BBC Radio 4, 16 December 2008
During the Second World War the author P.G.Wodehouse was interned by
the British government on suspicion of high treason for having broadcast material on Berlin radio to American listeners that
could be construed as "providing aid and comfort" to the enemy. Although escaping execution, he was censured for his activities
and advised not to return to his own country. His exile only ended two decades later, when he was the subject of an extended
tribute to celebate his eightieth birthday.
Colin Shindler's play explored the motives behind Wodehouse's broadcasts. As portrayed
by Tim McInnerny, he was a classic silly ass; the victim of his own success as a popular writer. Having spent the bulk of
his working life creating memorable duffers such as Bertie Wooster or Gussie Fink-Nottle, Wodehouse believed that his
sole aim in life was to make people laugh, without considering the consequences of his actions. He did not intend to cause
offence with his broadcasts, but failed to grasp how working on an enemy radio station might be interpreted as a provocative
act. A lifelong pacifist, Wodehouse claimed that he did not care whether Britain won the Second World War or not; not because
he was unpatriotic, but because he abhorred the idea of men fighting one another. The sheer naivété of this observation was
breathtaking yet entirely appropriate for a man brought up to believe in the Edwardian ideals of fair play and good sportsmanship
as propounded at Dulwich College, his public school.
Another example of Wodehouse's naivété could be seen in the way he and his wife Ethel
stayed at the Hotel Bristol in France, in the belief that it provided the most comfortable place for accommodation during
wartime. What they failed to realize was that the hotel was a notorious haunt for German informers who willingly passed secrets on
to the enemy.
In the light of such blunders, it was not surprising that the investigating officer
Cussen (Anton Lesser) found it difficult to decide whether Wodehouse was a genuine innocent or not. He eventually gave
the author the benefit of the doubt, while suggesting that Wodehouse's decisions were dictated mostly by vanity rather than
common-sense. As a celebrity he believed that he was in some way insulated from the day-to-day realities of wartime life -
even if he did make a diplomatic mistake, he believed that his readers would immediately forgive him. Wodehouse's experiences
of internment taught him that this was not the case: like everyone else celebrities had to work for the national interest.
This Afternoon Play was directed by Peter Leslie Wild.