Sound and vision blog

25 posts categorized "Science"

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

13 September 2016

Restoring the first recording of computer music

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Jack Copeland and Jason Long
Fig. 1: Jack Copeland and Jason Long

Jack Copeland FRS NZ and Jason Long write: 

A key problem facing audio archivists is how to establish the correct pitch of a historical recording. Without some independent means of knowing how the original sounded, it can be very difficult—or even impossible—to tell whether an archived recording is playing at the right pitch. An important case in point is the earliest known recording of computer-generated music. In 1951, a BBC outside broadcast unit in Manchester used a portable acetate disc cutter to capture three melodies played by a primeval computer. This gigantic computer filled much of the ground floor of Alan Turing's Computing Machine Laboratory.

Today, all that remains of the recording session is a 12-inch single-sided acetate disc, cut by the BBC's technician while the computer played. The computer itself was scrapped long ago, so the archived recording is our only window on that historic soundscape. What a disappointment it was, therefore, to discover that the pitches were not accurate: the recording gave at best only a rough impression of how the computer sounded. But with some electronic detective work it proved possible to restore the recording—with the result that the true sound of this ancestral computer can be heard once again, for the first time in more than half a century.

Frank Cooper's original 'acetate' disc (Photo courtesy of Chris Burton)
Fig. 2: The original 'acetate' disc was saved by Manchester University engineer Frank Cooper (Photo courtesy of Chris Burton)

Alan Turing's pioneering work, in the late 1940s, on transforming the computer into a musical instrument has largely been overlooked: it's an urban myth of the music world that the first computer-generated musical notes were heard in 1957, at Bell Labs in America.1 The recent Oxford Handbook of Computer Music staked out a counterclaim, saying that the first computer to play notes was located in Sydney, Australia.2  However, the Sydney computer was not operational until the end of 1950, whereas computer-generated notes were emerging from a loudspeaker in Turing's computing lab as early as the autumn of 1948.

The Manchester computer had a special instruction that caused the loudspeaker—Turing called it the 'hooter'—to emit a short pulse of sound, lasting a tiny fraction of a second. Turing said this sounded like 'something between a tap, a click, and a thump'. Executing the instruction over and over again resulted in this 'click' being produced repeatedly, on every fourth tick of the computer's internal clock: tick tick tick click, tick tick tick click. Repeating the instruction enough times like this caused the human ear to hear not discrete clicks but a steady note, in fact the note C6, two octaves above middle C.

Turing realized that if the 'hoot' instruction were repeated not simply over and over again, but in different patterns, then the ear would hear different musical notes: for example, the repeated pattern tick tick tick click, tick tick tick tick, tick tick tick click, tick tick tick tick produced the note of C5 (an octave above middle C), while repeating the different pattern tick tick tick click, tick tick tick click, tick tick tick tick, tick tick tick click, tick tick tick click, tick tick tick tick produced the note of F4, four notes above above middle C—and so on. It was a wonderful discovery.

Turing was not very interested in programming the computer to play conventional pieces of music: he used the different notes to indicate what was going on in the computer—one note for 'job finished', others for 'digits overflowing in memory', 'error when transferring data from the magnetic drum', and so on. Running one of Turing's programs must have been a noisy business, with different musical notes and rhythms of clicks enabling the user to 'listen in' (as he put it) to what the computer was doing. He left it to someone else, though, to program the first complete piece of music.

A young schoolteacher named Christopher Strachey got hold of a copy of Turing's Programmers' Handbook for Manchester Electronic Computer Mark II (the Mark II computer had replaced the prototype Mark I, which also played notes, early in 1951).3 This was in fact the world’s first computer programming manual. Strachey, a talented pianist, studied the Handbook and appreciated the potential of Turing's terse directions on how to program musical notes. Soon to become one of Britain's top computer scientists, Strachey turned up at Turing's Manchester lab with what was at the time the longest computer program ever to be attempted. Turing knew the precocious Strachey well enough to let him use the computer for a night. 'Turing came in and gave me a typical high-speed, high-pitched description of how to use the machine', Strachey recounted; and then Turing departed, leaving him alone at the computer's console until the following morning.4

