Sound and vision blog

8 posts from August 2015

27 August 2015

Mátyás Seiber collection of recordings goes on line

Seiber's own collection of recordings donated by his daughter Julia Seiber Boyd,  the Matyas Seiber collection, has been digitised and put on line on BL Sounds.

Mátyás György Seiber (1905-1960) was born in Budapest where he studied composition with Zoltan Kodály and cello with Adolf Shiffer at the Budapest Academy of Music. From the late 1920s he taught in Frankfurt where his classes in jazz were the first of its kind. He left Germany in 1933 and settled in England in 1935 where he worked as a freelance writer and did various jobs including writing music for films. In 1942 Michael Tippett offered him a teaching post at Morley College where during this decade he was a founder of the Society for New Music with Francis Chagrin, and the Dorian Singers.

Seiber wrote in many different forms including opera, ballet, songs and chamber music; he also wrote much incidental music for radio, television and film productions. Most of his finest works are represented in his collection of discs.

Seiber Kodaly talk disc 1943Some of these recordings are in poor condition being more than eighty years old, but they are unique and of great historical interest as Seiber recorded many of the broadcast first performances of his works.  Some important BBC talks from the early 1940s survive here including part of one on his teacher Zoltan Kodaly in 1943.  This is a glass disc coated with cellulose nitrate that was broken into three pieces.

A seven part series Composing With Twelve Notes was broadcast in 1952. Seiber’s Second String Quartet (1934-35) uses Schoenberg’s serial techniques and can be heard here in the first UK broadcast from 1957. The cantata Ulysses written in 1946-47 is given in a performance with Peter Pears as soloist while the incidental music for Faust, a radio play from 1949 by Louis MacNeice based on Goethe, comes from the recording session discs. The Cantata Secularis (1949-51) based on Virgil, survives here in the first broadcast performance from 1955 with Walter Goehr and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. 

Seiber Town like AliceIn addition to incidental music for radio plays, Seiber also wrote film scores including A Town like Alice, the 1956 Rank film starring Peter Finch and Virginia McKenna.

Seiber’s interest in jazz and blues is evident as there are recordings (mostly copies of commercial discs) of the great blues singers Josh White and Leadbelly. Seiber probably used these in his research for writing incidental music as there are also recordings by folk song collectors Alan Lomax and A.L. Lloyd. One early disc from his time in Germany is of Seiber playing various forms of jazz-influenced dance styles – ragtime, Argentine tango, slow fox-trot and Charleston,while the earliest dated recordings come from South West German radio in 1932.


25 August 2015

Surface Tension: a conversation with Rob St John part 1

Rob St John is a writer, musician and artist who recently collaborated with the waterways charity Thames21 on Surface Tension, an audiovisual project highlighting the pollution issues currently facing the River Lea. Here Rob discusses the project and how he set about exploring this vast body of water.

Last summer you were approached by Ben Fenton from Thames21's Love the Lea project to produce a piece of work that explores pollution issues currently facing the River Lea. The River Lea is a pretty substantial stretch of water, running from Hertfordshire to east London and carving a route through a range of different habitats. With a brief like this, where on earth did you start?

With an OS map and some walking boots! Thames21 generally work on waterways within the M25, so the geographical spread was narrowed down a little, although that said I did walk further upstream, way past the motorway, mostly to get a better idea of how the valley changes as the river flows (or doesn’t as I increasingly found) south. Lea Valley has plenty of decent footpaths, so walking the river wasn’t really a problem; instead the challenge was to track different channels of the Lea, particularly as it splits off and out around Enfield. In the end, I walked from up past Cheshunt down to where the Lea meets the Thames at Trinity Wharf, and back again, over the course of a few weekends in the late summer of last year.


You made a range of field recordings during that summer. Did you have a clear idea of what you wanted to record or did you approach it with a completely open mind?

It was largely exploratory: after the first recording walk I pared down my recording kit quite substantially, relying largely on a simple field recorder and OKM binaural microphones. There’s something really enjoyable about being able to be so mobile when recording; to stop and quickly set up and capture an emergent or interesting sound. Binaural recording feels very attuned to your body – obviously in the way the microphones sit in your ears – but also in the ways it picks up your footsteps, the sound of you swallowing or your stomach rumbling…(an issue on some of the longer walks).  

