Obituary: Walter Goetz

Walter Goetz was a talented and droll German-born artist and cartoonist who had been educated in England; he created Colonel Up and Mr Down for the Daily Express and illustrated Pierre Daninos's books about "Major Thompson". And it was Goetz's voice that launched the chaotic start of the BBC's German Service during the Munich crisis.

In mid-September 1938, just before Neville Chamberlain finally flew off to sign his piece of paper with Hitler, it looked as though Britain was about to go to war. Children were being evacuated. Trenches were being dug in the parks, gas-masks had been issued. The Fleet was about to be mobilised. Parliament was in daily session, even over the weekend. On the morning of 26 September, the Prime Minister told the Cabinet that he thought he ought to broadcast to the country on why we were "digging trenches and trying on gas-masks" because of what he was to call "a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing".

The Cabinet discussed what would be the best technical arrangements to ensure that Chamberlain's broadcast should reach "the widest possible number of listeners in this country, abroad and in Germany" - a curious distinction - and instructed a small committee of senior officials to make urgent plans. At that time the only BBC overseas programmes were in English for the Empire, and broadcasts, started earlier that year, in Arabic and in Spanish and Portuguese for Latin America. There was no European Service.

The Prime Minister was due to broadcast at 8pm on Tuesday 27 September. The Foreign Office had undertaken to provide translations and speakers for Chamberlain's address to be given in French, German and Italian. In the afternoon it transpired that they could not do so in the case of French and German. And at 6pm the Foreign Office asked if the BBC could provide news bulletins as well as translations of the Prime Minister's broadcast. A frantic search for German and French translators and announcers ensued. Beresford Clark, the Director of Overseas Services, tracked down his friend Walter Goetz to a cocktail party in St John's Wood. Clark told Goetz to get a taxi and drive as fast as possible to Broadcasting House. "If stopped by the police, say it's an emergency," he said.

Goetz, who had never previously broadcast, was shown into a studio. Meanwhile Robert Ehrenzweig, the former London correspondent of a Viennese newspaper, had been similarly corralled to translate Chamberlain's broadcast into German. Ehrenzweig was installed in the Council Chamber of Broadcasting House, without a typewriter. The BBC had been given no advance text. It was taken down piecemeal by the news agencies as the Prime Minister spoke, and it reached Ehrenzweig in short takes. His handwritten German Schrift was so hard to read that the luckless Goetz was having great difficulty at the microphone. And in any case, he was constantly running out of copy. There were many embarrassing pauses.

In order to provide maximum audibility in Germany, BBC engineers had supplemented many of its short-wave transmitters with the medium-wave transmitters that carried the Regional Programme network. Habitual Regional listeners were annoyed by the sudden replacement of the expected programme by a broadcast in a language few could understand. Some thought that the Nazis had taken over the BBC wavelength. And those who could follow the German news were infuriated by its incompetence, with all those starts and stops. A crowd of protesters stormed into the reception hall at Broadcasting House, and Clark deemed it prudent to smuggle poor Goetz out through a back door.

Goetz had been born in Cologne of a German-Jewish father and a French mother. After the assassination in 1922 of the German Foreign Minister, Walter Rathenau, a Jew, they decided that their son had better be educated in England, and sent him to Bedales. He returned to Germany to study painting in Berlin for two years but, in view of the threatening political atmosphere, returned to Britain in 1931 and was naturalised three years later.

Goetz started his first comic strip, Colonel Up and Mr Down, for the Daily Express in 1933. He also drew for many magazines such as the British edition of Vogue, Night and Day, Lilliput and Punch. Before the Second World War he spent much time in France painting landscapes.

During the war he worked in the stable block of Woburn Abbey, made available by the Duke of Bedford to be the secret headquarters of the Political Warfare Executive. Goetz was particularly concerned with the preparation of leaflets to be dropped over Germany and with studying Nazi newspapers in search of material for the black broadcasts organised by Sefton Delmer, though Goetz did not speak at the microphone himself. By virtue of his upbringing he was trilingual. In the latter part of the war he transferred to the French section of the PWE, and edited an illustrated magazine, Cadrun, which was modelled on Picture Post.

After the war Goetz continued to paint, often in Wales with John Piper. He revisited Berlin and illustrated a series of articles on the devastation of Germany written for the Observer by Alan Moorehead. He was also the very successful illustrator of the two books about "Major Thompson", caricaturing the French concept of the typical English gentleman with bowler hat and Savile Row suit written by Pierre Daninos. They were bestsellers in many countries. Goetz moved to France and became an art dealer as well as a painter. He did not move back to England permanently until 1980.

Goetz was a convivial member of the Garrick Club, in London, until some years ago when deafness deprived him of ready contact with his many friends. He was married three times, always to beautiful girls. The first was Gillian Crawshay-Williams, afterwards the wife of Tony Greenwood, the Labour MP who later went to the House of Lords. His second wife, Tony Mayo, who had been his junior at Bedales by three years, was the most glamorous Newnhamite when I was at Cambridge. His third wife Fiona Muir is the mother of his two sons.

Leonard Miall

Walter Goetz, artist, cartoonist: born Cologne 24 November 1911; married 1934 Gillian Crawshay-Williams (died 1995; marriage dissolved 1937), 1939 Patricia (Tony) Elton Mayo (marriage dissolved 1945), 1968 Fiona Muir (two sons, and one foster son); died London 13 September 1995.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture