Cocktail Time is a comic novel by P. G. Wodehouse, first published in the United Kingdom on June 20, 1958 by Herbert Jenkins, London and in the United States on July 24, 1958 by Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York. It stars Frederick Twistleton, Earl of Ickenham, better known as Uncle Fred.
The story begins when Uncle Fred knocks off Sir Raymond Bastable’s top hat with a Brazil nut fired through the window of the Drones Club from a catapult. Sir Raymond naturally assumes that the culprit was a young Drone, but is unsure how to respond. A letter to the Times would open him to ridicule, especially as he is about to stand for Parliament. Uncle Fred suggests writing a novel exposing the iniquities of the younger generation. The eventual novel, “Cocktail Time”, which Bastable publishes under a pseudonym, becomes a succès de scandale after being condemned by a bishop. Afraid of being unmasked as the author, Bastable allows his ne’er-do-well nephew Cosmo Wisdom to take the credit, and the royalties, of the book. But, with his friend Gordon “Oily” Carlisle, and Oily’s wife Gertie, Cosmo plots to blackmail Sir Raymond, and to this end writes a letter revealing the true author of “Cocktail Time”. Much of the rest of the book is concerned with various characters’ attempts to get hold of the letter.
The action moves to Dovetail Hammer, Berks, where Uncle Fred is staying with his godson Johnny Pearce. Johnny is in love with Belinda Farringdon, but needs £500 in order to marry her. Uncle Fred resolves to help, but for the time being is more concerned with retrieving the letter. It so happens that Sir Raymond Bastable is also living in Dovetail Hammer, with his sister Phoebe Wisdom, Cosmo’s mother, and Sir Raymond’s butler, Albert Peasemarch, as tenants of Johnny Pearce. Albert is secretly in love with Phoebe.
Oily travels to Dovetail Hammer and attempts to blackmail Sir Raymond, but Uncle Fred manages to extract the letter by posing as Inspector Jervis of the Yard. Cosmo then discovers that the movie rights of the book could be worth a fortune, and he decides he’d like to be its author after all. So he needs to get the letter back, and proceeds to Dovetail Hammer.
Uncle Fred unwisely gives the letter to Albert Peasemarch for safekeeping, but Albert gives the game away after one too many pints at the Beetle and Wedge. So Cosmo gets the letter back. But then Gertie coshes him and grabs the letter. Oily and Gertie hide it in an imitation walnut cabinet, but this is taken away to be auctioned. Oily and Cosmo bid against each other for the cabinet but, needless to say, Uncle Fred had previously removed the letter. He then engages in a little mild blackmail himself, and extracts £500 from Sir Raymond in return for the letter. This is passed to Johnny, who can now marry Belinda. Sir Raymond gets the movie rights to “Cocktail Time”, and marries his longtime admirer Barbara Crowe, while Albert marries Phoebe. Sweetness and light all round.
- McIlvaine, E., Sherby, L.S. and Heineman, J.H. (1990) P.G. Wodehouse: A comprehensive bibliography and checklist. New York: James H. Heineman, p. 93. ISBN 087008125X
- Cocktail Time (list of characters, synopsis), P. G. Wodehouse bibliography (in English), The Russian Wodehouse Society