North London, UK
P.G. Wodehouse is one of the greatest comic authors of the twentieth century. He wrote nearly a hundred books containing a fascinating array of characters. Many inhabited the confined geography of 1920’s London and country houses, with occasional trips to New York or the French Riviera. This was the world Wodehouse had known as a young man, giving rise to a plentiful supply of interesting people, places, and events that formed the fabric from which he weaved his literary magic.
The early experience of staying with his grandmother and her four unmarried daughters provided the models for Bertie Wooster’s favorite Aunt Dahlia and the fearsome Aunt Agatha. They lived at Cheney House in the village of Box, Wiltshire. The establishment, now a language school, became Deverill Hall in Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen.
At Cheney, Wodehouse must have encountered Dr Henry Crawford MacBryan, who ran a psychiatric nursing home at Kingsdown House in the neighboring hamlet of Ditteridge.[i] MacBryan was immortalized as Sir Roderick Glossop, “eminent loony doctor or nerve specialist”,[ii]vital to the plots of one Blandings and five Jeeves and Wooster books. Wodehouse modelled Glossop’s appearance on MacBryan, “an extraordinarily formidable bird”, possessing shaggy eyebrows, a piercing look, and an enormous bald head “like the dome of St Paul’s”[iii], and named his house after Ditteridge.[iv]
Glossop, a “pompous old ass”[v], was a favorite of Bertie’s formidable Aunt Agatha. Noting he was President of the West London branch of the anti-gambling league, drank no wine, strongly disapproved of smoking, ate simple food owing to an impaired digestion, and considered coffee “the root of half the nerve-trouble in the world”, she advised Bertie to “refrain from any misguided flippancy” because Glossop was “a very serious minded man”.[vi]
Lord Emsworth remembered Glossop at school, “a most unpleasant boy with a nasty, superior manner and an extraordinary number of spots on his face”, nicknamed ‘Pimples’. There were rumors of “a scandal ….something to do with overeating himself and being sick at the house supper”. [vii] Nevertheless, Glossop’s practice flourished at 6b Harley Street, with a clientele of disturbed noblesse. Bertie’s beloved Aunt Dahlia approved of Glossop after he treated her cousin who believed he was “followed by little men with black beards”. [viii] Glossop visited the Duke of Dunstable who “breaks furniture with pokers and throws eggs at gardeners”,[ix] and the Duke of Ramferline with “cerebral excitement” thinking he was a canary. [x]
His reputation ensured transatlantic visits to millionaire Stoker’s cousin, George, who spoke oddly and “had a tendency to walk on his hands”. [xi] Stoker needed Glossop’s testimony on George’s sanity, and Glossop wanted Stoker to buy Chuffnell Hall and run it “as a sort of country club for his nerve patients” [xii] or “private loony-bin”,[xiii]similar to MacBryan’s establishment at Ditteridge. Bertie’s butler Jeeves had to intervene and guarantee success. [xiv]
‘Brain specialists’, “always on the job and never miss a trick”,[xv]“watch the subject closely. They engage him in conversation. They apply subtle tests”.[xvi]Glossop cured “the most stubborn cases”[xvii]and would “start topics and observe reactions” saying,“It is most unusual for me not to be able to make up my mind after a single talk with the person I’m observing.” [xviii]He examined a man on a train purporting to be the Duke of Dunstable, and was even persuaded to masquerade as the butler Swordfish to assessWilbert Cream’s sanity.[xix] Glossop was himself impersonated by Lord Ickenham, who commented, “It must be amazingly interesting work, sitting on people’s heads and yelling for the strait waistcoat”.Glossop’s work, “though sometimes distressing, is… full of interest”. [xx]Remarking that “A profession like mine is a great strain” ….”Sometimes it seems to me that the whole world is unbalanced” [xxi]he lectured the Mothers of West Kensington on the “tendency of post-war youth towards melancholia”. [xxii]
Bertie was not impressed,“How the deuce people who have anything wrong with their nerves can bring themselves to chat with that man, I can’t imagine; and yet he has the largest practice in London”.[xxiii]He described Glossop as “nothing more nor less than a high-priced loony-doctor,” and was “cropping up in my path for years, always with the most momentous results”.[xxiv] Aunt Agatha intended Bertie to marry Glossop’s hearty daughter Honoria, but his hatred of cats enabled Jeeves to extricate Bertie from the unintended engagement. Glossop later prevented Bertie from marrying Stoker’s daughter by questioning his sanity. [xxv]Glossop’s nephew was Bertie’s friend [xxvi] and Bertie was nearly engaged to his niece Heloise. [xxvii]Another friend, Biffy, whose house was considered for Glossop’s sanatorium, asked Bertie to help him break up with Honoria, although “The idea of meeting Sir Roderick again gave me a cold, shivery feeling”. [xxviii]
Bertie conceded that Aubrey Upjohn, his old headmaster, should hear “that Sir Roderick Glossop, the greatest alienist in England, is convinced that Wilbert Cream is round the bend and to ask him if he proposes to marry his stepdaughter to a man who at any moment may be marched off and added to the membership list of Colney Hatch.” [xxix] Cream was diagnosed by Glossop as a kleptomaniac. Colney Hatch, a large asylum on the edge of London, was familiar to Dr MacBryan.
