Sound and vision blog

55 posts categorized "Interviews"

31 January 2017

When politics meets science: Tam Dalyell, Labour MP (1932-2017)

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The many tributes to Tam Dalyell, who died last Thursday, paid little attention to his unswerving interest in scientific affairs throughout a 43-year career as an MP.


Tam Dalvell, Labour MP (1932-2017), courtesy of Douglas Robertson and the University of Edinburgh

Dalyell read history and economics at Cambridge in the 1950s, yet acknowledged in his 2012 interview for the History of Parliament oral history project “it’s important that there were particularly others from the sciences that I got to know very well”.

While at university he was friends with Ron Peierls, son of nuclear physicist Sir Rudolf Peierls, and attended lectures given by physicists Sir James Chadwick and Otto Frisch.

Dalyell on attending lectures given by Otto Frisch (British Library Reference: C1503/38)

Dalyell knew many world-famous scientists through his friendship with David Schoenberg, head of the Mond Laboratory in Cambridge. In 1964 he was the only MP on a high-level science/political delegation to the Soviet Union, witnessing how personal relationships within the international science community could transcend Cold War politics.

However it was through writing a weekly column for New Scientist for 37 years that Dalyell “provided a conduit for researchers to speak to Parliament and vice versa”.

Dalyell’s support for the public understanding of science demonstrates that parliamentarians who are actively involved in debates about science do not necessarily come to Westminster with a scientific background, as interviews with other former MPs confirm.

Patrick Jenkin (MP for Wanstead and Woodford, 1964-1987), who died in December 2016, spoke about having never been taught science at school, yet he became president of both the Foundation for Science and Technology and the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee. He was chair of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee during its 2000 inquiry into Science and Society.

David Price (MP for Eastleigh, 1955-92) read history at university but in Parliament became a vigorous campaigner for British industry and space research.

David Price on his involvement in space research (British Library Reference: C1503/19)

The interviews also reveal that MPs with a technical or scientific background were not always comfortable adopting a visible position on science. “I really didn’t feel sufficiently technically qualified in order to become, as it were, a technical guru in Parliament, so in the end I concentrated on foreign affairs,” said Ben Ford (MP for Bradford North, 1964-83), despite a thorough knowledge of aviation electronics and experience of lecturing on productivity at INSEAD and the University of Cambridge.

From accounts such as these, it seems that there was little correlation between these MPs’ scientific credentials and an inclination to be actively involved in Westminster’s consideration of science.

The interview clips featured in this blog are sourced from the ongoing  History of Parliament Oral History Project (deposited at the British Library). For further interviews in this collection, search 'C1503' in the Sound and Moving Image catalogue. Further oral history interviews relating to Science and British Scientist can be found via the Sound and Moving Image, online via BL Sounds and the Voices of Science webpage, the website of the Oral History of British Science programme, led by National Life Stories in association with the Science Museum, and with support from the Arcadia Fund.

Emmeline Ledgerwood, AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Student, University of Leicester and The British Library

23 January 2017

Recording of the week: Exotic food? Exotic through whose perspective?

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This week's selection comes from Niamh Dillon, National Life Stories Project Interviewer.

Rosamund Grant was born in Guyana and moved to London as a young woman in the 1960s.  Here she discusses challenging European stereotypes of Caribbean food and how she defines herself through her cooking.

Rosamund Grant_Not just Caribbean Stew


The recording is part of the Food: from Source to Salespoint collection which documents changes in the production, manufacture, retail and consumption of food in Britain in the twentieth and twenty first century. 

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

22 December 2016

Christmas and everyday making

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Michael Brennand Wood
‘Burst’, 2009 by Michael Brennand-Wood (Machine embroidered blooms, wire, toy soldiers, fabric and acrylic on wood base). Photograph by Peter Mennim.

