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Exploring the concept of Consciousness further, one may say that whereas a normal organization cares for Results alone, an organization steeped in Consciousnesswould provide an equal weight to all of its three ‘R’s – Results, Relationshipsand Righteousness – in its strategic and tactical thinking.

Results could be either of the financial kind, the market share kind, or a combination of the two.

Relationships would imply a positive working atmosphere where, besides harmonious relations, dissent is not suppressed; rather, it is encouraged. Following human values is an essential part of this attribute. So is respect and dignity towards people in general.

Righteousness would encompass such features as concern for sustainability, giving back to the society and running operations not only within the ambit of law but beyond it, wherever possible. Being pro-active, when it comes to corporate governance; taking care of the rights of the minority shareholders; ensuring that principles of…

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P. G. Wodehouse, the British humourist, did not intend his books and stories to impart management lessons of any kind. However, his keen observation skills, his detailed characterization, and certain traits he endows on some of his characters could be used by CEOs and managers of all kinds to achieve greater success in their careers, enabling them to face challenges with a chin-up attitude. Decision making while facing such disruptive situations as that of a pandemic could then be achieved with a jaunty sang-froid.

Management and Humour?!

Those of you who are from the realm of management and are dimly aware of the existence of a British humourist known as P. G. Wodehouse would by now be shaking your heads in disbelief wondering how something dished out by way of making one chuckle, guffaw and laugh could have anything to do with the stiff-upper-lip discipline of management.

Seriousness vs. Humour

I believe that seriousness and humour are two sides of the same coin. Consider the fact that humour is serious business indeed. It is bound to make us feel lighter but cannot be taken lightly. In fact, humour is a good lubricant which could be deployed to communicate serious messages more effectively.  

The deeper reality is that we value seriousness and tragedy over humour and laughter. Our minds boss over our hearts. Most of the times, anything humorous is treated by us as being frivolous and perhaps fit to be scoffed at on the intellectual plane. On campuses of high-brow seats of learning, it is easy for us to visualize absent-minded professors going about with a heavy tome or two clutched in their hands, with a morose look on their faces, as if they were just being led by an invisible hand to the gallows. At management seminars and conclaves, serious talks get applauded, whereas a speaker conveying a plain vanilla message coated in delectable humour is ridiculed for playing to the gallery. In companies, at board meetings, detailed power point presentations of a serious kind get appreciated, whereas anything said in a lighter vein runs the risk of being viewed with a jaundiced eye.

One admires such management thinkers as C. Northcote Parkinson, Sharu Rangnekar and Laurence J. Peter who have broken this glass ceiling and given us rich management lessons in a humorous manner. All those who have worked in a large bureaucracy revere Parkinson’s Law which postulates that ‘work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion’. Some of you may be familiar with Rangnekar’s The Wonderland of Indian Managers, an uproariously funny account of how things really work in organizations. Those who have missed out on a coveted promotion would be twiddling their thumbs to figure out if they have attained their level of incompetence, a la The Peter Principle.

In their book Humour, Seriously, Naomi Bagdonas and Jennifer Aaker debunk the myth that humour has no place at the workplace. In an interview, Jennifer Aaker opines that leaders with a sense of humour are seen as 27% more motivating; their teams are more than likely twice as likely to solve a creativity challenge. When leaders use humour in their interactions with their team members, they signal humility and humanity, thereby reducing the status barrier between themselves and their audience. The goal of humour at the workplace is not merely to make others laugh; it is to put people at ease, thereby enabling them to be more open and candid in sharing their opinions.

Of Humour and Brands

Consider the innovative way humour gets deployed by a few brands of repute to keep their images shining bright.

Since 1946, the Air India Maharajah has been representing India with charm and dignity, making the company more visible to its customers all over the world. Created by Bobby Kooka along with Umesh Rao of J. Walter Thompson, the advertising agency, it has kept pace with the times – as a lover boy in Paris, a sumo wrestler in Tokyo, a Romeo in Rome and even a guru of transcendental meditation in Rishikesh.

Likewise, we have the case of the Amul girl. The mascot was created as a response to Amul’s rival brand Polson’s butter-girl. The idea was conceived in 1967 once ASP (Advertising, Sales and Promotion) clinched the brand portfolio from the previous agency FCB Ulka. It was executed by Mr. Sylvester Da Cunha, the owner of the agency and his art director Eustace Fernandes on hoardings, painted bus panels and posters in Mumbai. The mascot, since then, has been mobilized to comment on many events of national and political importance.

Not to forget some of our politicos who rose from the ranks after having been successful comedians, motivating their denizens to stand up to bullying by oversized neighbours waging wars so as to widen their own sphere of influence.

Wodehouse and Management  

If a lay manager were to pick up such books by P. G. Wodehouse as Psmith in the City, Blandings Castle and Elsewhere and Something Fresh and put them under a managerial lens, she is surely apt to discover a treasure trove of precious lessons in such diverse fields like marketing, human resources, entrepreneurship, operations, systems and procedures, human resources, and the like.

When it comes to the art and science of managing bosses, Rupert Psmith, Reginald Jeeves, and Ashe Marson offer quite a few templates for a manager to follow. Then there are precious lessons in administration, time management and quite a few other areas in management.

Wodehouse and the Evolution of Management Thought

P. G. Wodehouse (1881-1975), fondly referred to as Plum, dished out his narratives in an era which one could allude to as the sunrise era of the science and art of management. He was a prolific writer. Between 1902 and 1974, he wrote just under 100 books in total, of which about 70 were novels; about 20 were short story collections (with a further 100 short stories not appearing in book form); four were semi-autobiographical works (including Not George Washington); one was a children’s story, one, a book of essays and another a book based on a newspaper column.

He used a mixture of Edwardian slang, quotations from and allusions to numerous literary figures, and several other literary techniques to produce a prose style that has been compared to comic poetry and musical comedy. One of the qualities of his oeuvre is its wonderful consistency of quality, tone, wit, and wisdom.

The Early Years

When Wodehouse arrived on the literary scene, Max Weber (1864-1920) was speaking of different forms of authority – charismatic, traditional, and rational-legal, while Henri Fayol (1841-1925) was working on his twelve principles of management.  

While Wodehouse was busy honing his unique skills as an author, Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856–1915) was preoccupied with a new approach to management. In 1909, Taylor published The Principles of Scientific Management. In the same year, Wodehouse had come up with The Swoop and Mike. Much like a management executive, Mike happens to be a solid, reliable character with a strong sense of fair play; he also has an appetite for excitement.

I believe that Plum’s works effectively capture many of the concepts of management propounded at the beginning of the twentieth century by these thinkers:  Authority, Power, Delegation, Span of Control, Responsibility, Decision Making, Goals, Organizing, Division of Labour, Chain of Command, to name a few.     

Think of rich uncles who exercise authority over the fortunes as well as the matrimonial prospects of their nieces and nephews. Jeeves exerts his soft power over Bertie Wooster and many others by virtue of his superior knowledge and keen intelligence. Roberta Wickham, Stephanie Byng, Rosie M. Banks, and scores of others are equally adept at exercising their soft power to get things done. In The Code of the Woosters, Aunt Dahlia delegates to Bertie the task of going to an antique shop on Brompton Road, sneer at a silver cow creamer and register scorn. The highly regimented life of those below the stairs, as portrayed in Something Fresh, brings home to a lay manager such concepts as organizing, division of labour, and chain of command.

By 1910, Wodehouse had published Psmith in the City, offering us insights into the working of a bank, and hinting as to how one could manage bosses. The Little Nugget came up in 1913, introducing us to Ogden Ford, someone who, like a bright and upright executive, can manipulate his distracters with much aplomb and even stand up to and tick off his stepfather.  During December 1913, Henry Ford had installed the first moving assembly line for the mass production of automobiles. His innovation had then reduced the time it took to build a car from more than 12 hours to one hour and 33 minutes.

The Delicately Nurtured

While Wodehouse was busy introducing us to such emancipated females steeped in entrepreneurial enthusiasm as Joan Valentine, Jill Mariner and Sally Nicholas, Mary Parker Follett was having a profound impact on the development of management thought. She was active in the 1920s and 1930s, a time when women occupied few executive positions in business, government, or education. Her audience was small but devoted. Her remarkable work can be found in the volume Mary Parker Follett – Prophet of Management, published in 1995 by Harvard Business School Press.       

During 1940, Wodehouse published Quick Service, outlining the risks involved in stealing portraits, thereby touching upon the realm of decision making under uncertainty. Meanwhile, Alfred Pritchard Sloan Jr. (1875 – 1966) was busy steering General Motors on a highway of high growth. From the 1920s through the 1950s, he brought in such concepts as an annual model change, brand architecture, industrial engineering, styling and planned obsolescence.

The Post World War Years

Traces of Peter Drucker in Plum’s Works

Most of the modern management post-second World War and great depression has been influenced by the thoughts of Peter Ferdinand Drucker (1909-2005) on management principles and practices. He enlarged our vision of the realm of management. Functions like Marketing, Production, Finance, Supply Chain Management, Systems and Human Resources emerged. Almost all of the works of Wodehouse touch upon some of these areas, as we shall shortly see.    

Some of the basic principles of management according to Drucker are:

•     Management is about human beings. Its task is to make people capable of joint performance, to make their strengths effective and their weaknesses irrelevant.

•     Because management deals with the integration of people in a common venture, it is deeply embedded in culture.

•     Every enterprise requires commitment to common goals and shared values. Without such commitment, there is no enterprise.

Jeeves instead highlights the importance of ‘the psychology of the individual’ to get desired results. Aunt Dahlia demonstrates the criticality of formulating a strategy as well as that of teamwork in The Code of the Woosters. When Roderick Spode keeps threatening Bertie Wooster and Gussie Fink-Nottle repeatedly, she comes up with the strategy of checkmating him by getting Jeeves to dig up any secret of his. With help from the Junior Ganymede club book, Bertie learns the word ‘Eulalie’, and tells Spode that he knows all about it. Spode, who does not want his followers to learn about his career as a designer of ladies’ lingerie, gets effectively persuaded to not to bother Bertie or Gussie any further.

•     Every enterprise is a learning and teaching institution. Training and development must be built into it on all levels— training and development that never stop.

•     Every enterprise is composed of people with different skills and knowledge doing many different kinds of work. It must be built on communication and on individual responsibility. The single most important thing to remember about any enterprise is that results exist only on the outside. The result of a business is a satisfied customer.

Consider Something Fresh which brings into sharp focus the life of those below the stairs who keep serving the inhabitants, guests, and impostors at Blandings Castle with alacrity and panache. Under the directions of Mr. Sebastian Beach and Mrs. Twemlow, things are always done properly at the Castle, with the right solemnity. And let us not forget the contribution of kitchen maids, scullery maids, chauffeurs, footmen, under-butlers, pantry boys, hall boys, stillroom maids, housemaids, nursery maids, secretaries, pig-keepers, and head gardeners like Angus McAllister. 

•     In 1966, Drucker brought in the concept of The Effective Executive. In 1964-65, Plum offered us Galahad at Blandings which showcased the unique abilities of Galahad to sort things out satisfactorily at Blandings Castle, which as usual is overrun with overbearing sisters, super-efficient secretaries, and the love struck, threatening to put an end to Lord Emsworth’s peaceful, pig-loving existence. Just like Jeeves resolves complicated issues with ease, Galahad is also a good example of an executive who happens to be effective when it comes to delivering results.  

Philip Kotler and Plum’s Works

Philip Kotler (born 1931) further expanded the Marketing horizon by conceptualizing the 4 Ps – Product, Place, Pricing and Promotion. He published Marketing Management: Analysis, Planning and Control, which forever changed the way we look at marketing.

In Plum’s works, precious lessons can be learnt in marketing and salesmanship from someone like Frederick Threepwood (Freddie) who appears in many of the Blandings stories. He is normally a somewhat simple-minded youth who invites a jaundiced eye of the kind the British aristocracy is apt to cast upon its younger sons. In The Go-Getter, we come to appreciate Freddie’s perseverance in peddling the product he represents for his American father-in-law, the patriarch of the Donaldson’s Dog Biscuits empire. Like a true-blue marketing honcho, Freddie stops at nothing to achieve his objective. Besides extolling the virtues of the product, he even plans to get a cousin of his married to the owner of a chain of stores, so the distribution network expands.  

