ELLIOT PAUL'S
THE DEATH OF LORD HAW HAW
(published as by BRETT RUTLEDGE)
(1940)

by Arnold Goldman


Paul gave The Death of Lord Haw Haw an extended subtitle - "No. 1 Personality of World War No. 2 Being an Account of the Last Days of the Foremost Nazi Spy and News Commentator, the Mysterious English Traitor." When the book was published in 1940, "Lord Haw-Haw," the invention of the British Press for a group of English-language news broadcasters from Reichsrundfunk ("Germany calling...") - of whom American-born William Joyce was the most prominent - was far from dead. Paul’s fictional account in any case abandons facutuality to extrapolate an adventure story, albeit told in a partly documentary fashion and published with photographs of alleged sites in the plot.

The book’s narrator and supposed author, Brett Rutledge, tells us straight-facedly that he is a government agent making "a study of the eating habits of various foreign secret agents... by haunting famous restaurants and public markets." It seems that however otherwise disguised, agents give themselves away by maintaining fixed habits of degustation. If this promises comedy, the promise is not kept (the narrator draws on his research in the progress of the story). In Paris on 7 September 1939, just after the German attack on Poland and the British declaration of war, Rutledge is approached by French intelligence in the person of one Colonel Henri Henri to assist in assuring the security of the "Normandie," moored at the French Line pier on the Hudson, but before he leaves for New York, to "study our propaganda and make an absolutely frank report." Routledge witnesses the French mobilization and the city’s efficient evacuation. Then a Communist friend tells him about "an amazing broadcast from Germany.... Some British chap who admires the Nazi ideology and thinks Hitler is a little tin god."1

Having listened to DXB Berlin, Rutledge considers that the pro-Nazi broadcaster is "a well-educated Englishman, public school and all that, who is imitating the speech of a lower stratum of society... middle class.... If he’s American, he’s spent most of his life in England, and the rest near Boston." Unlike the British press, who claim that Haw Haw (as they name the composite broadcaster), is is simply comical, Routledge believes that the transmissions will have a crippling effect on British morale. The press image of a "Lord" ("the Peer of Zeesen") worked in Haw Haw’s favor, "doubled or tripled his power." The voice is subjected to analysis, and though it is demonstrated that voices can be electronically altered to make them sound the same, Routledge asserts that Haw Haw is one person, that "[h]is talks were delivered without notes, and therefore were uncensored, which placed him very high in the confidence of the Nazi regime." (The actual newsreaders’ scripts were written and always cleared by Nazi authorities). He also feels that Haw Haw shows such "veiled concern for the downtrodden masses" as to make him wonder whether Haw Haw isn’t, during the Nazi-Soviet pact, "working in the interest of Moscow." Rutledge has Haw-Haw’s subjects analysed by an electro-magnetic card-punching and sorting device (the forerunner of the computer). He concludes that Haw Haw is "a destructionist," with "a somewhat scornful aristocratic attitude, tinged with pathological cruelty." The French thereupon ask Rutledge to silence Haw Haw "at any cost.... The safety of France is dependent on English morale."2

It occurs to Rutledge that Haw Haw may be broadcasting from New York, not Germany. Checks on static interference from various sources appear to bear him out, and when they do not he hypothesises a Berlin "stand-in" for the true Haw Haw, "a fair mimic," used when New York is cut off. Rutledge is "willing to admit the possibility that William Joyce was the second-string Haw Haw of DXB, Berlin, but not the master propagandist," who is "surely intelligent to an unusual degree." (At first he is surprised to hear static in Haw Haw’s broadcasts, when heard from New York, but he concludes that it is "faked with gramophone discs," to throw listeners off the track. It occurs at different times than the true static between Germany and Britain.) Another sorting confirms Haw Haw’s homosexuality. Rutledge sets about both to track the transmitting station down and to find Haw Haw himself. As he goes about his task, Paul’s references to the (actual) broadcast subjects enable him to counterpoint the

development of the war in late 1939 and early 1940.3

The team Rutledge assembles finds technical obstacles to triangulating the origins of Haw Haw’s broadcasts. (For Fred Morton, the computer boffin, Paul reached back to his transition story about Isaac Momblo.) Gradually the team move in on the source, at first apparently in De Witt Clinton Park, handy to the foreign vessels moored in the Hudson, then later across the street from the Pier 88 mooring of the Normandie. Rutledge is determined to manoeuvre Haw Haw onto the Normandie, so that French justice can deal with him (the Americans, not being at war, would only prosecute for illegal broadcasting), and impound his equipment.

