Sound and vision blog

28 July 2011

Cataloguing the Judith Bumpus Collection

Bethany Lamont, volunteer cataloguer for the Oral History section and student at Central Saint Martins writes:

Oral-historyThe Judith Bumpus Radio Interviews, a collection of broadcast and unedited talks and interviews from the radio producer and art historian Judith Bumpus, is currently in the process of being catalogued. The collection comprises the BBC Radio Three and BBC Radio Four programmes produced by Bumpus from the late 1970s to 1995. Donated in 1997, by Judith Bumpus herself, the collection totals 456 recordings. The body of work features BBC Radio Three’s ‘Third Ear’; ‘During the Interval’; ‘Writers Under Fire’; ‘British Writing in the Thirties’; ‘Art and the Human Condition’ and ‘British Architecture’. It chiefly includes the broadcasted radio talks but also features unedited recordings.

The collection is notable in its vast diversity, providing a platform for a host of art practices, mediums and ideologies. This could be said to reflect the sheer breadth of insight held by Judith Bumpus herself in the practice of the creative arts; The Independent considered the producer to belong “to that select band of arts communicators who helped shape the taste of today's art-going public and change the way the visual arts were presented and discussed on air”. Examples of this far reaching and imaginative intuition can be seen in the extensive nature of the collection itself. It spans academic art history pieces by speakers such as E. H. Gombrich to lively discussions of comic art and Sony-Gold winning radio dramas. Particularly noteworthy speakers include David Hockney, Aldous Huxley and Borges. (It should also be noted that the dramatic radio reading of Borges’ 'Shakespeare’s Memory' provides a particularly powerful introduction into his literary work.)

Following the death of Judith Bumpus in 2010 the collection can be seen to serve as a testimony, both to the life work of the radio producer herself; but also and, perhaps most notably, to the lives of the artists, authors, photographers, architects and writers that she so carefully documented over her extensive career. A notable example of this can be seen in the 1991 interview with the recently deceased Lucian Freud, coordinated by his close friend and art writer William Feaver. The piece possesses a poignant intimacy, a delicate amaranthine quality, undoubtedly heightened following the days of his passing.

The Judith Bumpus collection is a notable canon of work and it is likely to be a useful and informative addition to The British Library’s oral history visual arts and crafts collections, offering an original and detailed portrait of the arts in the 20th century.  

The Judith Bumpus Collection should be fully catalogued and available at the British Library by autumn 2011.  The British Library acknowledges BBC copyright in many of the items in this collection.


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