*heraldic description of oars in coat of arms of Richmond upon Thames
The annual Oxford v Cambridge Boat Race takes place this afternoon, and at The Cricketers pub on Richmond Green, where as yet I’m surrounded by Sunday morning peace, you will be able to view it on either of their flatscreen televisions. Another option is to travel four stops by District Line to Stamford Brook, and wander in good time to Chiswick Mall for a prime view of the live event.
In 1933, Eric Ravilious painted the “River Thames at Hammersmith”; about halfway along the 4.2 mile Championship Course, just around the Surrey Bend from Hammersmith Bridge. (He would die at the age of 39, in 1942, serving as an official war artist.) Ravilious created several series of artworks for ceramics by Wedgwood, including “Boat Race Day” in 1938.
Boat Race Day turns inevitably to Boat Race Night. In George Bernard Shaw’s work of 1911, “Fanny’s First Play”, Act II of the play within the play sees the Knoxes learn that their daughter Margaret has been in prison when she returns home after being away for a fortnight. On the night of the Boat Race she and a young French officer called Duvallet she was with got into a fight with the police. Margaret feels liberated by the experience and wishes to tell everyone about it. The Knoxes are mortified.
In P G Wodehouse’s “Right ho, Jeeves”, Bertie Wooster asks rhetorically, “Who was it who, when gripped by the arm of the law on Boat Race Night not so many years ago and hauled off to Vine Street police station, assumed in a flash the identity of Eustace H Plimsoll…?”
Wodehouse’s father was a magistrate resident in the British colony of Hong Kong. His wife was visiting her sister in Guildford in 1881 when their third son, Pelham Grenville, prematurely entered the world. For his first two years he and his two older brothers were raised in Hong Kong by a Chinese amah. The three brothers were then brought to England, where an English nanny cared for them in a house adjoining that of their maternal grandparents. Wodehouse wrote of his childhood, “it went like a breeze from start to finish, with everybody I met understanding me perfectly.”.
By 1891, Wodehouse was at his third school, Malvern House Preparatory School in Kent. In fiction, he would have Bertie Wooster attend a “penitentiary…with the outward guise of a prep school” called Malvern House.
At the age of 12, he proceeded to Dulwich College: “To me the years between 1894 and 1900 were like heaven.” He won a senior classical scholarship in 1897.
Richard Usborne argues that “only a writer who was himself a scholar and had had his face ground into Latin and Greek (especially Thucydides) as a boy” could sustain the complex sequences of subordinate clauses sometimes found in Wodehouse’s comic prose.
Christopher Hitchens comments of Wodehouse’s biographer: “McCrum takes too little account of the mumps that struck Wodehouse in adolescence…the high price he paid for the protective Eden that he never escaped.”.
Dr Sophie Ratcliffe quotes from a Jeeves story the words “soaping a meditative foot”, and notes: “The shifting of affect, from mind to limb, is not only absurdly incongruous, it has the effect of holding the emotion in question at arm’s (or leg’s) length.”.
Wodehouse was a resident of Le Touquet when the German invasion came in 1940. He was interned first at Huy, then at Tost. In June 1941, he was interrupted during a game of camp cricket and taken to Berlin.
In 2001, Robert McCrum met Bob Whitby, then aged 80, who had been interned alongside Wodehouse: “Whitby’s account is of special interest because it casts new light on Wodehouse’s deep humanity in extremis…behind the insouciant moonshine of the Wodehouse world, and the studied nonchalance of Wodehouse’s broadcast pronouncements, there is rather more pain, even suffering, than the writer himself liked to admit.”.
Nicholas G Round of the University of Sheffield notes the challenges to the Spanish translator of “Right ho, Jeeves” (“De acuerdo, Jeeves”): for instance, that “allusions have, in the first instance, to be recognised…..”Boat-race night” is rationally but wrongly “una noche de regatas”.”.
Wodehouse lived until 1975. In a late letter, he said of the fictional world he created, “…it is non existent. It has gone with the wind and is one with Nineveh and Tyre. In a word, it has had it.”.
Roger Alton writes in The Spectator:
“A few years back, television picked up a cox saying “It’s time to fucking attack them.” My colleague Patrick Kidd observed at the time, “Viewers were shocked. Fancy someone with all that education using a split infinitive.”. “.