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‘…he [Barmy] would have been the first to agree that he had never been one of those brainy birds whose heads bulge out at the back. Some birds bulged and some birds didn’t, you had to face it, he would have said, and he was one of the birds who didn’t. At Eton everyone had called him Barmy. At Oxford everyone had called him Barmy. And even in the Drones Club, a place where the level of intellect is not high, it was as Barmy that he was habitually addressed.’
Barmy in Wonderland (1952)
Cyril “Barmy” Fotheringay-Phipps (pronounced Fungy), a member of Wodehouse’s famed Drones Club, stars in two stories of his own.
‘Tried in the Furnace’ is a short story from Young Men in Spats (1936 UK edition), and a great favourite of mine. Barmy and fellow Drone Pongo Twistleton-Twistleton retire to the country to rehearse their act for a Drones smoking-concert. When they both fall under the spell of Angelica Briscoe, it tests the bonds of friendship as well as the lengths to which a chap will go to prove his love. Angelica, daughter of the Rev P.P. Brisco, enlists Pongo’s help with the local School Treat, while Barmy is conscripted to oversee the annual village Mother’s outing:
“No sooner were they out of sight of the vicarage than they began to effervesce to an almost unbelievable extent . . . a very stout Mother in a pink bonnet picked off a passing cyclist with a well directed tomato, causing him to skid into a ditch. Upon which all sixteen Mothers laughed like fiends in hell . . .”
I have reread this episode half a dozen times and it never fails to bring on a case of hysterics.
Barmy eventually finds love in America, in the 1952 novel Barmy in Wonderland (based on George S. Kaufman’s play ‘The Butter and Egg Man’). As the story opens, we learn the astonishing news that Barmy is gainfully employed as a hotel clerk, although his intellectual capabilities do not seem to have been improved by the experience.
‘Cyril Phipps was tall and willowy, a young Englishman of the type so common in the Drones Club, Dover Street London, an institution of which… he remained a member in good standing. His disposition was intensely amiable, his hair the colour of creamery butter and his face one of those open, engaging faces which arose the maternal instinct in women…’Barmy in Wonderland . But in the opinion of Barmy’s employer, J.G. Anderson, Barmy has ‘…an I.Q. somewhat lower than that of a backward clam – a clam, let us say, which had been dropped on its head when a baby…’
Barmy in Wonderland
Happily, Barmy manages to win the love of Eileen ‘Dinty’ Moore, a street-wise Irish-American dame who promises to add a much needed dash of common sense to the blood of the Fotheringay-Phipps. For more snippets from ‘Barmy in Wonderland’, have a look at my piece ‘Moments when one needs a drink’.
My grateful thanks to Zanyzigzag for permission to reblog this excellent piece.
Pelham Grenville (Plum) Wodehouse was a comic writer and lyricist, who, in the words of Hugh Laurie, “was quite simply the funniest man ever to put words to paper”.
I remember the first time I ever read Wodehouse. A year or so ago I bought a copy of “Thank You Jeeves” and it is not too much to say that my world of reading was transformed by it. On finishing the book I recall being staggered, absolutely flabbergasted, by the thought that if I hadn’t read Moab and found out that Stephen Fry liked Wodehouse, I would never have discovered him for myself – a thought that still sends shivers up my spine even now. How, HOW had no one told me about this?? I suddenly felt as though I understood how born-again Christians feel when they first discover Jesus. I wanted to stand in the town square brandishing my…
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There had fallen upon the bar-parlour of the Anglers’ Rest one of those soothing silences which from time to time punctuate the nightly feasts of Reason and flows of Soul in that cosy resort. It was broken by a Whiskey and Splash.
“I’ve been thinking a lot,” said the Whiskey and Splash…
Cats will Be Cats (Mulliner Nights)
I recently wrote an item on ‘Drink’ in my personal blog, which was meant to be entertaining, but reads far more seriously than intended. As usual, this error could have been avoided with a little Plumtopian inspiration – Wodehouse had plenty to offer on the subject, as his biographer Robert McCrum noted recently in Oxford Today: ‘Wodehouse and the English language’:
Unique in the canon of English literature, almost none of Wodehouse’s characters is indifferent to the temptations of a quiet snort. Wodehouse’s Drones will make for the bar like buffalo for a watering hole. Their lexicon for inebriated includes: awash; boiled; fried; lathered; illuminated; oiled; ossified; pie-eyed; polluted; primed; stinko; squiffy; tanked and woozled.
