Shocking revelations in this morning’s Guardian: The cello and the nightingale: 1924 duet was faked, BBC admits. The recording of a bird joining Beatrice Harrison’s cello on a summer’s evening in 1924 has legendary status in certain circles. That some people have long had doubts about the bird — now revealed to be renowned siffleur Maude Gould, aka Madame Saberon, only makes me wonder about how people develop such expertise in any sphere. Practice, obvs.

Anyway, it reminded me of an astonishing evening when I had first arrived in Italy. I was living then in a lovely converted barn on a farm deep in the countryside. One evening, probably in April, I was on the phone to a radio colleague, one of the best I ever worked with, back in England. I could barely hear for the racket of birdsong.

“Hang on a minute,” I said. “I’ll just close the window.”
“No, don’t. Those are nightingales. Let me listen.”

I knew he was an expert birder. I wonder whether he had guessed the BBC’s guilty secret. And now, having done a teeny bit of research, I really want to read his new book.

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