Thus, of the four Ps mentioned by Philip Kotler, at least three are covered in Plum’s works – Product, Place and Promotion. Understandably, the element of Price is missing from these.  

An Ever-evolving Field of Thought

Much after Wodehouse had kicked the bucket in 1975, Tom Peters and Robert Waterman gave us In Search of Excellence (1982). In 1989, Stephen R. Covey offered his unique managerial insights through 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Many other experts have since contributed – and shall continue to do so – newer concepts to the realm of management.  

A unique characteristic of management professionals is that they seem to have a very short attention span for concepts. Their craving for novelty in management concepts is never satiated. Give them Statistical Quality Control and Just-in-time and they lap it up with the kind of enthusiasm a cat shows on being offered a fish slice. Show them the potential of Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing and they embrace it with all gusto. They are enamoured by a concept only until a new buzzword comes along. Thus, management thinkers and writers have a unique challenge – that of marketing even old ideas in a flashy new language. In order to maintain their status as a management guru, the hapless guys/gals have to not only keep coming up with newer concepts but also to keep recycling the older wines and offering the same in dazzling new bottles. 

Like all other realms of knowledge, management continues to be an ever-evolving field, in tandem with the evolution of our economies. With rapid advances in technology, all segments of this knowledge are undergoing major changes. There is a dire need for futuristic business leaders in the mould of Rupert Psmith who can achieve goals in a sustainable manner, backed not only by hard core analytical prowess but also by such soft skills as compassion, empathy, and equanimity. A street-smart approach, backed by an ability to think on one’s feet and deploy one’s intuitive faculties to deliver results is the sine qua non for one to keep occupying that much sought after icon of power – the corner office.

Leading business institutes are increasingly depending on literature and fine arts to groom aspiring managers whose heads are screwed on right, thereby giving them a better chance at tackling the rise in the entropy of the business environment.  

Some Common Features

Despite an evolution of managerial thought, over the last century, the fundamentals of organization management and leadership have remained the same, even if the delivery of those concepts has been reshaped to service the needs of a new economy. Rigid hierarchies have slowly given way to flexible organizations. With the advent of a work-from-home mode, many organizations have become dispersed in space and time.

In a similar vein, Plum’s works remain frozen in time, using the eccentricities of the British aristocracy as a fodder. All over the world, his fans keep churning out pastiches, thereby keeping his works alive. The underlying messages in his works continue to be relevant in our contemporary times. However, their timelessness lies in keeping our CEOs and managers away from getting depressed while facing the harsh slings and arrows of fate.

Wodehouse’s Works Under A Contemporary Lens

Having looked at the links between Plum’s novels and stories and the management tenets proposed by reputed experts over the last century, let us now try and put his works under a more contemporary managerial lens. We may consider focusing on such functional areas as Marketing, Human Resources/Organizational Behaviour, Entrepreneurship, Operations (Production of goods and services, Materials/Supply Chains/Logistics) Finance/Banking/Insurance, Systems/Procedures/IT, Administration, and Business Ethics.  Formulating strategies is a macro-level area of importance.

In Plum’s oeuvre, one is apt to find references to almost all the functional areas of management. Whether one goes through the Bertie and Jeeves books, the Blandings Castle’s saga, the Ukridges, the Uncle Freds, or the Mulliner chronicles, one is apt to keep running into one or another facet of management.

The endeavour here is to delve a little deeper into the areas of Marketing and Human Resources/Organizational Behaviour, as also to briefly touch upon the other functions as these can be traced in many of Plum’s narratives.

Marketing

Let us see how Freddie goes about securing the patronage of his target customers for Donaldson’s Dog-Joy biscuits. 

Identifying a Prospect

In The Go-Getter, he is quick to spot Aunt Georgina who owns four Pekingese, two Poms, a Yorkshire terrier, five Sealyhams, a Borzoi, and an Airedale. She is a woman who has a sound reputation in dog-loving circles.

Influencing the Prospect

First, Freddie gives an hour’s talk to Aunt Georgina on such virtues of the product as wholesomeness, richness in essential vitamins, and its bone-forming properties. Then he showers her with product brochures. He shows samples. He even offers a fortnight’s free trial.

If an order does not get placed, he does not lose hope. He perseveres in his efforts. He attempts to give a live demonstration by chewing a dog biscuit himself, thereby trying to establish that it is so superbly wholesome as to be fit even for human consumption.

When he chokes and business does not result, he borrows Bottles, Rev. Rupert Bingham’s pet, which has a robust constitution, thanks to its being fed by the product being promoted. Somehow, in an initial brawl with a Pekingese belonging to Aunt Georgina, Bottles fails to establish its superiority.

Down, But Never Out

Donaldson’s Inc. grooms its vice-presidents rather well. They may be down, but they are never out. They are trained to think like lightning. It is seldom that they are baffled for more than about a minute and a quarter. Freddie then thinks of demonstrating Bottles’ superior skills at handling rats. However, this proposal is vetoed by the audience.  

Eventually, Bottles ends up proving his mettle in a fight with Aunt Georgina’s Airedale. A timely intervention by Bingham saves the day, prompting Gertrude, Aunt Georgina’s daughter, to fall back into his arms, thereby pleasing Aunt Georgina. She places an initial trial order of two tons!

Boosting Distribution by Facilitating Matrimonial Alliances

In Full Moon, Freddie is keen on a matrimonial alliance fructifying between his cousin Veronica and the man who owns the controlling interest in Tipton’s Stores. Veronica would obviously influence her would-be husband to promote the interests of Donaldson’s Dog-Joy biscuits. If Freddie can swing the deal and secure for Donaldson’s an exclusive dog-biscuit concession throughout Tipton’s chain of stores, he believes it would be the biggest thing he would have ever pulled off.

When approached, Tipton Plimsoll gleefully accepts the suggestion. The merger and acquisition takes place, as envisaged. Expansion of the distribution network of Donaldson’s Dog-Joy biscuits is assured.  

Berating the Competition

Freddie does not shy away from berating the competition. In Full Moon, Peterson’s Pup Food, a competing brand, is held to be a product lacking in vitamins, causing the hounds to get rickets, rheumatism, sciatica, anaemia, and stomach trouble, whereas:

‘…dogs raised on Donaldson’s Dog-Joy become fine, strong, upstanding dogs who go about with their chins up and both feet on the ground and look the world in the eye. Get your dog thinking the Donaldson way! Let Donaldson make your spaniel a super-spaniel! Place your Irish setter’s paws on the broad Donaldson highroad and watch him scamper away to health, happiness, the clear eye, the cold nose, and the ever-wagging tail!

Even Small Orders Count

In the same narrative, we meet Lady Dora Garland who happens to command two spaniels and an Irish setter. Her being a small prospect does not deter our go-getter. He believes that every little bit added to what one has makes just a little more. 

Allowing, say, twenty biscuits per day per spaniel and the same or possibly more per day per Irish setter, her custom per year per complete menagerie would be quite well worth securing.

Networking as a Tool

In Full Moon, Freddie also keeps in touch with Sir Rupert Brackenbury, the Master of Fox Hounds. His subtle sales talks have already won him over as a customer. He believes that those who join a satisfied customer like him for a hunt from nearby counties are likely to be told that the pack keeps ‘tucking into Donaldson’s Dog-Joy all the time, a bone-forming product peculiarly rich in Vitamins A, B, and C.’

Marketing professionals of all hues, sizes, and shapes would surely approve of the strategy and tactics used by Freddie to market his company’s product.

Promotion

Wilfred Mulliner is also our go-to guy when promoting newly invented products.

Mulliner’s Buck-U-Uppo speaks of Buck-U-Uppo which acts directly on the red corpuscles. If type A is required for human invalids, type B is purely for circulation in the animal kingdom and was invented to fill a long-felt want throughout India. Maharajas could use it to cause even a timid elephant to trumpet loudly and charge the fiercest tiger without a qualm.

A Slice of Life promotes the case of Mulliner’s Raven Gypsy Face Cream which is to be applied nightly with a small sponge before retiring to rest, leading to satisfactory results from numerous members of the aristocracy. 

The same story advises nobility to use Mulliner’s Reduc-O, thereby eliminating the need for one to stew in Turkish Baths:

Mulliner’s Reduc-o, which contains no injurious chemicals, but is compounded purely of health-giving herbs, is guaranteed to remove excess weight, steadily and without weakening after-effects, at the rate of two pounds a week.

Human Resources/Organizational Behaviour

I think the richest harvest a CEO could reap from Plum’s works is in the realm of managing Human Resources. Many of his propositions are universal in nature and could be used by managers in any kind of organizational setting.

Psychology of the Individual

A critical input from Plum is in the form of the emphasis that Jeeves lays on the ‘psychology of the individual’.

Consider the way Jeeves manages to keep his career prospects intact by using tact and resource. His methods may be rough at times, but the neat results obtained do provide satisfaction to all concerned. He believes that one needs to break a few eggs to make an omelette. He registers dissent in a diplomatic manner. He is a respectful and dignified listener, speaking only when necessary. He leads others while appearing to be a devout follower.

The effectiveness of positive interpersonal relationships at work can never be over-emphasized. The efficiency as well as the effectiveness of CEOs and managers depends on the same. Whether managing bosses of different kinds or motivating colleagues and team members, an understanding of what makes each one tick surely helps.

The Art of Managing Bosses

Plum presents us with a wide spectrum of bosses. From the rather stiff-necked Mr. Peters of Something Fresh to a pliable one like Bertie Wooster, he offers us bosses with temperaments as varied as the colours in a rainbow.

Plum makes us appreciate the starkly different ways by which bosses get ‘managed’ by their respective juniors. Of all the alternative choices available, there are at least three which deserve a deeper consideration. I allude to Reginald Jeeves, Ashe Marson, and Rupert Psmith.

Jeeves is the inimitable valet of Bertie Wooster. Ashe Marson is the hero of Something Fresh. Psmith is the suave monocle-sporting Etonian. Each one has his own style of managing a boss. 

Managing the Boss: The Jeeves Style

It is difficult to sum up in a few words the kind of tactics Jeeves uses to manage the affairs of Bertie Wooster and many others in the canon. Sending Bertie off on a midnight cycle ride through a forest, making him take the rap for setting a boat adrift resulting in an angry swan attacking the Right Honourable A. B. Filmer, and allowing some cats to be present just when Sir Roderick is coming for lunch are but some of his ways to make Bertie’s life smoother.

  • Tact and Resource

In ‘Bertie Changes His Mind’ (Carry On, Jeeves), Jeeves sees a crisis which requires adroit handling. Simply by managing Bertie to deliver a talk to some giggling and staring schoolgirls, he manages to change Bertie’s mind when it comes to having the prattle of kids’ feet around him. He concludes thus:

Employers are like horses. They want managing. Some of us have the knack of managing them, some haven’t. I, I am happy to say, have no cause for complaint.

  • Decision Making Under Uncertainty

Mr. Wooster is a young gentleman with practically every desirable quality except one. I do not mean brains, for in an employer brains are not desirable. The quality to which I allude is hard to define, but perhaps I might call it the gift of dealing with the Unusual Situation.

What Jeeves prescribed almost a century back continues to be valid even today, especially in the mundane life of a CEO; even more so in the post Covid-phase of our operations. Those who have this unique gift of dealing with an unusual situation fare much better!

Managing the Boss: The Ashe Marson Style

In Something Fresh, Ashe Marson loves confronting his boss and challenges him to give up his sedentary habits. Looking the boss in the eye and giving it back to him occasionally ends up helping the boss. The diet-exercise regime unleashed upon the boss to cure his dyspepsia gradually starts showing results. The employer-employee relationship here has a dash of disobedience on part of the latter, but it does get results.

‘You’re a wonder,’ said Mr. Peters. ‘You’re sassy and you have no respect for your elders and betters, but you deliver the goods. That’s the point. Why, I am beginning to feel great.’

After the scarab is restored and the assignment at hand is over, Mr. Peter is impressed enough to offer him a career in watching over his health. He graciously accepts the offer to shift base to America, along with Joan Valentine, the love of his life. We are already aware that Ashe is conscious that a future in which Joan did not figure would not be such as to bear considering.

Alas, much like Psmith and Eve of the Leave it to Psmith fame, both are never heard of again anywhere else in the canon. 

The Rupert Psmith Style

In Leave it to Psmith, when Rupert Baxter, the secretary of Lord Emsworth, is given his marching orders, Psmith skilfully manages to charm Lord Emsworth into hiring him instead.

