YOUNG MEN IN SPATS





Always good to receive another intriguing email concerning Evelyn Waugh. This one popped into my Inbox on the evening of February 1, 2023:


Dear Duncan (if I may)

I have only very recently stumbled on your stuff on the net, and it is brilliant! Like you I am a Waugh fan, and, like you, deeply love Decline and Fall, practically knowing it by heart.

I have particularly enjoyed your recent exchange about the issue of Arthur Potts = Peter Quennell.

From therefore devoted, if very recent, admiration, to an extremely minor nit-pick in one move!

On page 141 of Evelyn! (which I am part way through and loving) you say that Duke Street (of the Rosa Lewis/Cavendish ‘Hotel’ – read knocking shop - fame) is ‘a little farther north’ of the Hay Hill – Dover Street junction. Not so – you have the wrong Duke Street. Confusingly, there are two in the West End, Duke Street Mayfair and Duke Street St James’s. Lots of Dukes.

Duke Street St James’s is the one which intersects Jermyn Street, the south east corner of the intersection being the site of the old Cavendish hotel, and indeed of a modern hotel which has been given the same name. This is south east of Dover Street.

Otherwise, all perfect, brilliant, fascinating, wonderfully written – you have a new fan!

All the best from London

David Wills

It seems like a quick dip into page 141 of Evelyn! is in order. That's the third page into the 'Vile Buddies' chapter. It's where I walk around Mayfair with Kate, discussing Vile Bodies in the footsteps of Evelyn Waugh and Adam Fenwick-Symes, author and protagonist, respectively, of Vile Bodies.

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I know the next word is 'chandelier. So no need to turn the page. Instead, I feel a dip into Google Maps coming on… Okay, I've done that, and my correspondent is quite right. There is a Duke Street to the north, either side of Oxford Street, and I must have come across that when researching the book. I didn't notice that there was also a Duke Street to the south, back across Piccadilly and towards St James's where White's Club is. So let's reply to my London reader and see if this is going anywhere.

Hi David,

Good to hear from you. Shame I’ve made that little slip in my book, as the geography of these things matters, though I’ve noticed myself not bothering to follow the geographical details on re-reading certain essays/chapters of mine recently. Which is doubly remiss of me.

I’ve had several messages from Waugh admirers in the last month, I think the December Piers Court shenanigans have taken readers to my website. Well, I am all for that.

I hope you enjoy the ending of Evelyn! I still remember how elated I felt when composing it. Though that doesn’t mean you should rush through the second half of the book just to get there!

What kind of thing do you do yourself? Do you write?

All best, Duncan

Would I have long to wait for his next move? In the meantime I would amuse myself by walking from Duke Street to Duke Street, and vice versa, in my mind's eye.

Dear Duncan

Very good to hear from you.

Going back to the intersection of Dover Street and Hay Hill, there are some of us who immediately know that ‘to touch Horace Pendlebury-Davenport, if you are coming from the Drones, you go down Hay Hill, through Berkeley Square, along Mount Street and up Park Lane to the new block of luxury flats which they have built where Bloxham House used to be.’

If Evelyn, as I now realise, is lucky enough to have you as his senior acolyte, the same function was performed for Wodehouse by a Norman Murphy. If you have not read his ‘In Search of Blandings’, you have to: ‘who’s really who and what’s where – the facts behind the Wodehouse fiction’. Evelyn gets quite a mention in it in the context of the Drones and Buck’s.

Dover Street itself was the site of the Bath Club, together with Buck’s one of the possible origins of the Drones. And you and Kate used the pub in Hill Street which Norman thought might have been the Junior Ganymede, the club for upper servants like Jeeves.

Talking of clubs (and indeed of ‘south east of Dover Street’), White’s (‘Bellamy’s’ for Evelyn, and the Tory stronghold) and Brooks’s (‘the Senior Buffers’ for PGW, and the Whig stronghold) have faced each other across St James’s in enmity for over 250 years. As it happens, I am a member of Brooks’s. You ask what I do: at 76 I am pretty fully retired, but I have been having lots of fun organising various trips for my fellow members.

