The following notes attempt to explain cultural, historical, and literary allusions in Wodehouse’s text, to identify his sources, and to cross-reference similar references in the rest of the canon. These notes, a work in progress, were compiled by Neil Midkiff with contributions from Ole van Luyn [OvL] as noted.

Something Fishy was published in the UK on January 18, 1957 by Herbert Jenkins Ltd., and in the US as The Butler Did It by Simon & Schuster on January 28, 1957. Condensations of the novel had been serialized in US Collier’s and UK John Bull magazines in 1956; see Neil Midkiff’s novel pages for details.

Page numbers in the notes below refer to the UK first edition, published by Herbert Jenkins Ltd.


Chapter 1

pre-October days of the year 1929 (p. 7)

The Wall Street crash of 1929 began on October 24 (“Black Thursday”) and continued until October 29 (“Black Tuesday”), when share prices on the New York Stock Exchange as measured by the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 25 percent over four trading days.


the stuff (p. 7)

Slang for money; cited in the OED as early as 1775 in Sheridan’s play The Rivals. Used by Wodehouse as early as 1915; see “Concealed Art”.
[Not in magazine serials.]


Keggs (p. 7)

Augustus Keggs is one of several butlers with the occupationally-appropriate surname of Keggs in the Wodehouse canon. Earlier butlers named Keggs appear in “An Official Muddle” (1903); “The Gem Collector” (1909); “The Good Angel” (“The Matrimonial Sweepstakes”) and “Love Me, Love My Dog” (1910), possibly the same butler as in A Damsel in Distress (1919); and in The White Hope (1914)/Their Mutual Child (1919)/The Coming of Bill (1920). Augustus Keggs returns in The Ice in the Bedroom (1961).


Meadowhampton, Long Island (p. 7)

Fictitious, but intended to remind readers of several villages and hamlets on the South Fork of Long Island, at the east end of the island. “The Hamptons” include such communities as Southampton (including the hamlet of Remsenburg, where Wodehouse lived from 1952 until his death in 1975), Westhampton, East Hampton, Bridgehampton, and non-Hampton names such as Quogue, Speonk, Wainscott, and Sag Harbor.
[Not mentioned until a later point in magazine serials, corresponding to book chapter 2.]


Mephistopheles (p. 8)

Wodehouse introduces this personification of the devil in one of his earliest humorous essays, “Work” (1900). Jimmy Pitt rebukes Spike’s temptation by calling him “a regular Mephistopheles” in The Intrusion of Jimmy/A Gentleman of Leisure (1910). Most famously, Jeeves advises Gussie Fink-Nottle to costume himself as Mephistopheles for a fancy-dress ball in Right Ho, Jeeves (1934).
[Not mentioned here in magazine serials.]


[Mortimer Bayliss] …considered his fellow diners clods and Philistines (p. 8)

Fr. Rob Bovendeaard’s note in Biblia Wodehousiana remarks that “The Philistines were among the most bitter enemies of Israel in the Old Testament. Figuratively speaking, a philistine is an uncultured, prosaic person.”


“Oh God, oh Montreal.” (p. 8)

A repeated refrain from Samuel Butler’s 1878 poem “A Psalm of Montreal” – which is not a psalm either, but a humorous critique of a museum in that city that refused to put on show any copies of Greek statues without clothes on. [OvL]
[Not mentioned in magazine serials.]


“That was Tosti, my poor oaf.” (p. 8)

Paolo Tosti (1846–1916), Italian composer and music teacher, active in Britain 1885–1913. His 1880 song “Good-bye” (lyrics by George Whyte-Melville) was among his most popular compositions. A performance by Deanna Durbin is on YouTube.
[Omitted in US magazine serial.]


The Wrong Box (p. 9)

Stevenson’s novel (co-authored with Lloyd Osbourne) is online at gutenberg.org.
[Not mentioned in magazine serials.]


“I don’t suppose you read anything except the Wall Street Journal and Captain Billy’s Whizz Bang.” (p. 9)

Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang (the additional z is Wodehouse’s) was a popular American humour magazine in the 1920s. It was created in 1919 by Wilford Hamilton Fawcett, who had been a captain in the U.S. Army during World War I. According to Fawcett he had started his magazine to give the doughboys – as World War I servicemen were popularly called – something to laugh about. [OvL]

A representative issue is online at archive.org.
[Not mentioned in magazine serials.]


a thousand dollars … fifty thousand (p. 9)

Multiply 1929 dollar amounts by about 15 to calculate the equivalent buying power in 2020 dollars, according to US government consumer price index data. Thus each participant’s stake would have a value of about $750,000 today.


