One of the iconic moments of early BBC radio history was an outside broadcast on May 19, 1924, featuring cellist Beatrice Harrison sitting in her Surrey garden playing a duet with a singing nightingale. Through the crackly airwaves listeners were thrilled to hear a nightingale joining in with her rendition of the Londonderry Air. So iconic a moment was it that it elicited thousands of letters and was repeated annually until 1942. Live radio had arrived.
Illusions, though, are there to be shattered. In a Radio 3 programme to be aired today, April 17th, on Radio 3 called Private Passions, Professor Tim Birkhead, billed as a world expert on birds, reveals that the nightingale was not a real one but none other than a musical hall siffleur, Maude Gould, who went by the stage name of Madame Saberon.
Recording equipment at the time was heavy and cumbersome and a nightingale, even one so entranced by Harrison’s playing, would be too unpredictable for a scheduled live programme and so a back-up plan was hatched to have Gould on stand-by.
Birkhead’s sonic analysis suggests that the sound patterns of the song of the nightingale in the broadcast and those of a “real” nightingale are slightly different, evidence enough to convince him that it was faked. The Beeb have held their hands up and admitted the deception.
If you want to hear the recording, follow the link below: