Richard Usborne

I have had, as a holiday task, to cut the sixty-five-thousand-word P.G. Wodehouse novel Quick Service, published in 1940, down to about twenty-five thousand words for a BBC Radio Book at Bedtime. Ten periods of 14 minutes, nine of them to start with a minute or so of re-cap of earlier chapters, and all except the last to end, preferably, at a gasp-moment, to encourage listeners to switch on again tomorrow night. I have done several such jobs for BBC Radio on Wodehouse books. I have not found him easy to abridge. His plots are very tightly-laced and you cut at your peril. A snatch of dialogue or narrative on page 20 may be a plant for a twist in the story on page 220. Wodehouse himself could cut his novels when occasion demanded – i.e. when the payment for a shorter version was big enough. Sometimes top-paying American magazines, such as the Ladies’ Home Journal, would ask for his new novel, to run it as a ‘one-shotter’: sixty-five thousand words cut to twenty-five thousand as a complete story, in one issue, while the novel was fresh in the bookshops in hardback. Wodehouse did the job and he produced a balanced story, fast and funny. I have read more than one of his ‘one-shotters’ and then read the full-length originals. One prefers the full-length, of course. But the potted flower is in all essentials the good Wodehouse floribundus of the garden.

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