When my ELT song album Mr Monday came out, Longman got their collective ass into gear and did a pretty good job marketing it. Most of this was down to the imagination and energy of John Walsh, marketing manager (or whatever his job was called – John, if you’re reading this, leave me a note to say what your title was).
He called me one evening when I’d just got home after teaching all day at International House.
“You’re free at one o’clock tomorrow, aren’t you?” he said.
“Um… why?” I asked. John knew I was free at one because he had taken me out to lunch a few weeks before. But I taught from 9.30 to 12.30, then again at 3.30. One o’clock was when I usually had lunch in Salvatore’s cafe on the fourth floor of the school in Shaftesbury Avenue.
“I’ve organised an interview for you on the BBC Spanish service,” he said. “I presume you speak Spanish,” he added. “You lived there for a while, didn’t you?”
“I lived there for a year,” I said. “My Spanish is no more than OK.”
“Well, mug up on what you want to say about Mister Monday and meet me in reception at Bush House. Do you know where it is?”
“Have a look in an A-Z.”
Before I tell you what happened, a bit of history…
Bush House is an imposing, rather austere building in Central London. Its main entrance is at the crown of Aldwych, the semi-circular street that runs east from The Strand. It’s home to the BBC World Service which, like the British Council, does great and largely un-noticed work.
It was built in the 1920s, and is named for/after an American called Irving T Bush, who commissioned it as a major new trade centre. I hope to goodness he wasn’t a forebear of George W…
Anyway, during the Second World War, the BBC closed down its fledgling television service but radio broadcasts continued, including those to the far corners of the earth that emanated from Bush House.
At this time, there was a legendary doorman at Bush called Reg (probably not his real name, but this was the name he was given when I heard the following story). Reg was a giant of a man, a former boxer given even more impressive bearing and status by the uniform he wore. In winter, it consisted of a long navy blue coat, with gold epaulettes. He also had a matching cap with gold trim.
One cold winter’s night in the early part of the war, Reg had an interesting run-in with the King of Norway, King Haakon the Seventh, the first Norwegian monarch of the Glücksburg dynasty. The king was in London and decided to visit Bush House and broadcast a message to his people.
The king was staying at the Savoy Hotel in the Strand, and it was a mere 10-minute stroll to the impressive front portal of Bush House. As the 174th Norwegian monarch walked in, the first person he encountered was Reg.
“Can I help you?” asked Reg, briskly.
“Yes, my man. I am King Haarkon the Seventh of Norway, first monarch of the Glücksburg dynasty.” (I’m guessing what the king said here, obviously.) 🙂
Reg wasn’t immediately impressed. “And?”
Haakon was a bit put out that Reg didn’t address him as ‘Your Majesty’, but he was too well brought up to make an issue of it.
“Well, I understand that you broadcast to my people in Norway, and I wondered if it would be possible to say something to them.”
To give Reg credit, Britain was at war, and he had to be a little bit suspicious of anyone traipsing in and pretending to be a European head of state. The little man in the black hat might have been a German spy with a bomb hidden under his overcoat. Reg couldn’t, as it were, let any Tom, Dick or Haarkon go to the studios upstairs and address the people of another country.
“Would you mind taking a seat?” Reg indicated where the King should sit down. He then walked behind the grand foyer desk to the telephone switchboard, which probably looked something like this.
Reg checked where the office of the Norwegian section was and plugged into the relevant phone extension. The phone rang for a few moments and was picked up by a Swede, who shared the office with his Norwegian colleague.
“Good evening,” said Reg. “I’ve got your king down here and he wants to come upstairs and have a word with his people.”
“No, that’s not possible,” said the Swede.
“What do you mean?”
“He can’t be our king. Our king is in New York.”
Reg bristled, scratched his chin and thought about quietly calling the police to arrest the impostor. He decided to give the man in the black hat and overcoat one more chance.
“Here, guv’nor,” he said. “Which country did you say you was king of?”
When the misunderstanding had been cleared up, King Haakon was led upstairs and seated in a studio. There being no Norwegian there, the Swede organised the recording. He went down to the effects library and asked for a tape of a fanfare to introduce the king’s broadcast.
Tape in hand, he returned to the studio. He told the King that he would interrupt the music programme that was being broadcast to Norway, explain that the king was there, and then the engineer would switch on the tape. He asked King Haakon to wait until the fanfare finished before speaking.
Haakon nodded politely. It wasn’t the first time he’d been in a radio studio.
The music stopped. The Swede spoke quietly into the microphone. Haakon was impressed that his Norwegian was almost perfect. Amazing polyglots, these Scandinavians.
“We interrupt this programme to bring you a special broadcast from King Haakon the Seventh.” The Swede then gave a signal to the engineer, who switched on the tape.
As King Haakon was preparing himself to speak, this is what he heard.
“Roll up! Roll up! Come and see the bearded lady! Roll up! Roll up!”
The partially deaf assistant in the effects library had mis-heard what the Swede wanted, and had given him a tape of a funfair.
And once again, I’ve gone off on another tangent, so I’ll tell you what happened when I did my first interview in Spanish about Mister Monday.
Have a great weekend.