THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

27 posts categorized "BBC"

16 October 2017

Recording of the week: soul midwives

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This week's selection comes from Holly Gilbert, Cataloguer of Digital Multimedia Collections.

Friends, Vanessa and Felicity, talk about their work as soul midwives which involves working with people who are dying to ensure that their death is personal and dignified. They describe the different ways that people approach and experience death and how their work has changed the way that they view life and think about their own death. They discuss at length the mysteries that surround death, how other people react to what they do and the gift of insights that they feel are given to them by the people they work with. They also describe the experiences of death that made them want to do this job, they talk about how much they enjoy what they do and say that, contrary to what people might think, it actually involves a lot of joy and laughter.

The Listening Project_soul midwives (excerpt)

Vanessa and Felicity

This recording is part of The Listening Project, an audio archive of conversations recorded by the BBC and archived at the British Library. The full conversation between Vanessa and Felicity can be found here.

Follow @CollectingSound and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

24 July 2017

Recording of the week: ‘The BBC are coming on Friday, can we show them a prototype?’

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This week's selection comes from Tom Lean, Project Interviewer for An Oral History of British Science.

To anyone who grew up in the 1980s the Acorn BBC Microcomputer was the computer they used at school, a machine that gave countless Britons their first experience of computing and sold over 1.5 million units. Yet this iconic piece of computer hardware came about almost accidentally. With the world on the verge of a computer revolution in the early 1980s, the BBC were desperately searching the British electronic industry for a computer to accompany a new educational television series about computing. To a small company in Cambridge called Acorn Computers, having the BBC adopt their new computer as the BBC Computer was a deal that could transform the company into a major player. However, as Acorn designer Steve Furber recalls, there was one problem: they didn't actually have a new computer yet, and they had just a week to develop one...

Designing the Acorn BBC Microcomputer (C1379/078)

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This clip is part of Voices of Science, an online resource which uses oral history interviews with prominent British scientists and engineers to tell the stories of some of the most remarkable scientific and engineering discoveries of the past century.

Follow @BL_OralHistory and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

10 July 2017

Recording of the week: choosing dreadlocks

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This week's selection comes from Holly Gilbert, Cataloguer of Digital Multimedia Collections.

Mother and daughter, Jan and Ama, talk about why they both have dreadlocks. This is the first time they have told each other their reasons for choosing to wear their hair in this way and their motivations are quite different, though Jan’s hair definitely inspired Ama’s choice and they both really like the way that dreadlocks look and feel. They discuss how other people react to their hair and how this makes them feel as well as how their hair connects with their self-identity, their appearance and their blackness. Later in the conversation they talk about how fighting for racial and gender equality has evolved over time and is different for their respective generations, how their hair is part of being active in those fights and how choosing dreadlocks is a way of defining their own idea of beauty.

The Listening Project_Choosing dreadlocks

Jan and Ama

This recording is part of The Listening Project, an audio archive of conversations recorded by the BBC and archived at the British Library. The full conversation between Jan and Ama can be found here.

Follow @CollectingSound and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

07 March 2017

Michael Tippett: In the composer’s own voice

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Guest blog by Thomas Schuttenhelm, current Edison Fellow and author of  The Selected Letters of Michael Tippett, (Faber) a contributing author for the Tippett Cambridge Companion and monograph, also for Cambridge University Press, on The Orchestral Music of Michael Tippett: Creative Development and the Compositional Process. His book Vision and Revision: Michael Tippett’s Fifth String Quartet will be published by Ashgate-Routledge in 2017.

Tippett_at_work

Tippett at work (Courtesy of Schott Music)

Michael Tippett (1905-1998) was an English composer for whom the act of creating music was a constant obsession. His fierce commitment to composition resulted in works that were original in design and devastating in their expression. Each work by Tippett originated as a singular vision and resulted in a singular achievement and the consistency of his creative process allowed him to fashion artifacts of shocking originality. His oeuvre is comprised of works that are remarkably diverse especially when we consider that they were the product of just one composer. What is truly remarkable is that his compositional process remained so consistent throughout his many changeable creative phases.

