I derive not a little fun out of participating in an e-mail forum called PGWnet for members of The Wodehouse Society in the good ol’ US of A. We delve into all sorts of wonderful world-shattering topics – such as the meaning of the word “pongo” as applied to the game of cricket. One of our number, apparently of Indian persuasion, said he’d heard recently a cricket commentator describe a big hit as “SIX runs, back of a length, pongo-ed over midwicket!” and wondered what on earth he meant by “pongo-ed”. For Americans, that pithy bit of description contains four totally baffling concepts, although I will concede a number of TWS members have perforce gained a little knowledge of cricket jargon through their examination of the sacred texts.
It was another such lively discussion on PGWnet that prompted me to take a course leading to the story here. Through that, I turned up the latest entries on a favourite website named Madame Eulalie, devoted to the early writings of P.G. Wodehouse. This is an amazing collection of work by literary detectives who have recovered from forgotten corners of a variety of archives Plum contributions to newspapers and magazines as both a journalist and freelance writer from his earliest days, and bits and pieces by and about The Great Man from around the Anglosphere. While browsing the good madame’s new additions I noticed a listing for a Wodehouse yarn from a 1913 edition of the Kangaroo Island Courier and I wondered how the contributor had dug out something from such an obscure source. I mean KI may not be the most out-of-the-way place in the world but it’s definitely a contender.
Anyway I thought he must have used the Australian National Library’s Trove database so I called it up, typed in “Wodehouse” and waited. The KI Courier didn’t figure in the results but, inter alia, I found by way of compensation an article from The Bulletin of 29 July 1967 by Beverley Tivey, headlined Wodehouse Cult. It is a Down Under critique of PGW and of Geoffrey Jaggard’s newly published concordance, Wooster’s World.
In these days when P.G. Wodehouse is practically a standard author in English literature (albeit, gnash, middlebrow!) and is about to have a memorial stone in Westminster Abbey alongside Shakespeare et al, it is a peculiar feeling to view the man and his work from the perspective of half a century ago. I was already a committed reader then and as a teenager regarded Wodehouse as a satirist alongside, well, I don’t know . . . I was only a teenager.
Maybe if I’d read Tivey’s opinion then I might have agreed with her. (One does like to recognise proper literature when one sees it.) In her opinion, books that are “skittish and diverting” and short stories that are “in their slight way models of construction” by a man who “could be regarded as a minor recorder of a lost age” indeed “ make it absurd to take him seriously”. Oh well, I know many people on whom the Wodehouse magic dust has not settled and I have read more modern opinions that are not so far removed from Tivey’s. Somewhat contradictorily (if that’s the word I want), Ms Tivey declares the Jeeves-Wooster short stories are “favourite bedside books” and it’s clear she’s familiar with the canon.
What got me thinking a bit, though, was the next sentence about Jaggard’s “sort of concordance . . . an honor I’d thought reserved for Shakespeare and the Bible”. Little did she know. Even though she starts her whole article with the view that Wodehouse had been “made the subject of a cult”, implying she realised something was afoot among Wodehouse readers, she goes on to deny an obvious next step. If she were with us today, would she be able to hold to her opinion that “Wooster’s World is a curious feat of – not scholarship but misapplied perseverance; like building models of the Harbour Bridge out of dead matches or making enormous balls of silver paper, it’s a harmless pastime but of very little practical value”? What would she have to say about Madame Eulalie and, especially, Tony Ring’s continuance of Jaggard’s work in his eight-volume Concordance?
I asked Tony what he thought. “She is wrong when she says that it is ‘of very little practical value’,” he said in an e-mail. “With the research that has taken place since, and the questions which come into the [Wodehouse] societies (and PGWnet), I find my Concordance to be of incalculable value in answering them. If not mine, then [Daniel H.] Garrison [Who’s Who in Wodehouse] or Jaggard.”
