“Service with a Smile”

Leigh Turner
Leigh Turner

“Service with a Smile” is an exquisite Blandings Castle comedy by PG Wodehouse. It features the magnificent Uncle Fred, the benevolent chaos deity of Blandings.  I select 23 splendid quotations.

The six Blandings Castle novels

The six Blandings Castle novels by PG Wodehouse in my Folio Society edition are:

PG Wodehouse Service with a Smile

The cover of my Folio Society edition of “Service with a Smile”

“Service with a Smile”: the plot

Service with a Smile displays to the full the magnificent powers of Uncle Fred, also known as Lord Ickenham.  He solves the insoluble; untangles romantic knots; and dismantles immovable obstacles of every kind.  In fact, he permeates the entire narrative like a benevolent deity.  As he says, ‘I always strive, when I can, to spread sweetness and light.  There have been several complaints about it’.  This strikes me as an admirable summary of a splendid character.

I first came across Uncle Fred in the splendid short story Uncle Fred Flits By.  This is in the collection 14 Plums of Wodehouse – I recommend it.  I recommend also Uncle Fred’s recipe in the quotations below of ‘May Queen’.  This drink, that “gives weakling men the strength of will to woo” – must have inspired Douglas Adams.  His Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster is described as “like having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick.”

“Service with a Smile”: 22 wonderful quotations

22 further quotes from Service with a Smile, with a couple of categories:

  • Myra Schoonmaker, who had been walking with bowed head, as if pacing behind the coffin of a dear and valued friend, glanced listlessly in the direction indicated.  She was a pretty girl of the small, slim, slender type, who would have been prettier if she had been more cheerful.  Her brow was furrowed, her lips drawn, and the large brown eyes which rested on George Cyril Wellbeloved had in them something of the sadness one sees in those of a dachshund which, coming to the dinner table to get its ten per cent, is refused a cut off the joint.
  • George Cyril might rather closely resemble someone for whom the police were spreading a dragnet in the expectation of making an arrest shortly, but… he knew his pigs.

Uncle Fred

  • Of Frederick Altamount Cornwallis Twistleton, fifth Earl of Ickenham [i.e. Uncle Fred], a thoughtful critic had once said that in the late afternoon of his life he retained, together with a juvenile waistline, the bright enthusiasms and fresh, unspoiled outlook of a slightly inebriated undergraduate, and no-one who knew him would have disputed the accuracy of that statement.
  • ‘I suppose if the scruples I’ve overcome in my time were laid end to end, they would reach from London to Glasgow.’
  • [Uncle Fred, eyeing a drink] ‘What’s that you’re having?  Order me one of the same.  I suppose it will harden my arteries but I like them hard.’
  • ‘I quite understand.  While there is no more admirably educational experience for a young fellow starting out in life than going to stay at a country house under a false name, it does tend to chill the feet to no little extent.’
  • [Uncle Fred] Abandoning his usual policy of allowing nothing to get him out of his hammock till the hour of the midday cocktail, he started in pursuit.
  • Lord Ickenham’s manner was that of a patient governess explaining a problem in elementary arithmetic to a child who through no fault of its own had been dropped on the head when a baby.

“May Queen” – a vital concept

  • [Uncle Fred] ‘What you need, Jimmy, is a pint or two of May Queen.’  ‘Eh?’  ‘It is a beverage which I always recommend to timorous wooers… Its full name is “Tomorrow’ll be of all the year the maddest, merriest day, for I’m to be Queen of the May, Mother, I’m to be Queen of the May”, but the title is generally shortened for purposes of convenience in ordinary conversation.  Its foundation is any good dry champagne, to which is added liqueur brandy, kummel and green chartreuse, and I can assure you it acts like magic.  Under its influence little men with receding chins and pince-nez have dominated the proudest beauties and compelled them to sign on the dotted line.’

Five quotations on Lord Emsworth

  • Lord Emsworth started.  His pince-nez, which always dropped off his nose when he was deeply stirred, did an adagio dance at the end of their string.
  • One of the things that made Lord Emsworth such a fascinating travelling companion was the fact that shortly after the start of any journey he always fell into a restful sleep.
  • At this moment Lord Emsworth appeared, walking across the meadow in that jerky way of his which always reminded his friends and admirers of a mechanical toy which has been insufficiently wound up.
  • Lord Emsworth’s fury had expended itself, and he was now his amiable, chatty – or, as some preferred to call it, gibbering – self once more.
  • The ninth Earl [Lord Emsworth] was drooping limply at his side, as if some unfriendly hand had removed his spinal column.

The splendid Duke of Dunstable

  • [The Duke of Dunstable] ‘It embarrasses me at the club.  Fellers come up to me and ask, “What’s that nephew of yours doing now?”, thinking I’m going to say he’s in the diplomatic service or something, and I have to tell them he’s selling onion soup.  Don’t know which way to look.’
  • The Duke gaped.  The shock had been severe.  If a meteorite had entered through the open window and struck him behind one of his rather prominent ears, he might have been more taken aback, but not very much so.
  • Archie nodded.  He had never blinded himself to the fact that anyone trying to separate cash from the Duke of Dunstable was in much the same position as a man endeavouring to take a bone from a short-tempered wolfhound.

“Service with a Smile”: other quotes

  • A hostess gets annoyed and frets when she finds that every second guest whom she entertains is enjoying her hospitality under a false name, and it sometimes seemed to [Lady Constance] that Blandings Castle had imposters the way other houses had mice, a circumstance at which her proud spirit rebelled.
  • Like most small boys, George had the quiet persistence of a gadfly… Limpets on rocks could have picked up useful hints from him in the way of technique.
  • It is always unpleasant for a man of good will to be compelled, even from the best motives, to blacken the name of an innocent butler, and his first thought after he has done so is to make amends.
  • [Lady Constance] sank back in her chair, stiffened in every limb.  Her companion [Uncle Fred] was beaming at her, and his kindly smile affected her like a blow in the midriff.  She was in a highly nervous condition, and the last thing she desired was to be beamed at by a man whose very presence revolted her finer feelings.
  • ‘Have another?’  ‘I think I will,’ said Mr Schoonmaker, speaking in the rather awed voice customary with those tasting G Ovens’s home-brewed for the first time.

PG Wodehouse: the final chapter

My completion of Service with a Smile marked a milestone. It is the last of the Folio Society Wodehouse I inherited from my father in 2013.  I began this enjoyable task in 2017 – see my post How to read P G Wodehouse: a practical guide.

I hope you have enjoyed this review and quotations from PG Wodehouse Service with a Smile.  Next up: to explore other Wodehouse.  Once again, I shall turn to Plumtopia’s P G Wodehouse Reading Guide to light my path.  I have started by downloading Mike and Psmith and Psmith in the City.  I have also learned that autocorrect makes typing “Psmith” damned difficult.

What to do next

If you like Wodehouse, I would strongly encourage you to look at my own comic writing in Seven Hotel Stories.

Leigh Turner Seven Hotel Stories
“Seven Hotel Stories”


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