“apparently it did not penetrate the concrete” (p. 9)

See Very Good, Jeeves.
[Omitted in US magazine serial.]


high blood pressure (p. 9)

The first mention of this ailment so far found in Wodehouse is in “The Fiery Wooing of Mordred” (1934, collected in Young Men in Spats, 1936). After then the next reference is in Spring Fever (1948), and mentions become more frequent through Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen (1974). The topic has not been found so far in the biographies and collected letters, but even if Wodehouse himself did not suffer from it, it naturally would come to mind more often as the writer and his friends became older.
[Not mentioned in magazine serials.]


waiting for dead men’s shoes (p. 9)

Proverbially, looking ahead to one’s expectations of inheriting wealth or property. The Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs has early forms of this back to 1530, including a c. 1549 citation “Who waitth for dead men shoen shal go long barfote.”
[Not mentioned in magazine serials.]


“Compound interest” (p. 10)

Wodehouse mentions the advantages of compound interest as early as 1923, in “Ukridge Sees Her Through.”
[Not mentioned as such in magazine serials.]


“ ‘It is too large, a bubble blown so big and tenuous that the first shock will disrupt it in suds.’ ” (p. 10–11)

A quote from James Branch Cabell, The Cream of the Jest: A Comedy of Evasions (1917).
[Not mentioned in magazine serials.]


“Shoot, if you must, this old grey head, but these things will come to pass.” (p. 11)

The first portion of the quotation is from John Greenleaf Whittier’s 1863 poem “Barbara Frietche”; the poem continues “but spare your country’s flag.” [NM]

“It came to pass” and “it shall come to pass” may be seen as typically biblical turns of phrase, but they have little or no meaning and are considered redundant in more recent translations such as NRSV. One example out of many: Romans 9:26 in the KJV / “And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God.” [OvL]
[Both parts omitted in magazine serials.]


Chapter 2

Valley Fields (p. 13)

The television antennae are mentioned here for the only time so far found in Wodehouse’s fiction, but much of the description of the suburb is familiar to long-time readers. See the notes to Sam the Sudden for its real-life model, West Dulwich, and for other mentions of Valley Fields and its desirable residences in the novels and stories.
[Not mentioned in magazine serials.]


Major Flood-Smith (p. 13)

In one of Wodehouse’s more puzzling references to earlier stories, much of this is lifted from a similar passage in chapter 5 of Big Money (1931), but with significant alterations. The Gas Light and Water Company of the earlier book is replaced in the UK edition Something Fishy with the Rates and Taxes Department, suggesting perhaps that the utilities have been municipalized. (In the US edition The Butler Did It “Gas, Light and Water Company” is retained.) Flood-Smith’s earlier letter alluded to Mulberry Grove as a fragrant backwater, rather than the whole of Valley Fields as a fragrant oasis. The earlier letter was given to his parlour-maid instead of his cook, but the outcome was the same. In the next paragraph, the central point of London is cited as Hyde Park Corner in Big Money instead of Piccadilly Circus as in the present book, but the distances of seven and five miles (if a crow) are the same. One wonders why these changes in otherwise stock descriptions came about; could Wodehouse have been quoting himself from imperfect memory? Surely he would have had copies of his own earlier books at hand.
[Not mentioned in magazine serials.]


more garden-rollers borrowed (p. 13)

This image of ideal suburbia is used by Wodehouse as early as 1907, in the spoof newspaper serial “For Love or Honour” (ch. 18, July 27, 1907). It recurs in Sam the Sudden (1925) and in Big Money (1931), chapter 4, part VI. A more complete echo of this sentence appears in chapter 1, part 3, of The Purloined Paperweight/Company for Henry (1967).
[Not mentioned in magazine serials.]


green fly (p. 13)

Another name for the aphid; see the notes to A Damsel in Distress. In that book, an insecticidal soap made from whale oil was the treatment; by the time of Sam the Sudden (1925) “patent mixtures” had taken over, as in the present book.
[Not mentioned in magazine serials.]


island valley of Avilion (p. 14)

From Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, the passing of King Arthur:

But now farewell. I am going a long way
With these thou seëst—if indeed I go
(For all my mind is clouded with a doubt)—
To the island-valley of Avilion;
Where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow,
Nor ever wind blows loudly; but it lies
Deep-meadow’d, happy, fair with orchard lawns
And bowery hollows crown’d with summer sea,
Where I will heal me of my grievous wound.