In Psmith in the City, we meet a tough cookie named John Bickersdyke, manager of the London branch of the New Asiatic Bank. Psmith provides us with quite a few invaluable insights into the art of boss management.

  • The Induction Process

For a new entrant, the induction phase in an organization plays a crucial role. Psmith offers some tips on the process of settling down in a company. 

  • The Friendly Native

Networking and social skills play an important role here. One needs to secure the cooperation of a friendly native. He is the one who knows the ropes and is aware of the personality traits and personal hobbies of the superiors who matter. Comrade Bannister is identified as the friendly native. In a casual chat, Bannister informs Psmith and Mike about Rossiter’s interest in football.

  • Winning Over Superiors

Armed with this intelligence, Psmith’s task of endearing himself to Rossiter, his immediate superior and the head of the Postal Department, becomes easy.

If the way to an immediate superior’s mind is good performance on the job, then the way to his heart is through either a hobby of his or an area of mutual interest.  

  • Entente Cordiale

Psmith advocates the use of patience – the chief quality of a successful general. The haunting of the hapless target of one’s attention – the boss – is a gradual process. It works better if one’s performance on the core job remains without a blemish.

Background information about an area of interest, when imparted to and discussed with the superior over a period of time, speeds up the progress of entente cordiale.

Once goodwill of the immediate boss has been earned, feedback reaching the top boss regarding a new recruit’s capabilities and potential is invariably positive.

Managing the Top Boss

However, Psmith’s approach to managing the top boss is different. Here, he achieves success by taking a confrontational approach. But he does so only after having proven his performance and having achieved success in his efforts to ingratiate himself with the immediate boss. Once he has found his feet, he is ready to take a leap of faith.

He achieves his objective in two phases.

  • The Reform Phase

The first one involves reforming the top boss by opening a dialogue with him at his club and then going on to challenge him openly, whether at a public meeting or at a spa.

When the bank manager Mr. Bickersdyke addresses a meeting at the Kenningford Town Hall to fulfil his political ambitions, the audience listens intently. Having said some nasty things about Free Trade and the Alien Immigrant, he turns to the Needs of the Navy and the necessity of increasing the fleet at all costs.

‘This is no time for half-measures,’ he said. ’We must do our utmost. We must burn our boats—’

‘Excuse me,’ said a gentle voice.

Mr Bickersdyke broke off. In the centre of the hall a tall figure had risen. Mr. Bickersdyke found himself looking at a gleaming eye-glass which the speaker had just polished and inserted in his eye.

‘How,’ asked Psmith, ’do you propose to strengthen the Navy by burning boats?’

The inanity of the question enraged even the pleasure-seekers at the back.

‘Order! Order!’ cried the earnest contingent.

Psmith claims that all his efforts are directed towards making a decent man of his boss; to establish that he is his truest friend.

  • The Blackmail Phase

The second phase is to ignore the boss’ threats to dismiss him for insolence and get him to do his bidding by even resorting to blackmail, if necessary.

When Mike’s career in the bank is in jeopardy, Psmith resorts to it. He leverages the political ambitions of the top boss to pull Mike out of the soup. He digs up some old speeches made by Comrade Bickersdyke when he was a bulwark of the Tulse Hill Parliament. If published, these would adversely affect Bickersdyke’s chances of getting in as the Unionist candidate at Kenningford.

This is what Psmith tells Mike:

‘I have some little influence with Comrade Bickersdyke. Wrongly, perhaps,’ added Psmith modestly, ’he thinks somewhat highly of my judgement. If he sees that I am opposed to this step, he may possibly reconsider it. What Psmith thinks today, is his motto, I shall think tomorrow. However, we shall see.’

The top boss weighs his options and eventually relents. While Mike gets off the hook, Comrade Bickersdyke goes on to become a Member of Parliament.

Management is all about getting results. Psmith shows us how to get a superior to do his bidding. 

The Perils of Having Yes-persons Around

The Nodder introduces us to Mr. Schnellenhamer, the head of the Perfecto-Zizzbaum Corporation, a film studio in Hollywood. He is not a person who brooks dissent. When he expresses his opinion on any subject, a respectful silence prevails. He looks about him expectantly. This is a cue for the senior Yes-Sheep to say yes. He is followed by the middle-rung Yes-Sheep and then the junior Yes-Sheep. Then the turn of all the Nodder-Dormices comes. They simply nod, one after the other. A dash of sycophancy keeps their employment prospects bright. 

This may work for owners of small and modest sized businesses. However, management professionals in senior positions seldom realize that having a bevy of Yes-persons around could be harmful to their long-term career prospects. Encouraging dissenters is a sine qua non for a leader’s success in any field of human endeavour. 

In Money in the Bank, Jeff describes Mrs. Cork, a brutal taskmaster, being in the same league as that of Simon Legree.

Building Bridges with Colleagues

Most organization charts hide more than they reveal. An organization really runs in an informal fashion where official proclamations are never as effective as informal ones. Goals get achieved faster and better by resorting to one’s interpersonal relationships. Building bridges with colleagues is the way to go.

One of the traits of an effective executive is the ability to get along with people of all temperaments and also looking at things from their view points.

By way of an example, consider Mike. He is not a snob. But he simply does not have the ability to be at his ease with people in another class from his own. He did not know what to talk to them about, unless they were cricket professionals. With them he was never at a loss.

However, Psmith is different. He could get on with anyone. He seems to have the gift of entering into their minds and seeing things from their point of view. Building bridges with others does help him in delivering results.

Being a Student of Human Nature Helps

While trying to console Mike, Rupert Psmith points out to him that a man of Comrade Bickersdyke’s warm-hearted type is apt to say in the heat of the moment a great deal more than he really means.

Men of his impulsive character cannot help expressing themselves in times of stress with a certain generous strength which those who do not understand them are inclined to take a little too seriously.

Chasing one’s Passion

Mike experiences the exhilaration of bursting the bonds with the New Asiatic Bank when he decides to return to cricket. Psmith, on the other hand, deserts his responsibilities to pursue a career in law.

‘This can’t go on,’ he said to himself. ’This life of commerce is too great a strain. One is practically a hunted hare.’

It needs wisdom to understand one’s strengths and weaknesses. If a leap of faith gets made to pursue one’s passion in life, happiness cannot be far behind.

The Art of Becoming Indispensable

Proficiency in On-the-job Skills

In The Custody of the Pumpkin, Lord Emsworth has to eat humble pie and beg Angus McAllister to rejoin his services. He approaches McAllister humbly and offers to double his salary if he returns to the castle. This alone ensures that his precious pumpkin ‘The Hope of Blandings’ ends up winning the coveted first prize at the Shrewsbury Show.  

Rendering Perfect Services

In The Inimitable Jeeves, we are treated to a scenario where Bertie has made up his mind to sack Jeeves.  To quote a delectable passage from the memoirs:

‘I buzzed into the flat like an east wind…and there was the box of cigarettes on the small table and the illustrated weekly papers on the big table and my slippers on the floor, and every dashed thing so bally right, if you know what I mean, that I started to calm down in the first two seconds. …. Softened, I mean to say. That is the word I want. I was softened.’

Needless to say, Jeeves stays put!

God’s Gift to Our Gastric Juices

Anatole, the supremely skilled French chef of Aunt Dahlia at her country house Brinkley Court, is much sought after by other employers. Those who try and lure him away from the Travers household include Mr. Anstruther in The Love that Purifies Sir Watkyn Bassett in The Code of the Woosters and Mrs. Trotter in Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit. He keeps Tom Travers’ lining of the stomach in the pink of health.

His is a fine example of such highly skilled professionals whose reputation travels far and wide, making potential employers keep a tab on their career moves with keen interest.

In The Story of Cedric, we meet Miss Myrtle Watling who assists Cedric Mulliner so very proficiently that he ends up marrying her. 

All of them achieve a high degree of invincibility in their careers by acquiring relevant knowledge, cultivating appropriate skills which happen to be invaluable to the organization. Also, by having a positive attitude and a value system which matches with that of their employers.  

Business Administration

Some Traits of a Bureaucratic Organization

The organizational behaviour of large bureaucracies is unique in many ways. Plum does not disappoint us in capturing this facet of management.

In Frozen Assets, Jerry, while reporting a missing wallet to a sergeant in a police station in Paris, realizes that he is up against French red tape, compared to which that of Great Britain and America is only pinkish.

In Psmith in the City, Plum gives us a sneak peek into the way a large bureaucratic organization works.

A Healthier Work–Life Balance

Then there was no doubt that it was an interesting little community, that of the New Asiatic Bank. The curiously amateurish nature of the institution lent a certain air of light-heartedness to the place. It was not like one of those banks whose London office is their main office, where stern business is everything and a man becomes a mere machine for getting through a certain amount of routine work. The employees of the New Asiatic Bank, having plenty of time on their hands, were able to retain their individuality. They had leisure to think of other things besides their work. Indeed, they had so much leisure that it is a wonder they thought of their work at all.

The Boredom Quotient of a Routine Job

Upon joining the bank, Mike realizes that except for Saturdays and Sundays, and the ten days’ holiday each year, he would have to face the drudgery of daily coming in at ten and leaving at five o’clock. The monotony of the prospect appalled him.

It is this monotony which makes the daily lunch a highlight of the day.

Few workers in the City do regard lunch as a trivial affair. It is the keynote of their day. It is an oasis in a desert of ink and ledgers. Conversation in city office deals, in the morning, with what one is going to have for lunch, and in the afternoon with what one has had for lunch.

For employees who believe in being proactive, it is difficult to shake off the caged feeling, often making them feel restless. Sooner or later, they start looking out for more exciting pastures.

The Concept of a Mistake-Clerk

How do we handle a disgruntled customer’s complaint? How do we assuage the feelings of a customer who is seething with fury?

According to Psmith in the City, there happens to be a regular post in American companies, called a mistake-clerk. His Key Responsibility Area is to receive all the flak when customers complain. He is hauled into the presence of the foaming customer, cursed, and sacked. The customer goes away appeased. The mistake-clerk, if the cursing has been unusually energetic, applies for a rise of salary.

Being the ‘fall guy/gal’ is no one’s idea of fun. However, there are indeed situations which need managers to willingly face the firing squad, howsoever despicable the prospect may be!

The Enthusiasm of Being a Cog in the Wheel

When Psmith joins the New Asiatic Bank, he believes that he, as an individual, ceases to exist. Instead, he becomes a cog in the wheel and a link in the bank’s chain. He makes his superiors believe that he, the Worker, shall not spare himself; that he shall toil with all the accumulated energy at his disposal.

Whose is that form sitting on the steps of the bank in the morning, waiting eagerly for the place to open? It is the form of Psmith, the Worker. Whose is that haggard, drawn face which bends over a ledger long after the other toilers have sped blithely westwards to dine at Lyons’ Popular Cafe? It is the face of Psmith, the Worker.

Discipline is the key to smoother operations. Painful duties cannot be shirked. In any case, Peter F. Drucker recommends focusing on one’s performance, rather than being concerned about one’s happiness.

Secretaries

Once upon a time, behind every successful senior manager or CEO, there used to be a secretary. Without a secretary fussing over them, the best of bosses would collapse. Their performance ratings would drop. Meetings, appointments, conference calls, travel plans, grapevine management, appointments, appraisals, promotions – there was virtually no activity in a company which fell outside the circle of influence of this omniscient and omnipotent tribe. Lesser mortals would invariably strive to always remain in the good books of the members of this species.

Over time, this species appears to have joined the ranks of such endangered ones as those of tigers, rhinos, and panthers. The smart ones have managed to get kicked upwards and have assumed operational roles. The not-so-smart ones have gravitated towards the unalloyed bliss of handling some mundane chores. The dull ones have simply been asked to pack their bags and seek greener pastures elsewhere.

In Plumsville too, secretaries keep the affairs in the lives of their bosses going on smoothly.

Lord Emsworth has employed a series of secretaries, most notable among them the ever-suspicious Rupert Baxter, the highly efficient young man who never seems to be able to keep away from Blandings, despite his boss’ increasingly low opinion of his sanity. He is succeeded in the post by Reginald Psmith, and later by the likes of Hugo Carmody and Monty Bodkin. The castle’s splendid library was catalogued, for the first time since 1885, by Eve Halliday.

When in the company of Lord Marshmoreton, we meet Alice Faraday. Julia Ukridge has a secretary by the name of Dora Mason. Aunt Agatha’s plans to get Bertie Wooster to take up the role of a secretary to the Cabinet Minister, A. B. Filmer, get thwarted by the acts of an angry swan.

