The Nazi propagandist Lord Haw-Haw (William Joyce) had plenty of addresses in South London – in Battersea, Dulwich and Crystal Palace – prior to his goose-stepping to Berlin. Indeed, as our friends at Transpontine point out, South London has even been blamed by one historian for the thwarted ambition that led to his siding with Hitler. If so, well done South London. We don’t want his type ’round here.
Though born in Brooklyn in 1906, Joyce grew up in Galway. He moved to England as a teenager where his failure to persuade the country to embrace totalitarianism saw him join Hitler’s funsters just as World War II was about to erupt.
He would begin his chilling broadcasts: ‘Germany calling, Germany calling…’ before running down Britain’s chances of surviving World War II and talking up a National Socialist utopia. He was both the most hated and ridiculed man in Britain, yet he was ubiquitous, like Jacob Rees-Mogg, or rats.
Lord Haw-Haw was listened to by up to 60% of the British population, who tuned in their radios in spite of themselves, to be enraged, frightened, or amused. His was like the ‘Voice of the Mysterons’ in Captain Scarlet, terrifying in its disembodied menace.
Joyce was vehemently pro-Britain while growing up in Galway, before moving to Britain where he became vehemently pro-German.
‘In any language, that’s a gobshite,’ said Roxy wisely, while escorting me on an exploration of watering holes in the London Borough of Bromley.
Joyce seemed to reserve particular spite for Bromley, where he is also thought to have lived at one time. Listeners reported threats to specific locations there and to nearby Orpington and Chislehurst. This was one of several disturbing tactics that were attributed to him, mentioning little details that made the peril seem more real.
‘The clock on Wolf and Hollander’s shop in Bromley High Street is five minutes fast. It will not be there tomorrow,’ he is said to have broadcast to a nation on the very edge of the heebie-jeebies.
Bombs did fall nearby, over 2000 throughout Bromley borough, but here’s the clock in 2018 above what is now Laura Ashley. Proving, possibly, that wars may come and go but shopping is here to stay.
Roxy and I had a gander in the district to see what would have been lost had the Nazis not taken a whupping at the hands of righteousness.
It is, of course, impossible to say what Britain would have looked like had Hitler triumphed. One thing is certain – we’d be eating a lot more schnitzel.
It’s hard to imagine Bromley boy David Bowie thriving under a Nazi regime, though it’s hard to imagine him thriving in suburbia, so we can never be sure. Bowie and Angie held their wedding reception at The Swan & Mitre on Bromley High Street in 1970, but these days the Swan looks like it could do with a little stardust.
‘It was also the scene of my first date with one of my first wives,’ I told Roxy.
‘Half of them, yes.’
‘A great spot for doomed early marriages, then,’ she said. ‘Stick that on your A-board.’
We can be grateful the Luftwaffe missed the Grade II listed Star & Garter, nearby. Sister pub to Camberwell’s Stormbird, it has a glittering array of cask and keg beers. Simple inside, with a beautiful exterior, as Roxy once described Half-life, it’s no wonder it sweeps local CAMRA awards. Sadly, it doesn’t open till four, so we would have to make it the hind part of our Bromley leg.
With the Royal Bell Hotel – Bowie’s local – still being returned to its former glory and the Railway Tavern being an Antic late opener, we had to head to the residential roads behind Bromley North station to find further refreshment. But oh, what a find.
The Red Lion has everything you could want in a backstreet boozer: Character, a welcome, regulars, a football menu, a well-kept cellar and, crucially, it opens at 11am. In a rewarding finger to Joyce and his pals, we had pints of Lest We Forget, from the Cotleigh Brewery. It was no hardship to stay there till the disappointers opened. And it gave Roxy the chance to beat me at 501 (twice).
With the White Horse about 200 feet away, we could sample another hospitable backstreeter, before the tiled Victorian beauty of the Railway Tavern. The Railway’s beer offering was a little everyday, but as it was a Tuesday, only cost £3 a pint. Thence to the Star & Garter, where they also had £3 a pint cask ale.
‘With all the money I’m saving today, I estimate I’ll be a millionaire by closing time,’ I said, taking a sup of Hophead. ‘I am preparing to forgive you.’
‘Not everyone can be a darts wizard.’
‘Not you. The pub,’ I said. ‘For making me wait until four to taste this. I’m all for slacking, but not when it comes to pub opening times.’
‘Amen to that.’
We agreed the Allies did a bang-up job saving the Star, Bromley and the nation so the likes of us could imbibe in peace, free from barmy uptight racists in fabulous boots.
Nearby Petts Wood also took a shedload of artillery, but it still looks like a preserved 1930s village today, with its mock-tudor shops surrounding a large, unremarkable pub, the Daylight Inn. Its jewel though is its smallest pub, as is so often the a case: The wonderful One Inn The Wood, one of the first micropubs in Greater London. It tends to focus on superb pale ales from an heroic cast of fine breweries.