Bertie knew that Glossop, “janitor to the loony-bin”, “has always had my name at the top of his list of ‘Loonies I have lunched with”.[xxx]Puncturing Glossop’s hot water bottle with a darning needle[xxxi]confirmed his view that Bertie “ought to be certified”[xxxii] and “under restraint”[xxxiii]. After hearing how Glossop had severely castigated Lord Chuffnell’s nephew Seabury, Bertie decided “I had suffered much at his hands since first our paths crossed”…”I found myself definitely softening towards him”[xxxiv]. The rapprochement deepened after both were chased at knifepoint by Bertie’s temporary valet Brinkley whom Sir Roderick described as “a dangerous lunatic”[xxxv]. Jeeves helped them evade the police in disguise, leaving them “hobnobbing like a couple of sailors on shore leave”[xxxvi]so Bertie “completely changed my mind about ….Glossop….there is much good in him“.[xxxvii] Glossop reciprocated, “I reached a hasty judgment regarding your own sanity….I was shown to be in error”.[xxxviii]
Although “Pop Glossop was built for stability rather than speed”[xxxix]and “his eyes go through you like a couple of Death Rays”[xl]he played Santa Claus at Aunt Dahlia’s Christmas party.[xli]Jeeves noted that Glossop had “a pleasing baritone voice and as a younger man – in the days when he was a medical student – was often accustomed to render songs at smoking concerts”.[xlii]He married twice, to Miss Blatherwick, Honoria’s mother, and following her demise, to Myrtle, Dowager Lady Chuffnell.
What of Glossop’s original? Born in Ireland in 1855, Dr MacBryan applied to run a private asylum in Lancashire, before joining Hanwell County Asylum in 1884.[xliii]He was on Council of the Medico-Psychological Association of Great Britain and Ireland, attending meetings in Bath and London.[xliv]MacBryan supervised Kingsdown House, a well-run institution with forty three patients paying between two and five guineas each week.[xlv] The Henley Lane site, a ‘Mad House’ since 1615, became Kingsdown Lunatic Asylum and then a private institution in 1880. Having its own brewery, dairy, and bake-house, male and female patients were segregated in a caring regime that permitted excursions.[xlvi]
Dr MacBryan lived at Kingsdown with his wife and six children. His son Edward was killed in action in 1917. Another son Jack, returning from captivity after the War, played cricket for Somerset and England, and won a hockey gold medal in the 1920 Olympics.[xlvii]Dr MacBryan died in 1943. His son Gerald inherited Kingsdown House, and it closed in 1946. The gates of the former mental home may now be situated at a nearby crematorium.[xlviii].
[i]NTPMurphy,A Wodehouse Handbook: The World and Words of P.G.Wodehouse. Volume 1 The World of Wodehouse. (London: Popgppd&Groolley, 2006), 388.
[ii]P.G.Wodehouse, “Jeeves and the Greasy Bird,” in Plum Pie (London: Everyman’s Library, 2007; 1966), 9.
