Everyone loves Bertie Wooster – there seems to be a place in all our hearts for a little piece of him.
There is nothing better than immersing yourself in a PG Wodehouse novel and being transported into that carefree world of the idle rich. As a huge fan and member of the PG Wodehouse Society, I feel compelled to seek out his fictitious world based very closely on the real Mayfair of central London.
When interviewed, Plum as he was affectionately known, was asked whether Bertie was based on any particular person, to which he replied “not one person, but a type of person, you know…”
Before the First World War (1910/11/12), London was awash with idle rich men with nothing much to do and too much time on their hands. Plum captured that world perfectly. It is said that he never grew up, or at least his world didn’t; perhaps that is what makes his stories so magical and timeless.
His parents moved to Hong Kong when he was young, and Plum was sent off to Boarding School at an early age. Exeat weekends form Dulwich College were spent with an array of Aunts – some nice and some not so much – but these proved to be a rich source of material for the great man. On many occasions, he would be sent downstairs to have his supper with the servants, introducing the exciting world of cooks, butlers and valets. He enjoyed their company far more than the stuffy drawing rooms of great English Country Houses, and it opened his mind to a life and world below stairs.
I have decided to seek out some of these places in central London that he wrote about and blog them here for your enjoyment.
I love his fictitious world that he created of pure English silliness, with wealthy men idling away their days, chasing and being chased by women, often ending up in the soup with angry Aunts. His stories would always end with Jeeves, Bertie’s trusted ‘Gentleman’s Gentleman (as opposed to a mere valet), construcing an elaborate story of how or why Bertie could not possibly be at fault, and he would escape an unwanted engagement or the cessation of his monthly stipend with a simple explanation.
From the moment Jeeves glided seamlessly into Bertie’s world in Jeeves Takes Charge (1925), lightly walking around his apartment and presenting a remedy for Bertie’s hangover, he became a constant trusted advisor to PGW’s most famous character.
Plum wrote over ninety novels, forty plays and twenty musicals druing this lifetime and truly was one of the greatest writers of all time. He read Shakespeare, Milton and when he died at the age of 93 in his own arm chair, he had the incomplete Sunset at Blandings novel on the table next to him. He lived and died doing the thing that he most enjoyed: writing.
But to the matter in hand – a tour of Bertie Wooster’s London. Even though a member of the PG Wodehouse Society, I have not yet had the privilege of attending one of their guided London Tours, so instead this is my own home-grown version.
It all revolves around the district of Mayfair in central London. Opposite The Ritz Hotel and Green Park and just off Pall Mall lies the connecting road of Berkeley Street which leads down to Berkeley Square where his fictitious world was based, and my search began.
To get there, we must first walk down Berkeley Street and soon we are at Number 15, where Plum lived for a short time in 1922. The flat is also used as Bertie’s flat in ‘Sir Roderick Spode comes to lunch’ – 6A Crichton Mansions, Berkeley Street.
If we continue down the road and turn left into Charles Street, Number 47 is where Plum worked for a couple of years with his friend Ian Hay. They collaborated on three plays; Winston Churchill lived next door at number 48. The house appears as Aunt Dahlia’s in two of his novels with Hays Mews located opposite appearing as Halsey Court in Money in the Bank. The Footman pub on the corner used to be called ‘The Running Footman‘ is where butlers, valets and staff would drink and socialise once their day was over and is the source of The Junior Ganymede. I was blessed with perfect sunshine to snap all these timeless places for your consumption.
A short walk around the corner and up Graham Hill you will find Clifford Street and at the top on the right is Number 18, the location of the fictitious ‘Drones Club’.
I hope my photo is clear enough to see this rather non-descript building. The plain exterior without, gives no hint at the amount of horse-play and bread roll throwing that occurred within.
I continue on through Mayfair and towards Hyde Park and find Dunraven Street. Between 1927 and 1934 PGW wrote ‘Very Good Jeeves’ and ‘Thank You, Jeeves’ in his second floor study. There is now a blue plaque to represent this landmark below the window which is easily visible from the street. I step onto the renovated marble stone porch and quickly realise that this is not original.
The stone wall and pillar with a weathered Lion’s face on it, look original so I touch it in hope of a connection to the great man and some literary inspiration – alas I remain the novice writer. The feel of the street is very Bertie — wealthy, carefree and there is even a feeling of having a little bit too much time on my hands with the peace and quiet given its’ proximity to central London.
It is one street back from Park Lane and Hyde Park so the distant noise of the traffic is re-assuring but not in the least bit annoying; this really is an expensive part of London. The street feels pleasant with only the odd car passing every few minutes; it is not a cut through so it is easy to see how PGW could sit for hours and concentrate on his writing and perfect his fictitious world.
I walk on to 2 Mansfield Street, Marylebone where the outside shots for Bertie Wooster’s house were filmed. It is a step down from Dunraven Street in appearance but the area is still nice though it feels like a more affordable part of London — if such a place exists? The front of the building is magnificent and when standing on the opposite pavement, you get the complete view in all its grand scale and size — it is truly splendid and I hope my photo does it some justice.
The only thing missing is Bertie hopping out the front door, cane in right hand, hailing a cab with this left.
‘Wot ho, wot ho, wot ho!’
‘Mornin, Mr Wooster. The Drones Club, sir?’ the cabbie asks, already knowing the answer.
‘Capital, my good fellow, perfectly capital’
Is it possible to feel his presence in the street? I am tired and feel silly contemplating such a thing so decide that this is enough for one day and should make my way back to Euston Station to catch my train home.