Meanwhile Rutledge gets on Haw Haw’s trail through his assumed liking for German beer and Spanish food. The "Englishman [named James McNeal O’Brien]..., tall and slender, with a well-trimmed brown Van Dyke beard... a manner of savoir faire," is tracked to a favorite restaurant, his voice recognised. The narrator has a momentary qualm, "not of conscience but of something deeper. I wished Haw Haw had not been so clever, so smooth, so presentable, so resourceful." The team needs to "bag the lot," otherwise the work will go on in others’ hands. This rather contradicts Haw Haw’s individual genius and "diabolical cleverness":

he was not a dyed-in-the-wool Communist... His clothes were too carefully chosen, his hands too expressive, his mouth too cruel. All his habits of life were fastidious.... The peacetime world had found no use for his talents, so he was revenging himself on it by trying to destroy it.4

Haw Haw is followed to one of the motor craft moored in the 82nd St yacht basin, where he gets clean away. But the efforts to track the antennae meet with more success: the sources are the flagpole in the Park and the nearby gashouse. The trap is closed. Rutledge confronts Haw Haw/O’Brien in his cabin, gun in hand. O’Brien throws himself on the accompanying Frenchman, Pierre Vautier, shouting "Jew dog," and the narrator’s "blood lust" aroused, he throttles his antagonist. When O’Brien’s boyfriend repeats the slur, Rutledge shoots him dead. Both are dumped into the Hudson. But he "still cannot rest tranquilly, with Germany gaining power and prestige every day and the Nazi menace to sensitive people everywhere gaining momentum." He vows to offer his services again to the French.5

The idea which "liberated" the book - the "real" Haw Haw being in America, the second-string Joyce in Berlin - cleverly disguises what would otherwise have been a routine spy story, which however narrows as it proceeds. Equally the details of broadcasting and transmission-tracking create only a temporary interest. There is a disjunction between the conventional-enough story and the more compelling social context. Paul was yet to find an appropriate vehicle for his reflections on the coming of World War II. At first he intended to follow up The Death of Lord Haw-Haw with another "Brett Rutledge" publication and began

The Menace of the Arctic/ An Account of the Discovery of the Nazi Plan and Preparations for the Conquest of North America from the Polar Regions (Ausdehnunsplan Nr. J-4)/ Involving Immediate Seizure of Alaska and Greenland/ by Brett Rutledge author of The Largest Graveyard, The Death of Lord Haw-Haw, etc. etc. New York June 12, 1940

The typescript continues Rutledge’s use of the Isaac Momblo-like figure Fred Morton, who "knew practically nothing about machinery or electricity" and whose carnivorous appetite is restricted to the white meat of chickens. The Menace of the Arctic uses Machiasport, Maine, as its jumping-off point. But it breaks off, incomplete.6


NOTES

1 Brett Rutledge [nom de plume of Elliot Paul], The Death of Lord Haw Haw (New York: Random House, 1940), 4, 21, 31. While William Joyce, tried and convicted in Britain for treason as "Lord Haw-Haw" in 1945, began broadcasting for Reichsrunkfunk on 11 September 1939, its English language news service had begun earlier, though not as early as April, as Paul claims. Joyce’s biographer J.A. Cole is wrong to cite as Paul’s mistake the narrator’s dismissal (130-31) of Joyce as Haw Haw (Lord Haw-Haw The Full Story of William Joyce [London and Boston: Faber and Faber, 1987 (1964)]), 175-6. Whatever Paul may actually have believed, the plot of his story was his prime consideration.
2 Ibid., "a well-educated Englishman," 50 (see also 172); "doubled or trebled his power," 130; "his talks were delivered," 211; "veiled concern" and "working in the interests," 73, 88, 133 and see also 174; "a destructionist," 151; "at any cost," 81-2.
3 Ibid., "stand-in," 117, 128; "willing to admit," 131, 135; "faked," 160.
4 Ibid, 231, 233, 239, 236.
5 Ibid., 306. "Pierre Vautier" is a Communist friend of Paul’s in The Last Time I Saw Paris (New York: Random House, 1942). William L. Shirer in Berlin gave William Joyce a copy of Paul’s novel, which he had smuggled into Germany; Shirer, Berlin Diary (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1941), 526 (26 September 1940). J.A. Cole says that the book "caused Joyce a good deal of amusement" (Lord Haw-Haw, 175).
6 The Menace of the Arctic..., TS, Berg Collection, 84pp; quotations from title page and p. 16. Brett Rutledge’s address is given as "care Mills Neal, 26 E10th St, New York City." There is no record of "The Largest Graveyard," if it ever existed.


This analysis of The Death of Lord Haw Haw is taken from Arnold Goldman's biography-in-progress of Elliot Paul. Arnold Goldman 2001.

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