It’s amazing how urban myths take hold and become widely accepted. So it was with the rumour that Lord Haw-Haw, as the ‘Daily Express’ dubbed William Joyce, had mentioned Derry’s famous Golden Teapot in one of his propaganda broadcasts from Nazi Germany. The rumour circulated so widely it has gone down in folklore.
“Germany calling, Germany calling,” was how William Joyce began his nightly broadcasts, although it sounded more like, “Jairmany calling,” in his phoney upper class accent. He had been brought up in Galway where he supported the Black and Tans in the War of Independence before moving to England and becoming a prominent member of the British Union of Fascists. Sympathetic to Adolf Hitler, he slipped out of England in 1939 and began his infamous broadcasts.
In the heightened atmosphere of 1940, with the UK facing sustained bombing, a wave of Haw-Haw rumours swept the country. One of these was that Joyce referred to British ships “hiding behind” the Golden Teapot along the city’s docks. It seems a shame to pour cold water on such a yarn but Haw-Haw definitely didn’t mention the teapot.
The UK Public Records Office at Kew has scores of pages containing thousands of rumours that Joyce had mentioned items of purely local interest. Another example was a claim that he had mentioned the town hall clock in Eastbourne being five minutes slow. I’ve seen these records and am completely satisfied that virtually none of the rumours were true.
In an authoritative book on the subject, academic Martin Doherty, a man with Derry connections and a history lecturer at the University of Westminster sets out the reality. “…Rarely if ever did the Haw-Haw broadcasts include threats to specific towns or cities and certainly they never included references to named factories or installations, or teapots or town hall clocks,” says Mr Doherty.
Still, the urban myth goes to show the Golden Teapot’s power to fire up people’s imaginations. Incidentally, the wonderful teapot is 24 years older than our iconic Guildhall.