Saturday, 10 August 2013

What Ho! – The Best of Wodehouse Aug 9, 2013

Selections from Wodehouse chosen by Wodehouse societies, Stephen Fry, editor

The session on Aug 9, 2013 was special; KRG readers came together to share their enjoyment of an outstanding writer of the twentieth century  P.G. Wodehouse. PGW has sparked a way to address the complexity of the world with humankind’s most powerful weapon, laughter.

Thommo reading from Buck-U-Uppo

One of the reviewers rightly observes on the jacket blurb that P.G. Wodehouse should be prescribed to treat depression, for it’s cheaper and more effective than Valium. The editor of a volume of his letters testifies that his kindness, modesty, and overall decency shine through.

 Talitha cannot contain her mirth when Gussie gives away the prizes

In India there is probably no writer more widely read by three generations than P.G. Wodehouse. Mathew testifies to the vitality of the oldest student organisation on St. Stephen’s campus, The Wodehouse Society. And these societies proliferate across the world, even in non-English speaking countries such as Russia and The Netherlands.

Satish reading about the surreptitious uses of air guns

Our final picture shows the largest ever assembly of the Kochi Reading Group: 11 members, 2 guests, and 6 spouses. The photos inside will show how much we laughed at the antics of P.G. Wodehouse’s characters, speaking in flowing prose with a multitude of striking similes, e.g. “He groaned slightly and winced like Prometheus watching his vulture dropping in for lunch.”

(Stnd) Kavita, Geetha, Esther, Thommo, Satish, Mohan, Sunil, Mathew, Michael 
(Sit) Talitha, Rema, KumKum, Gopa, Priya, Joe

Click below for a fuller account.

P.G. Wodehouse

What Ho! The Best of Wodehouse
Reading on Aug 9, 2013

Readers Present: Priya, Talitha, KumKum, Zakia, Thommo, Gopa, Sunil, Mathew, Joe, Esther, Kavita,
Spouses: Satish (who also read), Michael, Sunila, Rema, Abbas, Geetha
Guests: Mohan and Rema Vellapally
Absent: Bobby (out of sorts), Sivaram (out for the weekend)

The next session is Poetry, on Sep 19, 2013. It’s on a Thursday, please note. The next novel for reading is Emma by Jane Austen in Oct, date to be decided. The Dec novel has been changed to The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (selection of Thommo & Priya). It’s available as e-text at:

For Rs 70 a Penguin edition can be had from Amazon India:

Mathew gave a short introduction to the Wodehouse reading, the book for which had been selected with Sunil at the beginning of the year. Mathew has been a fan of Wodehouse for a long time. He saw from the list of past authors selected that one of the greatest writers, P.G. Wodehouse, almost a contemporary, was not represented.

Wodehouse has created a host of characters, covering an entire spectrum. Look at these examples taken from the wiki entry

·     The foppish foolishness of Bertie Wooster.
·      Eccentric fellows, with peculiar attachments, such as to pigs (Lord Emsworth), newts (Gussie Fink-Nottle), antique silver (Bertie's Uncle Tom Travers), golf collectibles (numerous characters) or socks (Archibald Mulliner).
·      Relatives, especially aunts and uncles, who are commonly depicted with an exaggerated power to help or impede marriage or financial prospects
·      Children of both genders, invariably troublesome, annoying and frequently malicious
·      Friends, more a trouble than a comfort
·      Policemen and magistrates who are typically portrayed as threatening, yet bumbling fools
·      servants who are frequently cleverer than their masters
·      square-jawed, ruthless American business executives
·      Big bruisers, muttering threats, abound, including first and foremost Roderick Spode and Tuppy Glossop
·      Aunts include Bertie Wooster's Aunt Agatha; Lord Emsworth's many sisters, notably Lady Constance Keeble; even Aunt Dahlia, the exceptional aunt who is a "good egg," makes plenty of troublesome demands on Bertie.
·      Abhorrent female writers, young and old, such as Ukridge's Aunt Julia
·      Animals of many types, most famous and beloved of whom is the prize-pig Lord Emsworth's Empress of Blandings

