Conrad Veidt and Cold School Mornings

When I was growing up, and going to school on cold Autumn mornings, my Mum used to listen to Terry Wogan on Radio 2 in the kitchen – it wasn’t a hip ‘n’ trendy household. I used to trudge downstairs despondently, eat my Ready Brek in the hope that the red glow that the advertisers falsely claimed it gave you would protect me from the bullies for a day, and then head out into the mist in my navy blue parka.

Wogan’s voice was comforting in those days. It wasn’t yet the chilling voice of reactionary Middle England, complaining about seeing empty bus lanes through a BBC-chauffeured car window, and he wasn’t yet the national treasure famous for xenophobic Eurovision barbs. He was a charming uncle, who would send us all on our way with a nice slice of easy listening. ‘Baker Street’ perhaps, or ‘Arthur’s Theme’.

One particularly cold winter in 1980, Wogan got a request to play a recording of German film star Conrad Veidt performing a song from his 1933 film ‘F.P.1 Doesn’t Answer’. I say ‘performing’, because while he was a great voice actor, he couldn’t sing, choosing instead to speak the words, sometimes with unfortunate mispronunciation. Rather like Rex Harrison. The song grabbed my attention then, with it’s reedy musical accompaniment, so evocative of gramohones and the 1930s, and it kind of stayed with me ever since, in the dusty cupboard of memories. I’m glad that thanks to the internet, I’m able to find a music file of the recording, and the lyrics. Luckily it’s in RealAudio format, which gives the same quality as a wind-up gramophone, so it’s just as evocative.

While looking around for information about Veidt, I was alarmed to find this picture of him playing ‘The Man Who Laughed’, a character that went on to be part of the inspiration for Batman’s enemy, The Joker. I’m sure it wouldn’t have been as comforting to think of this thing singing about a lonely cottage by the sea. With no telephone.