BBC News 17 September 1999
PG Wodehouse faced treachery charge
Author PG Wodehouse would probably have been put on
trial for treason if he had returned to Britain after the
World War II.
The M15 documents released by the Public Records
Office call into question the widely-held image of
Wodehouse as a vain but harmless fool.
The author had been interned in Berlin
in 1941 after the Germans overran
France, where he had been living in a
villa in Le Touquet.
During his internment he infamously
made broadcasts to England and the
US, containing whimsical descriptions
of the internment camp.
The broadcasts caused outrage back home, where some
compared him with the notorious propagandist Lord
Haw-Haw and thought he had damaged the war effort.
When interviewed by MI5 in September 1944, the author
admitted he had made a "hideous mistake", but argued
that his broadcasts were not pro-German.
"It never occurred to me that there could be anything
harmful in such statements as; when in camp I read
Shakespeare, that men who had no tobacco smoked tea
and that there was an unpleasant smell at Loos prison,"
he said after the war.
Reward for propaganda'
MI5 agreed that the broadcasts were
not pro-German and had been unlikely
to assist the enemy, and decided
The author moved to the US in 1945 and lived there until
his death in 1975, aged 93.
But a memo of a 1946 meeting between an M15 officer
and the then Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir
Theobald Mathew, reveals that his case was re-evaluated
after the war.
"The Director said that he now takes the view that, if
Wodehouse ever comes to this country, he should be
prosecuted," the officer recorded.
"In view of the observations by Lord Justice Tucker that
the motive which prompted the broadcast was
immaterial, he thought that the authorities should now
bring Wodehouse to trial and leave the jury to decide the
question of his guilt or innocence."
Payments from Germany
Later, MI5 learned of documents found in the former
German Embassy in Paris, which detailed suspicious
payments made to Wodehouse and his wife Edith.
One letter from the embassy
requested that Wodehouse's French
villa be well kept "in view of the
propaganda value of his work".
The transactions were seen to
"strongly suggest" that Wodehouse
was working for the embassy.
But MI5 noted that the Germans may simply have been
transferring the author's funds left behind in Berlin when
he moved to France in 1943.
Outrage from fans
Suggestions of treachery have outraged fans of
Wodehouse, who insist he had simply been naive.
Norman Murphy, chairman of the PG Wodehouse
Society (UK), said there was nothing suspicious about a
series of payments from the embassy to the
"The so-called payments were probably either payments
of his royalties or maintenance because the Germans
didn't want their world famous prisoner to die in their
hands," he said.
"His financial affairs during the war were such that his
wife had to sell her jewellery, and they had to borrow
money to eat.
"Royalties were all that kept them going and were
funnelled through the German Foreign Office, which
would account for the mysterious payment," he said.