Of course, the most outstanding secretary was Miss Myrtle Watling who made herself so very indispensable to Cedric Mulliner that he ended up marrying her!

Entrepreneurship

A Risk-Taking Ability

When it comes to stoking entrepreneurial ambitions and improving one’s propensity to take risks, Joan Valentine, the heroine of Something Fresh, exhorts us as follows:

Don’t get into a groove. Be an adventurer. Snatch at the next chance, whatever it is.

She makes us appreciate that the ideal adventurer needs a certain lively inquisitiveness. She has a sense of enterprise which keeps her moving on in life.

A Dash of Optimism

Elsewhere in the canon, we meet Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge, a charismatic opportunist who will do anything to increase his capital – except, of course, work. He believes in the adage that unless one speculates, one does not accumulate. He keeps coming up with get-rich-quick schemes and failing in his ventures with a remarkable degree of consistency. But his buoyant optimism never deserts him.

We find him setting up a Dog College where dogs can get trained to perform at a music hall. We also find him setting up an Accident Syndicate so insurance claims could be split up. He also supports sailors in the boxing ring. Elsewhere, we find that he is not averse to splitting a real estate commission earned during the sale of an English country house. In Love Among the Chickens, we find him setting up a chicken farm which also fails. But his buoyant optimism never deserts him. He starts visualizing starting up a duck farm!

Ukridge makes for an interesting case study on how not to set up and run a business. Lofty sales projections, an over-dependence on credit from suppliers, and lack of risk planning to overcome unforeseen setbacks ensure a failure of his ventures. Moreover, most of his ideas are of an immoral kind and are not sustainable.

Luck By Chance

The role that a chance occurrence plays in the life of an entrepreneur is brought out in Uncle Fred in the Springtime. Lord Ickenham tells Pongo of the policeman who accosted his aunt Brenda and said that her dog ought to be wearing a muzzle. When the aunt whipped her lorgnette from its holster and looked sternly at the man, he was never the same again. He left the Force, and eventually drifted into the grocery business.

And that is how Sir Thomas Lipton got his start.

Production/Operations

In Plumsville, we do not run into any operations of a manufacturing kind. But rendering a service is what keeps many of the characters busy.

In Plumsville, besides Anatole, we also run into other cooks who are adored by their respective employers. In Jeeves Exerts the Old Cerebellum, we come across the example of Miss Watson whom Mr. Mortimer Little, uncle of Bingo Little, intends to marry.  

Discipline for Rendering Impeccable Services

Something Fresh touches upon the kind of discipline required to render impeccable services at Blandings Castle. It takes a bevy of servants to keep things running in an orderly fashion at the Castle.

Besides the ever-present butler Beach, with eighteen years’ service at the castle under his ample belt, it employs a number of footmen, such as Charles, Thomas, Stokes, James and Alfred. The chauffeurs Slingsby and Alfred Voules drive the castle’s stately Hispano-Suiza. Scottish head gardeners Thorne and Angus McAllister tend the grounds while George Cyril Wellbeloved, James Pirbright and the Amazonian Monica Simmons take turns to look after the needs of Empress of Blandings.

There is a rigid hierarchy here, backed by customs and rituals which need to be scrupulously observed. There are strict rules of precedence among the servants. A public rebuke from the butler is the worst fate that can befall a defaulting member of this tribe.

Kitchen maids and scullery maids eat in the kitchen. Chauffeurs, footmen, under-butlers, pantry boys, hall boy, odd man and steward’s-room footman take their meals in the servants’ hall, waited on by the hall boy. The stillroom maids have breakfast and tea in the stillroom, and dinner and supper in the hall. The housemaids and nursery maids have breakfast and tea in the housemaid’s sitting-room, and dinner and supper in the hall. The head housemaid ranks next to the head stillroom maid. The laundry maids have a place of their own near the laundry, and the head laundry maid ranks above the head housemaid. The chef has his meals in a room of his own near the kitchen.

All this may sound similar to running a five-star property in the hospitality segment. Also, behaviourally speaking, there is not much difference between our corporate citizens and those who work below the stairs. Both love discussing the idiosyncrasies of those above them.

Materials/Supply Chain/Logistics

When the dove of matrimonial peace keeps flapping its wings over the abode of a happily married couple – like that of Rosie M. Banks and Bingo Little – it is apparent that the household and the kitchen never run short of any critical item. Since Rosie keeps travelling often, one may safely assume that the credit of managing the supply chain management on the household front would mainly go to Bingo Little.

Another example of an efficient ‘no-stock-out’ system would surely be that of Jeeves, the resourceful valet of Bertie Wooster. He never runs out of critical items at his master’s lair, even managing the needs of surprise visitors who descended on the Mayflair flat at a short notice. A ready supply of tissue restoratives and pick-me-ups is always available.

In Episode of the Dog McIntosh, the successful and timely restoration of the custody of the dog McIntosh to Aunt Agatha demonstrates the importance of following the Just-in-Time dictum.

This is how Bertie says he procured aniseed powder, widely used in the dog-stealing industry:

I don’t know what the record is for popping out and buying aniseed, but I should think I hold it. The thought of Aunt Agatha getting nearer and nearer to the Metropolis every minute induced a rare burst of speed. I was back at the flat so quick that I nearly met myself coming out.

Finance/Banking/Insurance

Ukridge is of the view that ‘If you do not speculate, you do not accumulate.’ Those who dabble in the stock market would heartily approve of this sentiment.

Plum’s works do not offer any solace to those burning the proverbial midnight oil preparing cash flow and funds flow statements, though balancing of ledgers does figure sporadically in Psmith in the City. But he offers unique insights into the realm of finance, banking and insurance.

Of Insolvent Banks and Non-Performing Assets

In Do Butlers Burgle Banks? we meet Horace Appleby who looks and acts like a butler but is, in reality, part of a gang which is after jewels and precious objects. In nearby Mallow Hall lives Mike Bond, who has recently succeeded his late uncle as owner of the house and Bond’s Bank. He employs secretary Ada Cootes, and lives with his aunt Isobel Bond, who is confined to her room with a broken leg and has a nurse, Jill Willard.

Jill eavesdrops on a conversation between Mike and the bank trustees, General Sir Frederick Featherstone and Augustus “Gussie” Mortlake. The bank is insolvent by a hundred thousand pounds. Originally the amount was even greater, but Mike gambled with the depositors’ money to bring the amount down; he will go to prison if this is discovered.

Mike wishes someone would rob the bank to hide the truth. Jill suggests to Ada, who knows the combination to the bank’s large safe, that they rob the bank. They do so and after many twists and turns in the story, the police are on to Mike who fears he will go to prison if he keeps the suitcase, but the bank will fail if he returns it. Horace and the gang use their savings to finance the bank, saving Mike.

Making Insurance Companies Spiritual and Avoiding Stop Payment of Cheques

In Anselm Gets A Chance, we run into Myrtle Jellaby, niece of Sir Leopold Jellaby, the local squire, who happens to be a millionaire philatelist. Some of us would fondly recall the managerial abilities of Myrtle, who is in love with Anselm, the curate of the parish of Rising Mattock in Hampshire. Anselm cannot inform her uncle of the position of affairs because all he has to marry on is his meagre stipend.

Anselm benefits by an unexpected legacy – a stamp album which is insured for a sum of no less than five thousand pounds. Sir Jellaby pulls a fast one and declares the collection to be virtually worthless.

Myrtle brings in Joe Beamish who has served about sixteen prison sentences and has a sound reputation amongst burglars. Her idea is to get Joe to ‘steal’ the album so Anselm may claim the insurance money. But Anselm gets cold feet when it comes to lodging a claim.

Myrtle has definite views about insurance companies. Backed by her woman’s intuition, she goes to the root of the matter and touches a spot.

“What do you mean, you wonder? Of course we collect. Shoot the claim in to the insurance people without a moment’s delay.”

“But have you reflected, dearest?

“It doesn’t matter whether a thing’s valuable or not. The point is what you insure it for. And it isn’t as if it’s going to hurt these Mutual Aid and Benefit birds to brass up. It’s sinful the amount of money those insurance companies have. Must be jolly bad for them, if you ask me.”

Myrtle believes that insurance companies have too much money and would be better, finer, more spiritual insurance companies if they were made to cough up high value claims. Persuaded by her, Anselm realizes that it was not only a pleasure, but a duty, to nick the London and Midland Counties Mutual Aid and Benefit Association for five thousand pounds. It might prove the turning-point in the lives of its Board of Directors.

The fact that Myrtle herself has engineered the theft leaves Anselm shaken to the core. Of course, love prevails over ethical considerations.

But the situation undergoes a sea change when Anselm delivers a moving Sermon on Brotherly Love. Joe Beamish hands back the inherited stamp collection to him, thereby rendering a claim null and void. Sir Leopald Jellaby is found sobbing and expresses himself thus:

“Mulliner,” said Sir Leopold Jellaby, “you find me in tears. And why am I in tears? Because, my dear Mulliner, I am still overwhelmed by that wonderful sermon of yours on Brotherly Love and our duty to our neighbours.

“I wish to write you a cheque for ten thousand pounds for that stamp collection of yours.

“But your sermon to-night has made me see that there is something higher and nobler than a code of business ethics. Shall I cross the cheque?”

Having received a cheque, Myrtle does not waste time. She persuades Anselm to endorse it and give it to her, so she may motor to London that very night in her two-seater. This way, she would be at the bank the moment it opens and deposit it.

“You see, I know Uncle Leopold. He might take it into his head, after he had slept on it and that sermon had worn off a bit, to ‘phone and stop payment. You know how he feels about business precautions. This way we shall avoid all rannygazoo.”

There is nothing that so heartens a man in a crisis as the feeling that he has a woman of strong executive qualities at his side. Anselm kisses her fondly.

“You think of everything, dearest,” he said. “How right you are. One does so wish, does one not, to avoid rannygazoo.”

Systems and procedures

Regrettably, Wodehouse did not live long enough to witness the era of Information Technology. Around the time he handed in his dinner pail in 1975, this field was in its embryonic stage. Hence, this facet of management missed out on his humorous take on the digital world.

However, in the age of snail mail, telegrams, cyclostyle machines, telexes, fax machines, and large organizations with rigid hierarchies, Standard Operating Procedures drafted by glum looking internal auditors ruled. In Plumsville, one is apt to find rozzers and detectives who had their own set of procedures to be followed rigorously.

The Conscientious Rozzers

Take the case of rozzers who are over-zealous about protecting the property of the Crown. Use of their bicycles to impart riding lessons to young lasses gets resented. While tracking down criminals, they spare no effort. It is their upright and proper conduct which upholds the might of the Law. They are invariably meticulous in their approach. They show due respect to the gentler sex, unless they have direct evidence to the contrary. Even defaulters of the canine kind do not escape their fury.

Constable Ernest Dobbs (The Mating Season), Colonel Aubrey Wyvern (Ring for Jeeves), Eustace Oates (The Code of the Woosters) and Stilton Cheesewright (Joy in the Morning) are a few of the characters which pop up in one’s mind. 

Detectives

Detectives of the benign kind solve many a problem for themselves and for their clients. In our challenging times, they no longer wear disguises. These days, besides tracking unfaithful spouses, they assist their companies in protecting their data against unethical hackers. Scotland Yard may still not be looking for their services, but many others are slowly recognizing the value of hiring digital detectives. 

The Perks of Having a Sinister Smile

In The Smile That Wins, Adrian Mulliner, a private detective, falls in love with Lady Millicent Shipton-Bellinger, the daughter of the fifth Earl of Brangbolton who dislikes detectives. The father insists that Millicent must marry Sir Jasper Addleton, the financier.

Heartbroken, Adrian has a bad attack of dyspepsia and a doctor advises him that the best cure for it is to smile. Adrian has a sinister-looking smile that seems to say ‘I know all’ and causes a great deal of nervousness amongst people with something to hide. When invited to a Baronet’s country home he unleashes his smile on Sir Jasper Addleton who, guilty like all financiers, hands him a cheque for a hundred thousand pounds.

With the hundred thousand pounds in hand, and the unfortunate effect of the smile on the Earl just as the Earl was cheating at cards, Adrian gets the Earl’s blessing to marry Millicent.