Reginald Humby, in “Reginald’s Record Knock” (1909), and his golfing alter ego Archibald Mealing, in the parallel story “Archibald’s Benefit” (1910), each know this passage because of having to write it out one hundred and fifty times at school. One suspects that Wodehouse may have suffered the same imposition as a student.
[Not mentioned in magazine serials.]


Mulberry Grove (p. 14)

The description of Mulberry Grove’s trees is repeated from Big Money, chapter 5, but the mention of Rosendale Road is new here; there is a Rosendale Road in the real-life West Dulwich. Norman Murphy (In Search of Blandings, A Wodehouse Handbook) identifies Mulberry Grove with the real-life Acacia Grove, which is longer and not a cul-de-sac, but which contains a house fitting the description of Peacehaven, the home next door to Castlewood.
[Mentioned but not described in detail in magazine serials.]


Augustus Keggs (p. 14)

In the magazine serializations of this novel, Keggs’s name is given as Harold, and in the following paragraph he looks precisely as he did a quarter of a century earlier; there is no mention of his having become stouter.


The date on the paper was June 20, 1955 (p. 14)

Exact dates are extremely unusual in the Wodehouse canon of fiction; the mention of September the tenth, 1929, in the opening paragraph of chapter 1 and the newspaper date here are the only ones I can recall at present. Rather oddly, both magazine serials read June 18, 1956 here, and in each the next paragraph begins “The twenty-six years and nine months…” Both dates were Mondays.


resembled a Roman emperor (p. 14)

A few others of Wodehouse’s butlers are also so described:

“When I was at Oxford I used to go and stay with a friend of mine who had a butler that looked like a Roman emperor in swallowtails.”

Ashe Marson to Joan Valentine, in Something New/Something Fresh (1915)

The door was now open, and I perceived, illuminated by a candle, the Roman-emperor features of Bowles, my landlord.

Corky Corcoran, narrating “Ukridge and the Home from Home” (1931)

a stout man who looked like a Roman emperor … Horace Appleby

Do Butlers Burgle Banks?, ch. 2.3 (1968)

Other characters with this resemblance include Elmer Ford in The Little Nugget (1913); Joe Danby in “Extricating Young Gussie” (1915); Mr. Donaldson in “The Custody of the Pumpkin” (1924) and in Full Moon (1947); Alexander Slingsby in “Jeeves and the Spot of Art” (1929); and Smedley Cork in The Old Reliable (1951).
[Not mentioned in magazine serials.]


like a courtly hippopotamus (p. 15)

Other characters resemble hippos in Wodehouse:

A paternal fondness for the girl, dating from the days when he had stooped to enacting—and very convincingly, too, for his was a figure that lent itself to the impersonation—the rôle of a hippopotamus for her childish amusement, checked the words he would have uttered.

Beach, in “Pig-hoo-o-o-o-ey!” (1927)

Except for the bulge under the bedclothes which covered his enormous frame, very little of Stanwood Cobbold was visible, and that little scarcely worth a second look, for Nature, doubtless with the best motives, had given him, together with a heart of gold, a face like that of an amiable hippopotamus.

Spring Fever, book 1, ch. 2 (1948)

“A Mrs. Delancy I met on the boat, coming over. She called me a hippopotamus.”

Horace Prosser in “The Fat of the Land” (1958)

“I know Ivor Llewellyn. I interviewed him once.”
“What’s he like?”
“A hippopotamus.”

Biff Christopher and Gwendoline Gibbs, in Frozen Assets/Biffen’s Millions (1964)

“She looks like a hippopotamus.”

Blair Eggleston, speaking of Trixie Waterbury in “Jeeves and the Greasy Bird” in Plum Pie (1966)

Men of Beach’s build do not leap from seats. He did, however, rise slowly like a hippopotamus emerging from a river bank, his emotions somewhat similar to those of a beleaguered garrison when the United States Marines arrive.