There’s a wider conceptual thing here about how you approach field recording, I think. For me, binaural recording’s inherently mobile and bodily characteristics – coupled with the incredible, spatial recordings that it produces – make it an appealing approach to me. I’d much rather be led by my feet and ears in trying to catch traces of the soundscape, rather than setting up masses of kit in an effort to record a specific sound or set of sounds in the highest possible clarity and fidelity. Again, I suppose, this depends on what you want to do with the recordings. In this project (and in general) I didn’t record for reference sound libraries or similar, but rather as a means of providing a palette of natural (and non-natural) sound to produce, alter and generally tinker with in the final piece of sound and music.

Can you tell us about the types of recordings you made?

The binaural recordings were great for picking up the familiar sounds of the Lea Valley: boat communities, cyclists, parakeets, overground trains, aeroplanes, coots and moorhens, footballers on Hackney Marsh, dredgers in the estuary, riverside bars and cafes spilling people out onto the towpath. But in a way that’s more than representational of these individual sounds; binaural recordings are great for picking up wider resonances, overlaps and blurrings of different sounds, often anonymous and shorn of their source, prompting an uncertainty of what in fact you’re hearing.  

Enfield Coot family

I loved the way that parakeet calls would flit around car alarms; the way the rumble of traffic seemed to compensate for the lack of sound from a still river; and how coot calls would reverberate around echoing dry docks along with the clatter of machinery and hammers: an often unintended (and fascinating) blurring of the natural and non-natural, man-made and self-willed through sound.  And often there would be long, subtle drones and burrs in the recordings that I didn’t hear at the time: possibly the effect of my body acting as an antenna through to the rumbles of the ground (it’s perhaps never more evident quite how loud London is until you record there).

Parakeets over Hackney Marsh

In addition to the binaural recordings, I used two other types of microphones: hydrophones and contact mics.  Hydrophones are dropped beneath the surface of a body of water (a process that’s a bit like ‘fishing for sound’ I guess), and pick up the buzzes, scrapes and rumbles of the underwater soundscape: boat engines, insect activity, aquatic birds diving, and occasionally a sound that you cannot identify. Contact mics are stuck to various surfaces (drain pipes, walkway handrails, brick walls, sewer pipes and so on) with electrical tape, and pick up vibrations transmitted by the city (water, traffic, people, boats) conducted through various objects and surfaces.

Hydrophone in Trinity Buoy Wharf

The three techniques allowed me to collect a wide palette of sound from the Lea Valley, each transmitted and filtered in different ways: from the air, through solid objects and surfaces and from beneath the water’s surface. I wanted to let the environment lead me rather than being prescriptive in setting out to capture a specific set of sound: building an inherent sense of uncertainty, chance and serendipity into the approach. I mean, the Lea Valley soundscape (if you can be so general, scale is very important here) is constantly changing and fluid, and heard in an inherently individual and subjective way, so I thought: why try and necessarily pin it down to specific constituent parts?

The different recording techniques you used during your fieldwork allowed you to explore the Lea from both above and below the river’s surface. Underwater recordings are endlessly fascinating because they help you to eavesdrop on a world that is usually inaudible to the human ear. Could you tell us about some of the more unusual or unexpected sounds you encountered beneath the surface of the River Lea?

Listening to pondweed photosynthesise is always a hoot, particularly in the way that putting hydrophones into a seemingly ordinary, perhaps polluted, stretch of water can bring it alive: giving voice to invisible life below the water’s surface. When pondweed photosynthesises (the process of exchanging dissolved oxygen and carbon dioxide with the water), it releases streams of tiny air bubbles. When these hit the submerged hydrophones, they produce a variety of short percussive crackles and buzzes, a little like minimal electronica. Added to this, there are the sounds of various underwater insects flitting through the pondweeds, and striating their back legs in order to communicate and signal. Finally, there’s a sonic backdrop of the river itself: of boats passing with rattling hulls and whirring propellers; of mysterious and unseen swooshes that could well be passing fish.  