Tippett was educated at the Royal College of Music and served as Director of Music at Morley College, London. In addition to his creative interests he was also active in broadcasting and television and his talks on music and musicians brought him widespread attention. Many of these have been preserved at the British Library Sound Archive and these will serve as a fascinating exploration into a hitherto unknown side of this dynamic creative artist. By referencing these remarks we are transported back into the historical moment and return to the most authentic source on Tippett’s music: the composer’s own voice.

Michael Tippett lived deep in the English countryside and his creative obsessions required him to live alone. This was both a choice and a necessity but this created a classic conflict between his social-emotional side and his creative side, and it left a deep ‘wound’ on his psyche as he told Dr. Antony Clare during a 1987 session In the Psychiatrists Chair.

1 Clare 23041987

In his interview with Dr. Antony Clare, Tippett continued: ‘The wound is something absolutely autonomous, something of its own …but the price, well, I was always willing to pay the price.’ Those most closely associated with the composer were well aware of his compulsion but some were unable to submit to the severity of his devotion to the creative act. Regarding his relationship with Francesca Allinson he remarked:

2 Clare 23041987

Allinson eventually committed suicide, and in the same interview Tippett admitted:  ‘Another man whom I loved and lived with at times also committed suicide [Karl Hawker]. I may, perhaps, attract people, I don’t know.’

Similar to the poetry of William Blake and William Butler Yeats, Tippett’s music was created from a self-constructed mythology. It is, at times, eccentric, but it is never without a guiding narrative or an internal logic. Tippett created characters of fantastical proportions to render these narratives through intricate operatic plotlines and in his concert music he invented such unique timbres for his themes that they required a realignment of the planes of musical abstraction. These attributes often confounded the public and he was occasionally the target of sharp criticisms, but his singular devotion to the creative impulse allowed him to persevere, and with each successive work his creative identity became stronger and his music became more strikingly original.

Tippett spent a considerable amount of time contemplating the details of his compositions and the essence of his originality lay in the conceptual dimensions that were so uniquely conceived for each individual work. Multiplicities abound in his music but they always remain in the service of a strong integrated vision for the particular composition.  

Tippett’s solitary existence allowed him the contemplative atmosphere in which to envision some radical music but he firmly declared that he needed, always, to maintain a strong contact with the world in which he was a part. His compositional process would transform his experiences into the materials he required for his music. Tippett’s imagination was luminous and it radiated outward, through the splendor of Augustinian windows, onto panoramic vistas that resounded with otherworldly music.  He explained to John Warrack on Musical Influences broadcast on 21 May 1969. 

3 Warrack 21051969

Inspiration for specific works often came from some outside source but his creative impulse was internal and his allegiance to it was unwavering. This process was often a mysterious one, even to the composer but he had an implicit trust in his powers of invention to guide his ear towards the sounds that gave the strongest resonance to his fertile imagination.

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Tippett in later years by Jane Bown (Courtesy of Schott Music)

Throughout Tippett’s long life he witnessed many shifts in style but he was unaffected by these changes and remained committed to creating his own original music.  Here he talks to Natalie Wheen in one of his last broadcast interviews from 1995.

5 Wheen 021995

Tippett had an exceptional ability to capture the ethos of his time and he used this ability to create music where the hideous—‘mans inhumanity toward man’—and strongest visions of affirmation were placed into the strangest combinations. In the aura of its release, where chaos and brought into a convincing but temporary reconciliation, we are reminded how essential Tippett was to shaping the soundscape of contemporary music.

The Edison Fellowships are funded by the Saga Trust.  Three of the extracts come from recordings in the Alan Cooban collection (C1398) which was digitised with funding from the Saga Trust.

Follow all the latest Classical news on Twitter @BL_Classical

31 December 2016

Recording of the week: the first New Year's Eve radio message

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This special New Year's Eve selection comes from Paul Wilson, Curator of Radio.

