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Filming a Comedy Master's Life in Wantagh
by Jack Healy

Originally published in the November 21, 2002 edition of the Wantagh-Seaford Citizen.
Published online with kind permission from our friends at the Citizen.

The Wantagh Preservation Society was honored recently when a television production crew from the BBC stopped by to film segments of an upcoming TV special on the life of author P.G. Wodehouse, the creator of Jeeves, the ever-efficient butler. The filmmakers came to the Museum to film scenes on the platform of the old Wantagh Railroad Station and to use the Jamaica railroad parlor car for scenes depicting the comings and goings of Wodehouse and his wife in the early 1900s.

A mini-biography states that: Master of comedy novels Pelham (Plum) Grenville Wodehouse was born on October 15, 1881 in Guilford, Surrey, England, and died in a hospital in Southampton, Long Island, on Valentine's day, February 14, 1975, from a heart attack, at 93.

In his lifetime he managed to write close to two hundred novels, short stories, plays, song lyrics and so on. At the time of his birth, Plum's mother was visiting her sister in England, but after only a few weeks she took young Plum with her back to Hong Kong where his father was a magistrate.

At an early age he was sent to school in Britain, Dulwich College in London. At the age of 14 he moved with his parents in to, what they would call, "the old house". After school he spent two years as a banker at the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, but he soon got a job at the old Globe as a sports reporter and columnist on "By the way...". That's when he started to write his own little stories.

At first he wrote school novels, about life in the famous universities in England (for example "The White Feather") and this mainly for a boys magazine, "The Captain". Soon he developed a talent for dialogue and comedy, and started to put his mind into that instead.

Success was just around the corner, and around 1910 he had established himself in such a way that he could live between the U.S. and France. This is also the time when he seriously picked up his obsession with golf, a sport around which many of his short stories circle. This even though his handicap never came down below 18.

In a few years, his readers counted millions in dozens of countries. Plum met American native Ethel, the woman of his life, in 1913, and in 1914 they got married.

He is best known as the creator of the irredeemably dim and unflaggingly affable Bertie Wooster and his invincible valet Jeeves. Wodehouse also produced multi-volume story cycles on Blandings Castle, Mr. Mulliner's extended family, Mike and Psmith, the Oldest Member, Uncle Fred, and the Drones Club. He worked on many Broadway musicals in the 1920s with composer Jerome Kern, the most famous being lyrics for some of the songs in "Show Boat".

World War II caught Plum in his newly-bought house in Le Touquet France, having tea with his wife Ethel and some friends. He was captured by the German forces and put in a prison camp where he was treated well and got the means to keep writing his books.

Goebbles, it was revealed later, understood what a big fish they had caught and lured Plum into giving some brief, humoristic appearances on German radio, and being the political fool he was, Plum fell into the trap. The broadcasts, which were supposed to be heard in the US only, were redirected to Britain, in a cunning scheme to annoy the British authorities. The word of the broadcasts spread, and back in Britain Plum's readers and publisher went berserk and wanted him charged with treason. However, it was later obvious he had been tricked and as the war ended he came back to America, where he became a citizen in 1955.

Hollywood claimed him but it soon became apparent that all they wanted was his name on posters and ads. Still, his popularity increased to such a degree that in new year 1975, a few weeks before he died, he was forgiven for his mistake during the war by the British establishment and was knighted by Her Majesty the Queen. At the time of his knighthood he was in poor health and attended the ceremony in a wheelchair. He was in and out of the hospital with pneumonia, heart conditions and lung failures. Seeking comfort, as always, in his typewriter, Sir Plum kept writing until the end. His last work is the unfinished "Sunset at Blandings," of which nine chapters were written when he finally died in 1975.

Lady Ethel reportedly lived until 1984. They had no children.

 

 


The cast and crew at
the Wantagh Museum.

 


Filming History: P.G. Wodehouse meets his
future wife on the Jamaica
railroad parlor car.

 


Wantagh Preservation
Society's Recording Secretary, Elaine Yarris
(right), wipes mud from
the actress' shoe.

Copyright 2001-2002 Wantagh Preservation Society, Wantagh-Seaford Citizen & LI Dot

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