All the best, David

How interesting: A student of Wodehouse and Waugh. Of course, there was no more ardent enthusiast of P.G. Wodehouse than Evelyn Waugh. In the treacherous summer of 1929, while writing Vile Bodies at the Abingdon Arms in Beckley (village of my own and Edward Stringer's recent 'consurrection'), Evelyn wrote to Henry Yorke: 'I have written 25,000 words of a novel in ten days. It is rather like P.G. Wodehouse, all about bright young people. I hope it will be finished by the end of the month and then I shall just have time to write another book before your party.'

David's email is full of the names of clubs, real and fictional. But the one I'm going to focus in is Buck's. This is because on Friday, October 9 1936, Evelyn Waugh wrote in his diary… Well, no, let me lead up to it. It's an exquisite PG Wodehouse story in note form.

Let me set the scene. Evelyn had been in Africa earlier in the year and had just finished writing up his experience as Waugh in Abyssinia, the pot-boiling precursor to Scoop. He was back in London and had single lodgings on St James's Street (this was before he was a member at White's Club). He was engaged to Laura but was having problems with her family. One aunt (Mary) expected to live with the young couple in London, an idea that enraged Evelyn - the word 'apoplectic' comes to mind. Another aunt (Vera) was also the aunt of Evelyn Gardner, and was dismayed at the prospect of Evelyn marrying Laura: "I thought we'd seen the last of that young man."

Monday, October 5
'Lunched with Laura, Simpson's. Dined with Patrick who is suffering from unrequited love. Drank with Hubert at Buck's…'

Tuesday, October 6
'Cocktail party at Mrs Cobb's. Took Laura out to dinner with my parents. Seemed to go quite smoothly.'

Wednesday, October 7
'Luncheon Laura, Buck's, ordered pressed duck. Afternoon with Diana who was first in tearing form imitating the King and Mrs Simpson, then, when Laura came to fetch me, suddenly became foully rude. Very shocked and exhausted. Julian [the second Earl of Oxford] and Helen [Lady Helen Asquith] and Laura dined with me at Buck's and went to extremely funny film. Laura melancholy. Sleeping badly every night.'

Thursday, October 8
'Luncheon with Mary and Laura in foul restaurant near her Academy. No food. Agitation. Later talked to Mary about Nunney. They want me to take on forty acres. Went to drink sherry with Grants who were frightfully dull. Laura very tired and gloomy. Foul dinner at Bruton Street. Heavily drugged sleep.'

Friday, October 9
'Completely restored by good night's sleep. Lunched with Laura at Fleming's after happy morning in bed reading P.G. Wodehouse.'

I think I know the real reason why Evelyn felt completely restored. I've a feeling he was reading the collection of PG Wodehouse short stories, Young Men in Spats, which came out in April 1936, his most recent publication. The stories are superbly crafted and I can see they would have put Evelyn's own marital frustrations in hilarious perspective.

All the stories have some connection with the Drones Club, which, as David Wills suggests, based on Norman Murphy's research, was partly and probably modelled on Buck's, at 18 Clifford Street, where Evelyn had been eating and drinking that last week. Usually, the story would be told by one member of the Drones club to another, so the action of the story itself could take place anywhere. What all the stories have in common is the travails of love.

Below is the cover of my copy of Young Men in Spats.

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder, Penguin.

It illustrates the opening story, 'Fate', so let's go through that little beauty to see why it may have put a smile on Evelyn's face as he emerged - nay, burst out - of a depression on the Friday morning of October 9, 1936.

First para: 'It was the hour of the morning snifter, and a little group of Eggs and Beans and Crumpets had assembled in the smoking room of the Drones Club to do a bit of inhaling. There had been a party of sorts overnight, and the general disposition of the company was towards a restful and somewhat glassy-eyed silence. This was broken at length by one of the Crumpets. "Old Freddie's back," he observed.