Christopher Strachey, 1973
Fig. 3: Christopher Strachey sunbathing in the garden of his cottage 'The Mud House' in 1973, two years before his untimely death. (Photo courtesy of the Bodleian Library and Camphill Village Trust)

'I sat in front of this enormous machine', Strachey said, 'with four or five rows of twenty switches and things, in a room that felt like the control room of a battle-ship.'5 It was the first of a lifetime of all-night programming sessions. In the morning, to onlookers' astonishment the computer raucously hooted out the National Anthem. Turing, his usual monosyllabic self, said enthusiastically 'Good show'. Strachey could hardly have thought of a better way to get attention: a few weeks later he received a letter offering him a job at the computing lab.6

The BBC recording, made some time later the same year, included not only the National Anthem but also an endearing, if rather brash, rendition of the nursery rhyme Baa Baa Black Sheep as well as a reedy and wooden performance of Glenn Miller’s famous hit In the Mood. There are unsettled questions about the authorship of the three routines that played these recorded melodies. In the wake of Strachey's tour de force a number of people in the lab started writing music programs: even the routine that played the National Anthem in the recording may have been a retouched version of Strachey's original.

It was a challenge to write routines that would keep the computer tolerably in tune, since the Mark II could only approximate the true pitch of many notes: for instance the true pitch of G3 is 196 Hertz but the closest frequency that the Mark II could generate was well off the note at 198.41 Hertz. We found there was enough information in Turing's wonderfully pithy Programmers' Handbook to enable us to calculate all the audible frequencies that the Mark II could produce. However, when we ran a frequency analysis of the 1951 BBC recording (using the British Library's digital preservation copy, tape ref. H3942) we found that the frequencies were shifted. The effect of these shifts is so severe that the sounds in the recording often bear only a very loose relationship to the sounds that the computer would have actually produced. So distant was the recording from the original that many of the recorded frequencies were actually ones that it was impossible for the Mark II to play.

Alan Turing (right) at the console of the Mark II computer
Fig. 4: Turing (right) at the console of the Mark II computer (Courtesy of the University of Manchester School of Computer Science)

Naturally we wished to uncover the true sound of the computer. These 'impossible pitches' in the recording proved to be the key to doing so: our computer-assisted analysis of the differences in frequency—between the impossible pitches and the actual pitches that the computer would have played—revealed that the recorded music was in fact playing at an incorrect speed. This was most likely the result of the mobile recorder's turntable running too fast while the acetate disc was being cut: achieving speed constancy was always a problem with the BBC's standard mobile recording equipment at that time.7 So when the disc was played back at the standard speed of 78 rpm, the frequencies were systematically shifted.

We were able to calculate exactly how much the recording had to be speeded up in order to reproduce the original sound of the computer.8 We also filtered out extraneous noise from the recording; and using pitch-correction software we removed the effects of a troublesome wobble in the speed of the recording (most likely introduced by the disc-cutting process). It was a beautiful moment when we first heard the true sound of Turing's computer.

Here is the complete recording of our restoration:


Jack CopelandJack Copeland is Distinguished Professor in Arts at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. His recent biography Turing, Pioneer of the Information Age contains more information about Strachey and the Manchester computer music (Oxford University Press, paperback edn. 2014).

Jason Long

Jason Long is a New Zealand composer and performer, focusing on musical robotics and electro-acoustic music. He has carried out musical research at the University of Canterbury, the Victoria University of Wellington, Tokyo University of the Arts, and the Utrecht Higher School of the Arts.


1 See, for example, Chadabe, J. 'The Electronic Century, Part III: Computers and Analog Synthesizers', Electronic Musician, 2001,

2 Australian composer Paul Doornbusch writing in R. T. Dean, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Computer Music, Oxford University Press, 2009; see pp. 558, 584.

