Roderick Spode, as played by John Turner
|First appearance||The Code of the Woosters (1938)|
|Last appearance||Much Obliged, Jeeves (1971)|
|Created by||P. G. Wodehouse|
|Portrayed by||John Turner|
|Occupation||Fascist politician and designer of ladies' lingerie|
|Title||The 7th Earl of Sidcup|
|Relatives||The 6th Earl of Sidcup (uncle)|
Roderick Spode, 7th Earl of Sidcup, often known as Spode or Lord Sidcup, is a recurring fictional character from the Jeeves novels of British comic writer P. G. Wodehouse, being an "amateur dictator" and the leader of a fictional fascist group in London called The Black Shorts. In the 1990s television series, Jeeves and Wooster, he is portrayed by John Turner and depicted as having a rather Hitleresque appearance.
Spode is a large and intimidating figure, appearing "as if Nature had intended to make a gorilla, and had changed its mind at the last moment". He is constantly in love with Madeline Bassett, and though he intended to remain a bachelor during his career as a dictator, he nevertheless attempted to protect her from men "playing fast and loose"; to this end, he threatened on several occasions to beat Bertie Wooster and Gussie Fink-Nottle to a jelly. He marches his followers around London and the countryside, preaching loudly to the public on the dissoluteness of modern society until a heckler hits him in the eye with a potato (reinterpreted in the TV series as turnips thrown by Barmy and Tuppy).
The Black Shorts
Spode is modelled after Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists, who were nicknamed the blackshirts. Spode was at first an 'amateur dictator' who led a farcical group of fascists called the Saviours of Britain, better known as the Black Shorts. Spode adopted black shorts as a uniform because, according to Gussie Fink-Nottle in The Code of the Woosters, "by the time Spode formed his association, there were no shirts left" – alluding to various fascist or right-radical groups: Mussolini's Blackshirts, Hitler's brownshirts, the Irish Blueshirts and Greenshirts, the South African Greyshirts, Mexico's Gold shirts, and the American Silver Shirts. Bertie Wooster believes that wearing black shorts is an extreme social and sartorial faux pas (shorts being inappropriate for a grown man outside a sporting context) and uses it to make fun of Spode:
The trouble with you, Spode, is that just because you have succeeded in inducing a handful of half-wits to disfigure the London scene by going about in black shorts, you think you're someone. You hear them shouting "Heil, Spode!" and you imagine it is the Voice of the People. That is where you make your bloomer. What the Voice of the People is saying is: "Look at that frightful ass Spode swanking about in footer bags! Did you ever in your puff see such a perfect perisher?"—Bertie Wooster in The Code of the Woosters (1938)
In the television series Jeeves and Wooster, the Black Shorts are portrayed as a tiny group of around a dozen men and teenage boys. They comprise the small, but enthusiastic, audience to whom Spode makes loud, dramatic speeches in which he announces bizarre statements of policy, such as giving each citizen at birth a British–made bicycle and umbrella, widening the rails of the entire British railway network, so sheep may stand sideways on trains, the banning of the import of foreign root-vegetables and the compulsory, scientific measurement of all male knees.
Before Spode inherited the title of Earl of Sidcup on the death of his uncle, he made a living as the "founder and proprietor of the emporium in Bond Street known as Eulalie Soeurs", a famed designer of ladies' lingerie.
Out of embarrassment, Spode had long attempted to keep his ownership of the business a secret, though Jeeves discovered the fact in the Junior Ganymede Club's official Book, where one of Spode's former valets had inscribed it.
In The Code of the Woosters, this discovery allowed Bertie to threaten Spode with public embarrassment and prevent the threatened "jellying process." As Bertie says, "You can't be a successful Dictator and design women's underclothing. One or the other. Not both." Indeed, whenever Spode sees Bertie after the point where Bertie mentions the name "Eulalie," Spode instantly becomes meek and acquiescing.
Bertie plans to use the same stratagem in Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit to prevent Spode – who is an expert on jewellery – from revealing that Aunt Dahlia's pearl necklace is in fact a fake (she pawned the real one to raise money for her magazine, Milady's Boudoir). Before he attempts the blackmail, however, Spode dashes his hopes by telling Bertie that he has sold Eulalie Soeurs. It is left up to Aunt Dahlia to save the day by actually coshing Spode herself.
After elevating his Spode character to the peerage, Wodehouse often used Bertie’s failure to remember Spode’s new status, and subsequent incredulity when reminded of it, to great comic effect. A notable comic occasion is when Bertie, having carelessly knocked a vase of flowers onto Madeline Bassett (whose shriek causes Spode to intervene), addresses Spode as "Lord Spodecup".
Spode is featured in:
- The Code of the Woosters (1938), in which the Eulalie Soeurs incident occurs
- Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit (1954), as Lord Sidcup
- Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves (1963), again as Lord Sidcup; he gets engaged to Madeline Bassett
- Much Obliged, Jeeves (1971)
- Primary sources consulted
- Wodehouse, P. G. (1975) . The Code of the Woosters. New York: Vintage Books. pp. 221–222. ISBN 0-394-72028-8.
- Wodehouse, P. G. (1999) . Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit. London: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-028120-7.
- Secondary sources consulted
- Usborne, Richard (2003) . Plum Sauce: A P. G. Wodehouse Companion. Woodstock, New York: The Overlook Press. pp. 137–207. ISBN 1-58567-441-9.