Lieutenant-Colonel Norman Murphy was known among fellow aficionados of PG Wodehouse as TMWKAE (The Man Who Knows Almost Everything). His second wife, Elin Woodger, was the president of the US Wodehouse Society. Murphy disproved claims by Evelyn Waugh and George Orwell that the settings of Pelham Grenville’s novels were fictional. He insisted that the whimsical world of loveable, aristocratic reprobates actually existed and proceeded to prove it by revealing the real-life name and location of practically every Wodehouse character and scene. This paragraph is taken from:

Wodehouse wrote more than 100 novels; short stories streamed from his pen in a steady flow. He is also the author of three semi-autobiographical works. His letters have been published in a book by Sophie Ratcliffe as editor:

The present compilation of Wodehouse writings by Stephen Fry were selected by members of the Wodehouse societies scattered around the world, straddling many generations. It is a good point to begin from for novices, and constitutes a most excellent refreshment for fans of long standing. There is also a Facebook page for him. A resource from Russia contains a list of e-text available for the works of P.G. Wodehouse:

As Evelyn Waugh said: “Mr Wodehouse’s idyllic world can never stale. He will continue to release future generations from captivity that may be more irksome than our own. He has made a world for us to live and delight in.”

Thommo, Mohan, Satish, Sunil

Sunil read first from p. 442 “The rise of Minna Nordstrom,” a Mulliner story. His second reading was a golf story on p.359, from“A Plea for Indoor Golf.”

W.C. Fields

Joe read from an encounter P.G. Wodehouse had with the comic artist W.C. Fields who described how the imitation of a cock’s crowing had to be recorded for Pathé pictures with live sound, once talking movies came into existence in the 1930’s. 
 Pathé cock

Wodehouse had one of the most productive periods of his life working for Hollywood studios as a contract writer of stories, and contributed lyrics for over 30 musicals that were made there, working with Jerome Kern and Guy Bolton who wrote the music.

Mathew, Zakia, Priya, Gopa, Geetha

Mathew mentioned The Wodehouse Society of St Stephens' College, an old students’ club of the institution. They conduct an Annual Gussie Fink Nottle Debate and in 1983 the subject was "what we lose on the swings we gain on the roundabouts". This was a line in the headmaster’s opening speech at the annual prize giving day with Gussie as Chief Guest, in Right Ho, Jeeves (Ch 17). Most colleges in Delhi University also include a Wodehouse quiz as part of their annual festival programme. You can read an In Memoriam written by Shashi Tharoor, ex-Stephenanian, recalling those times:

Mathew’s reading was taken from “Lord Emsworth and The Girl Friend.” It starts on p.121 “The technical title of the orgy … drowned the rest of the sentence.” (p.123). Lord Emsworth is the famous peer, the pride of whose heart is The Empress of Blandings, his prize pig. Emsworth has run-ins with his head gardener, McAllister, an obstinate chap who is possessive of the flowers (‘flarze’) in the garden. Lady Constance, the sister of Emsworth, is one of the many women who overmaster men in Wodehouse stories (‘she who must be obeyed’). In this story Emsworth is being bullied into dressing for the annual day at which he must give a speech in a stiff starched collar and top hat.


Zakia, Priya, & Gopa

Zakia read from the story Roderick Spode Gets His Comeuppance starting p.100 “Still, you really are sure … so much at a loss as I did now.” (top of p.104).


