Frederick Altamont Cornwallis Twistleton, 5th Earl of Ickenham, commonly known as Uncle Fred, is a fictional character who appears in short stories and novels written by P. G. Wodehouse between 1935 and 1961. An energetic and mischievous old chap, his talent for trouble is the bane of his nephew Pongo Twistleton's life.
The Uncle Fred stories comprise one short and four novels, two of which are set at Blandings Castle:
- "Uncle Fred Flits By" (1935) - included in the collection Young Men in Spats, (1936)
- Uncle Fred in the Springtime (1939) - a Blandings story
- Uncle Dynamite (1948)
- Cocktail Time (1958)
- Service with a Smile (1961) - a Blandings story
Background and character
Uncle Fred is a tall, slim, distinguished-looking man, with a jaunty moustache, and an "alert and enterprising eye". As a child he gambolled at Mitching Hill, his Uncle Willoughby's estate just outside London, which later became the suburb of Valley Fields; it was there that he shot the gardener in the trousers seat with his bow and arrow, and threw up after his first cigar. He was a younger son, and therefore not expected to inherit his present title; he spent much time in America, working variously as a cowboy, a soda jerk, a newspaper reporter and a prospector in the Mojave Desert, before a number of deaths in the family left him heir to the Earldom. While in America, he was friends with James Schoonmaker, and his daughter Myra.
In later youth, he became a member of the riotous Pelican Club, and a good friend of Galahad Threepwood, in whose stead he is occasionally called to Blandings, to help Gally's brother Lord Emsworth out of a jam. He was also close to Claude "Mustard" Pott, the prominent bookie, and was favourite uncle to Pott's daughter Polly, who sported on the lawns of Ickenham Hall as a child.
His home is in Hampshire, where he lives quietly with his sponge Joyeuse and his American wife Jane, who at first permits him the occasional day or two in town, but later takes control of the family finances, leaving him only enough for "golf balls, self-respect and tobacco", and insists he stay in the country. This injunction comes as a relief to his nephew Pongo, who considers him a troublemaker and dreads his trips to London.
In "Uncle Fred Flits By", we learn that on the previous visit, in June the year before, he dragged Pongo to the Dog Races, and was arrested within ten minutes of arriving ("I still say a wiser Magistrate would have been content with a mere caution"). On this occasion, he involves Pongo in a complex situation involving someone else's house and parrot.
His main talent is impersonation: by the end of this first outing, we hear of his having impersonated George Robinson, of 14 Nasturtium Road, East Dulwich (on the occasion of the trip to the Dog Races); a veterinarian come to clip the claws of a parrot at The Cedars, Mafeking Road, Mitching Hill; Mr Roddis, the resident of the same address; and Mr. J. B. Bulstrode, a neighbour of the same. He claims that, if given time, he would have impersonated the parrot as well, on broad impressionistic terms.
In Uncle Fred in the Springtime, when we next meet him, he cons slow-minded Lord Bosham of his wallet just for the sake of it, and heads merrily down to Blandings Castle in the guise of Sir Roderick Glossop, with Pongo taking the role of his nephew and secretary, Basil. While there, he wraps up the affairs of Polly and her man, and Pongo's money worries, with a panache only Gally himself could rival; he even avoids his wife finding out he has left home while she was away (tending her sick mother in the South of France), despite the wrath of his niece Valerie.
He has also masqueraded as Major Brabazon-Plank in Uncle Dynamite, the famed explorer, and as his older brother, a mining engineer. (In the argot of the English public school, the miner is Brabazon-Plank Major and the major is Brabazon-Plank Minor.)
His other exploits include shooting an old classmate's hat off with a Brazil nut with the precision of an Amazonian hunter (in Cocktail Time), and happily breaking up an engagement between his nephew Pongo and the ghastly Hermione Bostock (in Service with a Smile). All of them have rendered said nephew in constant fear of his uncle, and permanently convinced him of his elder's lunacy.
The short story "Uncle Fred Flits By" was made into an episode of "Four Star Playhouse" in 1955; with David Niven as Uncle Fred.