Matt Houlbrook: mobile historian; beard growing, head shaving; occasional cycling.
In May 1924 the British Broadcasting Corporation made its first ever live outdoor radio broadcast. The new technology of the Marconi-Sykes Magnetophone allowed engineers to record the song of the nightingales accompanying the cellist Beatrice Harrison as she played in her garden in Surrey.
A million people were reported to have listened to the broadcast. John Reith, Managing Director of the BBC, observed that the nightingale “has swept the country … with a wave of something closely akin to emotionalism, and a glamour of romance has flashed across the prosaic round of many a life.” Punch, perhaps typically, reflected on the jealousies and one-upmanship the nightingale’s newfound celebrity might provoke among other birds. In this cartoon of April 1924 the nightingale is proud and boastful and the owl “not to be outdone.”
Click through the photograph to listen to a wonderful recording of Beatrice Harrison playing the Londonderry Air while the nightingales sing.
Thanks again to Lawrence Napper for providing the image.