The fact is that the world of Wodehouse has developed beyond Tivey’s supposed cult – a smallish band of devotees practising mysterious rites – into a global cottage industry supporting many levels of activity from professorial ponderings, through small groups of deep thinkers, down to pub trivia quizzes. Wodehouse societies flourish around the globe. For heaven’s sake, the ex-Empress of Japan is a keen reader. Whole blogs on the internet – two concepts people in 1967 could not have even imagined – are dedicated to Wodehouse. Academics publish scholarly treatises on subjects such as Nodal humor in comic narrative: a semantic analysis of two stories by Twain and Wodehouse. Tributes seem to flow constantly; speakers and writers routinely make Wodehouse references almost without thinking, and almost in the way Shakespeare is used. Wodehouse society magazines, such as Plum Lines in the US and Wooster Sauce in the UK, would have had Beverley Tivey examining her mind to see if it boggled.
Ms Tivey reckoned no one needed a Wodehouse concordance because “it’s much more fun to read the originals”. Well yes . . . but if I just want to sample a few nifties, contemplate the bulk of butlers and chortle at the dumb-chummery as an aid to removing the daily grind from my consciousness and happily drifting off into the dreamless, I’ve found there’s nothing better than lifting Wooster’s World out of my Wodehouse bookcase and randomly picking my way through it. Or Blandings the Blest (Jaggard’s concordance to the Blandings Castle cycle of stories and novels)) or N.T.P. Murphy’s Wodehouse handbooks. Does it every time.
LONG, LONG FOOTNOTE: Pongoe-ed? I knew you’d ask. The word sparked the interest of Wodehouseans because of Reginald “Pongo” Twistleton-Twistleton, one of the many Drones Club members. Depending where you look, the usual meaning of “pongo” is: “British slang dating from the mid-nineteenth century, meaning soldiers. It stems from a snide expression used by music hall comedians to get a cheap laugh – ‘where the army goes the pong goes’, pong meaning smell.” One other source reckons it is a 17th century word from the Congolese “mpongo”, meaning a large ape, which has a distinctly Wodehousean tone if you dig into Plum’s lampooning of big game hunters and African explorers. This is irrelevant to the meaning of pongo-ed in a cricketing sense but that’s no barrier to Wodehousean speculation.
One of my American friends came off the long run: “The rankest of mere speculation, and I freely confess to my incomprehension of the cricketing terms, but in this sports context, I am inclined to think ‘pongo-ed’ may be a variant of the term ‘ping-pong’ as when a ball is knocked in a rainbow arc over a net, as if the midwicket (I think that is a fielding position not so far out toward the distant boundary) were in the place of a net so that the ball sails over the fielder’s head or, alternatively, in the usage of ‘beer pong’ where the object is to try to bounce something in a high arc into a certain target, as if the cricket ball is hit like a pop-up fly (American baseball) into a vacant place in the outfield.” Eventually another PGWnetter locked on to a “Glossary of cricket terms” on Wikipedia which defined “pongo” thus: “(used primarily by UK county players) a very high volume of run-making, or batting assault”. He added: “However, I asked an English friend who is a lifelong cricket player and fan about this word, and he has never heard it used in the sport.”
Nor have I, and nor has another retired Australian journalist who lives in England and who happens to have been a cricket writer. To him goes the last, and very wise, word: “I feel it is a recent invention by the reporter involved – we are often reminded that English is a living and therefore evolving language. The language of cricket similarly moves on.”
 Named after Sir Roderick Spode’s lingerie company, Eulalie Soeurs. Spode, modelled on the pre-WWII British fascist leader Oswald Mosley, is Bertie Wooster’s nemesis in a number of Jeeves-Wooster stories. In Code of the Woosters, Bertie gets the better of Spode by reminding him of his secret ownership of Eulalie Soeurs, knowledge of which Spode believes will be fatal to his tough-guy image and political aspirations.
 The Bully, as it was affectionately known, was an Australian news magazine which unfortunately succumbed to the internet in 2008 after 128 years of publication.
 I have assumed Beverley Tivey to be a woman in the absence of evidence to the contrary. As far as I can gather from very limited internet data, she was a reasonably well known Australian writer and critic (particularly of film) through the 1950s and 60s.
 For example, Middlebrow Wodehouse: P. G. Wodehouse’s Work in Context, ed. Professor Ann Rea, 2016
 Christopher Holcomb, University of South Carolina – Columbia, 1992.
 The bulk of this post was originally published in the Spring (northern, of course) edition of Plum Lines.