February 21 – Electrocuted

A true friend was electrocuted today. This London History Bulletin remembers…


London calling.

London Walks connecting.

London Walks here with your daily London fix.

Story time. History time.

It’s always billed as the only memorial to a Nazi in the whole of London.

He wasn’t a Nazi but why let facts get in the way of a good story.

It’s a little gravestone on which is written his name and the moving words To a True Friend.

The words are in German. The chap’s name is Giro. He was the German ambassador’s dog. Again – and mistakenly – he’s always billed as the Nazi dog. Herr von Hoesch was the German ambassador in 1934, the year the Nazis took over. But the good gentleman was not a Nazi himself. And neither was his dog.

Anyway, poor old Giro made the fatal mistake of chewing a length of cable in the garden of 9 Carlton Terrace, the German embassy. And, afraid so, Giro electrocuted himself.

Today – February 21st – is the anniversary of Giro’s death. His master, the Ambassador, Herr von Hoesch, was heartbroken and had Giro buried nearby with the little tombstone to mark the spot. It’s a little hard to find but any guide worth his salt knows where it is and will point it out and tell the story. 

What most of them don’t know is that the ambassador himself died somewhat mysteriously shortly afterwards. And credit where credit’s due: I’m indebted to Roger Boyes for this sequel to the story. Apparently the embassy staff insisted that the ambassador’s coffin be swathed in a swastika and be accompanied by an honour guard to Victoria Station to meet the boat train. And as the carriage headed off the diplomats raised their arms in a Hitler salute to their late boss. Horrible thought. It’s nice to think that there’s an alternative universe in which Herr von Hoesch sics Giro on them for pulling that ghastly stunt. 

You’ve been listening to the London History Bulletin for February 21st. Emanating from www.walks.com – home of London Walks, London’s signature walking tour company. London’s local, time-honoured, fiercely independent, family-owned, just-the-right-size walking tour company. And as long as we’re at it, London’s multi-award-winning walking tour company. Indeed, London’s only award-winning walking tour company.

And here’s the secret: London Walks is essentially run as a guides’ cooperative. 

That’s the key to everything. It’s the reason we’re able to attract and keep the best guides in London. You can get schlubbers to do this for £20 a walk. But you cannot get world-class guides – let alone accomplished professionals.

It’s not rocket science: you get what you pay for. And just as surely, you also get what you don’t pay for. 

Back in 1968 when we got started we quickly came to a fork in the road. We had to answer a searching question: Do we want to make the most money? Or do we want to be the best walking tour company in the world? You want to make the most money you go the schlubbers route. You want to be the best walking tour company in the world you do whatever you have to do to attract and keep the best guides in London – you want them guiding for you, not for somebody else. Bears repeating: the way we’re structured – a guides’ cooperative – is the key to the whole thing. It’s the reason for all those awards, it’s the reason people who know go with London Walks, it’s the reason we’ve got a big following, a lively, loyal, discerning following – quality attracts quality.

It’s the reason we’re able – uniquely – to front our walks with accomplished, in many cases distinguished professionals: barristers, doctors, geologists, museum curators, archaeologists, historians, criminal defence lawyers, Royal Shakespeare Company actors, a bevy of MVPs, Oscar winners (people who’ve won the Guide of the Year Award)… well, you get the idea. As that travel writer famously put it, “if this were a golf tournament, every name on the Leader Board would be a London Walks guide.”

And as we put it: London Walks Guides make the new familiar and the familiar new.

And on that agreeable note…come then, let us go forward together on some great London Walks. See ya next time.

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