A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square

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An illuminated wire sculpture of a nightingale, displayed in London's Berkeley Square as part of Lumiere London 2018, an art festival. The sculpture and the accompanying soundtrack A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square formed an art installation titled 'Was that a dream?' by a French artist Cédric Le Borgne.[1]

"A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" is a romantic British popular song written in 1939 with lyrics by Eric Maschwitz and music by Manning Sherwin.


Berkeley Square is a large leafy square in Mayfair, a part of London. The Ritz Hotel referred to is also in Mayfair.[2]

The nightingale, a migrant songbird, is celebrated in literature and music for the beauty of its song. It favours rural habitats, and is unlikely to be heard in Central London.[3]


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.[4] 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.[5] In the spring of 2002, an attempt was made to find the bar where this song was first performed: it was hoped that a blue plaque could be set up. With the help of the local tourist office, elderly residents were questioned, but it proved impossible to identify the venue.[4]

The verse and the additional lyrics to a second 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).[6] 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[edit]

Early charts hits of the song in the USA were by Glenn Miller, Ray Noble, Guy Lombardo and Sammy Kaye.[7] The Glenn Miller recording (Bluebird 10931) with a Ray Eberle vocal was made in New York City on 11 October 1940. The fluttering clarinet that opens the track and no doubt is meant to suggest the sound of the nightingale began, it seems, with the Miller recording. The opening, using either a clarinet or flute, has been picked up by others including, on this page, the Frank Sinatra recording. The record was first charted on 21 December 1940, peaking at #2.

The song has since become a standard, being recorded by Bing Crosby (recorded 20 December 1940),[8] Frank Sinatra in London in June 1962,[9] Rod Stewart on the 2004 album Stardust: the Great American Songbook 3.[10] Anita O'Day performed it on her 1956 album Anita, re-released in 1962 (V/V6-8483) as This is Anita; the song became part of the jazz singer's repertoire. Nat King Cole sang it on the 1961 album The Touch of Your Lips,[11] Carmen McRae,[12] Perry Como on his 1977 The Best of British album, Stephane Grappelli, Bobby Darin on the 1962 album Oh! Look at Me Now,[13] British comedian Richard Digance in 1979 on both single and LP, 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.[14] A famous version by The Manhattan Transfer won a Grammy in 1981 for its arranger, Gene Puerling. A version was featured in an early Tom Hanks movie titled Everytime We Say Goodbye released in 1986. 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.[15] A performance of the song by British actor Robert Lindsay was used as the theme to the British situation comedy series Nightingales.[16] Faryl Smith released a cover of the song on her debut album Faryl in 2009.[17] The song was also sung in the episode "Captain Jack Harkness" on Torchwood. Lyrics from the song were also paraphrased in the 1990 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?.[18]

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.[19]

On 9 May 2015 Katherine Jenkins sang the song at VE Day 70: A Party to Remember at Horse Guards Parade in London.[20]

In 2015, British Comedian Alexander Armstrong performed it on his first album A Year of Songs.


  1. ^ "Cédric Le Borgne: Was That a Dream?". visitlondon.com.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ "When a nightingale sang just a few miles from Berkeley Square". Pharmaceutical Journal. 20 May 2010. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  4. ^ a b "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
  5. ^ Maschwitz, Eric (1957). No Chip on my Shoulder. London: Herbert Jenkins Ltd. p. 124.
  6. ^ Daily Telegraph obituary
  7. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1986). Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890-1954. Wisconsin, USA: Record Research Inc. p. 558. ISBN 0-89820-083-0.
  8. ^ "A Bing Crosby Discography". BING magazine. International Club Crosby. Retrieved August 19, 2017.
  9. ^ Clarke, Donald (1998). All or nothing at all. London: Pan. p. 323. ISBN 0-330-36772-2.
  10. ^ allmusic ((( Stardust: The Great American Songbook, Vol. 3 > Review )))
  11. ^ Nat King Cole Discography at Classic TV Info.
  12. ^ Carmen McRae FULL Discography[permanent dead link]
  13. ^ Bobby Darin Discography Archived 30 March 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ Sonny Rollins - This Is What I Do Archived 16 October 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ The Official Ian Hunter Website - Album Discography
  16. ^ "Nightingales" (1990) - Soundtracks at Internet Movie Database
  17. ^ Faryl Smith's official website Archived 4 January 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ "Dad's Army Discography - LP Records - What Is To Become Of Us All by John Le Mesurier". Home.btconnect.com. Retrieved 7 January 2012.
  19. ^ "Petula Clark - A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square". 10 July 2005. Retrieved 18 July 2011.
  20. ^ De Peyer, Robin, "VE Day Concert Katherine Jenkins, Pixie Lott, Status Quo Lead Party", The Standard, 9 May 2015. Retrieved 11 May 2015.

External links[edit]