On New Year’s Eve of 1922, just six weeks after the first official BBC radio broadcasts were aired, the first ever New Year’s message was transmitted, generating a mixture of awe and some wild speculation about what this new medium might mean for the future.

Leeds Mercury 1 Jan 1923

The Leeds Mercury, 1 January 1923

Whereas the Leeds Mercury was ‘bewildered’ at the thought that ‘hundreds’ of people might be listening, the Falkirk Herald predicted that by 1950 ‘men about town will be carrying a listening-in set in their waistcoat pocket’ and that ‘probably we shall be in touch with other worlds’.

Meanwhile, in Lincoln sixteen year old Alfred Taylor made a brief but more down-to-earth note of what he heard on 2ZY (the BBC's Manchester station) and 2LO (London) in his personal Wireless Log, along with the names of some neighbours who dropped by to ‘listen-in’ with him:

Alfred Taylor Radio Listening Log 1 Jan 1923

Alfred Taylor's Wireless Log entry for New Year's Eve, 1922

A decade later, producer Lance Sieveking was making a feature to mark the end of the BBC’s first decade but found there were virtually no surviving recordings with which to illustrate it. He therefore set about reconstructing some of the key radio moments of the 1920s by asking the original speakers to re-read from their original scripts. Today they give as accurate an impression of what the BBC sounded like in those first years as we will ever have.

This is one of them – a reconstruction of that first New Year’s Eve message broadcast from Marconi House on 31 December 1922. Now, as we move from a bewildering year into one which promises to be even stranger, the Reverend Fleming’s message seems as apt as ever: 

BBC First New Year's Eve Address 1922

Happy New Year from all of us here at the sound archive!

08 July 2016

'The future looks very good' - the early days of penicillin

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Alexis Bennett is an Edison Fellow at the British Library Sound Archive, and is currently completing his PhD in music at Goldsmiths, University of London, where he is an Associate Lecturer. He is also a composer and performer.  Here he takes a diversion, and writes about two lacquer discs that he and his family donated to the Sound Archive, that provide a glimpse into a moment in medical history. 

Returning to the family home in South London for Christmas last year, I did the usual trawl through my parents’ collection of old vinyl. Among the Beatles and the Bob Dylan, the Bothy Band and the Brahms, I found two unusually heavy discs with pencilled handwriting on BBC labels. I had been an Edison Fellow at the British Library for a few months already, so I knew what I had stumbled across. These were lacquers, unique recordings made by the BBC for broadcast at a later date. Before the use of magnetic tape, recording was achieved by cutting direct to blank lacquer discs, but they were also used widely to archive radio broadcast material, so many lacquers that survive contain interviews or live music that was broadcast.

One of the discs, dated 26 September 1945, is labelled “ORIGIN: St. Mary’s - TITLE: Dr Dooley / Penicillin”.  The other reads, “TITLE: Irish Song – SUBTITLE: MacNamara’s Band – ARTISTS: St. Mary’s Hospital RC.” It was clear that these discs related to my late grandfather, Dr Denis Dooley (1913-2010) who at one time was given the rather curious title of ‘Her Majesty’s Inspector of Anatomy’.  He worked as a doctor and medical researcher in London during the Second World War, notably under Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin. Fleming had made his historic discovery in 1928, but continued developing it for many years, hiring assistants like my grandfather along the way.

The first recording contains a short interview (duration 00:01:43) with my grandfather on the subject of the development of penicillin, and in it he gives his thoughts on how he and his colleagues decide to whom it should be given, and on its future. The interview, recorded shortly after the end of the war, is a fascinating snapshot of the beginnings of the use of antibiotics in medicine.


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MLO2924 Penicillin Dr Dooley

A transcript can be read below:

Interviewer: Only recently has it been possible for civilian cases to be treated in this country with penicillin. We’ve brought the microphone today to St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, where penicillin was first discovered by Sir Alexander Fleming, in the laboratories here. And here beside me is Sir Alexander’s first assistant Dr Dooley, who is now the penicillin registrar of the hospital. Dr Dooley, is there enough penicillin to go round now?

