Why Wodehouse was Refused a Knighthood

FCO 57/278 - Official Government Document Release

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Callaghan ruled out honour for PG Wodehouse over Nazi link” was the headline on page 9 in the Evening Standard on 15 August about a newly released Government file (PRO reference FCO 57/278). The Standard’s story – and a piece on BBC Two’s Newsnight – heralded coverage the next day in almost all the national papers about the refusal in 1967 of James Callaghan, when Foreign Secretary, to put forward the creator of Jeeves and Bertie Wooster for an honour for services to English literature.

Callaghan claimed Woodhouse had “put himself out of court during he war” because he had broadcast for the Nazis. The British novelist, who was seized by the Nazis at his French villa in Le Touquet and agreed to make five broadcasts of a “non-political” nature on German radio in 1940, never returned to live in Britain. He was released the following year and lived in Berlin before moving to the US.

The Daily Mail quoted Wodehouse as saying “I never was interested in politics. Just as I’m about to feel belligerent about some country I meet a decent sort of chap. We go out together and lose any fighting thoughts.” It said that, after the war, Wodehouse convinced MI5 interrogators that he had been a “silly ass” and he never stood trial.

According to the Standard, the file reveals “the depth of anger over Wodehouse’s broadcasts, one of which suggested that Britain might not win the war. Politicians were also reluctant to give an award to the man who wrote 100 novels, 30 plays and 20 screenplays after he took American citizenship.”

A 1971 memo on the file said that four years earlier the then British Ambassador to Washington felt that an honour to Wodehouse “would revive the controversy of his wartime behaviour and would also give currency to a Bertie Wooster image of the British character which they were doing their best to eradicate”.

Wodehouse was eventually given an honorary knighthood in 1975, a few weeks before his death at the age of 93.