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Officials blocked Wodehouse honour
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BBC News 15 August 2002

Officials blocked Wodehouse honour

Paul Reynolds

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 Germans.

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 Record Office.

It is similar to one in which an honour for Charlie Chaplin was also held up.

'Belligerent'

Wodehouse was captured by the Germans in his villa in Northern France in 1940.

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 feeling.

"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 saloon".

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".

'British character'

The anger in Britain at such remarks lingered long afterwards, though his defenders, including George Orwell said that he had simply been "politically na´ve".

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."

Sceptical

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 interests.

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.

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