I am especially fond of Wodehouse’s application of drinking lingo to non-drinking situations. The line, ‘he was white and shaken, like a dry Martini,” is often quoted, even appearing under the ‘Free Online Dictionary definition for Shock. Other examples along these lines include:
“Hugo, scooped J. Wilmot out of his comfortable morris chair as if he had been a clam, corked him up in a swift taxicab, and decanted him into a Deck B stateroom on the Olympic.”
“The Right Hon. was a tubby little chap who looked as if he had been poured into his clothes and had forgotten to say `When!’ ”
Very Good Jeeves
And then there are the drinking exploits of old Pelicans Galahad Threepwood and Uncle Fred. In Heavy Weather, Wodehouse teases us with glamourous stories from Gally’s unpublished Reminiscences, including this tale of Plug Basham’s efforts to give up drinking.
…about two weeks later I came on him in the Strand, and he was bubbling over with quiet happiness. “It’s all right, Gally,” he said, “it’s all right, old lad. I’ve done it. I’ve won the battle.”
“Amazing, Plug,” I said. “Brave chap! Splendid fellow! Was it a terrific strain?”
His eyes lit up. “It was at first,” he said. “In fact, it was so tough that I didn’t think I should be able to stick it out. And then I discovered a teetotal drink that is not only palatable but positively appealing. Absinthe, they call it, and now I’ve got that I don’t care if I never touch wine, spirits, or any other intoxicants again.”
Wodehouse’s popular hero Bertie Wooster hero is, by his own admission, a comparatively light drinker.
Except at times of special revelry, I am exceedingly moderate in my potations. A brace of cocktails, a glass of wine at dinner and possibly a liqueur with the coffee – that is Bertram Wooster.
I could go on – and I had planned to – but in the course of my research today I’ve discovered a certain Pete Bunten has been there before me. Am I bitter? Not a bit. I can heartily recommend you to partake in a snifter of his excellent work, Literary Drinkers where he pays a fitting homage to our beloved Wodehouse.
What are your favourite drinking quotes from Wodehouse?
…Oh, and if you want to read that aforementioned item of mine on ‘Drink’ you’ll find it at my other Blog: Strong Remarks from the Bar
A Bean and a Crumpet were in the smoking room of the Drones Club having a quick one before lunch, when an Egg who had been seated at the writing table in the corner rose and approached them.
‘How many “r’s” in “intolerable”? he asked.
‘Two,’ said the Crumpet. ‘Why?’
‘I am writing a strong letter to the Committee,’ explained the Egg, ‘drawing their attention to the intolerable … Great Scott!’ he cried, breaking off. ‘There he goes again!’
‘All’s Well with Bingo’
When I started this Weekly Wodehouse wheeze, I had a vague idea of quoting a little bit of ‘his master’s voice’, to share with Plum lovers and newcomers alike, followed by a few short words of my own, expanding on the theme – a chance to develop my own writing.
Re-reading Wodehouse for suitable quotes, I’m struggling to contain myself to quoting just a paragraph… or two. Wodehouse may be quotable, but it’s infernally difficult to draw a firm line and stop quoting. Today for example, I have been reading ‘All’s Well with Bingo’ from Eggs, Beans and Crumpets, which opens as quoted above. It continues as follows:
A spasm contorted his face. Outside in the passage a fresh young voice had burst into a gay song with a good deal of vo-de-o-de-o about it. The Bean cocked an attentive ear as it died away in the direction of the dining room.
‘Who is this linnet?’ he inquired.
‘Bingo Little, blast him. He’s always singing nowadays. That’s what I’m writing my strong letter to the Committee about – the intolerable nuisance of this incessant heartiness of his. Because it isn’t only his singing. He slaps backs. Only yesterday he came sneaking up behind me in the bar and sloshed me between the shoulder blades, saying “Aha!” as he did so. Might have choked me. How many “s’s ” in “incessant”?’
‘Three,’ said the Crumpet.
‘Thanks,’ said the Egg.
He returned to the writing table. The Bean seemed perplexed.
“Odd,’ he said. ‘Very odd. How do you account for young Bingo carrying on like this?’
‘Just joie de vivre.”
‘But he’s married. Didn’t he marry some female novelist or other?’
‘That’s right. Rosie M. Banks, authoress of Only a Factory Girl, Merveyne Keene, Clubman, ‘Twas Once in May, and other works. You see her name everywhere. I understand she makes a packet with the pen.
‘I didn’t know married men had any joie de vivre.’
And this is just the beginning.What can I add to the conversation, once Wodehouse has woven his magic? Better to sit back and enjoy.