26 Aug 2011

PG Wodehouse suffered ‘mental pain’ after Nazi broadcasts

Newly-declassified MI5 files reveal how PG Wodehouse, creator of Jeeves and Wooster, worried about being paid to do broadcasts for Nazi radio during World War II.

PG Wodehouse (Getty)

MI5 files show how PG Wodehouse worried about the money he was paid by the Nazis to make broadcasts to the United States during World War II. The British born author, best known for creating Jeeves and Wooster, said his actions had caused him to suffer “a great deal of mental pain”.

The files, declassified by The National Archives, also record how British traitor John Amery, who was hanged for treason in 1945, suggested to the German Secret Service that Wodehouse “might be useful as a progagandist”.

Werner Plack, who had once been a Hollywood film extra and became a Nazi propaganda official, commissioned Wodehouse to make the recordings. They gave humorous accounts of the author’s life in a German internment camp. Wodehouse intended them to be a thank-you to American friends who supported him, and to show how he had “kept cheerful under difficult conditions”.

Wodehouse was living in northern France with his wife when World War II broke out. They were arrested and sent to an internment camp in Tost, Germany in 1940. In 1941 the detention camp’s guards suddenly told Wodehouse to pack a bag and put him on an overnight train to Berlin, where he made the controversial broadcasts.

Plack, whose job during the war was to recruit prison camp detainees to broadcast propaganda to Britain and the US, paid Wodehouse 250 marks for the five recordings. This sum that was accepted without considering the implications. Wodehouse was horrified by how the broadcasts were received in England.

Wodehouse was interrogated by MI5 officer Major Edward Cussen in 1944, after Paris fell to the Allies. He said he realised he had made a “hideous mistake”.

“I have been longing for an opportunity ever since of putting myself right,” said Wodehouse, adding “I never had any intention of assisting the enemy”.

Wodehouse saw himself as an American, and justified making the Nazi radio broadcasts to American journalist HW Flannery, saying that the US was “not at war with Germany”.

The nature of the author’s relationship with Plack has been disputed. Wodehouse told Flannery that he was brought to Berlin to record the broadcasts, telling the journalist how he was told to report to a “Mr Slack or Black or something” – a man he had met at the detention camp where he and his wife were being held.

The MI5 file notes that this “was clearly intended to suggest that Wodehouse had so little acquaintance with the German Foreign Office official that he was even uncertain as to his name”. However the file also records that, in a letter to a friend, Wodehouse refers to Plack as “my Hollywood friend”.

Wodehouse told Major Cussen that he had occasionally met Plack at parties in Hollywood, and denied Flannery’s report that he had met him in the camp and was not sure of his name.

A separate MI5 file on British “renegades” who worked for the Nazi cause during the war lists Wodehouse and notes that in September 1945 he was “living at liberty in Paris”. Wodehouse saw out the war in Paris. He moved to the US after the war and lived there until his death in 1975, aged 93. He received a knighthood from Britain six weeks before he died.