I have been reading the biography of PG Wodehouse by Robert McCrum. Everyone knows of Wodehouse (pronounced woodhouse), the author of Jeeves and Wooster, but few now remember that he was persona non grata for many years because he broadcast over the radio from Nazi Germany. Indeed there was a distinct possibility that he might have been hanged for treason in 1945.
His early life was spent at Dulwich College in south east London, the same public school later attended by Raymond Chandler. His people couldn't afford to send him to Oxford or Cambridge so he went to work in a bank. He wanted to be a writer and eventually by selling short stories he was able to earn enough to leave it. Thereafter he wrote and wrote and sold most of his output. His first successful novels were about schoolboys, but he followed their careers after leaving school and created unforgettable characters such as Psmith, Jeeves, Bertie, Gussie Finknottle, the inhabitants of the Drones club and the denizens of Blandings Castle.
He was extremely successful on both sides of the Atlantic. Quite apart from his novels and short stories he was at the center of the pre-war Broadway scene, collaborating with the Gershwin brothers, Jerome Kern and Cole Porter. He even went to Hollywood when the talkies came in, though the producers didn't quite know what to do with him. In the end MGM paid him a lot of money to keep him on the 'bench'. While there he wrote and revised his stories while making minor adjustments to scripts making a morning's work last three months.
He was peripatetic - largely to avoid double taxation. By the late 1930s he had settled in Le Touquet in France, but got trapped there by the advancing German army. Interned for more than a year, he was let out of prison when an American reporter explained to the Nazis just what an important writer he was. Ensconced in a luxury hotel in Berlin, the German Foreign Office, in the person of ex-Hollywood colleagues, persuaded him that it would be a jolly wheeze to broadcast over the radio his experience of life in an internment camp. In his Edwardian, self effacing manner, he made light of the experience and handed the Germans a propaganda coup. It was probably naivete that led him to fall in with their plans, but also extreme foolishness. Following the war he never again set foot in Britain, but gradually his popularity returned and in his nineties, having lived in Long Island for a long time and become an American citizen, he was eventually restored to the fall and made an honorary knight commander of the British Empire.
I also read 'Mike and Psmith' and early novel from 1913 yesterday. A slight and mildly amusing offering similar to the Billy Bunter novels I read when I was 10.