R: Superman v.2 #149 (October 1999), art by Ron Frenz and Sal Buscema
(Click picture to electri-size)
'I was told to give you this letter, sir.'Ukridge isn't so much a criminal or a swindler, but he is a rogue and a con man, always ready to touch his friends for a fast pound note, ever-ready to entangle them in his newest outlandish get-rich-quick scheme. Although he has the best of intentions, Ukridge isn't above misdirection, white lies, or even a spot of petty theft to fund his endeavors:
I took it and opened the envelope with a sigh. I had recognized the handwriting of Ukridge, and for the hundredth time in our close acquaintance there smote me like a blow the sad suspicion that this man had once more gone and wished upon me some frightful thing.
MY DEAR OLD HORSE,
It's not often I ask you to do anything for me...
I laughed hollowly.
'Gentlemen,' said Ukridge, 'it would seem that the company requires more capital. How about it, old horses? Let's get together in a frank, business-like cards-on-the-table spirit, and see what can be done. I can raise ten bob.'Thus begins an elaborate scheme to defraud insurance companies by funding Teddy Weeks, one of Ukridge's circle who has drawn the short straw, to have a disastrous accident and collecting on several insurance claims to be split among the investors. Ukridge then spends the rest of the story attempting to convince Teddy to willingly break his leg for the good of the conglomerate, to no avail, as Wodehouse informs us, in a rather macabrely gleeful paragraph that I can imagine Gomez Addams cackling at as he reads:
'What!" cried the entire assembled company, amazed. 'How?'
'I'll pawn a banjo.'
'You haven't got a banjo.'
'No, but George Tupper has, and I know where he keeps it.'
All over the inhabited globe, so the well-informed sheet gave one to understand, every kind of accident was happening every day to practically everybody in existence except Teddy Weeks. Farmers in Minnesota were getting mixed up with reaping-machines, peasants in India we being bisected by crocodiles; iron girders from skyscrapers were falling hourly on the heads of citizens in every town from Philadelphia to San Francisco; and the only people who were not down with ptomaine poisoning were those who had walked over cliffs, driven motors into walls, tripped over manholes, or assumed on too slight evidence that the gun was not loaded. In a crippled world, it seemed, Teddy Weeks walked alone, whole and glowing with health. It was one of those grim, ironical, hopeless, grey, despairful situations which the Russian novelists love to write about...When happenstance fails to injure Teddy, Ukridge then resorts to elbowing or shoving or pushing Teddy in harm's way, each attempt resulting in the injury of some other (non-insured) friend. When at last Teddy drunkenly and accidentally steps on a banana peel and breaks two ribs and his arm, Ukridge is delighted: time to collect the money at last. It would be, that is, if Teddy hadn't suffered amnesia from his fall and refuses to parcel out his substantial insurance benefits.
'Does your aunt write novels?'One of Ukridge's rare successes is oversubscribing his aunt's literary dance by selling tickets to an entirely different group and pocketing the proceeds, but for the most part his plans are doomed to failure., and it's off again on another attempt at the easy ready when the next story begins: Ukridge is undaunted and ever-clever, often working harder to gain a few illegal pounds than he would if he actually worked for a living. He's an excellent example of the frustrated confidence rogue in literature: a lovable scoundrel, not quite a crook, but never on the straight-and-narrow: a spiritual brother to Sergeant Bilko, Harold Hill, Johnny Hooker, The Duke and the Dauphin, Lyle Lanley and Jack of Fables. As Stevie Nicks would sing, "Will you ever win?" Nope. Not a chance.
'The world's worst, laddie, the world's worst. She's been steeped to the gills in literature ever since I can remember. They've just made her president of the Pen and Ink Club. As a matter of fact, it was her novels that did me in when I lived with her. She used to send me to bed with the beastly things and ask me questions about them at breakfast. It was a dog's life, and I'm glad it's over. Flesh and blood couldn't stand the strain.'
The leading incidents of easy-money Ukridge's disreputable careerfrom dog-training, fight-management, and bookmaking down to politicsnow presented to the public, and not, as some might prefer, decently hushed up.Below that, the cover declares in bold letters: For copyright reasons this edition is not for sale in the U.S.A. But lucky, lucky you: Ukridge is at last actually available to you here in the States, and in the lovely Overlook hardcover reprint edition, complete with Pekes on the cover. (Cheaper used paperback copies can also be found on Amazon by clicking through to 'other editions' if you're as short on the ready money as Ukridge.) Please take my advice, order one up today, and enjoy your time with Mister Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge: but keep your hand on your wallet and don't lend him a single quid.