The other Plum
PG Wodehouse was paid half a guinea for the first piece he ever wrote: "Some Aspects of Game Captaincy", published in the Public School Magazine. He was 19 then. His next two pieces were also on cricket, for each of which he earned half a guinea. His first Jeeves story was 15 years away, but already the connections with cricket were strong.
Wodehouse, a medium-fast bowler for Dulwich College, who might have gone on to Oxford and won a Blue if his father's business hadn't collapsed and he himself been forced to seek employment with the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, once wrote that he dreamed of a residence near Lord's cricket ground. "I've always thought that's where I should like to live, with a garden gate opening on the ground."
Jeeves - as every Wodehouse acolyte knows - was a name the writer took from Percy Jeeves, the Warwickshire bowler who was killed in the first world war. Wodehouse, affectionately called "Plum", was to say of the name: "I rather liked it, particularly after I learned during my boyhood that a famous Middlesex cricketer, Pelham Warner, was called Plum."
This lifelong cricket addict, who followed the fortunes of his college and his country keenly, lost his interest in the game as a writer once he had settled in America. According to a biographer, Benny Green, "In changing from an English readership and scene to meet his American public, in kissing cricket goodbye, Wodehouse did so only in fiction, not in life; passionately though he loved the game, he knew it must be expelled from his work."
According to Malcolm Muggeridge, when George Orwell met Wodehouse for the first time in 1944, they spent their time talking cricket. Orwell thought Mike was Wodehouse's "very best book" (Alec Waugh agreed with that years later). Mike is the outstanding cricket character Mike Jackson, maker of a century at Lord's and hero of the pre-Jeeves canon. When Billy Griffith, friend of Wodehouse, a Sussex and England player and a secretary of MCC, had a son, he named him Mike in tribute. Some of Wodehouse's commentaries on contemporary cricket are to be found in the letters he wrote to Billy Griffith.
|If you were a Wodehouse-worshipping cricket fan (or vice versa), the Master's decision to move to America must count as one of the biggest tragedies in both cricket and literature. Wodehouse, a keen boxer, athlete and golfer, turned his attention to golf in his writings, and cricket lost out|
If you were a Wodehouse-worshipping cricket fan (or vice versa), the Master's decision to move to America must count as one of the biggest tragedies in both cricket and literature. Wodehouse, a keen boxer, athlete and golfer, turned his attention to golf in his writings, and cricket lost out. There were no more gems like, "His adult cricket career was on the one-match one-ball principle. Whether it was that Reginald hit too soon at them or did not hit soon enough, whether it was that his bat deviated from the dotted line which joined the two points A and B in the illustrated plate of the man making the forward stroke in the Hints on Cricket book, or whether it was that each ball swerved both ways at once and broke a yard and a quarter, I do not know. Reginald rather favoured the last theory."
The above is from "Reginald's Record Knock", one of the pieces collected lovingly by Murray Hedgcock in Wodehouse at the Wicket, the cricket fiction of the man who gave us Bertie Wooster, the Empress of Blandings, Gussie Fink-Nottle, Madeleine Basset, Sir Roderick Spode and a Droneful of characters united by their abhorrence for work and their terrible aim when throwing bread rolls at one another.
Hedgcock's book is a wonderful record of Wodehouse's connections with cricket: his career, the six times he played at Lord's, the time he opened the batting there with Arthur Conan Doyle for Authors vs Actors, the connection with the Hollywood Cricket Club of former England captain and Hollywood star C Aubrey Smith, and so on.
America, however, spoilt Wodehouse to such an extent that in a 1975 BBC interview he was to say, "My game now is baseball. Oh I am crazy about it. I'd much rather watch a baseball game than a cricket match. I think what's wrong with cricket, if you are keen on one team - I was very keen on Surrey… well, I'd go to see Surrey play, say, Lancashire, and I'd find Lancashire has won the toss, and they'd bat all day, whereas with baseball, the other side only bats about 10 minutes at the most." Well, well, well.
Suresh Menon is a writer based in Bangalore. This article was first published in Wisden Asia Cricket magazine