Dooley: Well, frankly, there is not, really. There’s enough for the hospitals, for the really sick patients in hospitals, but if the general practitioner wants any for example, he’s got to come and ask for it. And he can’t just ask for it, he has to give us the particulars of the case, and then we consider whether it’s suitable for penicillin therapy.

Interviewer: Yes I see, so that there’s no wastage.

Dooley: That’s the main thing.

Interviewer: Of course penicillin is entirely government controlled isn’t it? How is it allocated to you?

Dooley: Well we get it direct from one of the ministries, the Ministry of Health I believe. And they also supply it to the other large hospitals, and we supply it to the small hospitals from here.

Interviewer: From here, I see. And what about the future?

Dooley: Well the future looks very good. The factories now producing it are producing a lot more, and there is a large hospital – a large factory in the north of England which is being –

Interviewer: Built…

Dooley: Built now…

Interviewer: Amongst the many others I suppose.

Dooley: Oh yes, there’s lots more going up and down the country.

Interviewer: And you think we’ll be alright?

Dooley: Oh, I’m sure we will.

Interviewer: Thank you very much.

 

Denis Dooley

 

The second disc is a fairly ramshackle recording of a well-known Irish song, MacNamara’s Band, sung by a group of apparent non-musicians who were presumably St Mary’s personnel, including my grandfather. There might be more to their choice of song than its popularity. The historical MacNamara’s Band was formed by four brothers in the Parish of St Mary’s, Limerick, where some members of my family still live. My grandfather might have known the origin of the song, and – being the kind of person who was interested in making connections like this – might have enjoyed the fact that the eponymous band was formed in a place called St Mary’s.

MLO 1189 MacNamara's Band

 

17 June 2016

Galton and Simpson: earliest recordings of BAFTA Fellowship writers discovered

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Tristan Brittain-Dissont writes:

As the newly appointed Archivist of the Tony Hancock Appreciation Society, I recently decided to search for material relevant to ‘the Lad’ within the British Library’s Sound & Moving Image catalogue.

To my surprise, within just a few minutes I had made one of the most extraordinary discoveries in the history of radio comedy. Hidden in plain sight were details of numerous recordings of a BBC radio series from 1951 which historians have to date assumed to be lost – a show which would not only transform Hancock’s career, but also change the course of British comedy.

Happy-Go-Lucky (HGL) was a one-hour variety show broadcast on the Light Programme, commencing in August 1951. It was a vehicle for Derek Roy, a significant star of the time, but now largely forgotten. Conceived as a ‘light-hearted blend’ of comedy and music, it turned out to be a low-brow mess. By October, the writers had been fired; the producer had suffered a nervous

Derek Roy (courtesy of the Galton and Simpson Archive, by kind permission)
Derek Roy (1922-1981), star of Happy-Go-Lucky. Courtesy of the Galton and Simpson Archive

breakdown; and one of the regular sketches was so poor that the up-and-coming comic leading it was begging for his performances to be excised from broadcast. In desperation, the new producer – BBC legend Dennis Main Wilson – called a meeting of cast and crew. He turned to two young men, who were there only because they had recently started selling jokes to Roy for a few shillings a time. He asked them if they could write the last few shows of the series so it could limp to completion before Christmas; and they agreed.

Those two young men – who, at this stage, could in no way be considered scriptwriters – were Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, not long out of a TB hospital where they had first met. In taking on HGL, they began one of the most significant comedy writing collaborations we have ever seen. And if this was not significant enough, consider the following. On November 11th 1951, as Galton and Simpson sat in the stalls watching their first scripts being rehearsed at the Paris Cinema, the young comic who was so unhappy with his role in the show walked past them. ‘Did you write that?’ he said. ‘Very funny.’ It was Tony Hancock. This was the first time the three men had met. Between them, they would go on to create arguably the greatest radio and television sitcom of all time - Hancock’s Half Hour - and a comic character - Anthony Aloysius St. John Hancock – that has achieved immortality. 