3 A. M. Turing, Programmers' Handbook for Manchester Electronic Computer Mark II, Computing Machine Laboratory, University of Manchester (no date, circa 1950); a digital facsimile is in The Turing Archive for the History of Computing, Turing's Mark I/Mark II terminology was eventually superseded when the engineering company that was contracted to build and market the Mark II, Ferranti, called it the Ferranti Mark I.

4 Christopher Strachey interviewed by Nancy Foy in 'The Word Games of the Night Bird', Computing Europe, 15 August 1974, pp. 10-11.

5 Strachey in 'The Word Games of the Night Bird', p. 11.

6 Letter from M. H. A. Newman to Strachey, 2 October 1951 (in the Christopher Strachey Papers, Bodleian Library, Oxford, folder A39).

7 BBC Recording Training Manual, British Broadcasting Corporation, 1950.

8 We describe in detail how we did this in our article 'Turing and the history of computer music', in J. Floyd and A. Bokulich, eds, Philosophical Explorations of the Legacy of Alan Turing, Boston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science, Springer Verlag, 2017.

13 May 2016

"It's easy old boy, it just sucks itself along like a vacuum cleaner." 75 years of British jet flight

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May 15th marks the 75th anniversary of the first flight of the Gloster-Whittle E.28/39 , Britain's first jet plane.  At its heart was a revolutionary turbo-jet engine invented by Frank Whittle.  An RAF pilot turned engineer, Whittle had patented a jet engine design in 1930, but it took years of difficult development work, in the face of official disinterest, to bring his ideas to fulfillment. As Whittle recounts in this interview clip from 1953, the first flight was a great success, even if some of the watching RAF officers had problems understanding how this newfangled jet engine thing worked…

Frank Whittle describes the first flight of the Gloster-Whittle E.28 - 39


Frank Whittle adjusts a slide rule while seated at his desk at the Ministry of Aircraft Production

Image: Frank Whittle adjusts a slide rule while seated at his desk at the Ministry of Aircraft Production, 1943.  Credit: Imperial War Museums.

The E.28/39 was moved to the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough for an extensive series of scientific tests to see how the aircraft performed in flight.  Amongst those involved was Dennis Higton, the technician for the high speed flight testing group, whose practical ingenuity proved vital.  As Dennis recalls in this clip from An Oral History of British Science, fitting scientific instrumentation into the small E.28/39 proved quite a challenge.



Image: Interviewee Dennis Higton (right) and colleagues with a Gloster E.28/39, Britain's first jet aircraft, in the 1940s.  Credit: Dennis Higton.

Also in the high speed flight testing group was aeronautical engineer John Charnley, who in this video recalls his first impressions of seeing the E.28/39 in 1943 and the close relationship that built up between test pilots and aeronautical researchers as they sought to understand the mysteries of flying faster than ever before.

Dr Tom Lean, Project Interviewer
An Oral History of British Science

15 December 2015

The British space story

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Today UK astronaut Tim Peake will head for the International Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, the first British member of the European Space Agency’s astronaut corps.  In the twenty-first century British ambitions in space are firmly concentrated on collaborative projects and commercial satellites, and a new National Space Policy  has been launched with the goal of ‘firmly placing the UK on the global stage for future space programmes.’ Such statements seem to ignore the long history of British involvement in space reflected in interviews collected by An Oral History of British Science


Black Arrow R4 rocket in the Space Gallery, Science Museum. © Science Museum/SSPL



When the first satellite, Sputnik 1, was launched in the Cold War days of 1957 the world watched in fascination and some fear at this 'Red Moon' launched by the Soviet Union. Amongst them were British scientists who were tracking its orbit and that of the carrier rocket that put into space, essentially a giant intercontinental ballistic missile. Here Desmond King-Hele recalls how he helped Bernard Lovell secure finance for the Jodrell Bank radio-telescope by providing predictions that allowed him to claim that his instrument was able to track the satellite and its rocket, and was therefore of strategic importance.

