Every summer thousands of visitors access Old Hunstanton Beach down Sea Lane between The LeStrange Arms and Wodehouse Road.
And thereby hangs a tale of the friendship between Charles LeStrange and PG Wodehouse; the author often stayed and wrote at Hunstanton Hall in the 1920s.
In addition to Wodehouse’s frequent use of Norfolk place-names for his characters – Lord Hunstanton, Lord Brancaster, Jack Snettisham, J Sheringham Adair – the Hall and its environs inspired locations for several of his comic masterpieces.
From the octagon in the garden the small building where Bertie Wooster and the Cabinet Minister take refuge from an angry swan and his Aunt Agatha’s country seat Woollam Chersey to the moat widened to make a decorative lake in the home of Bingo Little from which Bertie and Jeeves drive thirty miles to the ‘Lakenham’ (Fakenham) point-to-point races, we are in fact reading versions of Hunstanton Hall.
Ditto Bobby Wickham’s pile in Mr Potter Takes a Rest Cure. The unmarried landowner Lord Emsworth, his stately home Blandings and his pig the Empress have even been read as thinly-veiled Shropshire-shifted portraits of Charles LeStrange, whose Jersey cow, Glenny II, won the silver medal at the Norfolk County Show in 1929, and his gracious Hall.
Wodehouse’s host was evidently a generous soul, even when the joke (along with the bed and board) was on him.
In “The Small Bachelor” Lord Hunstanton - “a pie faced fellow with an eye-glass and a toothbrush moustache” who the “nice dutiful” Molly wouldn’t marry “if he was the last man of earth” - makes himself hilariously ineligible for the marital role her mother plans by ferociously eating, drinking and avoiding exertion at every opportunity.
The ability to laugh at ourselves is the difference between Wodehouse’s Paradises and Little England. One of his funniest stories “Buried Treasure” is about the moustache-growing rivalry of two Norfolk landowners. Written in 1937 it opens thus:.
“The situation in Germany had come up for discussion in the bar parlour of the Angler’s Rest, and it was generally agreed that Hitler was standing at a crossroads and would soon be compelled to do something definite….
“He’ll have to let it grow or shave it off…He can’t go on sitting on the fence like this. Either a man has a moustache or he has not…”
Hitler would not have laughed.