Simpson, Hancock and Galton (Courtesy of the Galton and Simpson Archive)
Alan Simpson (left), Tony Hancock (centre) and Ray Galton in the 1950s.

For decades, every authority on Tony, Galton, Simpson and, indeed, British comedy has insisted that no recordings of HGL had survived. Only a small proportion of BBC radio's comedy output could be archived at that time, but it has now transpired that Derek Roy wisely had many recordings of his broadcasts made privately. Following Roy's death they were deposited with the British Library in the 1990s, their full significance not initially recognised.

How, therefore, to describe the feeling I had when I started scrolling through the details of these lost shows (and, a little later, listening to them)? I can only do this best, I feel by comparison. Imagine finding a copy of The Madhouse on Castle Street, a BBC teleplay featuring a then unknown Bob Dylan. Or Humourisk, the first Marx Brothers film. Or Pilgrim on the Hill, one of three early novels by Philip K. Dick. All are considered lost and constitute the earliest known works of the artists in question. Finding the HGL recordings means we can hear, for the first time in 65 years, the first ever work written by Galton and Simpson and broadcast on the national airwaves.

Script from the Galton and Simpson Archive used by kind permission
Original script for 'Current Affairs' sketch. Courtesy of the Galton and Simpson Archive

This sketch, called Current Affairs in the Galton and Simpson Archive, formed the opening monologue of the show broadcast on 6 September 1951:

Happy-Go-Lucky - 6 September 1951

Here is an excerpt from Galton and Simpson's American Crime sketch from the episode of the following week:

Happy-Go-Lucky - 13 September 1951 

The episode of 26 November 1951 featured the scriptwriting duo's sketch Captain Henry Morgan which ends in this extract with a self-deprecating G&S joke in response to some barbs about their youthful inexperience, the pair barely in their 20s at this time:

Happy-Go-Lucky - 26 November 1951

An equally extraordinary find was an excerpt from a BBC radio series called Variety Ahoy!, broadcast in early 1952, a few weeks after the demise of HGL. Roy was the guest star and in the course of a monologue called Naval Story he tells the 'Jane Russell pontoon' gag . Incredibly, this was the first joke that Galton and Simpson ever wrote and sold. It featured in a short handwritten sketch that they had submitted to the BBC in mid-1951 to tout for work. Roy was the only performer to take interest which led to them providing jokes for 5 shillings each for his HGL appearances:

Variety Ahoy! - 22 January 1952

Sadly, Roy’s understandable concern with preserving his own performances, and the prohibitive cost of recording complete shows on acetate disc (tape recording was just emerging as a domestic medium at this time), has come at a cost to comedy historians. Since he and Tony did not perform together in the show the recordings contain nothing of the Lad other than a few mentions in the closing credits. Any disappointment in this regard, however, must be outweighed by the sheer

Happy-Go-Lucky, BBC Light Programme, 6th September 1951
Derek Roy's recording of the first recorded work of Galton and Simpson

delight in finding recordings that played such an integral part in the history of post-war British comedy and popular culture. Reflecting upon this experience, I would strongly urge people to check those long-neglected boxes in their lofts, garages and basements. For although the Library continues to discover and rescue early radio recordings today, curators nevertheless believe that a portion of the UK´s radio history is probably being discarded each week by people who have inherited collections, are unaware of their importance and do not know what to do with them. I have only recently discovered the soundtracks of two lost episodes of the televised version of Hancock’s Half Hour in such a collection. I am convinced that still more will come to light if collection owners take the trouble to contact local or national archives, libraries or subject specialists such as me for advice.

The Library´s Save Our Sounds project intends to make this process easier by establishing a network of ten regional archival hubs around the UK, each equipped and staffed to make many of these assessment, acquisition and preservation decisions locally. This will also reduce the need to transport fragile media, such as ‘acetate’ discs, over long distances. Whilst Hancock, Galton and Simpson´s work had nationwide impact and therefore rightly belongs within the collections of the national library, much regionally or locally produced content may be better understood, interpreted and contextualised within regional archives, at least until such times as its copyright status permits it to be made more widely accessible online.

