And how “true” is this story? At least “inspired by real events”, according to the film’s opening titles and, for lead actor, Tim Pigott-Smith, 66, the definitive account of Wodehouse and whether he was a Nazi propagandist. Pigott-Smith co-stars with Zoe Wanamaker who plays Ethel, his wife, otherwise known as “The Colonel”. He goes by the nickname of “Plummy”  which, when you watch the drama, is entirely appropriate. He was certainly plummy of voice, and completely dippy, in the upper-crust fashion of the time.

But Pigott-Smith himself was surprised to get the offer to play the writer. “I didn’t know what Wodehouse looked like,” he begins. “I thought he’d be turned out in spats, or something, but actually he looked a lot like me. Bit of a rugger-bugger!
“It’s weird because it’s just not like what you would expect him to look like. He was about six feet tall and, if you can believe, had less hair than me! He lost most of it in his late teens actually.
“So I was quite surprised when they sent me the script, ‘I can’t be right for Wodehouse’. But I looked him up on the web and thought, ‘Oh gosh. I am’.”
The actor came to the role with few expectations. “I knew this one thing,” he continues, “that he had this difficulty with these German broadcasts. So I read a wonderful biography by Robert McCrum, and started reading another, and thought, ‘I really don’t need this.’ I’ve got such a good script here. I think I understand the character, and that’s the point that you hope research will get you too.”
He was determined to avoid any sort of “impersonation”. Pigott-Smith insists: “That is absolutely fatal. You want to try to catch a quality, and there is a quality in his speech, which is very sweet. That’s the sort of essence of it. He’s just a little boy really. I don’t think he ever grew up. It was just there in the script [by Nigel Williams of Wimbledon Poisoner fame].”
Arrested by the Nazis in Le Touquet, where he was a tax exile, Wodehouse was interned before being taken to Berlin where he was asked to broadcast about his time in the prison. But after his broadcasts were heard in Britain, he was labelled a traitor. The Daily Mirror’s Cassandra said: “He was a rich man trying to make his greatest sale”.
Pigott-Smith couldn’t disagree more. “I think he was an innocent. Completely. He had no objective vision of the real world. He was an escapist and he escaped into the fantasy land of these novels. He really is not of this world. He was being manipulated by the Germans. He doesn’t realise.”
He adds: “He saw his parents for something like two months in six years. Insane level of childhood deprivation. He was looked after by maiden aunts. That’s where he gets all the fuel that he writes about. At the very end of the film, he says, ‘My world is extinct. It’s as extinct as the maiden aunt’. If you gave his stories to a 12-year-old now, they would think it was science fiction.”
The 90-minute film sizzles with wit, mostly from Wodehouse. In his first broadcast, says Pigott-Smith, the writer even quips about internment: “That’s the point you see. Wodehouse said: ‘There’s quite a lot to be said for internment. It keeps you out of the saloon. It gives you a chance to catch up on your reading. And you get a lot of sleep!’ It’s brilliant.”
Wodehouse stayed in Berlin until 1944, then he got out to Paris. He paid for himself in Berlin, living on the royalties from his own books, says Pigott-Smith. “But on paper it looked bad. The real problem is that they were broadcast in America, at the same time that we were trying to get them into the war. It sounded as though he was saying [of the Germans], ‘They’re all terribly nice chaps.’”
He was clearly intelligent, but why not clever enough to see what they Germans were doing to him? Says Pigott-Smith: “He was a fool, and he says that later on, he’s been an ‘absolute fool’. He realises what he’s done but at the time, he didn’t realise it or he wouldn’t have done it.”
The film, he agrees, is something of a reparation. “I don’t think there are people now who think he is guilty. Even the man who started the campaign against Wodehouse, Cassandra from the Mirror, forgave him when they met in the Seventies in New York.”
So we can believe everything we see in this drama? “I think even where it’s imagined, it’s completely accurate.”
He adds: “There’s a weird responsibility when you play someone real. With Frank Vickers [The Vice] you just make it up. With Wodehouse, we have to be careful. I didn’t come across anything in the script that I thought about in those terms. You feel this when you watch it. It was put together with great love and care.”
By the end of the film, you may well agree with “The Colonel” who told her husband: “You’re a very clever man pretending to be stupid.” To which Wodehouse replies: “I didn’t have a clue.”
Who do we blame for what happened? “There was a suggestion that Churchill didn’t like him. The Establishment then may have felt they had to fall in line with his known vindictiveness. It’s impossible to know. But the charges were dropped and sense was seen. As Malcolm Muggeridge [MI5 spy & novelist] puts it in the film, ‘Oh England, what do you do to those who love you’.”