5

My father is adamant that he has heard a poem which contains a phrase like “it was all done in Berlin in the thirties”. Possibly read by Kenneth Williams. But Google search has let us down. Can anyone suggest what this poem was?

It was definitely a poem, in English. Twentieth century, and obviously post 1930s. He thinks he heard it read on television, rather than reading it himself, so publication location unknown. The theme of the poem was that although people claim to be doing something new, in fact everything has been done before, in Berlin, in the thirties. So probably a drily humorous piece. Dad thinks that there was a repeated refrain, like 'it was all done in Berlin in the 30s, it was all done in the 30s in Berlin'. Guesses at 3 verses ('not an epic').

  • Welcome to Literature! Can you or your father remember anything else about this poem? What language was it written in (English, German, ...)? Where was it published (America, Russia, ...)? When was it published (post-war, 2000s, ...)? Was it a long or a short poem? Any little detail might help us to identify this or narrow down the possibilities! See also the guidance here. – Rand al'Thor Oct 16 '17 at 9:10
  • Dad says: definitely a poem, in English. Twentieth century, and obviously post 1930s. He thinks he heard it read on television, rather than reading it himself, so publication location unknown. The theme of the poem was that although people claim to be doing something new, in fact everything has been done before, in Berlin, in the thirties. So probably a drily humorous piece. Dad thinks that there was a repeated refrain, like 'it was all done in Berlin in the 30s, it was all done in the 30s in Berlin'. Guesses at 3 verses ('not an epic'). – Yellowfog Oct 16 '17 at 10:41
4

I finally managed to track down the answer to my question, after finding a reference to it in Kenneth Williams' diaries. The poem is by Stanley Baxter, whom Kenneth Williams knew in the second World War when they were both performing in the Combined Forces Entertainment unit. The poem is actually entitled 'Berlin in the Twenties', not the Thirties. As far as I'm aware it has never been published. I believe that it was first broadcast in the one BBC Radio 4 programme referenced in Williams' diaries - on 14th February, 1970 - in which Williams read a varied selection of poetry. I don't know of any other broadcast.

Due to the kind help of Kenneth Williams' biographer I have now seen the poem (as transcribed by Williams himself, he thinks) but for copyright reasons am not able to reproduce it.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.