Regular contributor, Melissa Todd extolled the virtues of letter writing in a previous article ( https://thebluenib.com/dust-off-your-quill/ ). In the article below, Michael Chacksfield explains how P.G. Wodehouse (known as Plum to family, friends and fans worldwide) tackled the problem of posting letters with idiosyncratic inventiveness.
A perfect tonic for troubled times is invariably a drop of Wodehouse.
As an enthusiast, I often find the most endearing stories about him are when he offers us all a peek behind the curtain, giving an insight into the daily routine of his life.
At the height of his musical success and fame (1920s and 30s), working with Guy Bolton and commuting across the Atlantic to New York to address the never-ending demands of their shows, it was almost inevitable that they would soon need to be in two places at once. In order to cope with the workload, they decided to split up, so Plum headed back to the UK with work on his novels also needing consideration, whilst Guy remained in NY, marrying the opera singer Marguerite Namara.
Inevitably they soon set sail on a working honeymoon to join Plum back in London and when they arrived, deposited their bags at the Berkeley and went off in search of him. But when they reached the South Kensington Block of flats where the Wodehouses had spent the winter, they discovered they were no longer there and had not left a forwarding address.
‘Where is the nearest bookshop?’ Guy inquired, convinced he knew how to track down his lifelong friend; Plum could live for five years in a spot and be unknown to the liquor store, the garage, the milkman and the policeman on the beat, but he would always be the pal of whoever ran the bookshop. As Guy had predicted, the woman in the bookshop “had the dope.”
She was unable to supply the name or number of the flat but knew that Plum had been in that very same morning to buy a couple of Edgar Wallace books, which would seem to suggest the intention of spending a quiet evening at home. She was able to direct them to some service flats nearby but did not have a number or know the name of the owner.
When they finally arrived at the large building in Lowndes Square, it was dusk and there were no lights on. But as they stood on the pavement looking up, a white oblong object came fluttering down and landed at their feet. It was an envelope, stamped and addressed to Mr Guy Bolton, 12th East 57th Street, New York, USA.
‘The miracle of Lowndes Square!’ gasped Guy.
Marguerite spotted a lighted window on the top floor and they headed up four flights of stairs to find the door of the flat open, and Plum sitting at his desk, busy writing a letter.
‘Oh, by the way, I got your letter,’ Guy said. ‘What an extraordinary thing, it falling out of the window just as we were standing there.’
‘It didn’t fall out. I threw it out,’ Plum said.
‘Threw it out?’ enquired Guy.
‘I throw all my letters out of the windows,’ and he promptly finished another letter, stamped it and tossed it through the open window.
‘You see,’ explaining as he did so, ‘someone always picks it up and posts it. It saves me sweating up and down four flights of stairs every time I want to mail a letter.’
‘But suppose somebody stole the stamp and threw the letter away?’ said Marguerite.
‘Oh, they wouldn’t,’ Plum insisted.
After discussing and agreeing how dependable and honest the English were, Guy and Marguerite shoved off back to their hotel but soon moved to an apartment in South Audley Street they had leased from people they met onboard the SS Olympic on their journey from New York. It was the second day when the buzzer sounded, and a breathless man appeared at the door.
‘Are you Mr. Bolton?’
‘Letter for you,’ said the man. ‘I picked it up in Lowndes Square this morning. I was coming this way anyway.’
When he had gone, Guy telephoned Plum to say he had received the letter.
‘What! Already?’ gasped Plum. ‘Now, that’s what I call service. I only threw it out the window twenty minutes ago!’
Wodehouse wrote in 1915 to his lifelong pal, Guy Bolton: ‘We shall have to let truth go to the wall if it interferes with entertainment.’ Both men never scrupled to subordinate the facts to the satisfaction of a good story; the above anecdote included.
Source material: P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton (1954) Bring on the Girls: the Improbable Story of our Life in Musical Comedy with Pictures to Prove it (London: Herbert Jenkins)