6925-THE P G WODEHOUSE CONNECTION



 

THE P.G WODEHOUSE CONNECTION

 

In 1900, after leaving Dulwich College,  PGW had been placed by his father, a Hong Kong civil servant, in the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, which meant that after initial training in London he would be sent out to the Far East.

Although a dutiful son these plans did not really suit PGW and while perfunctorily carrying the tasks of a clerk under training, he pursued in parallel with his banking duties, his first ambition, which was to be a writer.

At first he received his share of rejection slips, but within a year he had succeeded in becoming a regular contributor to the “By the Way” column of the Globe and Traveller, a popular evening broadsheet. He also wrote school stories and other articles which were published in the Public School Magazine. In the summer of 1902, aged only 20, he was offered the opportunity of taking over the from the editor while he took his annual holiday. PGW had to choose between the Globe and the Bank. He chose the former and in September 1902 he resigned from Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank and started his career as a freelance journalist.

It was at this stage of his career that he first met Herbert Westbrook. HW, as he was generally known, although teaching Latin and Greek at Emsworth House, had literary ambitions. Having been given an introduction to PGW he hoped that he might be able obtain advice from a contemporary whose career was beginning to prosper.



HERBERT WESTBROOK

The meeting must have been success. HW managed to persuade PGW to join him at Emsworth House and offered him accommodation in a room above the stables. It is not known whether Baldie King-Hall or his sister Ella were consulted about this arrangement, but it proved to be a great success. So much so that PGW, who found the rural atmosphere of Emsworth conducive to write in, rented a house called Threepwood Cottage, which adjoined the school grounds.  This was the start of a close connection between PGW and two members of King-Hall family which, in the case of Baldie lasted until his death in 1929  and with Ella for more than thirty years.

PGWs  relationship with Baldie can perhaps be best illustrated by a Dedication he wrote in  Indiscretions to Archie, a book that was first published in 1921. It reads as follows:

 

Dedication to

     

B.W. KING-HALL

 

                                              My Dear Buddy

        We have been friends for eighteen years. A considerable

proportion of my books  were written under you hospitable

roof.   And I have never  dedicated one to you.   What will

 be the verdict of Posterity on this?   The fact is,   I have 

become rather superstitious about dedications. No sooner

do you label a book with the legend :

 

TO

 

MY BEST FRIEND

 

X

 

Then X cuts you in Piccadilly,  or you bring a lawsuit

against him. There is a fatality about it.  However I can’t

imagine anyone quarrelling with you, and I am getting more

attractive all the time, so let’s take a chance.

 

Yours ever

 

P.G. Wodehouse

 

 

 

PGW’s immediate association with Baldie ceased in 1914. PGW had just arrived in the United States when the 1st World War broke out and he remained there for the duration of the war. His very poor eyesight prevented him from enlisting in one of the armed  services. After the war he renewed his friendship with Baldie and often stayed at Emsworth House before  embarking on a liner at Southampton for one of his many visits to the United States. His last recorded visit to Emsworth was when he attended Baldie’s funeral in November 1929.

 

PGW’s association with Ella was rather different. In his early days at Emsworth he seems to have been quite close to her. Family tradition – admittedly an unreliable source of information  - suggests that, despite their sixteen years age difference,  PGW was half in love with Ella. Whatever the truth of this suggestion they certainly became quite close. In 1907 Ella and PGW put on The Bandit’s Daughter’ a ‘musical sketch’ for which Ella had written the score. It was played at the Bedford Theatre in Camden Town. Sadly it was not a success and only ran for a few nights.

After 1908 PGW spent less time at Emsworth and in 1909 began his long connection with the United States. In 1912 Ella married Herbert Westbrook , who being the same age as PGW, proves that she had the power to attract younger men. To judge from one of his letters, PGW was not entirely happy with this union. In November 1914 he himself was married to a young widow whom he had met two months earlier.

The fact that they were both married did not end their connection. After her marriage Ella had started a literary agency and  PGW had made Ella his literary agent for all his English contracts. She continued in this position until her retirement in 1935.

There is one mysterious aspect of Ella’s role as a literary agent. Between 1912 and 1935 PGW wrote about 28 of his books; seven of the Jeeves stories, four of the Lord Emsworth and Psmith stories, 3 of the Mulliner reminiscences and ten others. Leaving aside her earnings from other clients one must wonder why Ella did not retire a very rich women. Yet when she died on 1941 she only left a few thousand pounds.

We know from the later diaries of her brother, George King-Hall, that she did not lead an extravagant life style. Perhaps a clue may come from a conversation that the Editor of this website had with a great niece of Ella, Elspeth Wedderburn-Ogilvy, in 1999. As a young girl Elspeth had worked for Ella during the early 1930s and she told that when Ella had had the heart attack that had  led to her retirement, Elspeth and another young girl, as the only other members of the agency staff, had found themselves in sole charge of the affairs of the great P.G Wodehouse for about three months. It almost seems as if the English affairs of PGW might have been run as a hobby for the past 20 years.

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