Sound and vision blog

146 posts categorized "Oral history"

04 April 2018

The Gender Pay Gap – a historical perspective from Women in Publishing

Add comment

Sarah O'Reilly, oral history interviewer, writes about the Women in Publishing oral history project which launches its new website today.

Today marks the deadline for employers to publish information on their gender pay gap – that is, the pay disparity between their male and female workers. The government’s aim is to raise awareness and to trigger a debate about how men and women are paid.

Which is it you want - equality or maternity leave by Jacky Fleming cropped

Cartoon by Jacky Fleming (copyright Jacky Fleming)

From the information released so far, we’ve seen that men are better paid across the board. They dominate the upper end of the pay scale and more of them have the best jobs.

Since The Equal Pay Act of 1970 it’s been illegal to pay men and women different rates for equal work. So if the gap isn’t about women being paid less for equal work, what’s going on?

It’s a question that members of the campaigning group, Women in Publishing, sought to answer almost forty years ago when they looked at their own industry. They found that even though women outnumbered men two to one in publishing, they were rarely to be found in senior positions.

Why? Charlotte Gascoigne (C1657/06), who in 1985 was an editor of educational books at Longman, describes the assumptions made by employers about female members of staff.

Charlotte Gascoigne on the attitudes that held women back in the workplace

In 1989, WiP published ‘Twice an Many, Half as Powerful’, an independent survey that gathered data relating to employment patterns and pay. Clare Baker (C1657/17), the first female sales rep at Cambridge University Press (and a member of WiP’s survey committee), remembers the impetus behind it.

Clare Baker discusses the glass ceiling and 'Twice as Many Half as Powerful'

By the 1990s, things seemed to be moving towards a more equal distribution of power. In educational publishing Paula Kahn was chair and chief executive of Longman; in trade publishing Victoria Barnsley, the founder of Fourth Estate, was on her way to becoming the CEO and publisher of Harper Collins; in 1991 Gail Rebuck was made chair and chief executive of Random House UK. But not everyone was happy to see a woman in charge of a major publishing company. Here Gail Rebuck (C1657/11) describes the response of the UK press to her promotion.

Gail Rebuck recalls her depiction as 'a Barbie doll who crunched diamonds between her teeth' in the UK press

Today, almost 40 years after Women in Publishing was founded, companies with over 250 employees have been publishing their own gender pay gaps, and the government has been drawing together its conclusions as to why men dominate in terms of pay and power: many high paying sectors of the economy are disproportionately made up of male workers; a much higher proportion of women work part-time (and part-time workers earn less on average than their full time counterparts), and women are still less likely to progress up the career ladder into high paying senior roles.

Which prompts the question: if the gender pay gap reveals disparities in the jobs men and women do, and the way in which men and women are promoted, to what extent have women managed to shake off the stereotypes that were holding them back in 1979? And do the recent figures suggest that women are still being penalized for being mothers – or simply having the potential to bear children - in the workplace? Why are the majority of those in senior positions overwhelmingly male? And, after a period where women were heading up companies, have we come full circle?

To learn more about the fight for gender equality in the workplace, and about the campaigning group Women in Publishing, go to the new Women in Publishing oral history website which launches today.

03 April 2018

National Life Stories Podcast Episode 6: Science and Religion

Add comment

“As soon as you say that you’re working on a project on Science and Religion everyone listening to that will have certain assumptions of what that could mean… you’re probably not thinking about something as unconventional or as imaginative as these examples seem to suggest”

Episode 6 of National Life Stories podcast features Paul Merchant talking to Charlie Morgan about his work on the project Science and Religion: Exploring the Spectrum. The oral histories conducted by Paul were part of a much larger project run out of Newman University, York University and the University of Kent and led by Dr Fern Elsdon Baker and Professor Bernard Lightman. You find out more information on their website.

Episode 6 image

All the interviews conducted by Paul are available on British Library Sounds. Clips in the episode are taken from the following interviews:

If you’d like to learn more check out our collection guide on Oral histories of religion and belief.

National Life Stories Podcast Episode 6: Science and Religion

02 April 2018

Recording of the week: anyone for tig/it/tag?

Add comment

This week's selection comes from Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English.

The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren (Peter and Iona Opie, 1959) lists numerous regional variants for ‘truce terms’ – the code word used to withdraw briefly from a playground chasing game or to seek immunity from capture – including barley in the West Midlands, skinch in the North East, kings in Yorkshire, cree in South Wales and the West Country and scribs in Hampshire. The Lore of the Playground (Steve Roud, 2010) confirms continued use of many of these terms alongside more mainstream national variants such as time out, paxies and freeze and previously unrecorded local forms such as twixies in Essex, jex in Croydon and bugsies in Devon. 


When we invited visitors to the 2012 Evolving English exhibition to submit contributions to the Library's WordBank, children's playground games proved a particularly rich source as can be seen from the contributions here of fainites from London, squadsies from Leicester, skinchies from Skipton and thousies from Bournemouth. It's also worth noting how the contributor from Bournemouth uses both it and tag to refer to a basic chase game as this, too, is known variously across the country as it, he, tig, tag, ticky, dobby, touch, king etc. and that the contributor from Leicester is unsure whether the past participle of tig is regular (i.e. tigged) or strong (i.e. tug).

