse had taken US
citizenship, he could be honoured only for some service to British
In the words of one official: "The fact that Mr Wodehouse writes in
English can scarcely be held to constitute services to this country."
Eventually in 1974, it was decided that Wodehouse, who had never renounced
his British citizenship, should be knighted.
The Foreign Office was still sceptical but did not formally object.