Richard Usborne

Richard Usborne

Richard Alexander Usborne (16 May 191021 March 2006), or simply Dick Usborne, was a journalist and author. He is widely regarded as the leading scholar of the life and works of British comic writer P. G. Wodehouse (1881–1975).

Background and career

In 1910, Richard Usborne was born on 16 May in the Punjab, in British India, the son of a civil servant. He was educated in England at Summer Fields, Charterhouse and Balliol College, Oxford.

After failing to enter the Indian Civil Service because of a heart murmur"Daily Telegraph" 2006, op. cit. (he lived to ninety-five), Usborne worked for many years in advertising and journalism.

In 1938, Usborne married Monica Stuart MacArthur, originally from New Mexico. She died in 1986. They had a son and a daughter."The Independent", 22 March 2006"The Times", 22 March 2006

During the Second World War, he served in the Middle East for the Special Operations Executive and was later in the Political Warfare Executive.

In 1948, Usborne became assistant editor of the "Strand Magazine", then edited by Macdonald Hastings (which had published, from 1891, the short stories of Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, and, from 1910, those of P. G. Wodehouse). When the "Strand" closed in 1950, Usborne wrote for a number of other newspapers and journals, including "Punch" magazine, "The Guardian", "The Times" of London, and the "Times Literary Supplement".

In 2006, Richard Usborne died on 21 March. The day after, he was eulogized in the British press.

Published works

P. G. Wodehouse

Usborne's various published works about Wodehouse included:

* "Wodehouse at Work" (1961), a wide-ranging study of Jeeves, Bertie Wooster, Psmith, Ukridge, Lord Emsworth and other Wodehousian characters;
* "Wodehouse at Work to the End" (1976), the revised edition after Wodehouse's death in 1975;
* "Vintage Wodehouse" (1977), an anthology which, among many other items, included extracts from some of the broadcasts that Wodehouse made from Berlin in 1941 after his release from internment by the Germans during the Second World War;
* "Wodehouse Nuggets" (1983), a collection of Wodehouse quotations and vignettes, with illustrations from the "Strand Magazine"; and
* "Plum Sauce" (2002) (whose title derived from Wodehouse's nickname), an illustrated companion that drew on much of Usborne's earlier material.

In 1973, Usborne contributed to "Homage to P. G. Wodehouse", a tribute edited by Thelma Cazalet-Keir (1899-1989), a former Conservative Member of Parliament, who was sister-in-law of Wodehouse's late stepdaughter Leonora. He also annotated Wodehouse's final, unfinished novel, which was published as "Sunset at Blandings" in 1977, noting that "if the going had remained good "Sunset at Blandings" might, under another title, have been ready for Christmas 1976".Usborne, Richard (1977). "Work in Progress" in "Sunset at Blandings"

"Wodehouse at Work to the End" and "Plum Sauce" contained diverting appendices about translations of Wodehouse into French. Examples of such vocabulary included "pourvu de galette" ("oofy"), "déchiqueter" ("to tear limb from limb"), and "l'horrible drame de Steeple Bumpleigh" ("the Steeple Bumpleigh horror").

"Clubland Heroes"

Usborne was also a devotee of Dornford Yates, 'Sapper', and John Buchan, upper middle class novelists whose works he had first read during childhood illnesses.. He published a study of their work, "Clubland Heroes", in 1953. Yates (pseudonym of Major William Mercer), who, as the only survivor of the trio, was living in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), evidently resented Usborne's interest and wrote to him, through solicitors, that "never has the whip been laid to my back".

Usborne and Wodehouse

Wodehouse once referred to "a certain learned Usborne" in a conversation with journalist and broadcaster Alistair Cooke.Usborne 1976, op. cit. Wodehouse cooperated with Usborne in the latter's preparation of "Wodehouse at Work", although he destroyed a draft chapter on his controversial wartime activities, of which Usborne had not retained a copy, and this never appeared.McCrum, Robert (2004). "Wodehouse: A Life" Their contact was almost entirely by correspondence and they met only once, when Usborne visited Wodehouse and his wife Ethel at their home on Long Island, New York, in 1971 (the year that Wodehouse reached the age of ninety).


; Primary sources consulted

* Usborne, Richard (1976). "Wodehouse at Work to the End".

; Secondary sources consulted

* "Daily Telegraph" (22 March 2006).

; Endnotes

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