Nature Studies: Isn’t it time the BBC broadcast the song of the nightingale again?

After ‘Tweet of the Day’, I’m sure the Corporation would be in sympathy with the idea



One Friday night in the month of May, 2000, I went for a curry in west London with my wife and some friends, and with said curry I drank three pints of Kingfisher, the Indian beer. I am not much of a beer drinker, and by the time I staggered back to the car, at midnight – my wife was driving – I was pretty light-headed.

As we got to the car door I thought I could hear a mobile phone ringing, and as we opened it, I realised I could. It was my mobile. I had left it on the back seat. I stared at it dumbly. Why would anybody be ringing me at midnight? After I had just come out of an Indian restaurant?

My wife said: “Well, aren’t you going to answer it?”

So I did, and a voice said: “Mike?”


“It’s Chris. Listen.”

And into my ear came a flood of birdsong, a flowing river of unceasing sound, and the amazement and the wonder spread over my spirit and the smile spread over my face as I realised that here on the Chiswick High Road in west London, on a Friday night, post-curry, I was listening to a nightingale.

Live. Real. Not a recording. Singing now. The five pure slow deep notes, then the characteristic jug-jug-jug, then the machine-gun rattle, all delivered fresh and clear on the night air.

For a moment, as the alcohol fumes swirled around my brain, I thought I was hallucinating; but by no means. The bird was singing in a copse just down the road from the house of my friend, the environmentalist Chris Rose, at Salthouse on the north Norfolk coast 140 miles away, and he had heard it through his open window, wandered down to it, and simply dialled my number.

Chris’s urge had been to share it; and anybody who has heard a nightingale close up at midnight will understand that, such is thrill of the bird’s springtime song. It has excited poets such as Keats down through the centuries – it is “the most versified bird in the world”. But it is a creature and a sound which in Britain is rapidly disappearing: since 1970 nightingales in England (they’re not found in Scotland or Wales) have declined by 90 per cent.

Now, with your chances of hearing the bird shrinking by the year, Chris Rose wants to share live nightingale song again, but this time his ambition goes beyond a mate with a mobile phone. He would like the BBC to do a live nightingale broadcast every year, to the whole nation, beginning later this month.

It’s by no means a new idea; in fact, in terms of live outside broadcasts, it’s the oldest idea of all, because the world’s first-ever OB, which took place on the new BBC radio service at midnight on 18 May, 1924, was of the celebrated cellist Beatrice Harrison playing her instrument in her garden at Oxted in Surrey, as a nightingale sang along with her.

A million people are thought to have tuned in; 50,000 wrote in to the BBC to express their delight, and the broadcast became an annual event until 1942. That year, BBC engineers pulled the plug on it when they realised that the drone of RAF bombers leaving to attack Germany could be heard in the background, and they thought this might alert German spies.

The time has now come to revive it, thinks Chris, as the bird’s numbers are falling so fast that it is dropping out of people’s consciousness. He has written to the BBC Director General, Lord Hall, asking him to start the outside broadcast once again this 18 May – a week on Sunday, 90 years after it first took place – and to make it an annual event. “So many of our songbirds such as this one are in decline,” Chris says. “We need to keep a place for the nightingale in our lives.”

To back up his request, he has just started a petition on the 38 Degrees website, which you can find at, and which already has more than 1,000 signatures.

I know it’s not a lot of notice, and the Beeb might not be able to manage it, although I’m sure the Corporation would be in general sympathy with the idea, not least because its award-winning Tweet Of The Day birdsong series kicked off with  the nightingale last year. If they can’t, Chris is exploring other ways of making  it a nationally live event, perhaps through the internet.

But I can testify fully to its potential worth: to hear a nightingale live at midnight, singing gloriously through the surrounding quiet, is a riveting experience, even when conveyed to you over the airwaves, even when it’s down your mobile phone, in Chiswick,  after your curry, and your three pints  of Kingfisher.

Twitter: @mjpmccarthy

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner

£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

£11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

£15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Pentagon has suggested that, since the campaign started, some 10,000 Isis fighters in Iraq and Syria have been killed  

War with Isis: If the US wants to destroy the group, it will need to train Syrians and Iraqis

David Usborne
David Cameron gives a speech at a Tory party dinner  

In a time of austerity, should Tories be bidding £210,000 for a signed photo of the new Cabinet?

Simon Kelner
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy