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Literature / Ukridge

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Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge is a character created by P. G. Wodehouse. His defining feature is his endless supply of dubious Get Rich Quick Schemes, which he pursues with great energy, optimism, and creativity. He's not above bending the truth a bit, and he's rather free with other people's property, but he'd never think of himself as a con-man — all he's asking is that people show a bit of broad-minded flexibility until he can pay them back.

Ukridge's friends and relatives, on whose strained generosity Ukridge is typically reliant, end up participating in his schemes whether they like it or not. First among them is James "Corky" Corcoran, an old school friend who is more-or-less resigned to being Ukridge's favoured draftee. A struggling author, he narrates (or at least introduces) most of the Ukridge stories, even if Ukridge has most of the dialogue. Other recurring characters include the duo's classmate George Tupper, who has become successful in government service, Ukridge's rich Aunt Julia (an iron-willed authoress of some renown) and the boxer "Battling" Billson.

Ukridge is actually Wodehouse's longest-lasting character — he pre-dates the more famous Jeeves and Wooster and Blandings Castle stories, and continued to make occasional appearances as late as the 1960s. In total, there are twenty stories featuring him — one novel (his first appearance) and nineteen short stories. The latter were originally published in magazines, but have all since been republished in books — the first ten are collected in Ukridge and the others are mixed with non-Ukridge stories elsewhere. Each story is mostly self-contained, although some feature recurring characters and make references to past events. To the extent that they have an internal chronology, it differs from their publication order.

The stories are:

  • Love Among the Chickens (1906; revised edition 1921) — Ukridge tries to farm hens.
  • "Ukridge's Dog College" (1923) — Ukridge tries to train dogs for the entertainment industry.
  • "Ukridge's Accident Syndicate" (1923) — Ukridge tries insurance fraud by proxy.
  • "The Debut of Battling Billson" (1923) — Ukridge tries to manage an inconveniently conscientious boxer.
  • "First Aid for Dora" (1923) — Ukridge tries to make amends for getting his aunt's secretary fired.
  • "The Return of Battling Billson" (1923) — Ukridge tries to get the boxer Billson to return to the ring.
  • "Ukridge Sees Her Through" (1923) — Ukridge tries to raise money via his aunt's literary society.
  • "No Wedding Bells for Him" (1923) — Ukridge tries to disengage from a family he has been sponging off.
  • "The Long Arm of Looney Coote" (1923) — Ukridge tries to help a friend get elected to parliament.
  • "The Exit of Battling Billson" (1923) — Ukridge tries to impersonate the boxer Billson in a fixed fight.
  • "Ukridge Rounds a Nasty Corner" (1924) — Ukridge tries ingratiate himself with his girlfriend's aunt.
  • "Buttercup Day" (1925) — Ukridge tries to collect for a fake charity.
  • "A Bit of Luck for Mabel" (1925) — Ukridge tries to get hold of a top hat to impress a girl.
  • "The Level Business Head" (1926) — Ukridge tries to prevent his aunt learning that he pawned her broach.
  • "Ukridge and the Old Stepper" (1928) — Ukridge tries to impress a girl with money from an unreliable relative.
  • "Ukridge and the Home from Home" (1931) — Ukridge tries to turn his absent aunt's house into a hotel.
  • "The Come-back of Battling Billson" (1935) — Ukridge tries to get the boxer Billson back into shape.
  • "Success Story" (1947) — Ukridge tries to be master of ceremonies at a boxing night.
  • "A Tithe for Charity" (1955) — Ukridge tries to get a job as a private tutor.
  • "Ukridge Starts a Bank Account" (1966) — Ukridge tries to sell inappropriately-sourced antiques.


  • Actually, That's My Assistant: When Corky is brought into the presence of Ukridge's formidable Aunt Julia for the first time (under false pretenses), there are two women present: a tall hawked-nosed aristocrat and a small kitten-like woman. Julia turns out to be the second, casually telling her other visitor to keep quiet while she verbally rips poor Corky to shreds.
  • Alliterative Name: Battling Billson. Ukridge and Corky have a intense discussion about an appropriate moniker for the fighter when launching his career.