Fainites (C1442/1873)

Squadsies (C1442/1487)

Skinchies (C1442/993)

Thousies (C1442/351)

You can hear over 100 recordings made by Iona Opie from the 1960s onwards of children demonstrating and discussing playground games across the UK.

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

26 March 2018

Recording of the week: the four rooms of creativity

Add comment

This week's selection comes from David Govier, Oral History Archivist. 

Why do a corporate oral history? The late Wally Olins, co-founder of Wolff Olins, explains his mixed motivations in wanting to set up an oral history of the company – from an urge for immortality, to the representative nature of his firm, and the future context of an ever-changing business world.

Wally Olins on oral history (C1015/08)

Michael Wolff, another co-founder, uses a metaphor of a house with four rooms to describe the creative processes the firm uses. The first room is the one of 'great work' – the room of inspiration; the heroes in your field from whom to learn, and to prove from the strength of one’s own work that one is not a fake. The second is the room of ‘good reason' – firstly having the skill of selling by creating good reasons for buying in to things, while remembering that no project can satisfy every reason. The third room is 'precedent' – building on past successes, trying not to re-invent the wheel, but at the same time innovating. The fourth room - 'not knowing' - is the most exciting one; Wolff explains that creativity comes from being willing not to know anything, to force oneself into a dark empty space and trusting one’s creativity to transform it.

Michael Wolff on the four rooms of creativity (C1015/03)

The Oral History of Wolff-Olins covers a cross section of individuals who contributed to the development of Wolff Olins, one of Britain's leading brand consultancies. Interviewees include founders Wally OlinsMichael Wolff, and Jane Scruton, designers, consultants, marketing and creative directors past and present as well as kitchen, administrative and support staff. The company's iconic branding work has included: First Direct (1989), Orange (1994), Tate (2000), London 2012 (2007) and Macmillan Cancer Support (2006). This National Life Stories project was recorded between 1987 and 2000. Over thirty of the interviews are available to listen to online at British Library Sounds.

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

14 March 2018

Memories of Stephen Hawking in An Oral History of British Science

Add comment

Stephen HawkingStephen Hawking, Unknown Date, Source: NASA

A number of interviews recorded for An Oral History of British Science at the British Library speak of Stephen Hawking in their interviews. Tim Palmer was in the audience for his paper on the emission of particles by black holes at the first ‘Oxford Quantum Gravity Conference’ in 1974 [Track one 1:36:14-1:42:55]. Others remember reading his popular science books. In Sir Harry Bhadeshia’s case, A Brief History of Time (in spite of its famous last sentence) inspired thoughts that led to atheism:

Harry Bhadeshia on A Brief History of Time 1988 (C1379/100)

The most charming memories of Hawking are contained in Nicholas Humphery’s interview, part of a wonderful description of Humphrey’s childhood home in Mill Hill. A teenage Hawking is beautifully recalled in the roles of Scottish dancing instructor and drill sergeant:

Nicholas Humphrey remembers a teenage Stephen Hawking (C1672/21)

This blog is by Dr Paul Merchant, Oral History Interviewer, National Life Stories, the British Library. Paul interviewed Tim Palmer, Harry Bhadeshia and Nicholas Humphrey for An Oral History of British Science. The complete interviews can be listened to on BL Sounds.

01 March 2018

Driving across Greenland at minus 40

Add comment

However bad your commute to work was in snow-blanketed Britain today, it's unlikely to be as bad as the drive scientist Richard Brett-Knowles had across Greenland as part of the 1952-54 British North Greenland Expedition.

1024px-M29_Weasel_Arctic_USArmyTransMuseumWeasel vehicle similar to that driven by Brett-Knowles in 1953

(Image by Larry Pieniazek, CC-BY-SA 3.0)

As well as sleds pulled by husky dogs, the expedition used Weasel tracked vehicles to travel across the snow covered wastes, though as Brett-Knowles recalled in this interview extract, the vehicles were not without their problems…

Richard Brett Knowles - driving at minus 40 (C1379-66)

You can listen to the whole of Richard Brett-Knowles's ten-hour life story interview online. And, if you're having a snow day, why wouldn't you?

This blog is by Tom Lean, National Life Stories Project Interviewer. Tom interviewed Richard Brett-Knowles for An Oral History of British Science (reference C1379/66) in 2012. 

26 February 2018

Recording of the week: Trusting the Voice

Add comment

The late Martyn Taylor set out in the early 1980s to capture the lived experience of older gay men. In this extract from the start of an interview from 1982, Martyn explains to his visually impaired interviewee George how the microphone works, what happens after the interview ends and crucially what his motivations are in doing the project.

Martyn Taylor and George (C1245-01)

It is rare to hear this sort of preparation work in the oral history recording itself – usually context is given off-microphone, or via paperwork, and then a recording agreement is signed after the interview is complete. Martyn’s unusual and charming explanation forms a great introduction to ethical good practice in oral history.

