A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square is a song published in 1940 and made popular by Vera Lynn during the Second World War.
It was written in Le Lavandou, then a small French fishing village, by Eric Maschwitz, an English entertainer and writer, and Manning Sherwin, an American composer.
Nightingales are famous for their song and they have been important symbols for poets throughout history who have been inspired by the creativity and spontaneity of their call. They are also famous for singing at night but only unpaired males sing regularly at night. Female nightingales become quite active around midnight and will move around looking for a mate. Once she has found a suitable partner, the male will cease singing during the night but will continue to sing during the day to defend his territory.
However, the chances of hearing a nightingale sing in London are slim. They are secretive birds and tend to be found in thick scrubs and bushes and dense woodland singing from deep cover. Nightingales are not the only birds to sing at night and many people in cities and towns will mistake the sound of a robin singing for a nightingale.
So why did Eric Maschwitz write about the extremely unlikely event of a nightingale singing in central London? Could he have mistaken a robin or other nocturnal singing bird for a nightingale?
Well, the lyrics of his song actually contemplate how the power of love can transform our perception of things so the “whole damned world seemed upside down”.
When the two lovers in the song meet in Mayfair they imagine angels dining at the Ritz, streets paved with stars and a nightingale singing in Berkeley Square. Indeed when the dawn comes up they contemplate whether it was real or all a dream.
Eric Maschwitz wasn’t mistaken when he wrote about the nightingale. In fact he knew very well that Berkeley Square was the last place on earth you would expect to hear a nightingale.