This somehow puts me in mind of the opening of Decline and Fall, though that scene is set late at night: 'Mr Sniggs, the Junior Dean, and Mr. Postlethwaite, the Domestic Bursar, sat alone in Mr Sniggs's room overlooking the garden quad at Scone College.'

Sniggs and Postlethwaite could conceivably have been members of the Drones Club. But did they identify as Eggs, Beans or Crumpets? I don't know. Anyway, it is a Crumpet that tells the story of Freddie Widgeon to a Bean in the smoking-room of the Drones Club. Dear reader, allow me to summarise that story.

On the ship to New York, Freddie had clicked with a bright and beautiful girl called Mavis Peasemarch who was travelling across the pond with her father, the Earl of Bodsham. Before arriving at the Big Apple, much to Freddie's astonishment, he found himself engaged to the impeccable Mavis. 'And when next morning he informed old Bodsham that he had now a son to comfort his declining years, there was not a discordant note. The old boy said that he could wish no better husband for his daughter than a steady, respectable young fellow like Freddie.'

Freddie was feeling chivalrous, being in love, and when he saw a girl struggling with a heavy suitcase through the streets of Manhattan he wanted to help her. He would have resisted the urge if the girl had been pretty, because Mavis might conceivably have felt threatened by such a gesture. But the struggling girl wasn't in the least pretty. So Freddie went ahead and offered his services and was soon lugging her suitcase to where she lived: on the fourth floor of 69th Street. Once there, they found that the lift wasn't working, so Freddie manfully carried the case up the stairs, and collapsed onto a seat in her room. This 'Myra Jennings' was prattling away in a friendly and grateful vein to Freddie when three men, dressed in bowler hats, burst into the room. They each lit up a cigar and Freddie worked out, from their taciturn exchanges, that they were detectives and that they imagined they had found him alone with the wife of their client. "An open and shut case," they kept saying to each other in satisfaction. But it was established in a question and answer session that they were looking for a Mrs Silvers in Flat 4A, while they had intruded into the flat of Miss Jennings in Flat 4B. The tec' team apologised for their mistake and left.

Thinking this over, Freddie decided it would make a funny story to tell Mavis and her father, who he had arranged to meet for lunch. He had been beginning to feel out of his depth during lunchtime conversations with the pair, so this would be a fine way of him recovering some ground. When the chance came to tell his story, Freddie felt his delivery was pitch perfect, but as he piled it on, he began to realise that the story wasn't eliciting the kind of response that he'd hoped for. And when he finished there was a cold silence at the table until the Earl of Bodsham said: "Is it your practice, may I ask, to scrape acquaintance in the public streets with young persons of the opposite sex?"

Freddie tried to extricate himself from his difficulties by explaining that she was a gargoyle. (Really, no male writer would get away with such words these days, no matter his mastery of other aspects of his material; no matter the layers of irony.) The word 'gargoyle' didn't seem to gain Freddie any extra points with his audience. Shortly after he was left alone at the table to finish his cigarette.

Freddie reckoned that the way to get his beau and her father to see the incident his way, was to introduce them to Miss Jennings. (Poor Freddie still didn't get it!) So he returned to her address only to find she wasn't in. However, a pretty girl emerged from the neighbouring flat.

'Judging by her costume, she seemed to be a late riser. The hour was three-thirty, but she had not yet progressed beyond the negligee and slippers stage. That negligee, moreover, was soft pink in colour and was decorated throughout with a series of fowls of some kind. Love-birds, Freddie tells me he thinks they were. And a man who is engaged to be married and who, already, is not too popular with the bride-to-be, shrinks - automatically, as it were - from blue-eyed, golden-haired females in pink negligees picked out with ultramarine love-birds.'

However, her window was stuck shut and so (of course) Freddie volunteered to open it for her. This proved hard and the afternoon proved hot. By the time that the three detectives from the morning's adventure broke into this flat, the aforementioned 4A, Freddie had taken off a lot of his clothes and Mrs Silvers, as she had identified herself to Freddie, was sitting in his lap. Freddy was described as 'the swiftest worker in New York' by one of the tecs. Another asked "Are you going to tell us we're in the wrong flat again?"