National Life Stories’ long life history interviews all ask questions about the interviewee’s childhood, seeking to capture something of their family history, their early memories, and the interests, influences and accidents that led them to take up their chosen careers. In interviewing for Crafts Lives we ask particularly about family members who made things and a childhood interest in making. The 1940s and 50s, when most of our interviewees grew up, provide rich material. The interviews are full of grandfathers with workshops, fathers bodging up greenhouses and garden gates, go-cart making and sewing, knitting and cooking. It was an age of make do and mend when ingenuity was required even though the results were sometimes surprising. Here textile artist Michael Brennand-Wood recalls seeing his treasured green teddy bear return from being mended by his grandmother.

Michael Brennand-Wood

It is difficult, as the person being interviewed, to recall the detail of everyday life and the making that went into feeding, clothing and homemaking that was so habitual that it formed part of the unexamined texture of childhood. One way to help the interviewee is to ask questions about the details. In this clip textile artist Michele Walker initially says that no one in her family made anything but careful questioning reveals interesting nuggets of information about the jumpers that were always knitted as Christmas presents with wool from a yarn club and leads on to her talking about the things she made herself as a child.

Michele Walker 

Questions about Christmas in general are often fruitful as people tend to have clearer memories of the heightened atmosphere of high days and holidays. In addition it is a time when people particularly invest time in making: - in cooking special food, making presents and creating decorations. Here jeweller Andrew Logan describes the Christmas tree fairy made by his mother, which is still a prized family possession.

Andrew Logan

The making that characterised many interviewees’ childhoods in the 1940s and 50s was on an everyday, almost unconsidered, level. Much of it was borne of necessity but listening to the interviews also reveals the care, skill, creativity and talent for improvisation that went into everyday making. It was from this landscape of practical intelligence that the studio craftspeople and designer makers of the 1960s and 70s emerged to take craft in new and unexpected directions. Even if making is not as universal as it once was, Christmas is still the highpoint of the calendar.  Whether it’s Christmas cakes or cards with glue gun and glitter, happy making and Happy Christmas.

By Frances Cornford

NLS Project Interviewer

13 December 2016

Artists’ Lives Exhibition at Tate Britain

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From now until Autumn 2017, selected audio recordings from National Life Stories’ Artists’ Lives project (C466) will be on display at Tate Britain, London, as part of the free exhibition, ARTISTS’ LIVES: SPEAKING OF THE KASMIN GALLERY.

  172 kasmin on phone 118Kasmin in his gallery at 118 New Bond Street, c.1966. Photograph courtesy Kasmin.

Celebrating the history of the Kasmin Gallery, a Mayfair gallery that played a key role in the art scene of 1960s London, the exhibition brings together artwork originally shown in the gallery (subsequently acquired by Tate), including the works of Jules Olitski (1922-2007) and Robyn Denny (1930-2014), together with related audio extracts from Artists’ Lives (available via touch-screens in the exhibition’s seating area) that allow visitors to explore the history of the Kasmin Gallery and developing art market through the voices of those directly involved, including artists, curators and Kasmin himself.

To mark the launch of the exhibition, a conversation event was held at Tate Britain on Friday 9 December 2016, which saw gallerist Kasmin, Nicholas Serota, Director of Tate, and biographer and cultural historian Fiona MacCarthy reflect on their own personal experiences of life story interviews, as well as the content of the exhibition itself. A one-day conference entitled The Voice of the Artist was also held at the Courtauld Institute of Art on Saturday 10 December 2016, which brought together artists, curators, art historians and oral history experts to explore the importance, relevance and complications of life story interviews in the context of art studies and art education. Novelist William Boyd gave the conference’s keynote lecture, which discussed his 1998 fictitious biography Nat Tate: An American Artist 1928–1960 and the centrality and importance of life stories in his work.


74390004Kamsin gallery exteriorKasmin outside the Kasmin Gallery on New Bond Street, 1960s. Photograph courtesy Kasmin.

