U is for UNCLE SAM CALLING.
I guess you all know who I am -
That’s so, John Bull! I’m Uncle Sam,
Three thousand miles away – but gee!
That cuts no ice with you and me.
Since, joined by Wireless, we can call
Like next-door neighbours through the wall,
It kinder makes the ocean seem,
No bigger than a meadow-stream,
And you and me, John, two small boys,
On either bank who share their joys,
Who sing the same, and shout the same,
And play the same delightful game,
It’s great, I’ll tell the world! But say,
The best part is that while to-day
The Waves link up, despite the miles,
United States and British Isles –
The power uniting friend with friend
Is one that mebbe in the end
Will make one great United State
Of all the world! Gee, that’s what’s great!
I recently came across this gem in Eleanor Farjeon‘s The A.B.C. of the B.B.C. (1928), which – despite the unhappy predictability of some of those rhyming couplets – remains a beautiful, fascinating, and frequently surprising volume of children’s verse. Farjeon lauds public-service broadcasting in utopian tones which would be simply unimaginable today, and, significantly, Wendy Cope‘s ill-advised attempt to write a “modern” and less deferential adaptation of Farjeon’s A.B.C. in 2008 replaced “U is for Uncle Sam Calling” with “U is for Unbearable.” This miserable ditty was heralded by the subtitle “Things that make me switch the radio off” and amounted to a list of hackneyed gripes about Radio 4. “U is for Uncle Sam Calling,” however, imagines the achievement of wholesale transatlantic unity through radio broadcasting, and surely never before was the “special relationship” depicted as that of “two small boys… Who sing the same, and shout the same/ And play the same delightful game.” One may be so enchanted by Farjeon’s technological fairyland as to almost agree to the prospect of “one great United State.” And live happily ever after.