Guardian 17 September 1999
MI5 records show Wodehouse in pay of Nazis
Alan Travis and John Ezardr
There is strong evidence that P G Wodehouse, the inimitable creator of Jeeves and Wooster - was in the pay of the Germans during the war and would have faced a trial for treachery if he had ever returned to Britain, according to secret MI5 records released today.
The evidence, based on documents discovered in the archives of the German embassy in Paris at the end of the war, "strongly suggests that Wodehouse was working for, and paid a monthly salary by, the German embassy" while he was in occupied Paris in 1943 and 1944.
At the end of the war MI5 did not regard the evidence as conclusive and said it would need German witnesses for a criminal trial. However, it helped change the authorities' attitude towards prosecuting Wodehouse.
In 1944 after he had made a "full and frank statement" to MI5 about five broadcasts he had made to America from Germany after his release from internment early in the war, it had been decided not to prosecute him as a traitor. He was regarded as a "silly ass" whose selfish actions had been "of incalculable benefit to the Nazis".
But the MI5 records released today show that the attorney general and the director of public prosecutions decided in December 1946 that -although Wodehouse would have been a bad case to be the first prosecution of its kind - after the conviction of Lord Haw Haw, he should be brought to trial for treachery if ever he returned to Britain.
Hartley Shawcross, the attorney general, had said "his case is a notorious one and there will be strong public feeling".
Wodehouse never returned to Britain and went to live in America. He was knighted as Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse in Harold Wilson's New Year's Honours list in 1975 six weeks before his death at the age of 93.
The documents released today detail substantial travelling expenses, access to German embassy rations of cigarettes and soap, and what appear to be monthly payments to Wodehouse for valued propaganda work. They also reveal a link between Wodehouse in Paris and Berlin and the son of a British Tory cabinet minister, John Amery, who was hanged as a traitor in Wandsworth Prison at the end of the war.
The security service files also contain a friendly letter that Wodehouse wrote to his MI5 interrogator, Colonel Edward Cussen, from Paris after the war, before he moved to America. He says he realises that a legal ruling in the Haw Haw case meant he couldn't return to England immediately and wanted to know how he was expected to live, since the Bank of England had blocked access to his capital and his British literary royalties. "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," he complained.
"That Wodehouse was a traitor is as likely as the Queen Mother turning somersaults on her next birthday," said the chairman of the P G Wodehouse society, Norman Murphy, last night. "She is a great fan of his. I don't regard these documents as a blow to his defenders. The payments were almost certainly royalty money which went into Germany and belonged to him. He had to live on something. No traitorous thought ever crossed his mind."
Richard Usborne, the elder statesmen of Wodehouse biographers, whose study of the writer was published in 1977, said: "This does come as a surprise to me, particularly as to the exact amounts of money. I don't believe he was a conscious traitor."