A fight started and Freddy woke up in jail. Next morning he found himself up in court, pleading guilty. And by the afternoon the case was written up over half a column of a periodical that he knew old Bodsham was in the habit of reading from start to finish. At which point Freddie decided to cut his losses and return to England on a boat leaving that night.

Now, dear reader of this website, do you see how reading that story would have cheered up our Evelyn Arthur St John Waugh? Decades later, in 1961, Waugh would write a tribute to P. G. Wodehouse which is pertinent to all this:

'A man of my age, twenty-two years younger than Mr. Wodehouse, has grown up in the light of his genius. By the time that I went to school his stories were established classics and in the nursery I was familiar with my elder brother's impersonations of Psmith. I have possessed a complete set of his works, now sadly depleted by theft. I still await with unappeasable appetite the publication of each addition to the oeuvre.

'What is the secret of his immortality? One essential, of course, is his technical excellence achieved by sheer hard work. He is the antithesis, for example, of Ronald Firbank, whose haphazard, hit-or-miss innuendoes sparkle and flutter in and out of critical attention. Mr Wodehouse is a heroically diligent planner and reviser.'

I will interject at this point that Wodehouse was not as big a fan of Waugh's. He wrote to Leonora, his daughter by his wife's first marriage, as follows:

'Have you read Evelyn Waugh's 'Handful of Dust'? Excellent in spots, but he ought to have you to read over his stuff before he publishes it. You would have told him (a) that he shouldn't have a sort of Mr Mulliner farce chapter about the man going to Brighton if he wanted the story to be taken seriously, and (b) for goodness sake to keep away from Brazil. What a snare this travelling business is to the young writer. He goes to some blasted jungle or other and imagines that everybody will be interested in it. Also that Dickens stuff. Marvellous as a short story, but much too much dragged in.'

What Wodehouse meant was that Waugh ought to have him, PG Wodehouse, as an editor. And I see his point. But back to Waugh's panegyric in praise of Wodehouse:

'One can date exactly the first moment when he was touched by the sacred flame. It occurs half-way through 'Mike'. Psmith appears and the light is kindled which has burned with growing brilliance for half a century. Mr Downing's quest for the boot in chapters XLIX, L and LI is one of the great scenes of comic literature.

'He inhabits a world as timeless as that of A Midsummer Night's Dream and Alice in Wonderland; a world inhabited by strange transmogrifications.'

What fabulous examples of unforgettable writing. But now to the chase:

'Mr Wodehouse's characters are not, as has been fatuously suggested, survivals of the Edwardian age. They are creatures of pure fancy - and I use pure in both its senses. Mr Wodehouse must know as well as anyone else what are the amorous adventures of young, rich bachelors in London. His 'young men in spats' pursue an ideal of courtly love. The word 'spats' recalls us to realms of fantasy. They have not been part of the normal costume of a young man about town these forty years. They are still worn at the Drones Club, and the Drones, with its swimming bath and its smoking concerts, its 'Old Beans' and 'Old Crumpets' touching one another for fivers, has no correspondence at all with any London club of any period. Mr Wodehouse was an early member of Buck's Club. He knew exactly how young men talked: the language of the Drones was never heard on human lips. It is all Mr Wodehouse's invention, or rather inspiration.'

Back to October 1936. Evelyn lying in bed reading Young Men in Spats. Having burst out laughing several times in the reading of 'Fate', was he going to leave it at that? He was not. See him turning over the page and beginning the second story, 'Tried in the Furnace', a smile of anticipation on his lips.

'The annual smoking-concert of the Drones Club had just come to an end, and it was the unanimous verdict of the little group assembled in the bar for a last quick one that the gem of the evening had been item number six on the programme, the knockabout cross-talk act of Cyril ('Barmy') Fotheringay-Phipps and Reginald ('Pongo') Twistleton-Twistleton. Both Cyril, in the red beard, and Reginald, in the more effective green whiskers, had shown themselves, it was agreed, at the very peak of their form.'

