Some Drinking Tips From Sir PG Wodehouse
Messrs Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie as Jeeves and Bertie Wooster in Jeeves And Wooster, 1992. Photograph by ITV/REX Shutterstock
Whether its a stiff highball or mint julep – or an even stiffer moonshine – raise a toast to the man behind Jeeves and Wooster .
Dazzlingly flippant, brilliantly funny and incredibly prolific, Sir PG Wodehouse was one of the greatest comic writers of his time. In fact, it’s arguable that the effervescent quality of his farcical novels and short stories (the most well-known of which feature upperclass twit Bertie Wooster and his long-suffering butler Jeeves), have yet to be matched since his passing in 1975. (This was just six weeks after he was granted a knighthood – until then the establishment had clearly deemed him just a shade too silly to be called “Sir”.) Today, dipping into Sir PG’s writing is to be taken back to an almost fantastical, and decidedly ridiculous vision of the high life in the 1920s and 1930s, full of flagrant bad behaviour, awful scrapes and, naturally, plenty of over-indulgence when it comes to alcohol. In new book Highballs For Breakfast, author Mr Richard T Kelly uses Sir PG’s expertise on the topic of drink as a lens through which to cast an eye through his wide oeuvre, offering an often-hilarious overview via extracts from more than 30 of his novels and stories, including the entirety of “My Battle With Drink”, a comic piece Sir PG wrote for Vanity Fair in 1915. The resulting volume, as Mr Kelly puts it in his introduction, is “a collection by one of the funniest writers who ever wrote, on one of the greatest subjects known to man or woman,” which is about as clear a recommendation you can get, in MR PORTER’s opinion. In the below excerpts from the book, which is out 10 November, Mr Kelly delivers a few key pointers on how to enjoy a tipple like a true Wodehouse-ian hero.
MIX YOUR DRINKS STIFFISH
As the careful reader has known since the 1916 story “Jeeves And The Unbidden Guest”, Jeeves always brings Bertie a “nightly whisky-and-soda”. That classic combination of any spirit-and-soda that Americans dubbed a “highball” is a recurrent tipple in Sir PG Wodehouse and especially dear to Bertie, who – as we learn in The Inimitable Jeeves – has exacting requirements for the measures involved:
“I say, Jeeves,” I said.
“Mix me a stiffish brandy and soda.”
“Stiffish, Jeeves. Not too much soda, but splash the brandy about a bit.”
TRY A MINT JULEP
In Sir PG Wodehouse, people are very often coming over all misty-eyed about the merits of particular cocktail recipes. In Summer Lightning, even Galahad Threepwood, a fairly confirmed highball man, is found remeniscing fondly to his brother Clarence’s butler Beach about the pleasures of the mint julep: “Have you ever tasted a mint julep, Beach?”
“Not to my recollection, sir.”
“Oh, you’d remember all right if you had. Insidious things. They creep up on you like a baby sister and slide their little hands into yours and the next thing you know the judge is telling you to pay the clerk of the court fifty dollars…”
JUST KNOCK BACK WHAT YOU’RE GIVEN
In the story called “Fate” from Young Men In Spats (1936), Freddie Widgeon finds himself in scrapes just because of his willingness to help out struggling ladies – a gallantry that nonetheless costs him points with his fiancée. One such attempted kindness leads to his sitting in the apartment of a young woman in a pink negligee, and accepting from her a glass of the kind of lethal one-pot spirit that the people of the Appalachian mountains called “moonshine” and which the Irish know as “poteen”.
“Have a drink,” said the female.
This seemed to old Freddie by miles the best suggestion yet. He sank into a chair and let his tongue hang out. And presenty a brimming glass stole into his hand, and he quaffed deeply.
“That’s some stuff I brought away from home,” said the female.
“From where?” said Freddie.
“But isn’t this your home?”
“Well, it is now. But I used to live in Utica. Mr Silvers made this stuff. About the only good thing he ever did. Mister Silvers, I mean.”
He quaffed again. The foundation of the beverage manufactured by Mr Silvers seemed to be neat vitriol, but, once you had got used to the top of your head going up and down like the lid of a kettle with boiling water in it, the effects were far from unpleasant. Mr Silvers may not have had ideals, but he unquestionably knew what to do when you handed him a still and a potato.
Highballs For Breakfast: The Very Best Of PG Wodehouse On The Joys Of A Good Stiff Drink (Hutchinson), compiled and edited by Mr Richard T Kelly, is published 10 November