Tuesday, 6 May 2014

The real-life Jeeves revealed

The real-life Jeeves revealed: Inspiration behind P.G. Wodehouse's enduring character was county cricketer who was killed fighting in the Somme
Percy Jeeves was a bowler for Warwickshire at a match in 1913
One of the crowd was young humourist P.G. Wodehouse
He took the cricketer's name for his most famous creation
Jeeves died on the Somme and never knew he inspired the writer
Inspiration: Percy Jeeves, whose name P.G. Wodehouse used for his most famous comic creation Reginald Jeeves, the valet of Bertie Wooster

He was the unflappable valet who artfully rescued his well-meaning yet embarrassment-prone upper class twit of a master from various sticky social situations.
Yet the story behind the naming of Jeeves, who featured alongside Bertie Wooster in the beloved comedy books, has its roots in the sporting world.
For it was a talented bowler who died fighting for his country in the First World War that was the inspiration for one of British humour's most enduring characters.
Tomorrow will be the 100th anniversary of a cricket match between Gloucester and Warwickshire at Cheltenham, where Percy Jeeves was bowling for the visiting opposition.
One of the crowd on that summer day in 1913 was the young writer P.G. Wodehouse, who was already thinking of a series of stories about the peerless valet and his hapless employer
Wodehouse was toying with the name Jevons for the exceedingly competent manservant, but the bowler's name stuck in his mind. So too did the much-loved sportsman's immaculate appearance and quiet confidence.
And so Jeeves was born, going on to star in 35 short stories and 11 novels - alongside his foppish master Bertie Wooster - that still capture the imagination of readers worldwide.
The stories recount the improbable and unfortunate situations in which Bertie and his equally ridiculous friends find themselves and the manner in which his ingenious valet Jeeves is always able to quietly extricate them.
Sadly, Percy Jeeves, who had been tipped to play for England before the Great War, was killed fighting on the Somme just ten months after the first Jeeves and Wooster short story appeared in the Saturday Evening Post - never knowing that he was the inspiration for such a famous literary icon.
Murray Hedgcock, a Wodehouse scholar, said: 'We was a very tidy, methodical, clean-cut chap and hugely popular.'

Writing team: The Authors XI featured P.G. Wodehouse (back row, third from left) and Arthur Conan Doyle (sixth from left)

Comic genius: P.G. Wodehouse and his wife Ethel Wayman in this picture from the 1940s

Norman Murphy, the author of A Wodehouse Handbook, told The Times: 'Jeeves had much more of a ring about it. Wodehouse was schooled in Greek and Latin and the feeling he learnt for what sounds good when spoken never left him'.
A new book about the cricketer, The Real Jeeves, has been written by Brian Halford, who will join 100 members of the Wodehouse Society to celebrate the centenary of the landmark match tomorrow at Cheltenham.
Wodehouse, who died in 1975 aged 93, often took real-life inspiration for his characters and stories from the world around him.
A friend of Wodehouse once said that the writer's servant Eugene Robinson possessed all Jeeves's attributes of quick wits and intellect, and may have been the template for Jeeves.
He certainly wasn't alone in basing names on cricketers. His friend Arthur Conan Doyle, who he also played cricket with, named his famous detective Sherlock Holmes for two cricketers named Mordecai Sherwin and Frank Shacklock.
The two writers played in the Edwardian cricket team, the Authors. There were a number of literary cricket teams around at the beginning of the twentieth century but the Authors was the only one made up entirely of writers.
They would play at Lord’s each year, against sides of Publishers and Actors, with Conan Doyle and Wodehouse sometimes opening the batting together. A.A. Milne, best known for his books about the teddy bear Winnie-the-Pooh, was reportedly the best fielder in the side

In April 2012, the team was revived by a new generation of writers. The ranks include Birdsong Author Sebastian Faulks, history writer Tom Holland, author of Rubicon, and Downton Abbey star Dan Stevens.

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