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The Oxford Book of Humorous Prose
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The extract is taken from "The Oxford Book of Humorous Prose. A Conducted Tour by Frank Muir". Oxford, 1990

P.G. Wodehouse had countless legions of readers including Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, a committed Wodehouse reader for many years (legend has it that when asked once whether there was something which she should really like to have instead of the usual formal presentation gift, the Queen Mother replied, "May I have the complete works of P.G. Wodehouse?" An excellent idea by any standards: complete sets are extremely rare).

Other distinguished self-confessed devotees included a former Prime Minister, the Rt. Herbert Asquith; the poet and classical scholar A.E. Housman; Hilaire Belloc (in the middle 1930s he broadcast a rather embarrassingly fulsome tribute to the modest Wodehouse with such phrases as "the best writer of our time - the best living writer of English - the head of my profession"); Arnold Bennett; Rudyard Kipling; the novelist and playwright Ian Hay; four generations of Waughs including Evelyn Waugh and his son Auberon ("Wodehouse has been more read than any other English novelist by his fellow novelists"); Malcolm Muggeridge; Kingsley Amis; Bermard Levin (In "The Times" he likened the impact of the line "in my heliotrope pyjamas with the old gold stripe" to one of the great speeches of Macbeth); and so on.

Perhaps even more remarkable example of the diversity of Wodehouse's appeal occurs towards the end of Evelyn Waugh's biography of the eminent Catholic theologian and translator of the Bible, Father Ronald Knox, when Waugh noted: "For the remaining years of his life, Ronnie Knox applied himself to devotional reading and the works of P.G.Wodehouse."

But Wodehouse's stories were not meant to be either caviare to the general or incense to the priest but beans-on-toast to the troops, a bit of pleasure and fun for amusement only. He was a completely professional writer whoose only intent was to make as many people as possible laugh. In this he was phenomenally successful.

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, known as "Plum", had his first piece of prose published during the reign of Queen Victoria, in 1900, while he was still a schoolboy at Dulwich College. When he died in 1975, aged 93, still working (he had written almost every day of his life through five reigns), he had published ninety-six books and hundreds of short stories. His books and stories have been translated into fifteen languages and most of them are still in print in paperback. His total sales run into many tens of millions, and there are Wodehouse appreciation societies and clubs in various spots around the world - Denmark's Wodehouse Society meets in Copenhagen in the "Drones Club" and in Amsterdam there is a bar for Wodehousians called "Mr Mulliner's Wijn Lokaal".

Wodehouse also either wrote or collaborated in sixteen stage-plays, supplied all or part of the lyrics for 28 musical comedies, and for eighteen of these he worked on the libretto. For a time he contributed regularly to "Punch", wrote humorous verse for many magazines, and worked on six major film scripts in Hollywood.

Copyright Michel Kuzmenko (gmk), The Russian Wodehouse Society © 1996-2023. Established 04/04/1996.