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PRO papers: Wodehouse's secret plea to forgive war 'blunder'
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The Daily Telegraph 21 January 2000

PRO papers: Wodehouse's secret plea to forgive war 'blunder'

David Millward

P G WODEHOUSE made a secret plea to be forgiven for his wartime German broadcasts, according to government documents made public yesterday.

The creator of Jeeves and Wooster provoked fury when, after being captured in Paris in July 1940, he gave a series of "whimsical" talks about life as an internee. The files also show that he would have been prosecuted as a collaborator, had he been a French subject.

The reputation of the author, once regarded as the most English of writers, suffered irreparable damage from the 1941 broadcasts. He spent the rest of his life in exile until being rehabilitated with a knighthood in 1975, a month before he died.

On Nov 21, 1942, he wrote to the Foreign Office via Swiss representatives in Berlin, where he lived in a hotel with his wife, Ethel. "I am not attempting to minimise my blunder, which I realise was inexcusable, but I feel that I can place certain facts before His Majesty's Government which will show that I was guilty of nothing more than a blunder."

He denied he had been released from an internment camp in return for an agreement to broadcast German radio. The author maintained he had been freed on the grounds that he was 60. Wodehouse said he had wanted to speak to the Americans who had written to him during his captivity.

"I can now, of course, see that this was an insane thing to do, and I regret it sincerely. My only excuse is that I was in an emotional frame of mind, and the desire to make some return for all those letters had become an obsession, causing me to overlook the enormity of my action."

He added: "I should like to conclude by expressing my sincere regret that a well-meaning but ill-considered action on my part should have given the impression that I am anything but a loyal subject of His Majesty." Wodehouse had returned to Paris when the city was liberated in 1944. He was arrested and held briefly by the French authorities.

Previously released files show that, following an investigation by MI5, Whitehall decided that the author was not a traitor but merely - in the words of one civil servant - a "silly ass". The latest files show that the French were less inclined to such a charitable view.

In December 1944, the Préfecture de Police in Paris wrote to the British embassy: "Wodehouse can be considered as having helped the enemy war machine and therefore be regarded as an enemy of the state. If he had been French that is exactly what would have happened."

The French were keen to deport Wodehouse, but Britain did not want him back. By the end of the year it was agreed that he should be moved from Paris to the country where he could be kept under surveillance.

A hand-written note by Alfred Duff Cooper, Britain's ambassador in Paris, made clear his distaste at having to intercede: "There is no doubt to my mind that he has committed a grave offence for which apparently the laws of England make no provision."

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