Later British scientists and engineers developed their own satellite launch vehicle, Black Arrow, that successfully placed the Prospero satellite in low Earth orbit in 1971. Amongst those who contributed to its design was John Scott-Scott who here discusses the design of the rocket and the disappointment felt by its creators when what they saw as a successful project was cancelled by the government.

A key figure behind the decision to cancel this project was Alan Cottrell, Government Chief Scientific Advisor.  He was convinced that the nation’s resources could be better invested in communication satellites that would yield an economic return rather than ‘glamorous projects’ of dubious economic benefit. Here, Cottrell discusses why Britain's space launcher programme was cancelled in the 1970s.

With the decline of Britain's independent space programme, international collaborations became more important. By the time Roy Gibson was appointed as the first Director General of the European Space Agency in 1975 the British had lost interest in launchers and their concerns needed to be carefully balanced with those of the other member states. Here, Roy Gibson talks about the beginning of the European Space Agency.

With British rockets and astronauts off the table, commercial and scientific satellites became the emphasis of Britain in space. Bob Graham spent his career working for companies whose success reflected Cottrell’s vision.  In 1982 he joined British Aerospace’s Space Division at Stevenage where he worked on projects including the highly successful Eurostar series of telecommunications satellites, used for everything from Satellite television to secure military communications.  In early 2013, not long before he retired, he witnessed the incredible spectacle of his first satellite launch

British scientists and engineers have also been active in designing instruments carried on satellites launched by other nations.  Chris Rapley recounts how the bent crystal spectrometer, which travelled on NASA’s Solar Maximum Mission, was designed at the Mullard Space Science Laboratories in London in the 1970s. Here, Chris Rapley tells the story of designing the bent crystal spectrometer.

More recollections of British space projects can be found on the rockets and satellites theme page on the Voices of Science website.


Dr Sally Horrocks
Senior Academic Consultant, An Oral History of British Science

30 November 2015

Voices of Science – Winner of the Royal Historical Society’s Public History Prize for Web & Digital

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National Life Stories are thrilled to announce that they have won the Royal Historical Society’s Public History Prize for Web and Digital for the Voices of Science web resource.

VOS screenshot
The Voices of Science website presents clips from approximately 100 recordings from the oral history collections at the British Library, primarily the ‘Oral History of British Science’ initiative made between 2009-2013.  Voices of Science tells the stories of some of the most remarkable scientific and engineering discoveries of the past century using oral history interviews with prominent British scientists and engineers.  Scientists talk candidly about their motivations, frustrations and triumphs, as well as their colleagues, families and childhoods. They reflect on how new instruments and techniques have changed the way they work and how fluctuations in government policy and media interest have reshaped how they spend their time.  

Computer engineer David 'Dai' Edwards recalls setting up the Manchester Mark I computer for Alan Turing and others

Aeronautical engineer Denis Higton recalls an unconventional route into scientific work at the Royal Aircraft Establishment

Space engineer Maggie Aderin-Pocock discusses the origin of interest in space and the influence of television programmes 'The Clangers' and 'Star Trek'

Voices of Science also provides links to the full unedited interviews and transcripts available to all worldwide at British Library Sounds . Personal biographies, photographs and links provide context for each scientist’s life and work. All the digital interviews, averaging 10-15 hours in length, have been archived in perpetuity at the British Library.

The judges of the award said:-

"This website provides rich materials for understanding the practice of twentieth-century science in a historical manner. The interviews themselves are fascinating; they are greatly enhanced by the interpretative material that is also provided on the site, encouraging users to reflect on major themes, including the role of gender in science, and the practice of oral history. The site is beautifully organised, providing not just valuable sources but tools for reflecting on them. It offers a way into a major field of history that makes it fully accessible to those with little or no previous knowledge of the history of science.”


David 'Dai' Edwards with the expanded Manchester 'Baby' computer, June 1949


Members of the ‘Oral History of British Science’ team Dr Rob Perks, Dr Sally Horrocks, Dr Thomas Lean and Stephanie Baxter accepted the award from Amanda Vickery at a reception at University College London last Friday evening.