An egg thought the pair were on even better form than the year before and a Crumpet explained that the pair had been through a soul-testing experience and as a result their partnership had gone from strength A to strength B. And so at length he told the story that I am going to repeat in summary terms.

Pongo and Barmy were rehearsing together in Somerset when they both spotted a girl so lovely that they congealed in their tracks. They overheard her tell the butcher to deliver the five pounds of streaky bacon she'd just bought to the vicarage, Maiden Eggesford. Immediately, Barmy says to Pongo that he'll have to buzz off back to London for a day or two. Pongo is fine with that. Next morning they bump into each other in the Goose and Grasshopper at Maiden Eggesford. Barmy is first to cultivate the girl's attention and he agrees to help her with the School Treat. Listening to a 50-minute sermon on Sunday morning makes Barmy feel guilty about his selfish ambitions and he decides to step back from the School Treat and allow Pongo to take his place. But when Miss Briscoe (for that is their beloved's name) hears about this, she volunteers Barmy for the annual outing of the Village Mothers. Sixteen females of advanced years assembled in motor coach, along with Barmy, and the expedition was seen off from the Vicarage door by the vicar in person.

The behaviour of the women was outrageous from the start. Bawdy sing-songs was the least of it. When he tried to calm things down, Barmy was cut off at the knees with laughing ridicule and he didn't dare speak again.

'Of what happened at the Amusement Park, Barmy asked me to be content with the sketchiest of outlines. He said that even now he could not bear to let his memory dwell on it… Well, what he was thinking of particularly, he said, was what occurred on the Bump the Bumps apparatus. He refused to specify exactly, but he said there was one woman in a puce mantle who definitely seemed to be living for pleasure alone.'

I pause in the telling of this story to suggest that the key word in that last paragraph is 'puce'. You see, I looked it up. 'Puce is an earthy, pale pink that comes from mixing purple, pink, white and brown. Its name comes from the French word for flea. The colour is said to be the colour of bloodstains on linen or bedsheets, even after being laundered, from a flea's droppings, or after a flea has been crushed.'

Poor Barmy! Poor, poor Barmy. Poor crushed, performing flea!

It turned out that the School Treat was just as much an ordeal for Pongo. And the unfortunate pair discovered they had been set up by the man who was already engaged to be married to Miss Angelica Briscoe, having experienced the School Treat the year before. They learned of this in the Goose and Grasshopper and they looked at each other: 'They clasped hands. Tried in the furnace, their friendship had emerged strong and true. Cyril Fotheringay-Phipps and Reginald Twistleton-Twistleton were themselves again.'

Evelyn, beginning to feel perky after reading 'Fate', would have been feeling positively fervent on coming to the end of this second story. Because did it not speak to his own experience of the early 1930s? His trips to Madresfield Hall on the trail of Baby Jungman, whose juicy beauty was equally admired by 'Frisky' Baldwin, the Prime Minister's son. A rivalry in love, sadly unrequited by either of them, that had turned into a firm friendship.

Moreover, hadn't the love that Evelyn had felt for Baby caused him to travel to the Amazon Jungle in heartbroken despair? To travel to Brazil with only a St Christopher medal for protection - given to him by Baby the night before he sailed? Wasn't he - Evelyn Waugh, 'Bo' to the Madresfield set - a young man in spats? Evelyn felt, in retrospect, that being the only young man in spats in South America hadn't necessarily worked to his advantage.

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Evelyn's shorts had started out khaki, but after three days travelling slung across the back of a donkey, under the supervision of his Indian guide, they were puce. Oh yes, they were a browny pink colour. Mottled might be the appropriate term.

I can imagine Evelyn pausing after this second story and asking himself about the Drones Club. He suspected it was based on Buck's Club, but may not have been sure, because he didn't have N.T.P. Murphy's book In Search of Blandings to hand. But I do.

'The Drones is unquestionably Wodehouse's most famous club, and I never had any doubt that he had a real club in mind when he wrote it. The question is which?…Like everybody else I tried to work it out from 'Uncle Fred in the Springtime'.'