Joining the Beloved’s Profession

In Bill the Bloodhound, we run into Henry Pitfield Rice, a young man employed in a detective bureau who has fallen in love with chorus girl Alice Weston. He proposes to her, but she refuses. She is fond of him but wants to marry someone in her profession. Henry tries to get a job on the stage but fails since he cannot sing or dance. Henry is sent by his employer to follow the touring company performing The Girl from Brighton, which Alice is part of, since a woman wants her husband shadowed and he is an actor in the show. Henry follows the company from town to town, using different disguises.

The touring company realizes that Henry is a detective. People there call him Bill the Bloodhound. They are holding a sweepstake on who he is investigating. The show has been successful, so he gets asked to join them as a mascot. Henry agrees, but refuses to reveal who he is following. During the next show, Henry proposes to Alice just before she goes on stage. Eventually, Henry joins the company, and becomes a part of the same profession as that of Alice.

Others

Investigators also include R. Jones of Something Fresh fame and Miss Putnam of Hot Water fame who plays a detective disguised as a secretary.    

Many companies do not encourage romantic relationships between their employees. However, hormones often overpower hierarchies.

Ethics

We run into many ethical dilemmas faced by some of the characters in Plum’s narratives. Admittedly, there are no easy solutions to these.

In Clustering Round Young Bingo, Aunt Dahlia commissions the famous valet to somehow persuade the temperamental French cook Anatole to join her staff, so that Uncle Tom’s lining of the stomach remains in the pink of health. Bingo, Anatole’s current employer, is aghast to hear this.

‘What! Is that – that buzzard trying to pinch our cook?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘After eating our bread and salt, dammit?’

‘I fear, sir,’ sighed Jeeves, ‘that when it comes to a matter of cooks, ladies have but a rudimentary sense of morality.’

Many a times, Bertie Wooster is blackmailed by Aunt Dahlia who is bent upon getting her work done. The threat she holds out is that of banishing him from Brinkley Manor, her lair, where Anatole, God’s gift to the gastric juices, serves his delectable spreads.

In Something Fresh, the absent-minded Lord Emsworth ends up pocketing a prized scarab from the collection of American millionaire J. Preston Peters. Even though Peters suspects Lord Emsworth, he hesitates from directly confronting him on the issue, since his daughter Aline Peters is engaged to be married to Lord Emsworth’s son. He gets Ashe Marson to recover the scarab.

All managers face ethical and moral dilemmas in their career. Some are upright and uncompromising; many others allow practical considerations to prevail over principles.

Lessons of a General Kind

When the volume of the milk of human kindness coursing through an executive’s veins exceeds a certain critical level, peril lurks.

Voluntarily Seeking a Cut in the Paycheck

To Avoid a Saunter Down the Aisle

In The Episode of the Landlady’s Daughter, we run into Roland Bleke, an ordinary young man. He is a clerk in a seed-merchant’s office. Roland inadvertently gets engaged to his landlady’s daughter, Muriel Coppin, and does not want to marry her. He is supposed to marry her when his salary is large enough, so he asks his boss Mr. Fineberg to reduce his salary, which surprises Mr. Fineberg.

“Please, sir, it’s about my salary.”

“Salary?” he cried. “What about it? What’s the matter with it? You get it, don’t you?”

“Yes, sir, but it’s too much.”

Mr. Fineberg’s brain reeled.

“Say that again,” he said.

“If you could see your way to reduce it, sir——”

It occurred to Mr. Fineberg for one instant that his subordinate was endeavoring to be humorous, but a glance at Roland’s face dispelled that idea.

“Why do you want it reduced?”

“Please, sir, I am to be married when my salary reaches a hundred and fifty, sir. And it’s a hundred and forty now, so if you could see your way to knocking off ten pounds——”

For the Good of the Organization

In The Nodder, Mr. Mulliner tries to explain the role of a Nodder in a Hollywood motion picture organization thus:

‘Putting it as briefly as possible, a Nodder is something like a Yes-Man, only lower in the social scale. A Yes-Man’s duty is to attend conferences and say ‘Yes.” A Nodder’s, as the name implies, is to nod. The chief executive throws out some statement of opinion, and looks about him expectantly. This is the cue for the senior Yes-Man to say yes. He is followed, in order of precedence, by the second Yes-Man – or Vice-Yesser, as he is sometimes called – and the junior Yes-Man. Only when all the Yes-Men have yessed, do the Nodders begin to function. They nod.’

Wilmot Mulliner is one such. He is quiet, respectful, deferential, and obsequious.

Once he gets promoted to the rank of executive, starts getting his love reciprocated and is in receipt of a most satisfactory salary, he feels that the happy ending has arrived. He gets filled with the utmost benevolence and goodwill towards all humanity.

When the boss, Mr. Schnellenhamer, points out to him that the company is facing difficulties and needs to cut expenses, he proposes his own salary to be sliced by as much as eighty percent!

‘About how much were you thinking of?’

‘Well, you’re getting fifteen hundred a week.’

‘I know, I know,’ said Wilmot. ‘It’s a lot of money.’

‘I thought if we said seven hundred and fifty from now on …’

‘It’s an awkward sort of sum,’ said Wilmot dubiously. ‘Not round, if you follow me. I would suggest five hundred.’

‘Or four?’

‘Four, if you prefer it.’

‘Very well,’ said Mr. Schnellenhamer. ‘Then from now on we’ll put you on the books as three. It’s a more convenient sum than four,’ he explained.

‘Makes less book-keeping.’

‘Of course,’ said Wilmot. ‘Of course. What a perfectly lovely day it is, is it not? I was thinking as I came along here that I had never seen the sun shining more brightly. One just wanted to be out and about, doing lots of good on every side. Well, I’m delighted if I have been able to do anything in my humble way to make things easier for you, Chief. It has been a real pleasure.’

Employers simply love employees with this kind of a feudal and benevolent approach towards the organization!

Developing the Executive Abilities of Lady Macbeth

Dolly is the brassy, golden-haired shoplifting wife of Soapy, the brains of the couple. Unlike her husband, she is a firm believer in direct action. in Money in the Bank, Jeff Miller considers her to have the executive abilities of Lady Macbeth.

Justifying Being Late

Many of us have invented several excuses for landing up late in the office. In Quick Service, Joss Weatherby gives us a unique perspective.

When he walks into the offices of Duff and Trotter several hours later than expected, the following exchange takes place between him and Mr. Duff:

“You’re late!” he boomed.

“Not really,” said Joss.

“What the devil do you mean, not really?”

“A man like me always seems to be later than he is. That is because people sit yearning for him. They get all tense, listening for his footstep, and every minute seems an hour…”

Grooming Future-ready CEOs and Managers

By no stretch of imagination can this essay be taken to be an exhaustive one. It is merely a very thin slice of the delectable cake that Plum has left behind for managers to savour. The realm of management is a very wide one; so is the sheer range of Plum’s works. The attempt here is to not only connect some of the dots between the realms of management to some of his works but also to check if his oeuvre is relevant to navigate the choppy waters that our managers face in a high-entropy business environment.  

His works continue to be an effective balm for many a weary and wounded soul. When it comes to shrugging off those blues, these act like the pick-me-ups whipped up by Jeeves and make one rise over one’s dead self to higher things in life.

Plum’s works not only entertain us. These also carry invaluable lessons for mankind in general and for CEOs and managers in particular. The more the disruptions caused by advances in technology, the higher the risk of human alienation. The higher the level of alienation, the wider the prevalence of depression and psychosomatic illnesses. His works are based on the psychology of the individual and act as effective anti-depressants. This is the basic reason his works have a very long shelf life.

I am not a management academician, but I do believe that his works, if converted into case studies and brought into the regular syllabi of management institutes, can surely help us in grooming future-ready CEOs and managers.

Enlightened owners and CEOs, while rewarding good work, can consider presenting a set of Plum’s books to their star performers, so as to entertain, enthuse and educate their managers better.

Harvard Business School (HBS) was set up in 1908, when Plum was barely 27 years of age and was just warming up to his future career as an illustrious humourist. But if he had ever attended a management course at HBS, his characters might have been etched out differently.

Roberta Wickham would have been a marketing head at a FMCG conglomerate, coming up with such goofy schemes as getting management trainees to puncture the hot-water bottles of competing companies’ CEOs. Bingo Little would have been deploying his sporting spirits to educate people on investing in equities. Madeline Bassett would have been the dreamy Creative Head of an advertising agency. Roderick Spode would have been the Chairman and Design Head of Eulalie Secrets Ltd.

Florence Craye would have been dishing out such best-selling tomes as ‘A Managerial Spin to Our Drifting Times’. Pauline Stoker would have been the head of an event management company of repute. Jeeves would have been running an academy offering specialized courses in managing bosses. Bertie Wooster would have been delivering talks to a bunch of giggling management students on ‘Decision Making: Lessons from The Cat Chap’ and perhaps even working on a series of articles entitled ‘What the Well-Dressed CEO is Wearing’ for the Harvard Business Review.

Galahad and Psmith would have been found managing large multinational businesses, steering those strategically and handling their operations with quiet efficiency and effectiveness.  

The possibilities are endless. The mind boggles.

Had this been the case, management academicians would have readily incorporated his works in textbooks and even whipped up relevant case studies, thereby benefitting wannabe managers.           

Management by Milk of Human Kindness

In an interesting article (https://hbr.org/2014/07/managements-three-eras-a-brief-history), Rita Gunther McGrath identifies three eras of the process of evolution of management thought. According to her, if the first era pertained to execution – with an emphasis on creating scale – the second one focused on expertise. During the second era, professionals were focused on providing advanced services. Now, many are looking to organizations to create conscious and meaningful experiences. Though she argues that management has entered a new era of empathy, I would rather say that we have entered an era of consciousness, wherein managements are being increasingly called upon to act responsibly towards the planet which supports their sustenance.

Subconsciously, we have already entered an era of management thought wherein the basic credo is the Milk of Human Kindness, a term borrowed by Plum from Macbeth more than a century back. Empathy has indeed become important, making businesses aware of larger issues besides shareholder returns. Triple-line bottom accounting is gaining traction. ESG (Environment, Society, and Governance) norms are being applied by investors before they decide to loosen their purse strings. Blockchain is being deployed to offer a transparent deal to the customer, who continues to rule the roost. Employees are increasingly showing a preference for employers whose transactions are equitable, fair, and transparent. 

As we march into the future, a Wodehousean approach to Management could help organizations in more ways than one.

Notes:

  1. Illustration on Secretaries by Mario Miranda; Caricature of P G Wodehouse courtesy Suvarna Sanyal.
  2. Inputs from Anustup Datta, Chakravarti Madhusudana, Elin Woodger, Prof Satish Kapoor, and Tomas Prenkert are gratefully acknowledged.

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When Jeeves Takes Charge: 2.0

The spirit of the Italian monk Bernard of Menthon would be delighted to know of the innumerable references by Plum to this sterling species which is famous for its rescue missions in the Alps.

Here are some such references which fans of P G Wodehouse would enjoy.

“You wouldn’t blame a snowbound traveller in the Alps for accepting a drop of brandy at the hands of a St. Bernard dog.”

(The Mating Season)

“One should always carry a flask about in case of emergencies. Saint Bernard dogs do it in the Alps. Fifty million Saint Bernard dogs can’t be wrong.”

(Joy in the Morning)

“We are elderly internees, most of us with corns and swollen joints, not Alpine climbers. If we are supposed to be youths who bear ’mid snow and ice a banner with the strange device ‘Excelsior’, there ought to be Saint Bernard dogs stationed here and there, dispensing free brandy.”

(Performing Flea: “Huy Day by Day”)

“…that brandy came in handy. By the way, you were the dickens of a while bringing it. A St Bernard dog would have been there and back in half the time.”

(The Code of the Woosters)

“I was badly in need of alcoholic refreshment, and just as my tongue was beginning to stick out and blacken at the roots, shiver my timbers if Jeeves didn’t enter left centre with a tray containing all the makings. St Bernard dogs, you probably know, behave in a similar way in the Alps and are well thought of in consequence.”

(Much Obliged, Jeeves)

Bill Shannon to Phipps:

“You really ought to go around with a keg of brandy attached to your neck, like Saint Bernard dogs in the Alps. No delay that way. No time lag.”

