Daily Mail, 30 December 2002
Why we're Plum crazy
THE first question that should be asked of any television profile of a
famous figure is whether it tells us anything about the person we
didn't know already.
In the case of P.G.Wodehouse - Plum to his friends - I'd guess that
before Saturday night's BBC2 profile, most people knew very little, if
In which case let's hope that the programme will have inspired a lot
of people to turn to the books and to find out for themselves why
Wodehouse is considered by many to be not only one of the best comic
writers of the 20th century, but one of the best writers ever.
His life, apart from the unfortunate episode of the wartime broadcasts
from Germany, was pretty dull. He was happiest when writing, but, of
course, a man pecking away at the typewriter keys hardly makes
Very sensibly, producer and director Ian Denyer decided to devote most
of his film to the work.
In this, he was ably assisted by, among others, Wodehouse's latest
biographer, Robert McCrum and lifelong Plum fan, John Mortimer.
McCrum got rather bogged down in psychological speculation when he
suggested it was absence of parental love that made relationships with
women alarming to Wodehouse; but about Wodehouse the writer, he was
quite clear - 'You look back to the 20th century and there aren't many
people to touch him.' John Mortimer confined himself to reading a
passage from one of the Blandings stories and explaining that
Wodehouse was amazingly well educated, and could apply great
Shakespearean thoughts to trivial things, like a breakfast egg or a
pair of pyjamas.
Much was made of Plum's early success on Broadway and the fact that
he, Jerome Kern and Guy Bolton changed the concept of musical comedy
with shows like Oh Boy! which ran for 475 performances.
The programme refuted once and for all the canard (arising from that
wartime broadcast from Berlin) that Wodehouse was a Nazi sympathiser -
a fact which was concealed in the Public Record Office as an official
secret until 1999.
In a rare interview Plum said he was not bitter, but he was sorry it
had happened. 'If you've done a foolish thing, you've got to take the
consequences,' he said.
He never returned to England, and it was suggested that it was because
he felt he had been so hard done by that the Queen Mother was keen to
go to America to give Wodehouse his knighthood in 1975.
BUT did we really learn anything new? There were some fresh
interviews, including a revealing portrait of his wife Ethel by her
onetime secretary, and a recently discovered home movie of Plum and
Ethel, taken in rural Germany after his release from the wartime
It was also said - in an oddly throwaway line - that an attack of
adult mumps in 1901 'put paid to any hope of fatherhood'. Quite how
this was known was not explained.
Fortunately for Plum, he and his step- daughter Leonora were devoted,
though her early death during a routine operation - a tragedy that
devastated Plum - was not even mentioned. But, then, one imagines that
this shy and diffident man would have preferred it that way.