'The door of the Drones Club swung open, and a young man in form-fitting tweeds came down the steps and started to walk westwards. An observant passer-by, scanning his face, wold have discerned on it a tense, keen look, like that of an African hunter stalking a hippopotamus. And he would have been right. Pongo Twistleton - for it was he - was on his way to try and touch Horace Pendlebury-Davenport for two hundred pounds.'

This next paragraph gets us back to the second email from David Wills:

'To touch Horace Pendlebury-Davenport, if you are coming from the Drones, you go down Hay Hill, through Berkeley Square, along Mount Street and up Park Lane to the new block of flats that have been built where Bloxham House used to be…'

Norman Murphy tells us that the Drones is located on Dover Street. He tells us that the Bath Club was at 34 Dover Street and that this surely inspired the famous incident in Drones Club history when Tuppy Glossop bet Bertie Wooster he could not swing himself across the swimming pool by the ropes and the rings above it, which proved to be the case only because Tuppy had looped back the last rope 'n' ring so that Bertie had to drop into the pool in full evening dress. Wodehouse had not been a member of the Bath Club, but two of his uncles had been.

But Murphy goes on to tell his readers that Buck's Club, though located on Clifford Street rather than Duke Street, was certainly a model for the Drones by the time Wodehouse was writing Young Men in Spats. He writes: 'In the 1920s and 30s it [Buck's Club] fitted exactly the pattern that Wodehouse drew. Its members were young and wealthy and their golfing weekends at Le Touquet were famous. It was the Drones weekend at Le Touquet that led to the trouble originally in 'Uncle Fred in the Springtime' and the similarity is too close to be ignored.'

After invoking Waugh's own 1961 statement that Wodehouse was an early member of Buck's, Murphy drops in two further bits of evidence linking Buck's to the Drones. First, in If I Were You (1931) Freddy Chalk-Marshall, in an early chapter says he is a member of Buck's. Thereafter (three times) he says he is a member of the Drones Club. Second, there is a barman called McGarry. In Wodehouse stories from 1959 and 1966 he is established at the Drones, but in The Inimitable Jeeves (1923) he is at Buck's. Moreover, in the autobiography of Captain Buckmaster, who established Buck's Club, he reveals that his barman was indeed an ex-Irish Guardsman called McGarry.

Having said all that, Murphy reveals that in a letter from Wodehouse toward the end of his life, he confirms that Buck's was the principal inspiration for the Drones, while the Bath Club was a secondary source. So that's that.

Back to Evelyn Waugh on the morning of Friday, October 9, 1936. How many stories did he read before meeting Laura at lunchtime at Fleming's on Half Moon Street? Well, we don't know, But let's assume that he made it to the story that mentions a 'Laura', that story being the marvellous 'Uncle Fred Flits By'.

It begins: 'In order that they might enjoy their afternoon luncheon coffee in peace, the Crumpet had taken the guest whom he was entertaining at the Drones Club to the smaller and less frequented of the two smoking-rooms. In the other, he explained, though the conversation always touched an exceptionally high level of brilliance, there was apt to be a good deal of sugar thrown about.'

The story that the Crumpet tells about a 'young man in spats' again concerns Pongo Twistleton. But it's the older man, Uncle Fred, that steals the show. Uncle Fred is the Earl of Ickenham from Ickenham Hall, Ickenham, Hants. He lives in the country most of the year but he makes the occasional foray to London to fill his boots. 'So when, on the occasion to which I allude, he stood pink and genial on Pongo's hearth-rug, bulging with Pongo's lunch and wreathed in the smoke of one of Pongo's cigars, and said "And now, my boy, for a pleasant and instructive afternoon," you will readily understand why the unfortunate young clam gazed at him as he would have gazed at two-penn'orth of dynamite…'