(The Old Reliable)

And indeed the years had dealt lightly with the erstwhile Maudie Montrose. A little more matronly, perhaps, than the girl with the hourglass figure who had played the Saint Bernard dog to the thirsty wayfarers at the old Criterion, she still made a distinct impression on the eye…

(Pigs Have Wings)

“She stood behind the counter, waiting, like some St Bernard dog on an Alpine pass, to give aid and comfort to the thirsty.”

(Big Money)

“Another of the same, please, Mr. M,” he said, and Rupert Morrison once more became the human St. Bernard dog.

(Cocktail Time)

“They sent out the St. Bernard dogs, and found him lying in the snow, lifeless and beautiful.”

(Money in the Bank)

He remembered the creamy stuff as particularly palatable, and it seemed to him incredible that Ivor Llewellyn had not jumped at it like a snowbound wayfarer in the Alps reaching for the St. Bernard dog’s keg of brandy.

(Pearls, Girls and Monty Bodkin)

It astounded him to think that he could ever have disliked this St. Bernard dog among butlers.

(Spring Fever)

He directed his steps to the public bar and was glad to find it unoccupied except for the blonde young lady who stood behind the counter and played the role of St. Bernard dog to the thirsty wayfarers of Walsingford Parva.

(Summer Moonshine)

St. Bernard dogs doing the square thing by Alpine travellers could not have bustled about more assiduously.

(Right Ho, Jeeves)

“…I’m to buy a pack of St. Bernards, am I, and train them to go out and drag them in?”

(The Luck of the Bodkins)

It was Adams’ mission in life to flit to and fro, hauling would-be lunchers to their destinations, as a St. Bernard dog hauls travelers out of Alpine snowdrifts.

(Something New)

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ashokbhatia

When the brow is furrowed and the pangs of separation from one’s beloved have dethroned reason from its coveted seat, the mood turns a shade of deep blue.

Like all other strands of emotion captured by Bollywood, separation from the beloved has also not escaped the attention of our dream merchants. There are several songs which depict the intense feeling of desolation experienced by someone when the soul mate has gone missing. Whereas some herald the end of doom, so to say, few others are easier on the frayed nerves, laced as they happen to be with uplifting optimism and point to the possibility of a rosier future.

There is a beauty to sad songs which cannot be captured in words. These tug at one’s heart-strings and provide solace to a tormented soul. First off, let us relish a composition which celebrates the genre of sad songs.

The beauty of…

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ashokbhatia

The Royal Academy of Goofy Technologies hereby invites nominations for its annual awards meant to spread the affliction of Wodehousitis all over our planet.

The Aubrey Upjohn Award

For teachers who have:

  • Taken effective steps during the year to introduce their wards to the pleasures of reading the works dished out by P G Wodehouse.
  • Developed syllabi which make learning at school fun, inducing students to read humorous books, especially those from the canon of the Master. The continuous giggling, guffawing and laughing out loud moments at school must comprise at least 25% of the total number of hours spent by them within the walls of the institution they happen to be a part of.

The A B Filmer Award

Meant for politicians who have taken adequate measures to persuade the governments of their country to:

  • Introduce the works of P G Wodehouse in the college level curriculum for all…

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Peter Nieuwenhuizen, president of the Dutch Wodehouse Society, gave an original and delightful talk at the 17th US Wodehouse Society (October 19, 2013) convention of The Wodehouse Society in Chicago. Here is a reworked version of the same, reported first in Plum Lines. Fans of Plum will enjoy his scholarly study of the evolution of the heroic Sir Philip Sidney’s famous battlefield quotation in Plum’s works.

Portrait of Sir Philip Sidney (1554-86) c.1620 (oil on panel) by Decritz, John the Younger (1600-1657)

A longtime ago, in 1586, Sir Walter Raleigh sailed to the east coast of America to start a settlement in North Carolina. He did this for Queen Elizabeth I of England. The United States was not yet a twinkle in anyone’s eye.

In the same year in The Netherlands, my ancestors had to deal with the Spanish conquerors. During this strife, a noble British knight, Sir Philip Sidney, fought alongside the Dutch soldiers and died at the age of 31 from wounds suffered in a battle. Poet, husband, and nobleman, athletic and courageous, he dedicated his life abroad to his queen, country, and church.

Much later, another knight, Sir P.G. Wodehouse, was touched by this small piece of history and wrote about it in his novels—not once, not twice, but twenty times. So it must be important, but why? Let us explore this little historic jewel.

Philip Sidney was born in 1554, in the reign of Mary Tudor. He was named after Mary’s husband, the Spanish king Philip II.

Philip Sidney grew up at Penhurst Place, a magnificent estate in Kent. He was well-educated, becoming a pupil at the Shrewsbury School at the age of ten. As a boy of twelve, at the side of his uncle Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, he witnessed the festive procession of Queen Elizabeth in Oxford. At the age of fourteen he started studying at Oxford, and four years later he made a grand tour on the continent and visited Paris, where he met Lodewijk (Louis) of Nassau, the brother of the Dutch governor, and, later, William of Orange, the founder of The Netherlands. Philip Sidney went on to visit Germany, Austria, Hungary, Italy, Poland, and Antwerp before he returned to England. He had traveled for three years and returned wiser, a man of the world.

In England he stayed at the court of Elizabeth and studied music and poetry, wrote sonnets, learned to fight, took part in tournaments, and developed into a noble knight, a gentleman pur sang, as our French friends would say.

After those two years at court, though only 23 years old, he became a diplomat for England. He first served in Germany and later in The Netherlands, where he witnessed the baptism of Elizabeth, the eleventh child of William of Orange.

Back in England he went to live at his sister’s place near Salisbury, where he started to write his famous poetry. He wrote Astrophel and Stella, The Defence of Poesy, and The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia.

(Battle of Zutphen)

By now you’re probably wondering what was going on in The Netherlands and why Philip Sidney was involved. Well, the Dutch were overwhelmed by the Spanish in a war that would last for eighty years. William of Orange was shot dead by Balthasar Gerards in 1584 in Delft. Obviously, the Dutch needed help and appealed to England. Queen Elizabeth sent 5,000 soldiers under the command of Philip’s uncle, Robert Dudley. In return, Elizabeth got some Dutch cities as security, including Den Briel and Flushing (Vlissingen). Philip Sidney became the governor of Flushing and sailed to The Netherlands. In Flushing, he found his soldiers to be underpaid, ill-armed, hungry, and sick. It was not a good start for an ambitious 31-year-old governor.

Maurits of Orange, the son of the murdered William of Orange, welcomed Sidney and his uncle. They made a grand entrance in cities like Delft, The Hague, Amsterdam, and Utrecht.

The Duke of Parma, Alexander Farnese, launched an offensive in 1586 and conquered several cities. It was imperative that Maurits, Dudley, and Sidney take action. They conquered the city of Axel and went on to Zutphen, a strategic city on the river Ijssel that was occupied by the Spanish.

With five hundred soldiers and fifty noblemen (the latter of whom were anxious to witness a real battle – from a distance, of course), they started the Battle of Zutphen on October 2, 1586. At dawn they realized that the Spanish far outnumbered them, and they retreated.

But alas, near the hamlet of Warnsveld, a few miles away, Sir Philip Sidney was mortally wounded. He took a Spanish musketball to his thigh and tumbled to the ground in great pain. One of his servants present at the battlefield – a Jeeves avant la lettre – hurried toward him with a cup or chalice of water. But instead of drinking this water, this life elixir, he handed it to a dying soldier on a stretcher, saying: “Thy necessity is yet greater than mine.” He didn’t recover, and three weeks later he died. His body was transported back to England, and he was buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral.

(Memorial at Warnsveld where Sidney was shot)

From this event the legend was born. Sir Philip Sidney became revered as a great warrior, although he had mostly fought at court tournaments. On the artistic side, his sister Mary, the Countess of Pembroke, had his sonnets and other work published, and he gained a successful posthumous literary career. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, statues were erected in his memory. One still stands in England at his old school in Shrewsbury, and another can be found in Zutphen in a park named after him.

Somewhere along the line, that other writer and later a knight, Sir P.G. Wodehouse, heard this beautiful story about Sir Philip Sidney. According to Norman Murphy’s Wodehouse Handbook, one of Plum’s cousins attended the Shrewsbury school where a statue of Sidney stood on the playground, and Shrewsbury was the model for Wrykyn in The White Feather.

Wodehouse was so impressed by this legend, this noble deed of Sir Philip Sidney, that he used variations of the famous phrase “Thy necessity is yet greater than mine” in various forms twenty times in his novels and stories.

The very first reference that we have found is a peculiar one. For the June 1915 Strand magazine, Wodehouse wrote the story “Black for Luck,” in which a black cat is a central character. Both James Renshaw Boyd and Elizabeth Herrold considered the stray cat as their own, and it was a good luck charm for both of them. Elizabeth finally gave up the cat for the sake of James, the playwright: “In any case, it would be like Sir Philip Sidney and the wounded soldier—’your need is greater than mine.’ Think of all the people who are dependent on your play being a success!”

A cat replaced the cup of water. Oddly, when this story was published in The Man with Two Left Feet in 1917, the sentence was altered to: “Never mind about me.” Alas, no reference to Sir Philip and his heroic deed.

In 1920, Wodehouse used the Sidney legend again in the novel Jill the Reckless (U.K.), aka The Little Warrior (U.S.). Freddie Rooke is going to meet his friend Algy Martyn in the Drones Club, but, not being a member, he can’t receive a snifter:

There he sat, surrounded by happy, laughing young men, each grasping a glass of the good old mixture-as-before, absolutely unable to connect. Some of them, casual acquaintances, had nodded to him, waved, and gone on lowering the juice – a spectacle which made Freddie feel much as the wounded soldier would have felt if Sir Philip Sidney, instead of offering him the cup of water, had placed it to his own lips and drained it with a careless “Cheerio!”

This is a wonderful reference but in fact the opposite of what happened on the battleground. Wodehouse used the reverse to emphasize the fierce desire for something and not getting it.

Later in the canon, the soldier of legend transforms into “a stretcher case,“ but the supply of a drink remains. In Ring for Jeeves, Jeeves comes to the rescue:

Jill collapsed into a chair…. Jeeves was a kindly man, and not only a kindly man but a man who could open a bottle of champagne as quick as a flash. It was in something of the Spirit of the Sir Philip Sidney who gave the water to the stretcher case that he now whisked the cork from the bottle he was carrying. Jill’s need, he felt, was greater than Bill’s.

“Permit me, miss.”

Jill drank gratefully.

A year later, Jeeves did it again. In Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit, Aunt Dahlia is talking to her nephew Bertie. Dahlia longs for a cocktail and, of course, some advice from Jeeves. At the start of this excerpt, Bertie gives Dahlia hope:

“He should be with us at any moment now. He stepped out to get me a tankard of the old familiar juice.”

Her eyes gleamed with a strange light.

“Bags I first go at it!”

I patted her hand.

“Of course”, I said, “of course. You may take that as read. You don’t find Bertram Wooster hogging the drink supply when a suffering aunt is at his side with her tongue hanging out. Your need is greater than mine, as whoever-it-was said to the stretcher case. Ah!”

Jeeves had come in bearing the elixir, not a split second before we were ready for it. I took the beaker from him and offered it to the aged relative with a courteous gesture. With a brief “Mud in your eye” she drank deeply.

Over time, Wodehouse changed the water not just to other beverages but also to objects or actions. The third chronological reference to the legend was in 1921, and here the drink was transformed into a kiss. Wodehouse wrote in Indiscretions of Archie:

He kissed her fondly.

“By love!” he exclaimed. “You really are, you know! This is the biggest thing since jolly old Sir Philip What’s-his-name gave the drink of water to the poor blighter whose need was greater than his, if you recall the incident. I had to sweat it up at school, I remember. Sir Philip, poor old bean, had a most ghastly thirst on, and he was just going to have one on the house, so to speak, when… but it’s all in the history books. This is the sort of thing Boy Scouts do!”

And only two years later, the cup of water became an umbrella. In Leave It to Psmith, Psmith borrows Walderwick’s umbrella without permission for the rescue of Eve Halliday in the rain. Psmith then praises Walderwick for his sacrifice: “You are now entitled to rank with Sir Philip Sidney and Sir Walter Raleigh!”

After a cat, cocktail, kiss, and umbrella, Wodehouse took the reference even further: the noble act becomes money. In 1925’s Sam the Sudden, Sam Shotter rents a cottage in Valley Fields and “borrows” the rent money, without permission, from his friend Braddock. He slips a note in Braddock’s wallet:

Dear Bradder: You will doubtless be surprised to learn that I have borrowed your money. I will return it in God’s good time. Meanwhile, as Sir Philip Sidney said to the wounded soldier, my need is greater than yours.