From the winning team (left to right): Stephanie Baxter, Web Coordinator; Dr Sally Horrocks, Senior Academic Consultant; Dr Rob Perks, Director of National Life Stories and Lead Curator, Oral History, British Library; Dr Thomas Lean, Oral History Interviewer.

The Voices of Science website involved colleagues around the British Library and this prize recognises the huge amount of hard work and enthusiasm which went into it.  National Life Stories would like to say thank you to all of them.

Full details about the award can be found here.


03 November 2015

National Life Stories interviews used in new science teaching resources

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I have no memory of any teacher of science at my primary, middle or secondary school telling the class about a particular scientist.  Or even about the work of science - the extent to which it was a field of day-to-day effort - an occupation, a job.  Science consisted of special names for things and observable/measureable phenomena (habitat, electrical resistance, malleable, etc.).  It was a method (control all variables but one) and a more or less interesting body of knowledge and understanding that just existed.  That people worked for and on it was not pointed out.

Contrast this with a new set of resources for teachers on the National STEM Centre website that have been developed from oral history life story interviews (long audio and short video) with ten British scientists from ethnic minority backgrounds, recorded by National Life Stories at the British Library in partnership with The Royal Society.  In these new resources, particular scientific questions - how do you get a satellite into orbit?, how does the human body's immune system work?, what kinds of energy should society develop? - are taught through the life stories (summarised in profiles, timelines and the videos) of people who faced these questions in their own jobs or postgraduate studies - interviewees Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock, Professor Saiful Islam, Dr Jassel Majevadia, Dr Jo Shien Ng, Dr Donald Palmer.  Additional resources based on the other five life story interviews - with Professor Sir Harry Bhadeshia, Professor Sanjeev Gupta, Dr Mah Hussain-Gambles, Dr Mark Richards and Dr Charlotte Armah - will appear in December. 

For the full audio interviews on which the educational resources are based, visit the British Library's Sounds website.

Dr Paul Merchant

13 October 2015

Ada Lovelace - first in a long line of female programmers

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Today is Ada Lovelace Day, a day of celebration of women in science and engineering, named in honour of the remarkable 19th century mathematician Ada Lovelace.

Ada Lovelace

"Ada Lovelace portrait" by Alfred Edward Chalon. Science & Society Picture Library. 

Although born into a privileged family, Lovelace's upbringing was far from conventional. Her mother, the well-educated Anne, encouraged her studies of logic and mathematics, apparently in the hope of countering the influence of her wayward father, the libertine poet Lord Byron. Today Lovelave is best known through her connection with the irascible polymath Charles Babbage, designer of several Victorian era schemes for mechanical calculators and computing machines. In particular, Lovelace is often regarded as the first computer programmer, after developing an algorithm to run on Babbage's Analytical Engine in the 1840s, although as the engine was never built the program went un-run.

A century later, when the new electronic computers came into wide use in the 1950s, women again had an important role in programming. Although it required a considerable grasp of logic and mathematics, programming was initially viewed in a similar way to skilled clerical work or running a desktop calculating machine, and by the standards of the day thought a suitable occupation for women. Moreover, doing skilled technical work did not mean that women programmers were awarded the same status as men doing similar work, as Mary Berners-Lee, a programmer at Ferranti in Manchester during the 1950's recalls:

Mary Lee Berners-Lee discusses equal pay for women programmers

Another problem facing women programmers was the expectation that having children meant leaving the workforce to raise a family, an experience shared by programmer Dame Stephanie 'Steve' Shirley in the early 1960s. Realising that many others were in her situation, Shirley started Freelance Programmers Limited to offer work at home to women programmers who had left their jobs to raise families.  As she recalled in her interview for An Oral History of British Science, adopting the name 'Steve' was just one of the tactics she used to break through the sexist attitudes she encountered to build her new business into a major success:

Dame Stephanie Shirley discusses the creation of 'Freelance Programmers Ltd'


