…There was magic abroad in the air

At the northern end of London’s Berkeley (pronounced “Bark-ley”) Square there’s a private dining club called Morton’s and on a spring evening in 1986 I borrowed a friend’s membership card (showing a complete disregard for club etiquette) and treated my sweetheart to a light supper.  We’d already been for tea at the nearby Ritz.

Tucked into central Mayfair since the 18th Century and surrounded by stunning Georgian architecture, the wrought iron gates to the square’s green and shady little park are locked at dusk, which serves as a challenge, of course, for those inclined to seek out a particular member of the soft-plumaged Thrush family known to reside there.

Slightly larger than the European Robin, this perching songbird’s whistles and trills are most frequently heard after dark (especially in urban environments) and its resulting Anglo Saxon name, “Nightingale”, literally means “night songstress”.   Although it was long assumed that females of the species did the singing, only unpaired male nightingales actually sing regularly at night, their nocturnal song serving as a way to attract a mate.

None of which I knew at the time when, while a handful of nightingales sang rather urgently, I first professed my love for the woman who…24 years ago today…became my wife.  In retrospect, I truly wonder how I managed to get her to jump that tall iron fence under the light of the moon. Perhaps she was going to great lengths to get away from my clumsy rendition of this popular old song.

It was the summer of 1939, only weeks before the outbreak of war and Englishman, Eric Maschwitz (who also wrote “These Foolish Things”) was on holiday in a small French fishing village when he wrote the words to today’s selection, its title admittedly lifted from a Michael Arlen short story, “When a Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.”  With a melody composed by American, Manning Sherwin, Maschwitz is said to have sang it at a local bar, glass of wine in hand, while Sherwin accompanied him on piano, all to little acclaim.

Published and first recorded in 1940, one of the original (and best known) performances was by Vera Lynn, now 95, who since 2009 has been the oldest living artist to have reached the Number 1 spot on the British Albums Charts, which she did with “We’ll Meet Again”.

Yet more sentiments shared by my bride and me, when we meet again later this evening for a light supper and a toast to a memorable night when “our homeward step was just as light as the dancing feet of Astaire…”

LISTEN TO TODAY’S SELECTION – Monday 27 August

A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square

 When two lovers meet in Mayfair, so the legends tell,

Songbirds sing; winter turns to spring.

Every winding street in Mayfair falls beneath the spell.

I know such enchantment can be, ’cause it happened one evening to me:

 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 turned and smiled at me

A nightingale sang in Berkeley square

The moon that lingered over London town

Poor puzzled moon he wore a frown

How could he know we two were so in love

The whole damned world seemed upside down

The streets of town were paved with stars

It was such a romantic affair

And as we kissed and said goodnight

A nightingale sang in Berkeley square

Our homeward step was just as light

As the dancing feet of Astaire

And like an echo far away

A nightingale sang in Berkeley square

I know ’cause I was there

That night in Berkeley square.

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