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Blandings Castle is a recurring fictional location in many short stories and novels of the British comic writer P.G. Wodehouse, being the seat of Lord Emsworth (Clarence Threepwood, 9th Earl of Emsworth), home to many of his family, and the setting for numerous tales and adventures. The stories were written between 1915 and 1975.
The series of stories taking place at the castle, in its environs, and involving its denizens have come to be known as the "Blandings books", or indeed, in a phrase used by Wodehouse in his preface to the 1969 reprint of the first book, "the Blandings Castle Saga".
The tiny hamlet of Blandings Parva lies directly outside the castle gates, and the town of Much Matchingham, home to Matchingham Hall, the residence of Sir Gregory Parsloe-Parsloe, is also nearby.
The castle is a noble pile, of Early Tudor building ("its history is recorded in England's history books and Viollet-le-Duc has written of its architecture", according to Something Fresh). One of England's largest stately homes, it dominates the surrounding country, standing on a knoll of rising ground at the southern end of the celebrated Vale of Blandings; the Severn gleams in the distance. From its noble battlements, the Wrekin can be seen.
The famous moss-carpeted Yew Alley (subject to the devious gravelling schemes of Angus McAllister) leads to a small wood with a rough gamekeeper's cottage, which Psmith made use of, not to write poetry as he at first claimed, but to stash stolen jewellery. Another gamekeeper's cottage, in the West Wood, makes a pleasant home for the Empress of Blandings for a spell. The rose garden is another famous beauty spot, ideal for courting lovers. There is a lake, where Lord Emsworth often takes a brisk swim in the mornings.
The house has numerous guest rooms, many of which haven't been used since Queen Elizabeth roamed the country. Of those still in use, the Garden Room is the finest, usually given to the most prestigious guest; it has a balcony outside its French windows, which can be easily accessed via a handy drainpipe.
The main library has a smaller library leading off it, and windows overlooking some flowerbeds; it is here that Lord Emsworth is often to be found on wet days, his nose deep in an improving tome of country lore, his favourite being Whiffle on The Care of the Pig.
There have been a number of attempts to locate and identify the possible locations of Blandings:
- In 1977, Richard Usborne included in his appendix to the unfinished Sunset at Blandings a report by Michael Cobb. Based on train journeys and travel times described in the stories, Cobb argues that Buildwas or Much Wenlock fit the description of Market Blandings best, which places Blandings Castle in their immediate surroundings. Parenthetically, he also asks "Could anyone have considered that Blandings Castle was really Apley Park?" Apley Park (or Hall) is less than six miles from Buildwas.
- In 1987, Norman Murphy in his In Search of Blandings looked at a whole range of criteria based around architecture and landscape features. His main suggestions were Sudeley Castle, Gloucestershire for the castle itself, and Weston Park, Staffordshire for the gardens. The owners of Sudeley, also the resting place of Queen Katherine Parr, have since emphasised the Wodehouse connection.
- In 1999, Norman Murphy again suggested Hunstanton Hall in Norfolk, the home of the LeStrange family from 1137 to 1954, where Wodehouse visited in the 1920s, as inspiration for Blandings, its master, and "the real Empress of Blandings".
- In 2003, Dr Daryl Lloyd and Dr Ian Greatbatch (two researchers in the Department of Geography and Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, University College London) made use of a Geographic Information System to analyse a set of geographical criteria, such as a viewshed analysis of The Wrekin and drive time from Shrewsbury. Their final conclusion was that Apley Hall (the Whitmore baronets) was the best suited location for fulfilling the geographical criteria.
Residents and guests
The master of Blandings is, nominally at least, Lord Emsworth. Clarence, the ninth Earl, is an amiably absent-minded old chap, who is charming because of his slow, relaxed lifestyle and the simple obsessions that make him oblivious to the absurd melodrama of his family, namely his home, gardens, pumpkins, and his champion pig, Empress of Blandings. He is never happier than when pottering about the grounds on a fine sunny day.
Lord Emsworth's ten sisters (all of whom look like the "daughter of a hundred earls", except for Hermione, who looks like a cook), his brother Galahad ("Gally"), his daughter Mildred, his sons Freddie and George, and his numerous nieces, nephews, and in-laws inhabit the castle from time to time. For the Threepwood family, and their friends, the castle is forever available for indefinite residence, and is occasionally used as a temporary prison—known as "Devil's Island" or "The Bastille"—for love-struck young men and ladies to calm down.
Emsworth's sister Ann plays the role of châtelaine when we first visit the Castle, in Something Fresh. Following her reign, Lady Constance Keeble acts as châtelaine until she marries American millionaire James Schoonmaker.
Lady Julia Fish is "the iron hand beneath the leather glove", whose son Ronald Fish ("Ronnie") marries a chorus girl named Sue Brown, who is the daughter of the only woman whom Gally ever loved—Dolly Henderson, though Gally insists Sue is not Ronnie's cousin.
The other sisters are: Charlotte, Dora, Florence, Georgiana, Jane, and Diana, the only one that Gally likes (Sunset at Blandings).
Blandings's ever-present butler is Sebastian Beach, with eighteen years service at the castle under his ample belt, and its other domestic servants have at various times included Mrs Twemlow the housekeeper, an under-butler named Merridew, and a number of footmen, such as Charles, Thomas, Stokes, James and Alfred. The chauffeurs Slingsby and Alfred Voules drive the castle's stately Hispano-Suiza, or, in an emergency, the Albatross or the Antelope (Summer Lightning).
Outside of the house, Scottish head gardeners Thorne and Angus McAllister have tended the grounds, while George Cyril Wellbeloved, James Pirbright, and the Amazonian Monica Simmons have each in turn taken care of Lord Emsworth's beloved prize pig, Empress of Blandings.