  • Author Avatar: Corky, whose life incorporates a few details of Wodehouse's own early career (like living in a boarding-house run by a retired butler).
  • Big Eater: Billson is a trencherman of the first order; as discussed below, this actually causes problems with his career at one point.
  • Boarding School: Ukridge, Corky, and a number of other characters attended a school called Wrykin. (Wrykin also featured in Wodehouse's early school stories, including those featuring Psmith — as such, it's one of the few links between Ukridge and the rest of the Wodehouse canon.) We don't see Ukridge at school, but we hear how he got expelled from it, and "The Long Arm of Looney Coote" starts with Ukridge attending a reunion dinner for former students.
  • Brick Joke: The title of "A Bit of Luck For Mabel" ends up being one of these; after Ukridge finishes telling Corky how his romance with the eponymous lass ended up on the rocks, he adds that the story Corky writes about it should be titled "Fate" or "Destiny" or somesuch. Corky responds that he'll think of a title.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: "Brilliant" might be overselling it, but Ukridge is certainly clever and charismatic, and would likely be able to obtain a decent income if he just ditched the Get Rich Quick Schemes.
  • The Charmer: Ukridge is exceedingly charming, even (especially?) when he's sponging off his friends, even though they should really know better.
  • Con Man: Ukridge's detractors would call him a con-man, but he doesn't really intend to be — he always plans to settle his debts eventually, once his latest enterprise pays off. When it inevitably doesn't pay off, he's genuinely astounded.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Ukridge's first appearance, Love Among the Chickens, differs somewhat from the other Ukridge stories. One difference is the length — it's the only novel featuring Ukridge. Another is the narrator, Jeremy Garnet — unlike Corky in later stories, he has his own plotline (including love interest) in addition to Ukridge's antics. Another difference is that Ukridge has a wife. (Although one of the short stories does later show how they met and got engaged.)
  • Easy Amnesia: Invoked, implicitly. In "Ukridge's Accident Syndicate", Ukridge comes up with an insurance fraud injury scheme, funded by the titular Syndicate. The insured friend stalls and refuses to play along, but gets hit by a truck. When he wakes up, he says he has no recollection of the Syndicate, but, conveniently, he does remember getting the insurance. And then he says the scheme would be criminal conspiracy, and asks if Ukridge has any actual written proof of the Syndicate's agreement (which would also prove their own guilt). Ukridge and the narrator leave in silence.
  • Election Day Episode: The story "The Long Arm of Looney Coote" has Ukridge trying to help the parliamentary election campaign of an old school friend. He does a reasonable job of it until he gets arrested — on stage, at a crucial campaign event — for stealing a car. (Ukridge had actually "borrowed" the car from another friend, the titular Coote, but in typical fashion hadn't left Coote an explanation.) Ukridge's arrest causes the meeting to descend into a riot, and Ukridge leaves town without waiting for the election result.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Ukridge generally avoids targeting women with his schemes, and even tries to genuinely help a damsel in distress on a couple of occasions.
  • Evil Debt Collector: Ukridge is often obliged to dodge people who are after him for debts, which he sees as irrational, narrow-minded persecution. A more impartial observer would say that the people chasing Ukridge are just reasonable tradesmen and shopkeepers who understandably resent Ukridge's tendency to "delay" paying his bills until his latest Get-Rich-Quick Scheme pays off (which it seldom does).
  • Extreme Doormat: Ukridge's faithful chronicler Corky lets himself be talked into just about anything, although at least as a writer he is able make a bit of money selling the resulting narratives.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: Ukridge's schemes almost invariably blow up in his face. Even when they don't, he usually wastes the money on his next scheme.
  • Faked Kidnapping: The story "Ukridge Rounds a Nasty Corner" begins with Ukridge stashing a parrot in Corky's apartment without explanation. Corky later learns that it was pinched by Ukridge so that, after a long and laborious "search", he can earn the gratitude of its owner by "finding" it.
  • First-Person Peripheral Narrator: Corky is the narrator, but rarely plays a major part in the stories. Downplayed in some of the later stories where Corky only narrates the beginning and end, and the bulk of the story is Ukridge telling the story to Corky.
