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Service with a Smile

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P.G. Wodehouse around age 38

Service with a Smile is a comic novel by P.G. Wodehouse, first published in the United States on 15 October 1961 by Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York, and in the United Kingdom on 17 August 1962 by Herbert Jenkins, London.[1] It is the eighth full-length novel set at Blandings Castle, and, along with the usual Castle characters, features the ingenious and unflappable Frederick (Uncle Fred) Twistleton, Fifth Earl of Ickenham, in his fourth and final appearance in a Wodehouse novel.

Plot overview

There is the usual turmoil at Blandings Castle as Clarence, Lord Emsworth, that amiable but woolly-minded backwoods peer, finds his idyllic domain overrun not only by the local Church Lad's Brigade, but also by two previous aggravations, the curmudgeonly old Duke of Dunstable and by the publishing magnate (and pig-lover) Lord Tilbury, both of whom are scheming to get their hands on Emsworth's matchless prize-winning pig, Empress of Blandings. Meanwhile, various star-crossed lovers are being thwarted by the iron will of Emsworth's imperious sister Lady Constance Keeble. But fortunately for the mild-mannered ninth Earl and for the assorted lovers who flit in and out of the Castle, the indomitable Uncle Fred is also on hand to sort things out.

Plot, detailed

Myra Schoonmaker, the daughter of a wealthy American, is in durance vile at Blandings Castle, her London "season" having been cut short by Lady Constance Keeble, a friend of her father's, in order to put a stop to Myra's unfortunate entanglement with an impoverished East End curate, the Rev. Cuthbert "Bill" Bailey. Her misery adds to Lord Emsworth's woes, which are already weighing heavily on him thanks to the peremptory manner of his latest secretary, Lavender Briggs, hired by his sister Connie, and to the presence of both the egregious Duke of Dunstable, on another of his long visits to the Castle, and to a party of unruly Church Lads, camping out by his beloved lake.

When Connie reveals plans to spend a day having her hair done in Shrewsbury, Myra at once contacts Bailey, arranging to meet in a registry office in London and tie the knot. Bailey, with his friend Pongo Twistleton and Pongo's redoubtable Uncle Fred in tow, waits at the selected spot, but Myra doesn't turn up. Uncle Fred, an old friend of Myra and of her father from his youthful days in America, and taking to Bailey from the very beginning, then runs into Emsworth (in town to attend the Opening of Parliament), and wastes no time in inviting himself to Blandings, along with the Rev. Bailey in the guise of "Cuthbert Meriweather", an old friend supposedly newly returned from Brazil.

At the Castle, Bailey and Myra are reunited, and the wrinkle in their love caused by a registry office address mix-up is easily smoothed over by Uncle Fred. The Church Lads trick Emsworth into diving fully clothed into the lake to rescue one of their number, which turns out to be a log. This leads the Duke of Dunstable to once again question Emsworth's sanity, blaming the amiable peer's affection for his pig for his apparently crumbling mental state; while Emsworth, at Uncle Fred's suggestion, takes his revenge on the Church Lads by cutting the ropes of their tent in the small hours of the morning.

Dunstable recalls hearing Lord Tilbury saying he would pay £2000 for such a superb pig as the Empress of Blandings. He then arranges to pay Lavender Briggs £500 to steal the pig for him; Briggs in turn hires Emsworth's own pig man, the untrustworthy George Cyril Wellbeloved, to help her, while claiming that she has a second assistant available to help him.

Uncle Fred hears from Myra that her beloved Bill is being blackmailed by Briggs, who has recognized him, into helping with the pig scheme, but before Fred can come up with a plan, Bailey has confessed all to Lord Emsworth, who in his wrath sacks both Briggs and Wellbeloved, but lets slip Bailey's true identity to his sister Connie. Uncle Fred keeps Connie quiet by threatening to reveal to the county that it was the Castle's invaluable butler, Sebastian Beach, who cut the tent ropes, which would lead to great embarrassment throughout the county and the loss of a superlative butler; desperate, Connie contacts James Schoonmaker in America, urging him to come to her aid.