[iii]P.G.Wodehouse, The Inimitable Jeeves (London: Penguin Books Ltd, 1999; 1923), 65.
[iv] Murphy, A Wodehouse Handbook, 388.
[v]P.G.Wodehouse, Uncle Fred in the Springtime, (London: Everyman’s Library, 2004; 1939), 121.
[vi]Wodehouse, The Inimitable Jeeves, 62.
[vii]Wodehouse, Uncle Fred in the Springtime, 92.
[viii]Wodehouse,”Jeeves and the Greasy Bird”, 9-10.
[ix]Wodehouse, Uncle Fred in the Springtime, 91.
[x]Wodehouse, The Inimitable Jeeves, 66-67.
[xi]P.G.Wodehouse, Thank You, Jeeves, (London: Everyman’s Library, 2003; 1934), 13.
[xii]Wodehouse, Thank You, Jeeves, 35.
[xiii]Wodehouse, Thank You, Jeeves, 65.
[xiv]Wodehouse, Thank You, Jeeves, 237.
[xv]P.G.Wodehouse, Jeeves in the Offing, (London: Penguin Books Ltd, 1963; 1960), 128.
[xvi]Wodehouse, Jeeves in the Offing, 37.
[xvii] Wodehouse, Jeeves in the Offing, 77.
[xviii]Wodehouse, Jeeves in the Offing, 54.
[xix]Wodehouse, Jeeves in the Offing, 32,37.
[xx]Wodehouse, Uncle Fred in the Springtime, 103.
[xxi]Wodehouse, The Inimitable Jeeves, 66.
[xxii]Wodehouse, Uncle Fred in the Springtime, 108.
[xxiii]P.G.Wodehouse, Carry On, Jeeves (London: Everyman’s Library, 2003; 1925), 152.
[xxiv]Wodehouse, TheInimitable Jeeves, 66.
[xxv] Wodehouse, Thank You, Jeeves, 12-13.
[xxvi]P.G.Wodehouse, Very Good, Jeeves! (London: Everyman’s Library, 2005; 1930), 8.
[xxvii] Wodehouse, Carry On, Jeeves, 181-194.
[xxviii]Wodehouse, Carry On, Jeeves, 149.
[xxix]Wodehouse, Jeeves in the Offing, 45.
[xxx]Wodehouse, Very Good, Jeeves!,65.
[xxxi]Wodehouse, Very Good, Jeeves!,77.
[xxxii]Wodehouse, Thank You, Jeeves, 15.
[xxxiii]Wodehouse, Thank You, Jeeves, 79.
[xxxiv]Wodehouse, Thank You, Jeeves, 188-189.
[xxxv]Wodehouse, Thank You, Jeeves, 196.
[xxxvi]Wodehouse,”Jeeves and the Greasy Bird”, 10.
[xxxvii] Wodehouse, Thank You, Jeeves, 207.
[xxxviii]Wodehouse, Jeeves in the Offing, 55.
[xxxix]Wodehouse, Jeeves in the Offing, 58.
[xl]Wodehouse, Carry On, Jeeves, 154.
[xli]Wodehouse,”Jeeves and the Greasy Bird”, 59.
[xlii]Wodehouse, Thank You, Jeeves, 176.
[xliv]http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/bjprcpsych/52/216.toc.pdf accessed 27January,2017.
[xlv]http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/50/211/783 accessed 27 January 2017.
[xlvi]www.boxpeopleand places.co.uk/kingsdown-house.html) accessed 26 November 2016.
[xlvii]www.everymanremembered.org/profiles/soldier/802056.accessed 26.November 2016.
[xlviii]P Dakin, “Dr Henry Crawford MacBryan aka Sir Roderick Glossop (PG Wodehouse’s ‘well known loony doctor’)” Journal of Medical Biography 19 (2011), 110.
Paul Dakin, BSc MBBS MA FRCGP is a retired General Practitioner and postgraduate Trainer from North London. He has a Master’s degree in Literature and Medicine and is the former Secretary of the Association for Medical Humanities. Paul is a member of the P.G. Wodehouse Society (UK).