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: A downplayed example — Ukridge is more like the friend who infuriates everyone on a regular basis, but somehow still manages to bounce back. People like Corky and George Tupper do seem to be genuinely fond of him, but that doesn't mean that their backlog of exasperation about him can't boil over from time to time.
    Ukridge: Did you explain to Tuppy?
    Corky: I didn't get a chance. He was talking too hard.
    Ukridge: About me?
    Corky: Yes. He said everything I've always felt about you, only far, far better than I could ever have put it.
  • Gentle Giant: Wilberforce Billson defaults to this. Ukridge sees Billson's potential as a boxer, and tries to make a bit of money by managing him in the ring, but in "The Debut of Battling Billson", Billson lets himself be defeated out of sympathy for his opponent's hard-life story, and in "The Exit of Battling Billson", Billson refuses to fight at all on religious grounds. If finally provoked to the point where he loses his temper, however, it's a different story — in "The Return of Battling Billson", he demolishes his opponent (although this is no comfort to Ukridge, who had wanted him to take a dive that time).
  • Get-Rich-Quick Scheme: Ukridge has a new one (or at least a new angle on an old one) each time he pops up. There's nearly always some vital role he needs one of his friends or relatives to play.
  • Grande Dame: Ukridge's rich Aunt Julia (although as noted above, she doesn't physically look the part.) He's sometimes dependent on her for money and lodgings, but inevitably does something to get kicked out. This doesn't stop Ukridge from trying to leverage her property or reputation in some of his Get Rich Quick Schemes, and the frequent revelation of these schemes undoes whatever steps he might have taken to get back in her good books. Corky (the narrator) feels intimidated by her:
    Whenever I meet Ukridge’s Aunt Julia I have the same curious illusion of having just committed some particularly unsavoury crime and—what is more—of having done it with swollen hands, enlarged feet, and trousers bagging at the knee on a morning when I had omitted to shave.
  • Haughty Help: The narrator (Corky) lives in an apartment building run by Bowles, a former butler to an earl. Bowles is always polite and respectful, but still manages to project an air of dignified superiority leaving Corky in no doubt that he isn't approved of.note  Also featured are some haughty servants of Ukridge's rich aunt Julia, who make it clear that they're only letting rabble like Corky into the house under protest.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: In "Ukridge's Accident Syndicate", the title refers to a (newspaper) insurance fraud scheme that the members of the "Syndicate" chip in on. The insured friend gets hit by a truck, and claims he has no memory of the scheme or the Syndicate members, but he does conveniently remember the insurance itself. He asks them for any written proof of the agreement, which they don't have, and it would also be proof of criminal conspiracy. In other words, he scams the scammers. note 
  • Iconic Outfit: Ukridge's habitual outfit is described as "distinctly individual":
    Over grey flannel trousers, a golf coat, and a brown sweater he wore like a royal robe a bright yellow mackintosh. His collar had broken free from its stud and showed a couple of inches of bare neck. His hair was disordered, and his masterful nose was topped by a pair of steel-rimmed pince-nez cunningly attached to his flapping ears with ginger-beer wire.
  • Insurance Fraud: In "Ukridge's Accident Syndicate", Ukridge and a group of his friends take out multiple insurance policies on one person, who is then supposed to contrive a suitable "accident" and then share the payout. The designated victim gets cold feet, but immediately after declaring his intent not to go through with the plan, he has a real accident — and displays (extremely convenient) symptoms of amnesia, meaning that he has no memory of agreeing to split the insurance money with the syndicate. And any proof would also be proof of criminal conspiracy to commit fraud.
  • Know When to Fold Them: Ukridge may launch all of his scheme with unbridled enthusiasm, but when things start to go cockeyed, he is able walk away with barely a backwards glance.
  • My Nayme Is: Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge's middle name is pronounced "Fanshawe". It's a genuine, if unusual, English name. And yes, it is pronounced like that.
  • Never Lend to a Friend: Ukridge is always leaning on his friends for financial assistance, and they often oblige. If they remind him too frequently about what he owes, he's hurt that an old pal should display such a narrow-minded, grasping attitude, and claims that his latest Get-Rich-Quick Scheme will allow him to repay them tenfold if they just stop being so impatient. Corky is resigned to the fact that he'll never get any money back — while still allowing himself to be talked into dispensing a little more. Other friends still haven't learned.