When young George Threepwood tells Dunstable that he has photographed his grandfather in the act of cutting the tent ropes, Dunstable realizes that the sacked Briggs is no longer needed, as he can now blackmail Emsworth into parting with the pig. He meets with Lord Tilbury at The Emsworth Arms, where Lavender Briggs, returned from a day in London ignorant of the change in her situation, overhears him telling Tilbury that he has stopped payment on her check; annoyed by Tilbury's manner, he now proposes to charge Tilbury £3000 for the pig. Soon after, Briggs approaches Tilbury, her former employer, offering to undercut Dunstable by stealing the pig for Tilbury; he accepts and gives his own check for £500. On leaving the inn, Briggs meets Uncle Fred, who tells her of her dismissal by Lord Emsworth and advises her to head straight to London to deposit Tilbury's check.

Schoonmaker arrives, answering Connie's request, but Uncle Fred meets him first and takes him to the Emsworth Arms, where they catch up on old times and Uncle Fred informs his old friend of Myra's engagement to Archie Gilpin (she having broken things off with Bailey after his rash confession). Under the influence of the Arms's powerful lager, Schoonmaker reveals that he loves Connie but lacks the courage to propose, while later Gilpin tells Uncle Fred he has once again become engaged to Millicent Rigby, with whom he had had a minor falling out, and now finds himself engaged to two girls at once; he also needs £1000, to buy into his cousin Ricky's very successful onion-soup business.

Uncle Fred first tricks Dunstable into thinking that Schoonmaker is actually penniless, then persuades him to pay £1000 to get his nephew out of his engagement to Myra; he helps Schoonmaker build up the nerve to propose to Connie, and gets him to see that Bill Bailey is a more suitable match for Myra; and, on a tip-off from Lavender Briggs, he shows Dunstable that he has proof (in the form of a tape-recording) that Dunstable did indeed scheme to steal the pig, thus extracting from the Duke the compromising photos of Lord Emsworth.

So, with Bill and Myra off to a registry office for their nuptuals, Archie back with Millicent and set up in the onion soup business, Connie and Schoonmaker engaged and presumably soon to be out of Lord Emsworth's hair in distant American, and with Dunstable well and truly scuppered, Uncle Fred smiles at the services he has provided to one and all.

Characters in "Service with a Smile"

  • Lord Emsworth, absent-minded master of Blandings Castle
    • Lady Constance Keeble, Emsworth's domineering sister
    • George Threepwood, Emsworth's youthful grandson
    • Lavender Briggs, Emsworth's latest efficient secretary
    • Empress of Blandings, Emsworth's cherished prize pig
      • George Cyril Wellbeloved, the Empress's keeper
  • Frederick Twistleton, 5th Earl of Ickenham, Uncle Fred, Emsworth's friend and protector
    • Pongo Twistleton, Fred's put-upon nephew
  • James Schoonmaker, an American millionaire, friends with both Fred and Connie
    • Myra Schoonmaker, James' pretty daughter
      • The Reverend Cuthbert "Bill" Bailey, a curate friend of Pongo's, in love with Myra
  • Alaric, Duke of Dunstable, a cantankerous peer
    • Archie Gilpin, Dunstable's handsome artist nephew
  • George Alexander Pyke, Lord Tilbury, publishing magnate and pig lover
    • Millicent Rigby, Tilbury's secretary, romantically entwined with Archie
  • Sebastian Beach, butler at the castle

See also

Dunstable and Uncle Fred had both previously visited the Castle in Uncle Fred in the Springtime (1939), while Tilbury showed up there in Heavy Weather (1933), as well as appearing, like Uncle Fred, in several non-Blandings stories.


  1. McIlvaine, E., Sherby, L.S. and Heineman, J.H. (1990) P.G. Wodehouse: A comprehensive bibliography and checklist. New York: James H. Heineman, pp. 96–97.

External links