Trusting this finds you in the pink.

Yrs. Obedtly,

S. Shotter.

Wodehouse completely reverses the myth: it is the opposite of what Sir Philip Sidney said. This adds more comic effect for the readers who know the real legend.

(The statue of Sir Philip Sidney that stands on the lovely grounds of Sidney Park in Zutphen, The Netherlands)

After this joke, Wodehouse does not refer to the legend for seven years. In 1932, it surfaces again in Hot Water. Packy Franklyn tries to impress his fiancée Lady Beatrice Bracken by cutting the hair of Senator Opal: “To go and hack at this old buster’s thatch would be to perform a kindly and altruistic act, very much the same sort of thing for which Sir Philip Sidney and the Boy Scouts are so highly thought of.”

The smuggling of a pearl necklace by Reggie Tennyson is a relief for motion-picture magnate Ivor Llewellyn, in return for a movie contract. In 1935’s The Luck of the Bodkins, Mr. Llewellyn is grateful:

There was nothing in the look which Mr. Llewellyn was directing at Reggie now to awaken the critical spirit in the latter. It was entirely free from that pop-eyed dislike which the young man had found so offensive in the early stages of this conference. It was, indeed, very much the sort of look the wounded soldier must have directed at Sir Philip Sidney.

In 1936 in Laughing Gas, Joey Cooley, inhabited by the narrator’s spirit and personality, says:

“Prunes! … Hi! Give me a lick!” I cried, in a voice vibrant with emotion.

He passed it over without hesitation. If he had been Sir Philip Sidney with the wounded soldier, he couldn’t have been nippier.

The issue of morals is also seen through the lens of the Sidney legend. As we all know, Bertie Wooster is a fine lad, but sometimes morally unsound. In The Mating Season, Bertie remembers the lessons of his youth:

When I was a piefaced lad of some twelve summers, doing my stretch at Malvern House, Bramley-on-Sea, the private school conducted by the Rev. Aubrey Upjohn, I remember hearing the Rev. Aubrey give the late Sir Philip Sidney a big build-up because, when wounded at the battle of somewhere and offered a quick one by a companion in arms, he told the chap who was setting them up to leave him out of that round and slip his spot to a nearby stretcher-case, whose need was greater than his. This spirit of selfless sacrifice, said the Rev. Aubrey, was what he would like to see in you boys—particularly you, Wooster, and how many times have I told you not to gape at me in that half-witted way? Close your mouth, boy, and sit up.

So, for objects and actions, drinks and water, and a moral compass, the Sir Philip legend is useful for almost everything.

When Gussie in Right Ho, Jeeves refuses to distribute prizes, he says that “the square, generous thing to do was to step aside and let you take it on, so I did so. I felt that your need was greater than mine.”

But now we stumble upon a problem. The reference to Sir Philip Sidney has disappeared, as have the cup of water and the wounded soldier aka the stretcher case. Wodehouse does this several times, as if to say that by now everybody is familiar with the legend in his works over the past years. Examples of this abridged version of the legend follow:

Laughing Gas: “The goldfish were looking up expectantly, obviously hoping for their cut, but my need [for a breakfast leftover] was greater than theirs.” (Another reversal of the legend.)

Uncle Fred in the Springtime: Lord Ickenham says to Pongo, in reference to money for Polly Pott for the onion soup bar, “All I can say by way of apology is that her need is greater than yours.”

Quick Service: Joss Weatherby, the artist, after having his money embezzled, says that “the lawyer who had charge of it [was] getting the feeling one day that his need was greater than mine.”

Barmy in Wonderland: referring to a frog in the hotel bathroom: “but that your need was greater than his. I thought it showed a nice spirit in the lad.”

Sir Philip is still remembered by the Dutch. A beautiful statue stands in Sidney Park in Zutphen and bears this inscription in Dutch: “Nobleman, Poet, Statesman, Fighter for our Freedom. Sir Philip gave his life for The Netherlands.” In Warnsveld, where Sidney was shot, there is a small marker with the famous words engraved: “Thy necessity is yet greater than mine.” And at the Gunpowder Tower in Zutphen there is this plaque, installed by the Dutch P. G. Wodehouse Society:

This is our way to show respect for two great knights and literary heroes, Sir Philip Sidney and Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse.

Notes:

  1. Permission of the author to post this article here is gratefully acknowledged. The original article in Plum Lines can be seen here: https://www.academia.edu/8938301/A_Tale_of_Two_Knights_Sir_Philip_Sidney_and_Sir_Pelham_Grenville_Wodehouse
  2. An epitaph of Sir Philip Sidney: “England has his body, for she it fed; Netherlands his blood, in her defence shed; The Heavens have his soul, The Arts have his fame, The soldier his grief, The world his good name.”

There are indeed instances in one’s life which leave one shaken and stirred. Scales fall from one’s eyes. Like Bertie Wooster, one feels befuddled, bewildered, fazed, flummoxed, and perplexed. The reality of one of the several facets of life gets revealed, much like a mountain making a reappearance once the fog has vanished and the sun has come out in all its glory.   

While travelling in a local train in Switzerland recently, I had a rather unpleasant experience when a gentleman of Swiss origin ridiculed me for being an Indian.

It happened on the 1st of January 2023. The family had boarded a train to Lucerne to enjoy the fireworks display in the evening hours. Few stops before Lucerne, very many people boarded the train. We are used to overcrowding in trains in India, but this was a new experience for me – to see this happening in one of the advanced countries. I was already sitting on one of the few spring-back chairs available.

A gentleman, surely cast in the mould of Roderick Spode, had just come in along with many others. He looked at me sternly and asked me to get up. I got up and enquired if the gentleman wanted to occupy the seat. The gentleman clarified that he had asked me to stand up so that there is more space for others to squeeze in. So far, so good. But then he went on to give me a supercilious look and added rudely that such things happen only in India.

The basic message from the gentleman was right, but the rude and insulting way he said it hurt all of us. The fact that he insulted my country really hit hard. My daughter-in-law and my son intervened to say that he could have discussed this cordially, rather than being abrasive about it. But he went on arguing about it, claiming that he had spent a good deal of time in India and knew about how things worked there. Other passengers nearby kept telling us to avoid listening to his comments.

To give him a benefit of doubt, perhaps he had had a fight with his wife before leaving home that evening. However, a realization also dawned – that beneath a veneer of polite manners and sweet smiles, quite a few people in other countries may carry some deep-seated prejudices against those of Indian origin.

Jeeves would concur with me if I were to say that our psychology is such that when we love something, we somehow feel entitled to criticize it and make fun of it. But when someone else does it, we take offence! We are left twiddling our thumbs. I confess this is what happened to me on the day. I felt deeply embarrassed and wondered what I had done to deserve a treatment of this kind.

I admit I am a bit fluffy headed and forgetful, but by no stretch of imagination can I match the high standards set by Lord Emsworth in that department. I found it very difficult to forget this incident. On the contrary, it made me recollect many earlier instances when I did not have a satisfactory response to some meaningful and thought-provoking questions asked about India by those living abroad.

  • A cabbie in New York asking me as to why the government in the country was against Muslims and Christians.
  • A tourist from Canada who had just returned from India asking why the cab drivers in most parts of the country tended to either overcharge or harass customers. I wonder if she had ever lapped up the book ‘India and the Indians’, written by Lady Malvern who had spent some time in India.  
  • A young lady in Norway enquiring whether it was safe for her to travel to India alone. She quoted frequently reported rape and murder cases in the country she had read about.
  • Another lady in Sweden checking as to why Indians have a practice of shaming the victim in a rape case rather than putting the spotlight on the perpetrator of the crime.
  • A person of German origin asking if our metro cities did not have enough storm drains to ensure that periodic flooding did not take place.
  • A movie enthusiast of French origin enquiring why, despite the presence of a film certification body, people kept calling for boycotts of some movies. She wondered how Indians have become so intolerant, especially when they pride themselves on being an ancient civilization and have really demonstrated how to be a multi-ethnic society.
  • A teenager from Denmark asking why Indian households do not segregate their domestic waste and why the country lacks enough capacity to handle such waste.
  • A person from Denmark who asked me why India was so noisy.
  • A group of businesspersons from Finland wondering why it was far easier to deal with businesses in the west and the south of India than with those in the north of the country. Some of them said they had been cheated by the latter.

What I quote above happen to be snippets of conversations with lay citizens of different countries, spread over the past few years. Those of us who believe we have already acquired the status of a Vishwa Guru – A Global Teacher – and who are swayed by the nationalistic fervour so very fashionable in India these days, may immediately jump to enquire who gave the rights to people in advanced countries to judge India and Indians. They might even suspect and allege a global conspiracy to defame India.

It is no one’s case that our First World countries happen to be perfect. Of course, these suffer from many ills. Graffiti in public spaces is a common sight. So are cigarette butts in otherwise pristine public gardens.

But the point here is that if we Indians can ape the west in terms of fashion, social relationships and in so many other ways, why can’t we do something about the kind of courtesy we show to tourists and fellow citizens in public spaces? Why do we need a Prime Minister to tell us to improve our levels of hygiene and keep our public spaces spick and span? Why can’t we respect the law, rather than priding ourselves in breaking it? Why do our political parties depend on criminals to win over the voters? Why do justices of our Supreme Court have to get involved in ensuring that road safety standards improve across the entire country? Why are we worried about elections and inane internal issues when an enemy is gleefully usurping our territory on our borders? The mind boggles.     

We live in a multipolar world where interdependence between countries is an essential fact. Yes, as a country, India remains a work-in-progress. But we have tremendous soft power, whether in terms of our ancient scriptures, rich culture, music, dance, movies and the like. The diverse cuisine we have is popular across all countries. When it comes to frugal engineering, we shine on the global stage. The manpower we offer to the world is unique in many ways.

It is surely not wrong to be proud of our heritage. Nor is it improper to demand respect from others. But to remain blissfully unaware of our weaknesses and to do nothing to address the same will simply go on to ensure that chinks in the Brand India armour continue to fester.

A sister of Bertie Wooster’s lives in India. It follows that he would be gravely concerned about this situation. Perhaps, he may seek Jeeves’ advice on the issue. If so, I wonder if Jeeves would recommend a public relation campaign to improve India’s brand image worldwide. He may also suggest a mass communication drive within the country and ways to make a genuine effort to improve our civic infrastructure. Someone like Rupert Psmith may get one of his rich uncles to buy out a premier media house in a western country.

But the nub of the matter is that we, the Indians, need to indulge in a bout of introspection, and work upon improving our own civic habits and our behaviour towards others. The buck stops at us!

(Illustration courtesy R K Laxman)

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ashokbhatia

A culture which is rooted in Consciousness does not throw up hapless leaders who keep burning the proverbial midnight oil in their relentless pursuit of commercial goals only, while shoving concerns such as the environment, the society and human resources under the corporate carpet.   It does not merely mean that our marketing honchos are doing their best in servicing our customers effectively and efficiently; instead, it implies that they do so while ensuring that the product/service as well as its packaging is environment-friendly.

It means that those toiling on the operations side design the processes in such a way that the carbon footprints are at least neutral, if not positive; that our financial wizards keep nudging the organization towards maximizing returns to all its stakeholders; and the human resource executives keep burning the midnight oil to ensure that people and processes respect human values and dignity, while keeping the costs…

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Most of the songs in the movies being churned out by Bollywood happen to portray feelings of love. One often wonders as to how the heroine and the hero keep changing their outfits in each of the stanzas, keeping the wardrobe designers and producers laughing all the way to their respective banks. The high walls of manmade borders melt away, as they are seen wandering about on different continents of the world without any visa/immigration hassles, proving the age-old adage of Vasudhaiv Kutumbukam. Not to speak of the bevy of choreographers and a 100-piece orchestra which keeps following them scrupulously, without missing a single beat.

But once in a blue moon, we get treated to a love song which is more spontaneous in its depiction. The lyricist and the music director obviously work harder on creating such songs which appear as if these are getting composed by the couple in real time on the screen.

Consider the following songs which fall in this category. 

One of the very few love songs which has an office setting as a background.