    Tupper: We ought to do something practical for him. After all, a loan of twenty pounds cannot relieve the situation permanently.
    Corky: I think you're a bit optimistic if you're looking on it as a loan.
  • Never My Fault: Ukridge's schemes usually fail, but he'll never admit that they were lousy ideas in the first place. The circumstances which caused their failure couldn't have been foreseen and were entirely outside his control. If everyone had just been more broad-minded and cooperative, and not hounded him over every little problem, he'd soon have been in a position to repay everyone. It's really their own fault that they're out of pocket, but instead of being grateful for what he tried to do for them, they subject him to relentless persecution. It's a bit hard, as Ukridge would say.
  • Oddball in the Series: "Ukridge and the Old Stepper" has Ukridge being at the receiving end of things for once, dealing with the antics of his sort of-Uncle Percy.
  • Oh, Crap!: In "Ukridge Sees Her Through", Aunt Julia has an understated one of these during a confrontation with Corky, when she learns too late that (for once) he has every right to be there, and is even in a position to help her if she'd been less hostile.
    "It is too much to say her jaw fell, but certainly the agony of this black moment caused her lips to part in a sort of twisted despair."
  • Perpetual Poverty: Ukridge is nearly always short of money, and when he isn't, he's on the verge of doing something which will return him to that state. However, he always manages to get by somehow — typically by sponging off friends.
  • Pint-Sized Powerhouse: Maybe not physically, but Aunt Julia packs a whole lot of personality into a half-sized frame.
  • Playing the Victim Card: Ukridge basically lives by "borrowing" from acquaintances and by dodging his bills, but if anyone ever points out the problems his schemes cause, he claims that they're unjustly persecuting him. People should be grateful for the chance to be involved, but instead they just drag him down with petty complaints and unreasonable expectations. He was trying to do them a bit of good, and this is the thanks he gets?
  • Powder Keg Crowd: The crowd attending Boko Lawlor's election campaign event in "The Long Arm of Looney Coote" is notably volatile. When Ukridge, who has been on Lawlor's campaign staff, gets arrested for automobile theft on stage, a riot breaks out. The arresting policeman was actually trying to provoke a strong reaction (delaying his appearance at the meeting to "give it time to warm up"), but probably wasn't intending it to go that far.
  • Produce Pelting: A well-timed and expertly-hurled tomato gives Ukridge a measure of revenge against the ex-friend mentioned above under Insurance Fraud.
  • Prisons Are Gymnasiums: In "The Come-back of Battling Billson", Billson can't stay in shape for his upcoming bout.. until he gets tossed in prison for two weeks.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: When Julia turns up to confront Ukridge at the end of "Ukridge's Dog College", Corky literally runs for it. (This comes back to bite him in the ass a bit in a later story, as he never actually sees what Julia looks like.)
  • Self-Made Man: Ukridge isn't one, but always insists that he's on the verge of becoming one. He cites this ideal when asked why he's no longer living comfortably with his rich aunt — although actually, she kicked him out.
    Corky: But what about your aunt?
    Ukridge: Oh, I've left her. Life is stern and life is earnest, and if I mean to make a fortune I've got to bustle about and not stay cooped up in a place like Wimbledon.
    Corky: Something in that.
    Ukridge: Besides which, she told me that the very sight of me made her sick and she never wanted to see me again.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: As noted under Iconic Outfit, Ukridge in his default state comes across as something of a mess.. but if he's able to get his hands on a proper suit (usually by pinching one from Corky) he always looks very good.
  • Spontaneous Crowd Formation: From "No Wedding Bells For Him"
    "And at the words, as if they been some magic spell, the street suddenly seemed to wake from slumber. It seethed with human life. Maids popped out of windows, areas disgorged landladies, the very stones seemed to belch forth excited spectators."
  • Turn the Other Cheek: In "The Exit of Battling Billson", Bilson converts to Christianity and decides to apply this philosophy during a fight. As it turns out, he didn't fully understand the meaning of the phrase; after being hit on both cheeks, he thought he had done what was necessary and proceeded to beat his opponent easily.
  • Verbal Tic: Ukridge often addresses people as "laddie" or "old horse" and says "Upon my Sam!" when he's upset.