Uncle Fred Flits By
"Uncle Fred Flits By" is a short story by P. G. Wodehouse, which first appeared in the United States in the July 1935 edition of Redbook, and in the United Kingdom in the December 1935 issue of the Strand. It was included in the collection Young Men in Spats (1936).
Our tale is told by a Crumpet to a guest at the Drones Club. On seeing Pongo Twistleton acting in a distracted and despairing manner, the Crumpet explains that a visit from Pongo's notorious Uncle Fred is imminent, and that previous visits have shown that despair is the only sensible option in such circumstances. He relates one particular incident...
When Uncle Fred suggests to his nephew a visit to a suburb, once an estate owned by an uncle when he was younger, Pongo is amazed and relieved, believing the suburbs do not hold anything like the opportunities offered by the city for someone like his uncle to cut loose and cause havoc. They head down and inspect the old family land, but find themselves caught in a shower of rain and take shelter in a doorway.
The door is opened by a maid (Pongo can only assume his uncle has rung the bell), and Fred, finding the owners are away, gains access to the house by posing as someone come to clip the parrot's claws, with Pongo introduced as his assistant Mr Walkinshaw. The maid leaves on an errand, and Fred makes himself comfortable in front of the gas fire.
The doorbell rings, and Fred answers it to a pink-faced man. The man asks if he is Mr Roddis, owner of the house, and Fred says he is, introducing Pongo as his son Douglas. The man, it emerges, is one Wilberforce Robinson, an eel-jellier, who is in love with Roddis's wife's estranged sister Connie Parker's daughter Julia, but is disapproved of by the family as being beneath them socially, and has come to see Mr Roddis for help. When Julia, a very pretty girl in Pongo's estimation, arrives with her parents, Uncle Fred suggests Robinson hide behind the sofa to avoid trouble.
The Parkers enter, and Fred introduces Pongo as a stone-deaf parrot clipper. They tell the story of the eel-jellier wooing their daughter, and Julia insists she loves him, on which the man leaps from behind the couch and kisses her. Uncle Fred rubbishes the Parkers' insistence that their family is superior to Robinson's, by claiming that various cousins and uncles made their money in immoral and even criminal ways. Though Mrs Parker denies all, Robinson sees it as vindication of his own family background, and claims all he needs is a hundred pounds to buy a share in a business. Uncle Fred provides the money at once, and Robinson and Julia leave delighted, the pretty girl peppering Fred with kisses as she leaves.
Fred and Pongo leave the Parkers drinking a reviving cup of tea after their bizarre ordeal, and in the street meet Mr Roddis, the owner of the house. Fred introduces himself as Mr J. G. Bulstrode, a neighbour on the street, and Pongo as Percy Frensham, a dealer in lard and imported butter. He tells Roddis he has seen some people breaking into his house, points through the window to the tea-drinking couple, advises Roddis to call the police, and he and a shaken Pongo head back to town.
Thus is Pongo's demeanour, on hearing he has to face another visit from his uncle, explained.
The BBC also adapted the story for television as part of their Comedy Playhouse. Written and produced by Michael Mills, it starred Wilfrid Hyde-White as Uncle Fred and Jonathan Cecil as Pongo. The 25-minute show was first broadcast on June 16, 1967.