“This is London.” Such was the signature opening of American broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow, speaking on the radio from Britain’s beleaguered capital. Air raid sirens could be heard in the background. Bombs were starting to fall.
His broadcasts were followed eagerly by his fellow Americans, back home, (and also by the Canadian listening public).
This week in the war, on 27 November 1940, Ed’s broadcast described a whimsical incident in a pub in Essex. A man in a baggy overcoat had walked in and demanded a dry sherry. He sat and started scrawling strange hieroglyphics into his notebook. When questioned by the locals, he replied in monosyllables, with oddly-accented ‘yahs.’ Everyone was thinking: German spy.
And can you blame them? With German paratroopers dropping on Buckingham Palace disguised as nuns (so the rumour went), the nation was gripped by spy-fever. There was even a German spy, Funf, in Tommy Handley’s comedy show. So it had to be true.
Back to Ed Murrow’s pub in Essex: The local constabulary was contacted and the police soon arrived. The ‘spy’ turned out to be an American newspaper reporter. In 1940, most Brits had never met an American and were unfamiliar with the US style of speech. (That would change by 1944, when a million Americans were camped all over England in readiness for D-Day). As for the hieroglyphics: It was shorthand. (Does anyone remember shorthand?).
This incident and others like it are recounted in the book This Is London by Edward R. Murrow (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1941).
YouTube has an old recording (with modern video cleverly incorporated) of one of Ed’s broadcasts from the Blitz. It’s titled Edward R. Murrow Was Here.
He usually signed off with “Good night, and good luck”—a habit adopted from the Londoners. With the Luftwaffe bombing London every night, people were never sure they’d be alive in the morning.
Ed’s ‘Good night, and good luck’ catchphrase was a bit like Mrs. Mopp’s ‘Ta ta for now.’