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Russians wild over Wodehouse

Moscow, Dec. 26: An expression of dreamy euphoria crossed the face of Sir Watkyn Bassett, collector of antique silver and nemesis of the hapless Bertie Wooster.

On the stage of Moscow’s Cleopatra restaurant, a bearded Honky Tonk band was playing Irving Berlin. Nearby a group of girls in their evening finery debated which of Bertie’s aunts was the most detestable.

But for Sir Watkyn, alias Mikhail Kuzmenko, it was as though the restaurant had been transformed into the dining hall of Blandings Castle or the Drones Club.

Outlawed by Stalin in 1929, P.G. Wodehouse — or Pyelem G Vudhaus as he is known — has undergone a remarkable revival since the ban on his books was lifted in 1990. There can be few fans as dedicated, however, as Kuzmenko. As president and founder of the Russian Wodehouse Society he has attracted over 3,000 members, some from as far away as Cheliabinsk and Omsk. His Wodehouse dinners at the Cleopatra are always sold out.

The actors Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie have played their part. Ever since their television portrayal of Jeeves and Wooster was dubbed into Russian, young fans have started flocking to the club.

Wodehouse translations have mushroomed and even a souring of Anglo-Russian relations has done little to dim the enthusiasm for this quintessentially English author.

“If you look around on the metro you can see lots of people reading Wodehouse,” said Tatyana Komoryeva, a 25-year-old accountant. “All the bookshops, even the small ones, are guaranteed to sell at least some of his books.”

That there is a Wodehouse fellowship at all, though, is largely thanks to Natalya Trauberg. A self-taught English speaker, the 79-year-old former dissident risked transportation to the gulags under Stalin for translating the theological works of C.S Lewis and G. K Chesterton in samizdat.

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