Over 200 Artists’ Lives life story recordings are now freely available on BL Sounds, the British Library’s online sound resource. To explore Artists’ Lives interviews not online please search the British Library’s Sound and Moving Image catalogue.

Artists’ Lives is run by National Life Stories at the British Library in association with Tate. The Henry Moore Foundation, The Henry Moore Institute and the Yale Center for British Art have supported the project since its inception in 1990. National Life Stories is grateful to all its sponsors in relation to the exhibition ARTISTS’ LIVES: SPEAKING OF THE KASMIN GALLERY, particularly the Gubenkian Foundation UK and the Rootstein Hopkins Foundation.

Dr Cai Parry-Jones

Curator, Oral History

30 November 2016

Beneath the calm exterior: A glimpse into the world of the Crown Court clerk

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 Michael McKenzie QC, Clerk of the Central Criminal Court 1979-84.

Crown Court clerks are pivotal to administering trials of the most serious criminal offences such as burglary, rape, murder and terrorism. In-depth life history interviews with former Crown Court clerks have revealed how they dealt with listening to harrowing stories day after day. Interviewees spoke about the effort involved in trying to appear expressionless and impartial, as their job demanded, particularly when they may have been feeling incensed by what they were hearing in court, or holding back tears, or trying not to laugh and to keep a straight face. They described taking a verdict in a murder trial, their hearts pounding, palms sweating, absorbing the tension in the courtroom, and feeling nervous about taking the verdict correctly under pressure. Interviewees discussed the emotive moment the foreman of the jury has just announced the defendant has been found, “Guilty”, and then the court clerk waits until the shouts and wails from the public gallery have abated before they carry on, seemingly unphased and unflappable, in their measured and controlled ‘court voice’. They spoke about seeing photographs of murders and injuries that were so disturbing that they made the conscious decision that they would never look at court photos again; the horror of dealing with child abuse cases especially; having nightmares when they first began clerking; and recounting in vivid detail the cases that they said came back to haunt them. In the following clip, clerk of the Central Criminal Court between 1979-84, Michael McKenzie QC reflected on putting the charges to the notorious serial killer, Peter Sutcliffe, known as the Yorkshre Ripper.

Michael McKenzie reflects on putting the charges to the Yorkshire Ripper

The Crown Court clerk interviews were conducted by PhD student Dvora Liberman and will be publicly accessible towards the end of 2017. This collection was created as part of a collaborative research project between National Life Stories and the Legal Biography Project at the London School of Economics.

By Dvora Liberman


13 October 2016

Sir Neville Marriner – an interview

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Photo by Werner Bethsold (CC BY-SA 4.0)

When Neville Marriner died on 2nd October at the age of 92, it made me think of the time that I visited his home with Norman Lebrecht to interview him for the British Library.

A wonderfully charming and unpretentious man of extraordinary modesty, he talked for two and a half hours about many aspects of his life including his experiences with Albert Sammons and Benjamin Britten.  He began his career as a violinist and formed the Academy of St Martin in the Fields in 1958 in which he played violin and conducted.  Later, with encouragement from the great conductor Pierre Monteux, he left his violin and took to the podium as conductor.

Below is an excerpt where he talks about advice he received from Pierre Monteux - and one difficult journey to Maine where Monteux taught.

Marriner on Monteux

One of the most recorded conductors, Marriner made more than 600 recordings of over 2000 works from pre-baroque to contemporary music.  Most of these are held in the British Library’s Sound & Vision collections complimented by numerous broadcast recordings from his long career.

21 September 2016

‘It’s in the detail of a handrail… it’s in how the building is put together.’

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Last weekend, thousands of people visited London buildings as part of Open House 2016. In this blog, oral history project interviewer Niamh Dillon shares the stories of two architects who designed some of these iconic buildings. 

‘It’s in the detail of a handrail… it’s in how the building is put together.’

