Newspaper article on P G Wodehouse, 'England no place for Jeeves now' (Catalogue reference: LO 2/1166)

20 February

A newly-opened file at The National Archives reveals correspondence and briefings on whether to prosecute the author P G Wodehouse for his activities during the Second World War, should he ever attempt to re-enter the country.

The file from the Law Officers' Department is available to download now (LO 2/1166).

Fears of prosecution

Wodehouse, best known for his Jeeves and Wooster novels, feared he would face prosecution for wartime radio broadcasts he made on behalf of the Nazis while he was being held prisoner in occupied France. Wodehouse never returned to his homeland after the war, and this file reveals Wodehouse's anguish at his long exile from Britain.

Personal pleas

The file contains personal pleas made on Wodehouse's behalf from friends and admirers. In a 1947 letter to then-Solicitor General, Sir Frank Soskice, the biographer Hesketh Pearson asked for reassurance should his friend attempt to return to the country of his birth: 'Can you tell me…whether he may assume that should he return to England he would not be troubled by anything in the nature of, to borrow his own terminology, 'phonus-bolonus', oompus-boompus or runny gazoo?'

In a later letter he argued that it was time to 'put an end to a state of suspense which, in view of Mr Wodehouse's age and the great pleasure his works have given to thousands of his fellow-countrymen, has surely lasted long enough?'

The official view

Officials took a harder view. Attorney General Sir Hartley Shawcross wrote that 'strong public feeling would be aroused if Wodehouse were allowed to return and go free'. He had little sympathy for Wodehouse, holding the view that he got through war comfortably by doing for the Germans 'something which they at all events considered to be of assistance to them'.

The new file contains correspondence and papers from 1942, when Wodehouse's publishers were considered for prosecution under the 1939 Trading with the Enemy Act, to 1978 when Wodehouse's biographers wrote asking for access to his file.