Richard Usborne

Richard Usborne Who’s Who in Wodehouse will be published shortly.

Unarmed Combat

Richard Usborne, 21 April 1988

When France fell in the summer of 1940, practically all Arabs of the Levant were sure that the Axis would win the war. This would probably free their countries, Syria and Lebanon, from the French mandates under which they had lived resentfully since 1920. But then an Italian Armistice Commission turned up in Beirut (one of its members brought his grand piano). That their future overlord would be Italy was not a pretty thought for the Levantines. Meanwhile, on Pétains orders, the French bureaucrats went on with their jobs, and the French Army of the Levant, their weaponry unused and intact, remained the ruling power.

Diary: On Cutting P.G. Wodehouse

Richard Usborne, 4 October 1984

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.’


Richard Usborne, 24 January 1980

First the bad news. They have printed the Mgr Ronald Knox limerick as above. I am not going to look at the Baring-Gould book to see if the mistake was primarily his. But surely the proper Knox version made sense, and went something like

‘Turbot, sir,’ said the waiter

E.S. Turner, 4 April 1991

When Bishop Berkeley wrote his philosophical treatise linking tar-water, that sovereign cure-all, with the sublimest mysteries of the Christian religion, a lay critic said it reminded him of the...

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