Emsworth has employed a series of secretaries, most notable among them Rupert Baxter, the highly efficient young man who never seems to be able to keep away from Blandings, despite Lord Emsworth's increasingly low opinion of his sanity. He was succeeded in the post by Ronald Psmith, and later by the likes of Hugo Carmody and Monty Bodkin. The castle's splendid library was catalogued, for the first time since 1885, by Eve Halliday.
Many people pass through the doors of Blandings, including guests and friends of the family, prospective additions to the family, temporary staff, pig-lovers, day-trippers, detectives, crooks and of course impostors galore. Among the most distinguished are the grumpy Duke of Dunstable; leading brain-specialist Sir Roderick Glossop; publishing magnate Lord Tilbury; the Fifth Earl of Ickenham, known to all as Uncle Fred; and Percy Pilbeam, head of the Argus Enquiry Agency employed to locate the lost pig and recover Gally's manuscript of his memoirs.
- Something Fresh (1915) — Also published under the title Something New.
- Leave It to Psmith (1923)
- Blandings Castle and Elsewhere (1935) – Six short stories of twelve, written from 1926 to 1931, occurring before the events of Summer Lightning:
- Summer Lightning (1929)
- Heavy Weather (1933)
- Lord Emsworth and Others (1937) – One short story of nine:
- Uncle Fred in the Springtime (1939)
- Full Moon (1947)
- Nothing Serious (1950) – One short story of ten:
- Pigs Have Wings (1952)
- Service with a Smile (1961)
- Galahad at Blandings (1965)
- Plum Pie (1966) – One short story of nine (probably to be read before Service With a Smile):
- A Pelican at Blandings (1969)
- Sunset at Blandings (1977)
Wodehouse worked on Sunset at Blandings until his death, writing even in his hospital bed. It was unfinished and untitled when he died, and was subsequently edited (by Richard Usborne) and released in its incomplete form with extensive notes on the content.
All nine Blandings short stories were collected together in one volume entitled Lord Emsworth Acts for the Best in 1992.
Film, television and radio
The Castle and its inhabitants were the subject of six half-hour adaptations under the title Blandings Castle, made by the BBC (also known as The World of Wodehouse series). Adapted from some of the shorts in Blandings Castle and Elsewhere and the classic "The Crime Wave at Blandings", they were broadcast in 1967 and starred Ralph Richardson as Lord Emsworth, Meriel Forbes as Lady Constance, Stanley Holloway as Beach and Derek Nimmo as Freddie. Only extracts from one episode survive ("Lord Emsworth and the Girl Friend"), the series having suffered the fate of being wiped.
In 1995, the BBC, with partners including WGBH Boston, adapted Heavy Weather into a 95-minute TV movie. It was first screened on Christmas Eve 1995 in the UK, and shown in the US by PBS on February 18, 1996. It starred Peter O'Toole as Lord Emsworth, Richard Briers as Gally, Roy Hudd as Beach, Samuel West as Monty Bodkin and Judy Parfitt as Lady Constance. It was directed by Jack Gold with a screenplay by Douglas Livingstone, and was generally well received by fans.
BBC One has produced a new series of six episodes, called Blandings, starring Timothy Spall and Jennifer Saunders which premiered in January 2013. A second series of seven episodes aired in February 2014.
- Sources consulted (main article)
- Kuzmenko, Michel (The Russian Wodehouse Society) (2007-03-22). Wodehouse books. Bibliography. Retrieved on 2007-07-24.
- Usborne, Richard (1991). After hours with P. G. Wodehouse. London: Hutchinson. ISBN 0-09-174712-0.
- Usborne, Richard (2003). Plum Sauce: A P. G. Wodehouse Companion. New York: The Overlook Press, 37–45, 96–127. ISBN 1-58567-441-9.
- Sources consulted (locations)
- Kirby, Alex (2003-09-04). Zeroing in on Blandings. BBC News Online. Retrieved on 2007-08-10.
- Murphy, Norman (1987). In Search of Blandings. London: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-010299-X.
- Murphy, Norman (1999). Wodehouse and The Real Empress of Blandings. Wodehouse Among the Animals (Wodehouse Convention talk). Retrieved on 2007-08-10.
- Tibbetts, Graham (2003-09-05). Mystery of Wodehouse castle 'solved' at last. The Daily Telegraph (at Wodehouse.ru). Retrieved on 2007-08-10.
- Wodehouse, P. G. (1969). “Preface [new since the 1969 edition]”, Something Fresh. “Something Fresh was the first of what I might call – in fact, I will call – the Blandings Castle Saga.”
- Waugh, Evelyn. "Text of broadcast over Home Service of BBC", Sunday Times, 16 July 1961. [reprinted as"An Act of Homage and Reparation" in The Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh, ed Donat Gallagher, Methuen, 1983]
- Wodehouse, Pelham Grenville (1977). Sunset at Blandings. London: Chatto & Windus, 195. ISBN 0701122374.
- Murphy 1999, op. cit.
- Kirby 2003, op. cit.
- Tibbetts 2003, op. cit.
- The World of Wodehouse: Series 1: "Blandings Castle" lostshows.com
- Brown, Maggie (December 29, 2012). BBC looks to steal Downton ratings with two helpings of PG Wodehouse. The Observer. Retrieved on December 30, 2012.
- Apley Hall (Pre 1962). Apley-Park.org. Archived from the original on 2007-10-27. – Many photographs (on a copy of the Tibbetts 2003 article)
- Apley Park entry from The DiCamillo Companion to British & Irish Country Houses