Uncle Fred had been brought up in another stately home, now demolished and the grounds turned into a suburban estate. But he wanted to visit said estate, and so off they went. They were regarding a mediocre villa which was for no obvious reason called the Cedars, on whose site something had once happened that brought a tender and wistful expression to Lord Ickenham's face. At that moment it started to rain. Next thing, Pongo realised that Uncle Fred must have pressed the doorbell because he was talking to a cleaner. Having established that the man and the woman of the house were not in, Uncle Fred announced that he was there by appointment, with his young assistant, to cut the claws of the parrot that they'd glimpsed from the street. So they were let in to the house. The cleaner had finished her work and had to go, leaving Uncle Fred to reign supreme in his new territory. Over the next few hours, a series of rings on the bell brought more people into the Cedars, and Uncle Fred played each of them like a violin. By afternoon's end he had helped bring two lovers together and had annoyed the hell out of one particular woman.

"Well," said the woman, "you don't know who I am, I'll be bound. I'm Laura's sister, Connie. This is Claude, my husband. And this is my daughter, Julia. Is Laura in?"
"I regret to say, no," said Lord Ickenham.
The women was looking at him as if he didn't come up to her specifications.
"I thought you were younger," she said.
"Younger than what?"
"Younger than you are."
"You can't be younger than you are, worse luck," said Lord Ickenham. "Still, one does one's best, and I am bound to say that of recent years I have made a pretty good go of it."

Four pages later, we get:

"Well, she said, " goodness knows I have never liked Laura, but I would never have wished her a husband like you!"
"Husband?" Said Lord Ickenham, puzzled. "What gives you the impression that Laura and I are married?"

If that didn't get Evelyn out of bed and skipping to his lunchtime appointment with Laura, then I don't know what could have. The plotting of the stories is superb. And it allows the diamond-studded wording of the pick of the paragraphs to sparkle, time after time.

But here's a thought. The final paragraph of Waugh's 1961 panegyric to Wodehouse reads as follows:

'Mr Wodehouse's idyllic world can never stale. He will continue to release future generations from captivity that may be more irksome than our own. He has made a world for us to live in and delight in.'

A world for us to live in? I wonder if Evelyn took his own words literally. In the second half of his life, I get the impression that Waugh would rather have been a character in a Wodehouse book than write any more of his own. Possibly true of the first half of his life also, but less so. Let's see if I can expand on this.

As Waugh got older, he moved from being a 'young man in spats' to an 'Uncle Fred flits by' kind of guy. It's often said that Waugh aspired to be a member of the upper classes. But really what he wanted to be was a fully-fledged character from a PG Wodehouse book. I like to think that the whole Piers Court section of my website illustrates this theory. When entertaining young Americans for the weekend; when dealing with his manservant; when rubbishing Picasso; when enjoying alcoholic forays into London: all were examples of 'Uncle Fred flitting by'; all were examples of 'Uncle Fred in the springtime'; or even, on occasion, Lord Emsworth and the Empress of Blandings rolled into one. I've a feeling that that is how Harold Acton saw Evelyn on their occasional meetings in Italy, late in Evelyn's life. Poor old 'Chinky' Acton, always wondering when 'Boaz', plumped up by Acton's lunch and wreathed in Acton's cigar smoke, was going to burst into life. I can readily understand why the unfortunate old Chinese clam gazed at Evelyn as he would have gazed at two penn'orths of dynamite. Waugh using his own light, added to Wodehouse's light, to light up the world.

Oh, it's not bad that. Waugh using his own light, added to Wodehouse's light, to light up the world. Razzle dazzle: dazzle me sideways; dazzle me blind. Now I'm overdoing it. As Wodehouse constantly reminded himself not to do.

There is a well known bit in Evelyn Waugh's 'The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold', when Pinfold, an autobiographical creation, is describing himself. It ends in this way: 'When he ceased to be alone, when he swung into his club or stumped up the nursery stairs, he left half himself behind, and the other half swelled to fill its place. He offered the world a front of pomposity mitigated by indiscretion, he was as hard, bright, and antiquated as 'Uncle Fred in the Springtime'.' Ha! - Evelyn's ending is 'a cuirass'. But let 'Uncle Fred' stand.