You may wonder why so many Britons tuned in to Lord Haw-Haw’s broadcasts if he was so reviled. One of the reasons they did was because BBC radio at the time was so intensely fucking dull. It featured virtually no entertainment, plenty of dry public announcements and news that revealed little. Lord Haw-Haw was practically jazz by comparison. He poured scorn on the mighty. He was Dirty Den and Nasty Nick turned up to 18. People couldn’t tear their ears away.
He also knew how to push the buttons of ordinary Brits, repeatedly turning to the theme of social inequality.
‘In the Commons today there are more than two hundred and fifty representatives of Eton and Harrow. Eton has its virtues and Harrow its vices, but neither can in any sense claim to be representative of the people of England,’ he broadcast in 1939.
Luckily we won the war and were able to perpetuate the class system that’s so dear to us all.
Joyce became Sir Oswald Mosley’s deputy in the British Union of Fascists during his time in England, but despite his skill as an orator, something about an authoritarian police state failed to capture a British public still wary of the wisdom of their ‘betters’ after World War I. The BBC wouldn’t allow Mosley and his message on the airwaves.
‘Nowadays he’d have his own show,’ said Roxy.
Eventually Joyce turned to Germany where they fully embraced his obsessive anti-semitism and he was soon to became a star in his own Reich (sorry).
While Brits listened to Haw-Haw, Germans were forbidden to listen to the BBC. But when a German soldier went missing, eight secret German listeners told his mother the Beeb had reported him captured, but safe. She turned them all in to the SS. And that’s why we had to win the War. Because aside from the brutal dictatorship and vile bigotry, the Nazis consistently failed the ‘Don’t be a dick,’ test.
Joyce was reported as saying: ‘We know where you are Orpington. We come via the Tip-Top Bakery’. However, the bakery remained unmolested and we had to wait until the advent of Lidl to find out why bread and marzipan should never meet.
Despite the presence of thirsty bakers, Orpy isn’t blessed with great boozers, it has to be said, unlike neighbouring Chelsfield. The best of the bunch is The Cricketers, a charming old boys’ boozer, off the beaten track somewhat, traditional and highly brown, as all the best pubs should be.
But the best spot for beer is without question the Orpington Liberal Club: CAMRA National Club of the Year Finalist 2016, Good Beer Guide 2014-2019, Bromley CAMRA Club of the Year 2018, Greater London Club of the Year 2018. So there. Its reputation for fine ale is well deserved and is one of those rare clubs that makes you think, ‘Who needs pubs?’ Before giving yourself a slap.
The other non-pub highlight is FootGolf, a nine-hole course played with a size 5 football that also has a licensed bar. It provides that wonderful sensation of thumping a ball very hard, combined with a call for some deft skill, should you have any. It bears strong potential for a Deserter day out.
Another place that Joyce was said to single out is Chislehurst Caves, in which thousands descended during the War to escape the Blitz. They created a subterranean city and when ordnance fell there after Joyce mentioned those ‘hiding underground in Kent,’ he was credited with directing the attack. The bombing proved useless, and the caves were spared to provide a venue for David Bowie, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, among others – and an episode of Doctor Who.
Despite all these tales of Joyce and the details he used to pick at the scabs on British nerves, historians maintain that they are largely urban legend. Yet the rumours of his threatening clocks and factories occurred nationwide. Such was Haw-Haw’s influence that gossip would do his work for him. People said he orchestrated air-raids on Bromley’s churches, eight of which were hit. Thankfully pubs fared better.
Chislehurst’s Imperial Arms and Rambler’s Rest were spared. The quaint weather-boarded Rambler’s looks a delight from the outside, tucked behind a grass slope near the cricket green, but sadly its interior has been refurbished with the power of beige, shedding the warmth of the cosy little ale house it used to be.
The Imperial has kept its character and its custom. While the pub dates back to 1787, its name relates to Emperor Napoleon III, who lived and died in Chislehurst and whose mistress used to stay at the pub. Louis Napoleon struggled to keep it dans son pantalon at the best of times, but, come on – a mistress who lives in a pub? That’s hot.
After the fall of Berlin, while some Germans were busy cleaning swastikas off their walls and, in a grotesque irony, buying Yellow Stars of David from Jewish survivors, Joyce was unrepentant even as he faced the rope.
Though he had not killed a soul, Britain demanded retribution. Rebecca West, in her contemporaneous account of his trial wrote that: ‘The people remembered that while they had fought fires and lost their kin and homes, a man who had lived all his life amongst them had mocked at their misery and rejoiced at the thought of their deliverance to their enemies.’
While it is unfair to say South London was the making of Lord Haw-Haw, it certainly was the end of him. He was executed for treason at Wandsworth Prison in 1946, at the age of 39, his second and third vertebrae violently ripped asunder by the hangman’s noose. At 9am, too, so he didn’t even get a lie-in.
‘He was a right cunt, mind,’ said Roxy, in Half-life’s absence.
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