 Priya & Gopa

The passage has Emsworth struggling to command his gardener, the Scot, McAllister. Priya started reading on p.128 with (“As a general rule, the procedure for getting flowers out of McAllister … start helping yourself.”) And then went on to p.129, lower half, (“And then something happened  … we’ll go down to the village and have a chat with Ern.”) (the end of the story on p.131). We see Emsworth, gaining courage from Gladys the teenage girl when she puts her hand in his; he is ready to countenance his obstreperous gardener, (“Mutilate my beautiful moss with a beastly gravel path? … Certainly not. Most decidedly not.”) His sister, Lady Constance, no longer terrifies him: “I don’t care. I am not going to make any dashed speech.”


 Priya phubbing as Gopa reads

Gopa read three portions from the book from the beginning, on p.1, (“In order that they might enjoy their afternoon luncheon coffee … when in London, invariably commits.”)

Then she read from p.3 the first line, (“You remember what happened last June … gets there by omnibuses and things,”) on the same page. The last reading took off from the top of p.4 , (“It began to seem to Pongo ... I feel all in a glow,”) on p.5


 Kavita, Esther, Rema, KumKum, Talitha

On p.366 Kavita read a golf story from A Day with the Swattesmore. It starts with (“The Swattesmore, the hunt to which I belong … This is the life.”) (the story’s end on p.367). It is about whether fly-swatting is the superior sport in England, or wasping. Fly-swatting wins.



It was Jeeves and the Impending Doom that Esther read. From the middle of p.48 Esther read to the bottom of p.49, (“This building was run up somewhere … but wiser counsels prevailed.”). It’s about potting a swan that had nested on an island, and there are some striking similes: “there was a hissing noise like a tyre bursting in a nest of cobras” and “the swan gave an imitation of steam escaping from a leaky pipe.”


KumKum hog-calling

KumKum read from the story Pig-Hoo-o-o-o-Ey, starting at the bottom of p.192 (‘I might have known it’) and going on to the end on p.194. (“The Empress was feeding”). It’s the hilarious tale of how a combination of sounds produced in a precisely scored musical manner can restore the temper of the prize pig, and cause it  to start feeding again. In between are the usual innocent love tangles (Lord Emsworth's 21 year old niece who breaks her engagement to Lord Heacham because she wants to marry James).

You can read about the original of the story, one Fred Patzel, known as the “Pavarotti of the Piglot”, who won the world hog-calling championship in Omaha, Nebraska:


Talitha cannot hold her laughter as she reads, KumKum is stirred

Gussie Presents Prizes was the story from which Talitha read. She started from the bottom of p. 94 (“But the bearded bloke’s aim now seemed to be … I tooted and drove off”) at the top of p. 96. At various points in Gussie’s speech, delivered with much fortification of accidental;y induced alcohol in his bloodstream, Talitha could barely conceal her mirth and nearly choked. At sundry places (‘you look just the sort of little tick who would know’, ‘lists of the kings of Judah’, ‘the chap who begat Thingummy’, etc.) the titillation of the audience blocked the progress of the reading. As Satish was to say later, you can open this collection at a random page and start reading and you won’t come short of laughs.

This speech is the analogue of similar hilarity extracted by Kingsley Amis in Lucky Jim, Joe pointed out. Mohan said Scripture was the only subject in which Bertie Wooster had ever won a prize, and that too was after going into the exam hall with cribs for various questions stuffed in his pocket.


KumKum, Talitha, Thommo, & Mohan

Thommo chose the Mulliner story Buck-U-Uppo, which has splendid characters in the Vicar and the visiting Bishop. The story revolves around how many orphreys (=An usually richly embroidered ornamental border, band, or panel on a liturgical vestment, or altar frontal, says the OED) 


a mere vicar may wear on his chasuble (=An ecclesiastical vestment, a kind of sleeveless mantle covering the body and shoulders, worn over the alb and stole by the celebrant at Mass). 

