Wodehouse knighthood blocked over war role
The comic author PG Wodehouse was repeatedly blocked from receiving a knighthood because of his wartime involvement with the Nazis, according to secret files made public for the first time today.
Papers released to the Public Record Office show that more than two decades after the end of the Second World War, there were deep misgivings in Whitehall about granting him official recognition.
When Harold Wilson's Labour Government finally relented in 1974 and agreed he should be knighted, James Callaghan. then Foreign Secretary was still reluctant, commenting: "Wodehouse put himself out of court during the war".
As the creator of Jeeves and Bertie Wooster, Wodehouse was widely acknowledged as one of the finest comic writers in English literature, but his wartime record has always cast a shadow over his reputation.
Wodehouse was in France in 1940 when the country fell to the Germans. He was captured by the Nazis and taken to Berlin where he naively recorded five interviews which were subsequently broadcast by German radio to America.
Although his comments were later dismissed by the writer George Orwell as "a few rather silly but harmless remarks by an elderly novelist", they nevertheless rendered him liable for prosecution for treason.
At the end of the war, following a brief period of internment by the French, he moved to the United States, acquiring dual American nationality. The bitter wartime memories were still strongly felt in 1967 when it was suggested that Wodehouse could be made a Companion of Honour.
The British Ambassador in Washington, Sir Patrick Dean, noted: "He has done nothing here for British interests which would qualify him for Companion of Honour.
"The award of this high honour to him now would revive the controversy over his wartime behaviour and would give currency to the Bertie Wooster image of the British character which we are doing our best to eradicate."
The question of an honour was raised again in 1971 when a senior official advising the Honours Committee, Stewart Milner-Barry, suggested it was "time to bury any remaining wartime hatchets". However Dean's successor in Washington, Lord Cromer, was equally opposed to the honour.
He cabled London: "I certainly could not bring myself to support such a recommendation", adding that Wodehouse's wartime record "is not forgotten in this country".
Lees Mayall, an official in the Foreign Office protocol department, wrote to Milner-Barry: "HM Ambassador's views must have due weight and indeed I do not see how they could be disregarded, unless Wodehouse's claim to a British honour is better than I imagine it is."
The files do not disclose what finally led to the change of heart under Wilson's Labour Government just a few years later. Wodehouse did finally receive his knighthood in 1975, just a few weeks before his death in the United States at the age of 93.