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Keeping Calm In London, In Spite Of Terror

People lay floral tributes to the victims of the March 22 terror attack in Parliament Square outside the Houses of Parliament in central London.
Adrian Dennis
AFP/Getty Images
People lay floral tributes to the victims of the March 22 terror attack in Parliament Square outside the Houses of Parliament in central London.

Twitter and other social media platforms often seem anti-social: mean, ugly avenues where people bash, blame and fulminate. But this week, just a couple of hours after the terrorist in front of the British Parliament killed four people and wounded scores of others from all over the world, the official U.K. Parliament Twitter account posted a short note of simple nobility:

It was a quiet message of defiance; an understated, eloquent way to say: We're still here. Business as usual. The show of democracy goes on.

Years ago, I was at a play at Shaftesbury Theatre in London — a British bedroom farce, if you can imagine — when three bobbies walked into the action onstage. With all the doors slamming and actors prancing in sheets and towels, a lot of us in the audience thought the men in tall blue police helmets had to be in the show. But they were real bobbies. One called out from the stage, "Sorry to halt the show, but a threat has been called into the theater. We must ask you to leave, quickly and calmly please. Thank you."

Tom Conti, one of the stars of the play, came out to stand alongside them.

"Thank you, ladies and gentlemen," he said. "Please do leave calmly now. You see, we actors won't leave until you do."

There had been a recent bombing outside the Harrods department store by the Irish Republican Army that killed six people during the holiday season. Almost every month in London you heard about bombs and threats. Yet life went on.

I remember the astonishing quiet of several hundred people who filed out of the theater in just three or four minutes. All you really heard was the soft scuffling of a thousand shoes.

I went into the small park across the way, because a reporter really should stay around if something's about to explode. But I saw a lot of people who had been in the theater, too. And within a few minutes, Tom Conti and the actors also came out to the park. They picked up the play from the moment they had to stop it onstage and performed it to the end, standing on benches and shouting their lines above the belching buses along Shaftesbury Avenue.

The threat to the theater turned out to be a hoax. But it inspired — and I think that's the word — a true show of a great city's character.

When a vicious terror attack struck the heart of London this week, London's heart stopped for a moment; and then went on.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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