I ran a public engagement workshop at last year’s Thames21 Love the Lea festival last summer, where we had a number of headphones set up to listen in to the hydrophones. It was a real pleasure to get to talk about this underwater sound with dozens of people – young and old – most of whom brought different interpretations as to what they might be listening to. There’s a real creative, imaginative effect to listening to these obscured sounds in seemingly still and lifeless places.

How many recordings did you collect during that summer?  

Dozens of hours of recordings, which were then edited down to around fifty or so recordings for use in the composition and soundmap.

What other documentation did you collect?

I took photographs all along the walk, in tandem with the sound recordings. These were all taken on film, partly with a nice old 120 Zeiss Nettar camera, and partly on 35mm using pinhole cameras that I made from Lesney matchboxes. The Lesney toy factory was at Hackney Wick until relatively recently (I’m not entirely sure what it has been redeveloped as), so making new images using a cardboard ‘shell’ of Lea Valley history seemed appropriate. And whilst pinhole cameras are notoriously difficult to take decent shots on (I was using a piece of electrical tape as a shutter, and doing some mental arithmetic to calculate exposures…), some of the images that resulted were amongst my favourites. In a way I thought of the walks as ‘experimental’ or ‘creative’ geography fieldwork: tracking routes and sites in a way that echoes a field trip, but gathering information on the landscape through various creative techniques.


In the second part of this conversation, Rob explains how he transformed field recordings collected along the River Lea and scientific data into a musical composition and accompanying book.


Surface Tension can be consulted here in the British Library Reading Rooms (catalogue reference number 1SS0010348)


21 August 2015

Two oral history fellowship opportunities

7773 Scala screens for Goodison Fellowships v3

National Life Stories, the oral history charitable trust based at the British Library, is pleased to announce that applications are now open for the National Life Stories Goodison Fellowships 2016.  The aim of the Fellowships is to increase public knowledge and awareness of oral history, particularly of the National Life Stories collections.  

In 2016 there will be two awards both focusing on Artists' Lives, which has been recording in-depth life stories with British artists for 25 years.  To listen to a selection of clips from interviews in the project, visit the Curator's Choice section on British Library Sounds.   

The awards are each of £5,000 and are intended for those who wish to use the National Life Stories oral history collections to reflect on life stories and memory, and share the results of their research in the public domain.  One award is open anyone resident in the United Kingdom and the second is open to current and past students and staff of The Courtauld Institute of Art.  Both Fellowships are generously funded by the Rootstein Hopkins Foundation.

Possible outcomes from the Fellowship could be a series of national newspaper or magazine articles, an in-depth radio programme or series of programmes, a mobile app, journal articles, an exhibition, a series of podcasts or an online or printed education resource.  The recipient might be a journalist, radio producer, writer, oral historian, an academic using oral history or a museum, library or archive professional.

The Fellowship will provide the recipient the time and space to listen in-depth to oral history material from across the collections.  Fellows will be provided with desk space at the British Library, which will include access to interview material (plus books and journals) onsite at the British Library.  For the duration of the Fellowship, the National Life Stories Goodison Fellow will become part of the NLS/Oral History team, which will enable privileged in-depth discussion with curators, archivists and interviewers, mining their knowledge of the collections and National Life Stories’ approach to oral history.  Each award holder will become the Goodison Fellow for a period of three to six months, subject to agreement with the Awarding Panel. The Fellowship must commence in the period 1 January 2016 – 1 August 2016 and finish by 31 December 2016.

The 2015 Goodison Fellowship has been jointly held by Barley Blyton and Polly Russell, focusing on the National Life Stories Food collections.  Several newspaper and journal articles have been published, they have completed a book proposal and a BBC Radio 4 Food programme will be broadcast this autumn.  Barley reflects: “Listening to the stories of interviewees working in the food industry over the past 100 years has made our changing food history come alive. I feel personally connected to these men and women who, over my hours of listening have shared so much of their humour and experience. It has been a privilege to take up the opportunities that the Goodison Fellowship has offered and the insights of the interviewers and the oral history team have been invaluable in working with the archive.” 

