EXTRACT FROM: P G Wodehouse 2002  Summer Lightning London: Penguin Books, pp 16-7.
For two hours after this absolutely nothing happened in the grounds of Blandings Castle. At the end of that period there sounded through the mellow, drowsy stillness a drowsy, mellow chiming. It was the clock over the stables striking five. Simultaneously, a small but noteworthy procession filed out of the house and made its way across the sun-bathed lawn to where the big cedar cast a grateful shade. It was headed by James, another footman, with a gate-leg table. The rear was brought up by Beach, who carried nothing, but merely lent a tone.
The instinct which warns all good Englishmen when tea is ready immediately began to perform its silent duty. Even as Thomas set the gate-leg table to earth there appeared, as if answering a cue, an elderly gentleman in stained tweeds and a hat he should have been ashamed of. Clarence, ninth Earl of Emsworth, in person. He was a long, lean, stringy man of about sixty, slightly speckled at the moment with mud, for he had spent most of the afternoon pottering round pig-styes. He surveyed the preparations for the meal with vague amiability through rimless pince-nez.
‘Yes, your lordship’.
‘Oh?’ said Lord Emsworth. ‘Ah? Tea, eh? Tea? Yes. Tea. Quite so. To be sure, tea. Capital.’
One gathered from these remarks that he ralized that the tea-hour had arrived and was glad of it. He proceeded to impart his discovery to his niece Millicent, who, lured by that same silent call, had just appeared at his side.
‘Er-tea,’ said Lord Emsworth, driving home his point.
Millicent sat down, and busied herself with the pot. She was a tall, fair girl with soft blue eyes and a face like the Soul’s Awakening. Her whole appearance radiated wholesome innocence. Not even an expert could have told that she had just received a whispered message from a bribed butler and was proposing at six sharp to go and meet a quite ineligible young man among the rose-bushes.
‘Been down seeing the Empress, Uncle Clarence?’
‘Eh? Oh, yes. Yes my dear. I have been with her all the afternoon’.
Lord Emsworth’s mild eyes beamed. They always did when that noble animal, Empress of Blandings, was mentioned. He had never desired to mould the destinies of the State, to frame its laws and make speeches in the House of Lords that would bring all the peers and bishops to their feet, whooping and waving their hats. All he yearned to do, by way of ensuring admittance to England’s Hall of Fame, was to tend his prize sow, Empress of Blandings, so sedulously that for the second time in two consecutive years he would win the silver medal in the Fat Pigs class at the Shropshire Agricultural Show.
END OF EXTRACT
BBC is currently airing a new series inspired by Wodehouse’s Blandings books. Being away, I haven’t seen it, but apparently the audiences have panned it as being overly hammed up caricature. Certainly the casting doesn’t seem to have paid any heed to Wodehouse’s descriptions of the characters. In an article published in the Daily Telegraph last month, novelist Tom Sharpe tells of his encounter with Wodehouse, both literal and figurative. Below is an extract dealing with his search for the real settings that inspired the Blandings books (read the whole article here).
[Pinning] down this miniature world is hard as Wodehouse always maintained that Blandings was a mixture of places he remembered. Many years ago, I travelled around England with Norman Murphy, looking for the sites that might have inspired Blandings. Murphy would later go on to write A Wodehouse Handbook and we spent many happy hours learning about the world the Blandings books evoked: how to run a large estate, the importance of looking after your timber, and the bitter rivalry among landowners showing their animals at the county show.
One place to inspire Wodehouse was Corsham Court in Wiltshire where, as a boy, he took tea with his aunts in the servants’ hall and skated on the lake in the park. This aside, however, there is little else at Corsham to remind us of Blandings.
A more likely candidate is Weston Park in Shropshire. Wodehouse and his elder brother, Armine, would often accompany their parents to the estate. It was home to the Countess of Bradford whose oldest friend married Wodehouse’s uncle, the Reverend Frederick Wodehouse. Another uncle was rector of the parish in which Weston Park stands. Those familiar with Blandings will recognise many elements there, from the picturesque cottage in the wood that was ideal for concealing stolen necklaces or purloined pigs, to the magnificent cedar tree with its hammock, assiduously claimed by Lord Emsworth’s ne’er-do-well brother, Gally.
As for the actual castle, there is much to suggest that Wodehouse was inspired by Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire, now, famously, home of the Dent-Brocklehursts. In 1902, Wodehouse’s parents moved from Stableford in Shropshire to Cheltenham and some time afterwards P G walked up Cleeve Hill and looked down on Sudeley. He would never forget that first sight of the great building – Cleeve Hill is, I believe, one of the few places in England where you can look down on a castle (Tom Sharpe 2013).