News and further reading:

BBC News: Ray Galton and Alan Simpson to get Bafta Fellowship

British Library's Sound and Moving Image catalogue

Tony Hancock Appreciation Society

British Library on Twitter @soundarchive and @BLSoundHeritage

Tony Hancock Archive on Twitter: @HancockArchive

02 June 2016

Archival Ingredients: cooking up a documentary for Radio 4's The Food Programme

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You might think that being involved in the making of Radio 4’s The Food Programme is a glamorous gig… and it certainly felt that way! After months of enthusing about the British Library’s oral history archives, contributing clips to episodes of The Food Programme and searching ever deeper into the food archives, we had so much material that we began to craft a full episode dedicated to food in the archives. Our programme came together under the knowledgeable direction of producer Clare Salisbury. As the broadcast date approached we whizzed around with Clare and her microphone visiting butchers, chefs, restauranteurs and food-entrepreneurs playing them extracts that we’d uncovered in the British Library’s sound archive and hearing their stories in return. 

In particular we were focusing on an archive that is rich in intimate, biographical stories and provides a unique way of recording the rapid changes in food consumption and production within living memory. Housed at the British Library, Food: From Source to Salespoint is a collection within National Life Stories which holds nearly 300 life story interviews with individuals involved in the food industry. The interviewees worked in sectors as diverse as animal slaughter, national food-retail and restaurants. 

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Image: Interviewing Paul Langley in the chiller. Cramer’s butchers shop on York Way, London. Photo: Barley Blyton

The seed for this programme was realising that the archives had made us acutely aware of changes in our own city (London), and had brought these dramatic shifts to life. For instance, surfacing from the tube at Kings Cross we now imagined the traffic replaced with cattle being driven up the same roads to market. Shopping in Brixton would conjure the accounts of butcher Ron Stedman describing the high street, as he recounts popping out for a ‘six-penny-worth of broken eggs’ in the 1930s. Food: From Source to Salespoint has interviews with food producers around the UK: from the North of Scotland to the South coast.

The broadcast of this programme coincides with 120 of these food industry interviews being made available online - that's nearly 1000 hours of stories - and for the first time they are accessible to listen to from anywhere! Just follow this link: http://sounds.bl.uk/Oral-history/Food

We wanted to know how those working in the food industry today felt about some of these changes and also to introduce them to this unique record of the food industry being preserved at the British Library.

In just one week we chewed the fat with Ashley Palmer Watts, head chef at Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner, discussed food and philosophies of happiness with one of the world’s most influential restauranteurs Alan Yau OBE, (renowned for ventures such as Wagamama, Hakasan and Park Chinois) and enjoyed tea and serenity with Sally Clarke at her Notting Hill restaurant where she has been for over 30 years. We also returned to Cramer’s butchers shop on York Way in North London whose doors have been open for 100 years. Both Phillip Cramer and his butcher’s boy Paul Langley who now owns Cramer’s were recorded for the archive more than fifteen years ago:

To give you a ‘taster’ of what we played from the archives, this is a clip from Micheline starred chef Shaun Hill, talking about the early 1970s when he worked at a restaurant called The Gay Hussar in Soho:

Shaun Hill talks about working at The Gay Hussar in the 1970s


Shaun’s interview is a brilliant example of how these life stories can capture a changing industry, but also the changing attitudes of a population within the span of a single career. I wonder what today’s clientele of the Walnut Tree near Abergavenny (where Shaun still cooks) would make of carp with a pike’s head?

There are now 120 recordings now available on British Library Sounds. For more clips just click here: http://sounds.bl.uk/Oral-history/FoodTune in on June 5th at 12.32 to hear more of ‘An Archive for Food’ on BBC Radio 4. 

Barley Blyton and Polly Russell 
Barley and Polly held the inaugural National Life Stories Goodison Fellowship in 2015 for their project Food Matters