I think this essay is going well. But let's make sure it is grounded in real-world geography. Coming up is a Google Map of Mayfair, Central London, that I have specially created for this occasion. It's not that clear, but in the middle is a green circle that represents me standing with Kate in 2006 as we research the writing of the 'Vile Buddies' chapter in Evelyn! Rhapsody for an Obsessive Love. There are several routes open to us. We could take the blue route, north and east, to Buck's Club where we might bump into Evelyn dining with Laura (having lunched with her at Fleming's) and watch Ev expounding on the high-points of Wodehouse's latest offering. Or we could take the red route south, towards Piccadilly, stop off for lunch at the Ritz (which Kate and I did do, see p.166 and onwards of Evelyn!) en route to White's Club, where EW may have composed his panegyric to Wodehouse in 1961.

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And the third route?

Let me first change the background of the map, and get in a little closer. Kate and I have the the option of taking the purple route along Hay Hill, through Berkeley Square…

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"Where are we going?" Asks Kate, the Kate of sixteen years ago.

"To touch Horace Pendlebury-Davenport, if you are coming from the Drones, you go down Hay Hill, through Berkeley Square, along Mount Street and up Park Lane to the new block of luxury flats they have built where Boxham House used to be."

"Well, we don't want to touch Horace Pendlebury-Davenport. We want to touch Adam Fenwyck-Symes."

"I feel we have done. He's in Shepheard's Hotel, more or less where we began this latest walk. Remember, we checked out the chandelier. Adam will be winning £1000 in a bet with a bogus major as we speak, so we don't need to worry about his finances. It's us that need to touch Horace what's-his-name for two-hundred pounds.

"Why don't we bum a fiver off Evelyn and get in a taxi?"

"Splendid idea. In which case we have two options. First, go to Buck's Club. Bump into Evelyn circa 1936. Trouble is he is not a rich man. Vile Bodies was a bestseller in 1929, but he'd spent that money hanging out with his chums and travelling the world."

"Does it cost that much to get lost in the Amazon rainforest?"

"More than you'd think."

"What's the second option?"

"The second option is to bum a fiver off Evelyn Waugh of 1961. If he's in the middle of writing his piece on Wodehouse in White's, he won't be too pleased to be interrupted, but, on the other hand, he may think that a fiver is cheap at the price for getting rid of us."

"South it is then. No stopping off at the Ritz as we're supposed to be making money not spending it on drink."

"Pouring it down our necks and pissing it up against a wall."

"Speak for yourself."

"Actually, I think we should stand right where we are, keeping our options open. Right in the middle of Evelyn Waugh's Mayfair. Right in the middle of PG Wodehouse's London. Right in the middle of the British Empire's most decadent decades. When young men wore spats while old men wore tweed and shook their heads disparagingly at the younger generation…"

"And?"

"And boasted of the glorious spats they'd sported in their own sublime youths."

End of nostalgic chat.

PG Wodehouse was Waugh's favourite author. Graham Greene and Anthony Powell were his respected contemporaries, serious and brilliant writers both, but he felt that Professor Wodehouse (as Waugh addressed him in letters towards the end of his life) was the master. EW met him just once, in New York post-The Loved One. Not a total success, this luncheon meeting, as the master could not be persuaded to talk of anything else except his own income tax. But then sparks had not exactly flown at the one and only meeting of Joyce and Proust either.

Funny thing is, I can imagine having a one and only meeting with Evelyn Waugh and coming away with the impression that his own personal wealth - or lack of it - was his one passionate interest in life.

Oh, Uncle Fred, are you having a laugh? You never stop, do you?

Sunday
FEB. 12, 2023





Addendum

Dear Reader,

Reading PG Wodehouse’s Meet Mr. Mulliner last week, I noticed that the name ‘Stubbs’ crops up in the last para of the first story in the collection, and ‘Postlethwaite' appears overleaf, in the first para of the second story. Both Decline and Fall names! More game-playing by the young master, this time in the form of a tribute to the old master.

Meet Mr. Mulliner came out in 1927, perfect for insinuating itself into Evelyn’s creative process. Postlethwaite, I ask you!

Pip pip,

Duncan