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Monday, 25 April 2011

PG Wodehouse in Lyme Regis

One of the last letters written by PG Wodehouse, only 11 days before his death in 1975, was to his friend Teenie (Ernestine Bowes-Lyon) a cousin of the late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. Over 70 years earlier, Wodehouse had dedicated his first novel, The Pot Hunters, to Ernestine and her sisters Joan and Effie.

The Bowes-Lyon girls were related to Sir Campbell Munro of Linderits who had a country retreat, Fairfield House in Lyme Regis. (The Munro family are probably best known from Sir Campbell’s son Hugh’s pastime of listing all Scottish peaks over 3000ft.) One summer, Wodehouse accompanied the girls to Lyme and whilst holidaying formulated his ideas for Love Among the Chickens. It’s even possible that he wrote some of the novel whilst in the town.

The book, published in 1906, is Wodehouse’s only full length novel featuring his well known, larger than life character, Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge, who otherwise only appears in short stories. The book tells of how Ukridge, his adoring wife Millie and his friend, novelist Jeremy Garnet embark on a money-making plan to farm chickens in Dorset. The story is set in Lyme Regis where the chicken farm is a disaster. However, Garnet falls for a local girl and the pursuit of both chickens and love result in much hilarity.

It appears that Wodehouse was not totally happy about his writing because in 1921 he revised and republished the book. Amongst the changes he made were to increase the price of eggs to allow for inflation and to replace Lyme Regis with the fictional Combe Regis. Thus, in later editions, the link with Lyme is lost.