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Payments that forced Wodehouse into exile
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Guardian 17 September 1999

Payments that forced Wodehouse into exile

Alan Travis

MI5's conclusion that PG Wodehouse's wartime broadcasts from Berlin were not the isolated actions of a "naive, silly ass" was based on documents found in the archives of the German embassy in Paris, according to security service papers published today.

The papers, kept secret for more than 50 years, "strongly suggested" he was on the Nazis' payroll. They detail payments to Wodehouse in 1943 and 1944 while he was living at the Hotel Bristol in occupied Paris after he and his wife, Ethel, moved there from Berlin.

But the conclusion also rested on intelligence reports on Wodehouse's associations with John Amery, the son of a cabinet minister, who was hanged in Wandsworth prison as a traitor. It was claimed that Amery had recommended Wodehouse to a captain in the Abwehr, the German security police, as a suitable person to help them.

A decision by the post-war attorney general, Hartley Shawcross, and the director of public prosecutions, Sir Theobald Mathew, that Wodehouse should face prosecution if ever he returned to Britain was taken after the judge in the trial of Lord Haw Haw, alias William Joyce, ruled that the motive which had caused some one to broadcast for Germany was immaterial in considering their treachery.

The investigation after the war into Wodehouse's links with the German government after his release from internment in 1943 was led by Brigadier GE Wakefield of MI5. He reported in 1947 that new documentary evidence from two sources showed Wodehouse was regularly paid by the Germans.

The first batch was from 1943, showing that the German foreign office paid 29,000 reichmarks, worth £32,000 today, to the embassy in Paris to be paid to Mr and Mrs Wodehouse. There were memorandums saying the Wodehouses were entitled to the embassy ration of soap and cigarettes "like the other employees of the language services", and that their villa at Le Touquet should be kept in good condition by the military authorities "in view of the propaganda value of his work".

Contract with Berlin

A memo to the German police asking for his reporting restrictions to be reduced says "as at the moment he has a contract with Berlin Film AG and in addition is working for a German department". The security services said that, while references to propaganda work could be his famous five broadcasts in 1941, they appeared to refer to 1944.

The second batch shows that four sums were paid to Wodehouse between May and August 1944 by the embassy. They include "special payments" which MI5 concluded "strongly suggest a monthly salary of 60,000 francs" or £3,375 a month today. He was also paid "travelling expenses"from Berlin to Paris of 100,000 francs or £5,625 today. Brig Wakefield said that these expenses suggested that Wodehouse's evacuation was not (as he stated) a private evacuation, due to his wife's fear of air raids, but a government employee being sent to Paris to do "special work".

The brigadier also said these new documents questioned the "full and frank statement" Wodehouse had made to MI5 in 1944 when he admitted he had made "a hideous mistake" in lending his voice and personality to the Nazi cause. The five broadcasts in 1941 to America were regarded as innocuous descriptions of his life in the internment camp, although he did say he had not met an English-speaking German he had not liked immediately. It was on the basis of this interview that the initial decision was taken not to prosecute the novelist. Wakefield said that Wodehouse's failure to disclose his work for the Berlin Film propaganda company in December 1943 showed he had not been as candid as he had tried to appear. The files show that Amery, brother of the late Conservative MP, Sir Julian Amery, also received money from the embassy and was in the same luxurious Hotel Bristol as the Wodehouses; he had also stayed at the same Berlin hotel as the couple.

Approach by Abwehr

Amery, who toured occupied Europe making virulent anti-semitic, pro-Nazi speeches and tried to recruit British internees to the German British Legion, suggested Wodehouse to the Abwehr as a "a suitable person to assist them in their decomposition work which involved the destruction, if possible, in the morale of United Nations' personnel". In his 1944 interrogation Wodehouse had denied being approached by the Abwehr.

Bizarrely, the files record that, during Amery's career as a Nazi, his wife, Una, was living in Cobham, Surrey, at the home of a Miss Erica Marx. Surrey police believed the two women were "lesbians who resort at weekends in the White Lion Hotel, Cobham".

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