A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square
Berkeley Square is a large leafy square in Mayfair, an expensive part of London. The Ritz Hotel referred to is also in Mayfair. With its sweet, wistful song the European Robin is a likely source of the legendary Nightingale, as birds, stimulated by the street lights, can often be heard singing in cities during the night.
The song was written in the then small French fishing village of Le Lavandou—now a favourite resort for British holidaymakers and second-home owners—shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War. According to Maschwitz, the title was "stolen" from a story by Michael Arlen. The song had its first performance in the summer of 1939 in a local bar, where the melody was played on piano by Manning Sherwin with the help of the resident saxophonist. Maschwitz sang the words while holding a glass of wine, but nobody seemed impressed. In the spring of 2002, an attempt was made to find the bar where this song was first performed with a view to having a blue plaque set up. With the help of the local tourist office, elderly residents were questioned, but it proved impossible to identify the venue.
The first stanza (a "verse," which is often spoken as an intro) and the additional lyrics (the "chorus") were in the song as written but are rarely sung in recordings (those of Bobby Darin, Mel Torme, Blossom Dearie, Twiggy, Vera Lynn and Rod Stewart being notable exceptions). Twiggy's version was featured in an episode ("Fran's Gotta Have It") of The Nanny.
The song was published in 1940 when it was first performed in the London revue New Faces by Judy Campbell (later the mother of Jane Birkin). In the same year it was also performed by both Ray Noble and then by Vera Lynn. The tune is a recurring theme in the Fritz Lang film Man Hunt (1941).
Recordings and performances
The song has become a standard, being recorded by Frank Sinatra in London in June 1962, Rod Stewart on the 2004 album Stardust: the Great American Songbook 3, Nat King Cole on the 1961 album The Touch of Your Lips, Carmen McRae, Glenn Miller, Perry Como on his 1977 The Best of British album, Stephane Grappelli, Bobby Darin on the 1962 album Oh! Look at Me Now, Harry Connick Jr. on the 1990 album We Are in Love, The Brian Setzer Orchestra on their eponymous 1994 album, and Sonny Rollins on the 2000 album This Is What I Do. A famous version by The Manhattan Transfer won a Grammy in 1981 for its arranger, Gene Puerling. The British group the New Vaudeville Band wrote a highly distinctive version in 1966. The veteran British musician Ian Hunter, former vocalist for Mott the Hoople, regularly performs it in his concerts; and it has appeared on two at least of his live recordings. A performance of the song by British actor Robert Lindsay was used as the theme to the British situation comedy series Nightingales. Faryl Smith released a cover of the song on her debut album Faryl in 2009. The song was also sung in the episode Captain Jack Harkness on Torchwood. Lyrics from the song were also paraphrased in the novel Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. The lyrics are spoken and sung by the actor John Le Mesurier on the album What is Going To Become of Us All?.
On 10 July 2005 there was a national celebration of the 60th anniversary of the ending of World War II when the song was sung live to millions by Petula Clark in central London to an audience of veterans and politicians as part of the programme 'V45 Britain At War: A Nation Remembers'.
- The point about the nightingale singing in Berkeley Square (pronounced 'Bar-klee') is that it did not exist. The song is about the magic of the meeting of two lovers. This can be seen in the lyrics. See following footnote.
- That certain night, the night we met,
There was magic abroad in the air,
There were angels dining at the Ritz
And A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square.
I may be right, I may be wrong,
But I'm perfectly willing to swear
That when you turn'd and smiled at me
A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square.
- "Le chant du Rossignol – ou l’étonnante histoire d’une très célèbre chanson anglaise écrite en 1939 au Lavandou", Figure Libre, Reseau Lalan, Le Lavandou (No 14), September 2002
- Maschwitz, Eric (1957). No Chip on my Shoulder. London: Herbert Jenkins Ltd. pp. 208, p.124.
- Daily Telegraph obituary
- Clarke, Donald (1998). All or nothing at all. London: Pan. p. 323. ISBN 0-330-36772-2.
- allmusic ((( Stardust: The Great American Songbook, Vol. 3 > Review )))
- Nat King Cole Discography at Classic TV Info
- Carmen McRae FULL Discography
- Bobby Darin Discography
- Sonny Rollins - This Is What I Do
- The Official Ian Hunter Website - Album Discography
- "Nightingales" (1990) - Soundtracks at Internet Movie Database
- Faryl Smith's official website
- "Dad's Army Discography - LP Records - What Is To Become Of Us All by John Le Mesurier". Home.btconnect.com. Retrieved 2012-01-07.
- "Petula Clark - A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square". 2005-07-10. Retrieved 2011-07-18.