Jaane kahaan mera jigar gaya ji…

Movie: Mrs and Mr 55 (1955)

Singers: Mohd. Rafi, Geeta Dutt

Music Director: O P Nayyar

Lyricist: Majrooh Sultanpuri

 Here is a flirtatious song from an otherwise serious movie. The back-and-forth chat between the heroine and the hero is a sheer delight.  

Hum aapki ankhon mein…

Movie: Pyasa (1957)

Singers: Mohammed Rafi, Geeta Dutt

Music Director: S D Burman

Lyricist: Sahir Ludianvi

What happens when a lovers’ tiff results into a lovelorn backchat between the pair?

Achha ji main haari chalo…

Movie: Kala Pani (1958)

Singers: Mohd. Rafi & Asha Bhosle

Music: S.D. Burman

Lyricist: Majrooh Sultanpuri

A mischievous heroine puts the poor hero through an ordeal and then has the cheek to teasingly ask as to how he is feeling!   

Haal kaisa hai janaab ka…

Movie: Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958)

Singers: Kishore Kumar, Asha Bhosle

Music Director: S.D.Burman

Lyricist: Majrooh Sultanpuri

Claiming some dues from the party of the other part can happen even during a stage performance!

Paanch rupaiya barah anna…

Movie: Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958)

Singers: Kishore Kumar, Asha Bhosle

Music Director: S D Burman

Lyricist: Majrooh Sultanpuri

How did you fall in love with me, asks the heroine coyly!

Sach bata tu mujh pe fida…

Movie: Sone ki chidiya (1958)

Singers: Asha Bhosle, Talat Mehmood

Music: O P Nayyar

Lyricist: Sahir Ludhianvi

Yet another song where bickering between a couple takes place during a stage performance.  

Tere pyar ka aasra chahta hoon…

Movie: Dhool Ka Phool (1959)

Singers: Mahendra Kapoor, Lata Mangeshkar

Music Director: N. Datta

Lyricist: Sahir Ludhianvi

A romantic poem gets composed as the hero plays a muse to the heroine.

Chupke se mile pyaase pyaase…

Movie: Manzil (1960)

Singers: Geeta Dutt, Mohammed Rafi

Music Director: S. D. Burman

Lyricist: Majrooh Sultanpuri

The lovers list the precautions the party of the other part should take, lest any harm may come to the flora and fauna around.

Bikhra ke zulfien chaman mein na jaana…

Movie: Nazrana (1961)

Singers: Mukesh, Lata Mangeshkar

Music Director: Ravi

Lyricist: Rajendra Krishan

A delectable confluence of Carnatic and Hindustani music, this song captures the rivalry between two persons, both trying to woo the young lady.

Ek chatur naar…

Movie: Padosan (1968)

Singers: Manna Dey, Kishore Kumar

Music Director: R D Burman

Lyrics: Rajendra Krishan

Getting the beloved to accept that she loves the lover.

Baagon mein bahaar hai…

Movie: Aradhana (1969)

Singers: Lata Mangeshkar, Mohd. Rafi

Music Director: S D Burman

Lyricist: Anand Bakshi

Even surreptitious meetings between a couple get overshadowed by the heroine’s wish to return home early!

Achha to hum chalte hain…

Movie: Aan Milo Sajna (1970)

Singers: Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar

Music Director: Laxmikant-Pyarelal

Lyricist: Anand Bakshi

Strictly speaking, only the first portion of this song happens to be dialogue-driven. Nevertheless, overall, it surely has a dash of spontaneity to it!  

Sa re ga ma pa…

Movie: Abhinetri (1970)

Singers: Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar

Music Director: Laxmikant-Pyarelal

Lyricist: Majrooh Sultanpuri

The subtle art of dodging the police by showcasing a clandestine meet as a lovers’ date.

O mere raja, khafa na hona…

Movie: Johnny Mera Naam (1970)

Singers: Kishore Kumar, Asha Bhosle

Music Director: Kalyanji Anandji

Lyricist: Rajinder Krishan

A budding romance soon gets transformed into a life-long commitment.

Aap yahaan aaye kisliye…

Movie: Kal Aaj Aur Kal (1971)

Singers: Kishore Kumar, Asha Bhosle

Music Director: Shankar Jaikishan

Lyricist: Neeraj

Social barriers and taboos keep the heroine on tenterhooks, whereas the hero is not worried about such mundane issues.

Gir gaya jhumka…

Movie: Jugnu (1973)

Music Director: S D Burman

Singers: Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar

Lyricist: Anand Bakshi

Two playful songs, depicting the sprouting of romantic feelings between two teenagers.  

Mujhe kuchh kehna hai…

Hum tum ek kamre mein band hon…

Movie: Bobby (1973)

Singers: Shailendra Singh, Lata Mangeshkar

Music Director: Laxmikant Pyarelal

Lyrics: Anand Bakshi

Couplets (dohas) of such Sufi poets as Rahim and Kabir have regaled generations with pristine wisdom, duly laced with an earthy common sense. Trust Rajshri Productions to string some of these together for our sake.   

Bade badaai na karen…

Movie: Ankhiyon Ke Jharokhon Se (1978)

Singers: Hemalata, Jaspal Singh

Music Director: Ravindra Jain

Lyrics: Dohas of Rahim and Kabir

Keep the dialogue on and love will soon follow it its wake!

Suniye, kahiye…

Movie: Baton Baton Mein (1979)

Singers: Kishore Kumar, Asha Bhosle

Music Director: Rajesh Roshan

Lyricist: Amit Khanna

The hero regales a bunch of kids with a juicy story about his encounter with a lion.

Mere paas aao mere doston…

Movie: Mr. Natwarlal (1979)

Singer: Amitabh Bachchan, Master Ravi

Music Director: Rajesh Roshan

Lyricist: Anand Bakshi

The hero and the heroine are cooing to each other like turtle doves. They keep rhyming words and phrases and end up creating an impromptu song!

Kaise ho pagal…

Movie: Chashme Buddoor (1981)

Singers: Raj Kamal, Hemanti Shukla

Music Director: Raj Kamal

Lyricist: Indu Jain

When his six younger brothers fall hopelessly in love, the elder one guides them!

Pyaar tumhen kis mod pe le aaya…

Movie: Satte Pe Satta (1982)

Singers: Kishore Kumar, Bhupinder and others

Music Director: R D Burman

Lyricist: Gulshan Bawra

These are songs which, I believe, showcase a higher level of creativity on the part of our lyricists and music directors. To bring in a spontaneity of this kind is no mean task. Alas, these are very few and far between.

Can you think of any songs which could be added to this list? If so, please leave behind a comment below.  

{Note: Inputs from Ms Madhulika Liddle, Mr Sunil Jain and Ms Pooja Agrawal are gratefully acknowledged}.

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China’s actions to keep violating its borders with India with impunity continue unabated. So do its endeavours to create a ‘string of pearls’ around India. Time will tell if its plans to become a global superpower fructify, but when it comes to its southern neighbour, it may never be able to win over the hearts of Indians.  

Rewind to 1962

India observes National Solidarity Day on the 20th of October every year. This day is observed to honour her Armed Forces. China had begun its assault on India on this date in 1962, giving a good thrashing to Indian forces which were ill-prepared then to meet the challenge.

As a child of around 10 years then, I still remember the kind of patriotic fervour which had sprouted amongst the country’s citizens at the time. Tension in the air. Ears glued to the news bulletins of All India Radio. Blackened windows at home. Stocking of groceries. Half-blackened headlights on all the motorized vehicles. Patriotic songs at school. Movement restrictions. People rushing to train stations to convey their best wishes to departing jawans. Blankets, woollens, medicines, and jewellery being openly donated to strengthen the country’s response.  

Not surprisingly, Bollywood had unleashed its soft power to counter the aggression. At trade fairs and other public spaces, a song, Awaaz do hum ek hain, featuring some of the popular heroes of the era, was getting shown.

What followed were visits by popular stars to the frontier, cheering up the jawans. And, of course, the immortal song, Ae mere watan ke logon, rendered by Lata Mangeshkar in the presence of Jawaharlal Nehru, at a function in January 1963.

Movies like Haqeeqat (Chetan Anand, 1964) brought the harsh reality of war to our cinema halls.

Cut to the present

Beginning on the 5th of May 2020, Chinese and Indian troops engaged in aggressive melee, face-offs, and skirmishes at different locations along the Sino-Indian border. In late May, Chinese forces objected to Indian road construction in the Galwan river valley. According to Indian sources, melee fighting on the 15th/16th of June 2020 resulted in the deaths of many Chinese and Indian soldiers. A low-voltage conflict persists till date, with occasional flare-ups across the border having become the norm.

This time round also, Bollywood has not failed us, but in a different way. The patriotic fervour is not getting whipped up. Instead, nationalistic sentiments appear to be already occupying the centre stage. Increasingly, it appears as if the soft power of Bollywood is being deployed to keep our attention away from the predatory tactics of our northern neighbour.

In 2020, the suicide of one of Bollywood’s popular stars, Sushant Singh Rajput, and his alleged girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty, kept us riveted to our television screens, conveniently forgetting the attack on our territorial integrity and even the raging pandemic.

These days, an unsavoury and inane controversy has been whipped up around the colour of the bikini worn by a Bollywood diva in a song of a movie which is scheduled to get released in January 2023. Sure enough, such issues as an aggression on our borders, galloping inflation, increasing unemployment, rising social distrust and polarization, and more people having gone down the poverty line in India have got swept under the carpet. The voyeuristic eyes of the so-called sterner sex of our species are having a field day. As luck would have it, the movie has ended up grabbing our eyeballs much before it would hit the screens.   

We appear to be living in an era of strident nationalism, backed by attempts to keep the fire of communal disharmony burning bright, ostensibly with a view to encashing the same for electoral gains for the ruling dispensation. We keep playing the victim card favouring the majority community to the hilt, painting the minor ones in villainous shades. Patriotism appears to have taken a backseat in our mental space.  

Of movies and patriotism

Amitabh Bachchan, a doyen of the industry, had made some insightful observations at a public function recently. He had spoken of the way in which the movie industry had always stood up against oppression of any kind, right through the days of British occupation of India in the past. For your ready reference, here is the link to his speech which I refer to:

He bemoaned the jingoism and imaginary historical movies which are in tandem with the current political discourse and even referred to the boycott culture which appears to be making light of the formal system of film censorship which India follows.

In a way, Vijay, the disgruntled hero of the iconic movie Pyaasa (Guru Dutt, 1957) was very much like the Vijay of Deewaar (Yash Chopra, 1975), played by Amitabh Bachchan himself. Both stood up against the traditional norms of society. Ganashatru (Satyajit Ray, 1990), mentioned by the renowned actor in his speech referred to above, gave us hope that howsoever rotten the system may be, the youth stand up to support a fair and just approach to problem solving.      

Bollywood deserves to be commended for the staple diet of opium it keeps dishing out for the Indian masses. However, this time around, the support of a pliant media, backed by a motivated use of social media channels, appears to be magnifying its endeavours at keeping us engaged, entertained, and enthused, enveloping us in a kind of selective amnesia, putting some critical issues on the backburner.

A time for some introspection?

In one of his articles, Prof Badri Raina had distinguished between nationalism and patriotism as under:

Nationalism enjoins upon us to believe that our air is the most salubrious, our water magical, our sunsets and sunrises uniquely blessed, our accumulated histories and legends superior to those of all others, our culture the only worthwhile culture, our religious faiths nearest to god, and our stores of knowledge beyond compare.

Patriotism acknowledges that where I live is my beloved space, warts, and all. It makes no claims to exceptionalisms that are thought to be God’s unique gift to us. It recognises that our streets are shabby, our lanes full of clutter, our habits shoddy, our resistance to rationality often grossly debilitating, our defiance of law a routine habit of mind, our male chauvinism shameful and violent, our casteism or racism or communalism deleterious to the most desirable ideals of human rights and human oneness.

While the dragon keeps giving us the chills at the borders, our trade relations continue to show a heart-warming trend. Total merchandise trade between India and China rose 34% to $115.83 billion in the 12 months to March 2022, according to data from the Commerce Ministry released to parliament some time back.

Time for us, the denizens of India, to look within and check if we have lost our innate sense of patriotism; or have we outsourced our thinking prowess and discriminatory powers, thereby losing our ability to sift the wheat from the chaff? Have we got used to getting distracted by inane internal issues and resigning to a relentless bullying by China thus? Can we demolish the narrow walls we have built around ourselves and take a strategic call on meeting external challenges of this kind?

Hopefully, our dynamic government is already working on the same.

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