February 19, 2016

1942. Edward R. Murrow Walks the Blacked Out Streets of London

Wartime London at Night

January 1, 1942

DOUG EDWARDS: CBS World News brings you another in this series by Columbia News analysts. Tonight from London, Edward R. Murrow.

EDWARD R. MURROW: This is London. Five o'clock in the morning.

People do a great deal of walking in London these days, but much of mine is done at night. Moonlit nights are best. There's less danger of walking into lampposts or stumbling over the curb. The weather stains on old buildings of gray Portland stone look like familiar, friendly faces. The city is absolutely quiet, like a ghost town in Nevada.

At dawn—that'll be about an hour from now—the mist goes floating upward from the water in Regent's Park, and the feet of the milkman's horse sound soft and muffled on the old wooden paving blocks. Occasionally the cart will lurch, and the milk bottles rattle, as one wheel dropped into a hole burnt by one of last winter's incendiary bombs. But it's pleasant walking in London, even when the night is black. The streetlights give off just a tiny pinpoint of light, enough so you can steer a course between them right down the middle of the street.

The nice part about walking in the dark is of course that you can't see anything. There's nothing to distract you. You just plod along between those little beacons. It's like being up in the bow of a ship that's (?) on a dark night. Occasionally you hear footsteps, and sometimes you may exchange a "good evening" to another unseen pedestrian.

Sometimes you can imagine, or at least think you can, just what people are like from the sounds made by their feet. There'll be a young officer on leave and his girl walking home at two in the morning. There'll be the uneven cadence from the feet of a man whose had one too many drinks. The reluctant footsteps from a bus conductor on his way to work. You can't see them, but you know who they are—or think you do.

For example, just a block from this studio there's a policeman. I've never seen him, but he's there when I walk home every night. Sometimes we speak; sometimes we don't. Last night I heard him shift his weight from one foot to the other as I walked past. Sometimes he's traveling in my direction, and we cruise along for a block or two together. He has big feet, and his shoes squeak. I think I'd recognize that squeak in Cairo or Chicago. Without ever having seen him I know he's a big, friendly, stable sort of person; the kind of London cop who can disperse a crowd by merely saying, "Here, here. Move along now." I know, too, that he likes the dark; likes being out there all alone.

He never seems to be about on bright moonlit nights. Some night maybe I'll see him in the bright moonlight, and discover that he's a short, sour-faced, reserved policeman in an ill-fitting uniform. But I don't think so.