My father’s two favourite books, which he seemed to reread almost annually, were Dickens’s Pickwick Papers, and Uncle Fred in the Springtime, by P. G. Wodehouse. Both are distinguished by complexity of plot, an array of eccentric characters and prodigious comic invention. And both are very funny.
Uncle Fred, or to give him his full name and title, Frederick Altamont Cornwallis Twistleton, fifth Earl of Ickenham, of Ickenham Hall, Ickenham, Hants, is an elderly but sprightly man of distinguished appearance and serene disposition. He is discouraged by his wife from leaving the bounds of the Ickenham estate because of his propensity when let loose on the wider world to be a source of disaster and upheaval in the lives of everyone with whom he comes into contact. The innocent and unwilling accomplice in his misadventures is his nephew, Pongo Twistleton.
The novel opens with Pongo on his way from the Drones Club to attempt to borrow £200 from his friend, Horace Pendlebury-Davenport, who happens to be engaged to Pongo’s sister, Valerie Twistleton. On his arrival at Horace’s Park Lane apartment, he is admitted by Horace’s man, Webster. Webster explains that Mr Davenport has ‘stepped out to take a dancing lesson’. He goes on:
‘Perhaps you would not mind waiting in the library. The sitting-room is in some little disorder at the moment.’
‘No, sir. Mr Davenport has been entertaining his uncle, the Duke of Dunstable, to luncheon, and over the coffee His Grace broke most of the sitting room furniture with the poker.’
Pongo’s immediate thought is that Horace’s uncle might be eccentric, but that ‘thinking of his own Uncle Fred, he felt like Noah listening to someone make a fuss about a drizzle’.
This all occurs on page one of the novel. A distinguished veteran scre
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