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.

The full text of this diary is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.

You are not logged in