Simon Hoggart: If you want to write you must read Wodehouse

The late Simon Hoggart describes P G Wodehouse as a master of prose and explains how Michael Frayn inspired him to become a journalist.

Simon Hoggart was a journalist, writer and broadcaster. He wrote political sketches for The Guardian and a column about wine for The Spectator.

The Book of Fub by Michael Frayn

Frayn wrote novels and plays and, like me, he was also a journalist at The Guardian—the paper my parents took. On the days Frayn’s satirical column appeared (this book is a collection of them), I’d rush down to be the first to read them. Other kids dream of playing football for England but, nerd that I was, I could imagine no job more wonderful than making people laugh over their morning paper.

Frayn’s characters were fictional, but I still meet their likes in Parliament today—Christopher Smoothe, Minister for Chance and Speculation, reminds me of Jeremy Hunt. I’d never compare myself to Frayn; I’m not as good. But he did inspire me to become a journalist.

Troubles by J G Farrell

In 2010, Troubles was the winner of the Lost Man Booker Prize, acknowledging it as the best novel of 1970. Set in Ireland in 1919, it’s a perfectly judged book, subtle and beautifully written, in which the metaphor—a crumbling hotel that represents the end of British rule in Ireland, and, indeed, the end of Empire—is woven into a sad and funny love story. I’d been working in Northern Ireland in the late 60s and early 70s, so the book resonated with me on many levels. But, more personally, it taught me that, whatever grief comes your way, you can and will survive.

The P G Wodehouse Collection

I’m copping out of choosing any specific title, because all his books are equally wonderful. In my youth, I often read two books a day, and Wodehouse was among the writers I loved. It wasn’t just the famous wit (one character suffers a hangover so bad that “the noise of the cat stamping about in the passage outside caused him exquisite discomfort”) but because he was an absolute master of prose. If you want to write, whether it be agricultural reports or Scandinavian novels about psychopaths, you must read Wodehouse.