The Humbug of Hamburg

It’s hard for us nowadays to realize the strength of influence that radio had in the world at the time of Haw Haw’s broadcasts. This was a device that could bring sounds from anywhere else on the globe directly into your home. A form of communication that once was the stuff of fantasy and nightmare. The BBC had only been going for 20 years by the time WWII came around: in many ways the radio was as unprecedented and ubiquitous an item in the family home as the internet is now.

Seeve out of ten listeners retuned from the BBC to German radio to listen to the bradcast prefaced with the all sign “Germany Calling” This wasn’t simply idle curioisity. haw Haw became a staple of British wartime lfe and, as such, was considered a genuine danger to British morale.

However, the government decided not to suppress his broadcasts nor outlaw listening to him. At one level, such a move ran counter to the notion of fighting for freedom; at another, it was simply impractical, it would have been impossible to enforce.

(By contrast, listening to the BBC was outlawed in Nazi Germany. An apocryphal tale tells us of a German mother whose son went missing in an air raid over England. She presumed him dead until eight individual neighbours knocked on her door to inform her that his name was among a list of PoWs broadcast by the BBC. She informed on all eight to the authorities. That’s how you enforce it. make peopleenforce themselves.)

Instead of banning him, the British did what they do best (or at least, most naturally) when faced with a threat. They made a joke of it.

hawhaw-history-today

The “Haw Haw” name, ceated by Jonas Barrington of the Daily Express, caught 0n in the most unexpected ways. Haw Haw became the pinchline to music hall jokes, animated cartoons porrayed him as a donkey, he bacme the basis for a Sherlock Holmes movie (“The Voice Of Terror”), and there was even this little ditty playing on the radio.

The Western Brothers with their comic ditty…

They don’t make ’em like that any more.

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