Stephanie 'Steve' Shirley checking the randomness of Premium Bond number 'computer ERNIE at Dollis Hill, 1950s. © Dame Stephanie Shirley

Voices of Science is a growing web resource featuring audio and video extracts from the British Library's oral history of science collections.  The website provides links to full unedited interviews and transcripts available to users worldwide via British Library Sounds

Dr Thomas Lean
An Oral History of British Science

05 August 2015

Memories Of Hiroshima And After

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After the bomb

The Hiroshima Genbaku Dome after the bombing

August 6th marks 70 years since the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. It is hard to think of many events in human history that have had quite such significant consequences. Not only did Hiroshima and the subsequent destruction of Nagasaki help to bring the Second World War to a close, but the terrible power demonstrated had after shocks in geopolitics, scientific development, popular culture, art, philosophy, film, literature, ethics and other aspects of life. Yet this huge significance makes it too easy to overlook the effects of the bombing on countless millions of individuals, many of whose stories are recorded in the British Library’s oral history archive. 

The Scientist 

The Manhattan Project, the secret American led effort to develop the atomic bomb, included an important contingent from Britain. Amongst them was physicist Joseph Rotblat, who was working in Britain when the outbreak of war in 1939 left him unable to return to his native Poland. Despite deep reservations over science being turned to such purposes, Rotblat joined the atomic bomb effort in the hope that it would deter Nazi Germany, but wrestled with moral dilemmas over working on such a weapon. 

Joseph Rotblat discusses the moral dilemmas of working on the atom bomb

Increasingly troubled by the ethics of such a weapon, particularly after it became clearer that Germany could not develop an atomic bomb, Rotblat left the Manhattan Project in 1943, the only scientist to leave on moral grounds. After the War he became a disarmament campaigner, sharing in the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for his work as first Secretary General of the Pugwash disarmament conferences. 

The Survivor 

At least 70,000 people, soldiers and civilians, were killed by the explosion in Hiroshima, with many thousands more dying later of injuries and the effects of radiation. Amazingly, amidst the devastation, there were also many survivors, amongst them student Junko Kline who remembered her experience of August 6th 1945 in this recording by R.H. Henry from 1957.

Junko Kline describes her experience of the bombing of Hiroshima

The Witness

After the War ended there were many visitors to Hiroshima, amongst them Royal Navy officer Nicolas Stacey, who visited the city several weeks after its destruction. As he discusses here in an interview with Lousie Brodie, the effect of the visit on Stacey was profound, leading him to ordination as a Church of England priest and to campaign as a social activist. 

Nicholas Stacey describes his visit to Hiroshima in 1945

The After-Effects

After Hiroshima countless scientists, engineers, technicians and servicemen found their working lives directed toward the development of nuclear weapons as other countries developed nuclear arsenals to bolster their status as great powers and deter potential enemies. Amongst them was technician Frank Raynor, one of thousands of British personal assembled off the coast of Australia in 1952 for the testing of Britain’s first atomic bomb. Raynor recalls his work in the run up to the test and his memories of witnessing the event in this clip from An Oral History of British Science.

Frank Raynor describes Operation Hurricane in 1952, Britain's first atomic test


Frank Raynor, in protective suit, before re-entry aboard HMS Narvik, Operation Grapple, 1957

The shadow of Hiroshima’s mushroom cloud loomed large over the decades of Cold War that followed, in which the peace was held largely by the threat of nuclear war and mutually assured destruction. In 1957 Junko Kline, who became religious during her painful recovery from the bombing, explained that she prayed that “we shall not repeat our sin.” Today there are still thousands of nuclear weapons stockpiled by different countries, but 70 years after the bombing of Hiroshima its legacy remains, just as she hoped, as a symbol of peace. 

Junko Kline talks of the legacy of Hiroshima


Voices of Science is a growing web resource featuring audio and video extracts from the British Library's oral history of science collections.  The website provides links to full unedited interviews and transcripts available to users worldwide via British Library Sounds.

Dr Thomas Lean
An Oral History of British Science