This was Denys Lasdun’s response in the late 1960s to criticism that his recently designed National Theatre on London’s south bank lacked detail and decoration.

 National Theatre, photo by Bill Knight

Lasdun on the National Theatre

The National Theatre and south bank are part of Open House 2016.  The continued popularity of this event indicates the growing public interest in the often private spaces of public buildings.  Open House allows members of the public the opportunity to experience buildings first hand, and it is wonderful to hear from those living and working in these spaces.  We visited Stoneleigh Terrace, now part of the Whittington Estate, designed by Peter Tabori, then a young architect working in the architects department at Camden Council.  The owner delighted in the light and space, and the attention to detail which made living there such a pleasure.  Working alongside Peter Tabori at Camden Council was Neave Brown, and we are fortunate to have a recording with him as part of Architects’ Lives. This ongoing project features key architects working in Britain over the last century and many of the buildings featured in Open House this year are discussed in Architects Lives.   In his recording, Sir Jeremy Dixon describes working on Kings Place in the Kings Cross area of London when it was in transition from an underused part of the city to one featuring new and refurbished educational, office and residential buildings.  Jeremy Dixon explains how he wanted the façade of Kings Place to work with the surrounding area.

Jeremy Dixon on Kings Place

Kings Place Jeremy Dixon

Kings Place by Dixon Jones (photo by Niamh Dillon)

Unlike Denys Lasdun, Dixon Jones enjoyed acclaim rather then criticism for Kings Place, but these recordings explain the context and evolution of each building. Hear more at

Niamh Dillon

14 September 2016

Paralympics Memories

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As the focus in Rio shifts from the Olympics to the Paralympics this blog reflects on what we can learn from the British Library oral history collections about the history of the Paralympics, changing opportunities for participation in disability sport and shifting attitudes to them.  These collections provide perspectives from within the disabled community as well as from those outside it.

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy Retirement Association Oral History Project is an extensive collection that includes recollections of the Stoke Mandeville Games, the predecessors of the Paralympics. Gill McCay recalls watching the games, which were for athletes with spinal injuries, while Ida Bromley remembers the involvement of physiotherapists in the early years and their need to engage specialist help as the range of sports expanded.

Ida Bromley on the early days of physiotherapist's involvement

By the time Tanni Grey-Thompson and Danny Crates were competing and winning gold medals in the Paralympics in the late 20th and early 21st century the scale and scope of the event had expanded significantly to include many thousands of athletes from around the globe.  For them competition was intense and success required many hours of training, foregoing the company of family and friends to focus on their athletic ambitions.

Training on Christmas day

Learning to think like an athlete

Listening Project interviews with teenage amputees Kieran Maxwell and Ryan Cinnamond reveal how the achievements of Paralympic athletes fuelled their sporting ambitions and raised their own expectations as they learned to walk again with prosthetic legs after life-threatening illnesses.

Kieran Maxwell:  ‘Doing cartwheels with a prosthetic leg’

Ryan Cinnamond: ‘On learning to run again’ (29:53 to 32.20)

These hopes and expectations seem a long way from many of the experiences recounted by older interviewees in the collection’ “How Was School?” Interviews with Disabled People about their experience of Education over the last 100 years. Here interviewees such as Joanne Akallo Wacha recall the difficulties they experienced in getting involved in sport, usually the result of the lack of facilities or relevant expertise and absence of any encouragement.

Disappointing PE lessons

This collection also reveals a range of views on the Paralympics themselves, with some contributors expressing the view that the event does a good job or raising awareness and promoting inclusion, while others remained sceptical about its positive outcomes. 

Spectators are also represented in the collection, including William Burn, charity administrator, who attended the Stoke Mandeville Games in the 1950s (C984/14/01). As the collections continue to grow it is likely that they will also include more recollections on the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics such as those of architect Rab Bennetts (C467/103) who reflects on changing attitudes towards disability as well as the architectural legacy of the events.

By Dr Sally Horrocks