A Pelican at Blandings (1969)

“I wouldn’t care to take on a human hippopotamus like him in physical combat…”

Chippendale, speaking of Constable Simms in The Girl in Blue, ch. 12.3 (1970)


ice tinkling in a glass of Rockcup (p. 15)

The US book and magazine serial have “ice tinkling in a highball glass” here; the UK magazine has “ice tinkling in a cocktail glass.” I have so far not identified Rockcup.


big shot (p. 15)

US slang dating from the late 1920s for an important person, the head of an organization, someone in charge. Originally mostly used in criminal contexts, but later in general usage. First used by Wodehouse in capital letters to describe Sir Gregory Parsloe-Parsloe in Heavy Weather, ch. 3 (1933); last known usage in ch. 5 of Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen (1974).


Labour Day (p. 16)

Labor Day in US book, of course; an official US holiday from 1894, celebrated on the first Monday in September, and the unofficial close of the summer season in many communities.
[Not mentioned in magazine serials.]


swelled like a gasometer (p. 17)

A building-sized container for storing fuel gas and buffering its pressure before its distribution to individual customers via gas mains; typically cylindrical, with a rising and falling upper section to accommodate changes in volume of gas at constant supply pressure.
[Not mentioned in magazine serials.]


“These are the times that try men’s souls.” (p. 18)

“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, no. 1 (1776)


James Barr Brewster, only son of the late John Waldo Brewster (p. 19)

For unknown reasons, both magazine serials read “James Waldo Brewster, only son of the late James Barr Brewster” here. There is also a J. B. Brewster mentioned in Right Ho, Jeeves (1934) as the winner of an academic award at Cambridge University, but the connection is uncertain.


Deep was calling to deep, butler to butler. (p. 19)

See Biblia Wodehousiana.


Chapter 3


daily dozen (p. 21)

See Laughing Gas.
[Not mentioned in UK serial.]


waiting for the ravens to feed him (p. 21)

In other words, taking no initiative to get his own breakfast. For the allusion to the prophet Elijah, see Biblia Wodehousiana and follow the link there to another such reference and its explanation.


as though nature had originally intended to make two viscounts (p. 21)

See Summer Lightning.
[Not mentioned in magazine serials.]


In shape he resembled a pear (p. 21)

Lord Uffenham’s physical characteristics were modeled on Max Enke, a fellow-internee during World War II. See this chess site for a photo and description of Enke. See also Money in the Bank for notes on his first appearance in Wodehouse’s fiction as Lord Uffenham.


boots of the outsize or violin-case type (p. 21)

See Laughing Gas.
[Violin cases not mentioned in magazine serials.]


the White Knight … feed oneself on batter (p. 21)

See Through the Looking Glass at Google Books. Lord Uffenham’s niece Anne Benedick compares him to the White Knight in ch. 6 of Money in the Bank (1942).
[Not mentioned in magazine serials.]


to get into communication with him only on the ouija board (p. 22)

In other words, using a device (see Thank You, Jeeves) used by spiritualists to get in touch with the next world.
[Not mentioned in magazine serials.]


“You don’t get summerhouses and bird baths for nothing.” (p. 23)

Unless, of course, you are a professional scrounger like Charles Percy Cuthbertson, the Old Stepper in “Ukridge and the Old Stepper” (1928), who managed to scrounge a summerhouse and a sundial from an adjoining estate, and for whom a bird bath would be a piece of cake.
[Not mentioned in magazine serials.]


twister (p. 23)

Originally applied to one who prevaricates or takes different sides in turn; the slang usage for a crook or con man is cited in the OED from 1863 onward. Wodehouse’s use of it in “Jeeves and the Greasy Bird” (cited from Plum Pie, 1966) is in the OED, but they missed this earlier appearance.
[Not mentioned in magazine serials.]


chiselling the aborigines (p. 23)

In magazine serials, the somewhat milder “rooking the natives” appears here. In each case, “taking advantage of the locals” is the intended meaning.