Martyn Taylor advert redactedMartyn Taylor's call for interviewees, July 1982 (C1245)

The interviewee must understand why the interview is taking place, and what will happen to it afterwards, in order for their consent to be fully informed. Ignoring this can cause serious problems further down the line when interviewees discover where their words have ended up, and how they are represented.

GeorgeGeorge interviewed by Martyn Taylor, 1982 (C1025/01)

George, born in 1907, withheld his second name. In the rest of his interview, he discusses (among many other things) his family life and upbringing, realising his sexual orientation during his teens and meeting other gay men through swimming and cycling clubs. George also mentions his trouble with the police, problems of relations between gay men of different ages and discusses the changes he has seen in the language used about gay men. George was not gay - he was a homosexual.

Again and again, George emphasises the risks gay men faced in the early twentieth century, and the importance therefore of being able to judge the character of others. As someone with a visually impairment, George explains how he is able to tell someone’s character just from their voice. Likewise for oral historians, the voice is all we have.

George’s whole interview (C1245/01) can be listened to in the Library Reading Rooms, alongside five other interviews from the same collection.

Find out more about the British Library's oral histories of sexuality in our collection guide. Read and listen to more LGBTQ stories for the collections in the Library's new LGBTQ Histories webpage.

23 February 2018

National Life Stories Podcast Episode 5: Theatre

Add comment

This month National Life Stories publishes a new collection of theatre oral histories at British Library Sounds. The interviews that make up the collection capture life behind the scenes in British theatre - through the life stories of its designers and directors.

An Oral History of British Theatre Design (shelfmark C1173) includes six recordings charting the influence of the practitioner and teacher, Richard Negri and a further 23 theatre designers as a result of Dr Liz Wright's AHRC-funded PhD project in collaboration with Wimbledon College of Art, University of the Arts London (completed in October 2009). The collection uncovers a rich web of otherwise undocumented knowledge and reveals threads of commonality across generations, bringing to light influences and shared values across the period. Interviewees include Billy Meall, Pamela Howard and Richard Hudson.

The Legacy of the English Stage Company (shelfmark C1316) covers the careers of theatre directors and other theatre practitioners associated at some time with the Royal Court Theatre, London. Interviewees include Stephen Frears, Bill Bryden and Peter Gill.

Archivist David Govier talked to interviewer Dr Liz Wright about the British Theatre Design collection in general, and about Alison Chitty's interview in particular, for episode 5 of the National Life Stories podcast.

Alison was born in in 1948 in Isleworth, London. She trained at St Martin’s School of Art and Central School of Art and Design, and has worked in theatre, opera and film. At the beginning of her career she won an Arts Council Bursary to the Victoria Theatre in Stoke-on-Trent, where she became resident designer for seven years. In 1979 she returned to London to work at the Hampstead Theatre, Riverside Studios, Royal Shakespeare Company and the West End. She was resident designer at the National Theatre in London for eight years where she regularly collaborated with Sir Peter Hall.

2 Mug Shot 0405

Alison Chitty (Photograph: Clare Park)

Equally active in the field of opera, she has designed productions for the Royal Opera House, English National Opera and international opera houses, and has also worked in film with Mike Leigh. She was awarded an OBE in 2004, is a Royal Designer for Industry and has an Honorary Fellowship from the University of the Arts London.

Within the context of An Oral History of British Theatre Design, Alison’s interview represents a wide range of the experiences and achievements possible to designers during the period of her career, recording her progression from regional to national and then international work. Furthermore, Alison’s training at Central School of Art and Design under Ralph Koltai and her role as Director of the Motley Theatre Design Course established by Margaret ‘Percy’ Harris, link her with two important influences on theatre design education during the second half of the twentieth century, both as a student and as a teacher passing on knowledge to future generations.

The interview, one of the longest in the collection, was carried out over three years, which allowed Liz to record the progression of some of Alison’s concurrent projects, especially The Minotaur, staged at the Royal Opera House in 2008. For Liz as a practising theatre designer, it was fascinating to hear detailed descriptions of Alison’s work on this design, see the scale model in progress and then finally watch the completed work onstage.

Even when working on a much larger scale in opera, she describes how simple ideas can be the most effective, for example in helping to overcome a difficulty during the process of designing Michael Tippett’s ‘New Year’:

“When we were dealing with the garden of remembrance I said to Michael Tippett, ‘I can’t seem to design this. I don’t know what it is and don’t know what it should be.’ And he said ‘Oh… It’s a place where roses are.’ And it totally released me. It was quite incredible. It was like one of those magic moments and as he said it I could imagine these roses blowing in the wind, floating across the space, just in the air. Almost like lovely Fifties wallpaper unravelled with great big cabbage red roses. And that’s actually what we did – they were on a gauze, these wonderful roses in the air – and we didn’t need have to have anything else.”

National Life Stories Podcast Episode 5 - Theatre

You can find out more about oral histories of the performing arts in our collection guide. Alongside the Library's drama and literature sound recordings, they form a unique resource for the study of postwar British theatre.