Britain doubted humorist P.G. Wodehouse’s account of why he made radio programs for the Nazis, accusing him of being more concerned about how much he was being paid, documents released yesterday showed.
Wodehouse, best known for creating the Jeeves and Wooster stories, lamented the “hideous mistake” he made in agreeing to a series of humorous wartime broadcasts about his life in a German internment camp, but MI5 intelligence documents suggested authorities were suspicious of his true motives.
The writer was approached by Hollywood friend and Nazi propaganda official Werner Plack to make the shows after being taken to Berlin in 1941 following a spell in the Tost internment camp.
He was reported to have earlier told US journalist H.W. Flannery he was in the city to meet a “Mr Slack or Black or something,” whom he had met at the detention camp.
However, the declassified MI5 file made public by the UK National Archives said: “This clearly referred to Werner Plack, and 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. Yet in a letter to his friend William Townsend, he refers to Werner Plack as ‘my Hollywood friend.’ This incident suggests that Wodehouse is not always quite as frank and ingenuous as he pretends. It also reveals that Wodehouse had had an interview with a Nazi propaganda official prior to his release from internment.”
Wodehouse claimed he made the shows to prove that he had “kept cheerful under difficult conditions.”
The file added: “He was worried that they had not told him how much he would be paid for his broadcasts.”
The comic author called Flannery’s report “erroneous” because he claimed he knew Plack’s name and that he never met him in the detention camp.
“I realized what a hideous mistake I had made and I have been longing for an opportunity ever since of putting myself right,” he later said.
Wodehouse and his wife Ethel were arrested at their villa in Le Touquet, northern France, in July 1940 and saw out the war in Paris following their release.
Unpopular at home, the writer emigrated to the US and died in 1975 aged 93, six weeks after being knighted by Britain.