Wodehouse faced traitor's trial over Nazi links
THE Director of Public Prosecutions was determined to prosecute P G Wodehouse for treachery if the author returned to Britain after the war, according to the MI5 files.
The decision was based on the anger in Britain over a series of talks given on German radio in 1941 and on the lack of any explanation for "special payments" made to Wodehouse by the Germans. Wodehouse, the creator of Jeeves and Wooster, was living in his villa in Le Touquet when the Germans invaded France in 1940.
He was initially interned but was soon released on the grounds of his age and went to Berlin, where he was asked by the Nazi propaganda service to give a series of humorous talks. He began his first talk with the words: "It is just possible that my listeners may seem to detect in this little talk of mine a slight goofiness, a certain disposition to ramble in my remarks.
"If so, the matter, as Bertie Wooster would say, is susceptible of a ready explanation." The British and American public did not agree despite the fact that his talks merely described his experiences in the internment camp in a humorous vein on lines reminiscent of his novels.
The MI5 report says: "Considerable criticism was aroused in America and Britain and when Wodehouse heard he declined to give any more talks. He and his wife moved to Paris, where they were allowed to remain at liberty in the Hotel Bristol."
The post-war MI5 investigation of the author centred on a number of unexplained payments he received that "strongly suggest that Wodehouse was working for, and being paid a monthly salary by, the German embassy". It noted that in 1944, a German official asked the embassy in Paris to relax Wodehouse's obligation to report to the police from once a week to once a month on the basis that he was "working for the German authorities".
It says: "We have also evidence that in June, July and August 1944 special payments were being made to Wodehouse which appear on the face of them to be a monthly salary of 60,000 francs." On May 23, 1944, he was paid 100,000 francs in "travelling expenses" followed by one "special payment" of 180,000 francs in June and two further "special payments" in June and July of 60,000 francs.
The MI5 officer noted: "They raise the question why the German embassy should pay Wodehouse's 'travelling expenses' if he had been as he claims a purely private individual since June 1941, the date of his notorious broadcasts. Secondly, the sum of 100,000 francs is equivalent to £250. This seems a remarkable price for the single journey of two persons from Berlin to Paris.
"The special payments suggest a monthly salary of 60,000 francs (£150)." Wodehouse's confused explanations of where the money came from were so Woosterish that MI5 eventually decided he was just a naïve "ass" and that the matter should not be pursued.
However, Malcolm Muggeridge, then working in Paris for MI5's sister organisation MI6, and a friend of Wodehouse, was sent to the author's hotel to tell him that the time was not right for his return to Britain. When the Bank of England blocked Wodehouse's accounts, the author wrote to his MI5 interrogator asking him when he would be able to come back to Britain.
He said: "Indefinitely? For ever? If for ever, how do I live? In these circumstances, how do I manage? If they are going to go on forever refusing to allow me to receive my literary earnings and won't let me touch my capital, it looks as if I would either have to starve or else buy a gun and a black mask and go about Paris holding up the fortunate people who have a bit of stuff on them. And I don't know enough French to stick natives up."
Despite MI5's assessment of Wodehouse, when it consulted the Director of Public Prosecutions on whether the author could return it was told in unequivocal terms that if he did so he would be prosecuted. Wodehouse never did and lived in America. He was knighted in 1975 but died before the award could be officially conferred.