Chasuble with orphreys

Having chosen a supremely inconsequential scuffle Wodehouse proceeds to entertain the reader with complications, including the girl who is refused her choice of suitor because he is a mere curate in the eyes of the vicar, his prospective father-in-law. But the meek curate acquires superman powers by swallowing a tonic, Grade B, sent him; it was a super kind meant, not for men, but for elephants in India, “to be administered in the morning bran-mash to cause the most timid pachyderm to trumpet loudly and charge the fiercest tiger without a qualm.” Obviously designed for shikar in the jungles by colonials.

Thommo alluded to the Wodehouse Playhouse on Youtube where this, and a score of other plays based on the short stories are freely available for your delectation. This story was removed from Youtube but is still available at

One senses Wodehouse was at the top of his form here, sprinkling numerous expressions which will excite a chortle even in a depressed patient. Indeed, the jacket blurb says “[Wodehouse] should be prescribed to treat depression; it’s cheaper and more effective than Valium.”
“Until that moment Augustine had never supposed he had any red corpuscles … now he could feel them dancing all over him.”
“… burly bishop built for endurance rather than speed.”
“… your cheek coming here and trying to high-hat me.”
“… was invented to fulfil a long-felt want throughout our Indian possessions.”


Thommo, Mohan, Satish, Sunil

Satish was inspired to contribute to the reading, by listening to Talitha, who was giggling frequently at their home while reading the Wodehouse selection assigned. Satish felt that such a book would yield laughs no matter where one opened it. Thus emboldened he took his hand to the tome and it fell open at p.150 and there Satish started reading from the bottom (“Lord Emsworth mused on his boyhood. Happy days, …and took up Whiffle on The Care of the Pig.”) toward the bottom of p. 151. A more hilarious passage could not have been chosen with great deliberation to exemplify the humour of Wodehouse.
“ … he was once more becoming a potential popper.”
“ … the gun suddenly went off and broke the bust of Aristotle.”)
“ … the invitation of the beckoning trousers would have been too powerful for a stronger man than Lord Emsworth to resist.”

Satish’s face, creased with joviality in normal times, became helplessly distorted in mirth. Let’s call Wodehouse the Shakespeare of clowns, whose jests, having been recorded for posterity, will perhaps remain even when global warming has laid waste all our provinces.

Sunil confessed it was the first time had read Wodehouse. What a lucky person he is, that he can savour all of Wodehouse, fresh. The Great Sermon Handicap did not figure in our readings of the day, but many parishioners felt united in glee at the thought of presenting this to a favourite cleric of theirs whose vices include inordinate love of their own speech.

At the end KumKum read one more piece from the Clicking of Cuthbert. where the lion, so to speak, lay down with the lamb, from the bottom of p.325 (“I will skip lightly over the intermediate stages of Cuthbert’s courtship … Tomorrow I join the Literary Society”) ending at the middle of p. 327. It was an appropriate point for KRG members to bring this session to a close and pose for the largest group photo ever taken at a reading with six spouses, and two guests, besides our regular members.

Mohan, Michael, Mathew, Thommo, Sunil over whisky after the reading

We proceeded to dinner in the lounge upstairs which Kavita had organised with a sumptuous menu, as follows, for Rs 300 per head:
1 Mughlai chicken
2 Fish masala
3 Mushroom spinach and corn bake
4 Paneer kofta curry
5 Dal tadka
6 Raita
7 Salad
8 Naan/ roti
9 Pilaf rice
10 Cheesecake for dessert

Thanks to Cochin Yacht Cub for the hospitality, and to everyone who came and participated in the savouring of Wodehouse’s lasting delights. A big round of applause for Kavita came at the end for the superb arrangements she had made.

Esther, Priya, Rema, Geetha

Kavita, Zakia, Wasim (Zakia's son), Priya

Rama, & women at dinner in the lounge of Cochin Yacht Club

Foreground - Esther, Geetha, Kavita, Gopa, KumKum, Talitha

Sunil chats with Esther, KumKum, Priya & Talitha (hidden)

Esther & Priya

Since no e-text was available to cover these readings, the page references of the volume assigned for our reading (given above) must suffice.
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