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.
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.