“His sister married a boxer, he tells me. Feller of the name of Billson.” (p. 24)

We meet these characters in “The Début of Battling Billson” (1923) and two sequels, though in the early stories Flossie’s surname is uncertain. It turns out that barmaids seem often to have used “stage names” on the job; Wodehouse gives us the tip in Pigs Have Wings (1952) that Maudie Montrose was the nom de guerre of Maudie Beach Stubbs at the Criterion bar. This probably accounts for the multiple surnames of Battling Billson’s Flossie, who worked as Burns at the Crown in Kennington and as Dalrymple at the Blue Anchor in Knightsbridge, and who turns out to have been born Flossie (probably Florence) Keggs.


ten stone four (p. 24)

In Britain, a stone equals fourteen pounds, so this is 144 lb. avoirdupois.


bobs (p. 24)

Slang for shillings. The shilling was a silver coin worth twelve pence or one-twentieth of a pound. The Bank of England inflation calculator gives a factor of about 26 from 1955 to 2019 for the cost of goods and services, so each shilling coin then would have the buying power of about £1.30 or US$1.65 today.


‘I was not referring to him.’ (p. 24)

The US book precedes these words with ‘His name was William Harrison Dempsey.’ See the Wikipedia article for more on the 20th-century heavyweight, including that his elder brother Bernie had previously fought under the name Jack in tribute to the Nonpareil. Somewhat oddly, the Nonpareil was born John Edward Kelly, so the brothers William and Bernie had a better right to the surname at least.

According to Wikipedia again, the Nonpareil was a middleweight, holding the World Middleweight Championship from 1884 to 1891. In that era, the middleweight class included boxers over 135 and up to 160 pounds. Only in 1914 was that weight class divided so that boxers up to 147 pounds were classed as welterweights. Since the Nonpareil died in 1895, he can only be called a welterweight in retrospect, not in any sense contemporary to his life.


“up to something fishy” (p. 25)

Wodehouse often used a phrase from within a work as the title of a story, and this is the locus for that in the present work, at least for the magazine serials and UK book title. Peter Schwed, his American editor at Simon & Schuster, was probably responsible for the US book title. The slang sense of “fishy” as suspect or unreliable is cited in the OED from 1840 onward, even being used in Disraeli’s 1844 novel Coningsby.


“that ruddy statue” (p. 25)

Here ruddy doesn’t have its literal meaning of red in color, but is a euphemistic substitute for the taboo expletive bloody.


herring-gutted young son of a what-not (p. 25)

Green’s Dictionary of Slang gives two meanings for herring-gutted, each plausible: either having a very slender body like a herring; or cowardly, gutless, spineless. Here “what-not” is a euphemism, standing in for a stronger term of insult; this and other meanings for the term are considered in the notes for A Damsel in Distress.
[Not mentioned in magazine serials.]


marcelled his hair (p. 25)

See The Code of the Woosters.
[Not mentioned in magazine serials.]


that defect, so common in bull-dogs, of liking everyone (p. 25)

Together with George’s interest in cake, mentioned in chapter 19, it seems likely that Wodehouse is remembering his own bulldog Sammy; see Very Good, Jeeves.
[Not mentioned here in magazine serials.]


“It bucks you up.” (p. 27)

See Ukridge.
[Not mentioned in magazine serials.]


‘So the subordinate professional on trial gets wages in advance not without demur’ (p. 27)

This crossword clue is too deep for me. It was omitted in the magazine serials.


Chapter 4


It was an hour and a quarter’s drive from London to Shipley Hall (p. 30)

We learn later (ch. 9) that Shipley is near Tonbridge, and even on today’s roads Google Maps shows a driving time of one hour and twelve minutes from Mayfair to Tonbridge, a road distance of 44.1 miles. Roscoe’s forty-six minutes would certainly have exceeded the speed limits of the 1950s.


Several of the young gentlemen were eliminated in the recent global hostilities (p. 34)

Another of the counterexamples to some commentators who claim that Wodehouse’s fiction never mentions war.


at nine-thirty … gazing up at the stars (p. 60)

Wodehouse had not been in England during the summer since 1939, so he may have forgotten that London is far enough north that in late June sunset is about 9:21 pm, so at 9:30 the sky will still be in bright twilight and few if any stars will be visible. (In summers during the 1950s, as currently, the UK was on British Summer Time, one hour ahead of GMT, essentially the same pattern as Daylight Savings Time in the USA.) When this novel was written, Wodehouse was living in Remsenburg, Long Island, New York, and late-June sunsets were at about 8:26 pm, with civil twilight over by 9 pm.


‘Naked without a penny has the actor become’ (p. 72)

I think I’ve got this one. The abbreviation for penny was d., so “Nake” remains, and that is an anagram of the actor Kean.

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material published prior to 1926 is in USA public domain, used here with permission of the Estate.
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