Further information and application details for the 2016 Goodison Fellowships can be found here

The closing date for applications is midnight on Sunday 25 October 2015 and applications must sent by email to

World Athletics Championships

The 15th  World Athletics Championships are being held in Beijing’s iconic ‘Bird’s Nest’ Olympic stadium from 22-30th August.  Britain currently lies in eight place on the overall medal table from the 14 previous events, and interviews with some of the athletes who won these medals and competed at in earlier editions feature in the British Library’s oral history collections recounting their life stories and reflecting on their time in athletics.

Silver medalist of the 1980 Olympics in 800m running Sebastian Coe

Sebastian Coe (second from left), silver medalist of the 1980 Olympics in 800m running.  © RIA Novosti archive, image #556242 / Yuriy Somov / CC-BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

400m runner Roger Black, winner of an individual silver medal (1991) and three 4x400m relay medals two gold (1991 and 1997)  and a silver (1987) reflects on how athletes view success in the World Championships compared to other major events, particularly the Olympics

Roger Black reflects on how athletes view success

Liz McColgan was another gold medal winner in Tokyo in 1991, just nine months after giving birth to her daughter, Eilish.  In her interview she discussed her return to competition after pregnancy, her memories of the World Championship win and the struggle she had to produce a urine sample after the race.

Liz McColgan discusses her return to competition after pregnancy

For McColgan, however, it was not this gold medal that gave her the most satisfaction during this period of her career.  Instead it was running a world best time for the half-marathon the following year, in the face of adversity including several sleepless nights with a sick child

Liz McColgan describes the best moment of her career

Both Black and McColgan were fortunate to be injury-free and in peak form in a World Championship year. Others such as Lord Coe, now president of the IAAF, were less fortunate.  Coe missed the inaugural World Championships in 1983 with toxoplasmosis, was injured for the second in 1987 and had retired by the time of the third in 1991.  Interviewed in 1999 he remembered missing the 1983 event and the press speculation that surrounded his absence from the track.

Lord Coe remembers missing the 1983 World Championships

All these performances were based on many thousands of hours of training and failure as well as success.  Daley Thompson, winner of the decathlon gold medal in the first World Championships in 1983 and a double Olympic gold medallist, reflected on how he learned from his failures and always sought improvements in training. 

Daley Thompson reflects on how he learnt from his failures

For Thompson the track was where he felt at home, and like many other athletes he found dealing with the media and the public away from it could be challenging.  High jump bronze medallist in Toronto in 1993, Steve Smith, reflects on the positive and negative consequences of being in the public eye.

Steve Smith reflects on the positive and negative consequences of being in the public eye

This level of scrutiny and the life of a professional athlete described by Smith seem a long way from the experiences recounted by many of the older interviewees in this collection such as John Disley, Ann Brightwell (Packer) and Dorothy Hyman whose Olympic medals were won in the 1950s and 1960s before British athletes who competed on the international stage could make a living from their sport.

To hear more visit the Sport collection on British Library Sounds.

By Sally Horrocks

18 August 2015

Sounds of Steaming ‘Doon the Watter’

Steve Evanson is a Co-Creator of Coast, the hit BBC TV show that celebrates our love affair with the UK shore.  Coast has run for 10 years, becoming a global brand with Coast Australia and other spin off series.  As we pass the midway point of the Sounds of our Shores project, Steve shares a day trip down the Clyde in classic Victorian style, and reveals his favourite coastal sounds.

I was a student in Glasgow in the 1980’s, but only recently did I realise a long cherished ambition - a voyage down the Clyde on the world’s last sea going paddle steamer, the PS Waverley.   

The tradition of a trip ‘Doon the Watter’ began in 19th century when Clyde-built steamships first started to ferry Glaswegians on excursions out to the Western Isles. Stopping off at the charming resort towns like Largs and Dunoon, the Clyde then widens out to open sea as the Isle of Bute comes into view.

The majestic scenery speaks for itself, but what makes this a truly magical experience for me is the rhythmic sound of the steam driven powerplant. 

Built by Rankin & Blackmore Engineers, at their Eagle Foundry on the Clyde, the prime mover of the Waverley is a 2100 horsepower, triple expansion steam engine, gloriously open to full public view.  Crowds gather to savour the sound and smell of this wheezing beast as it effortlessly drives the massive 18-foot diameter feathering paddle wheels.  

Muscular pistons propel the ship at a surprisingly brisk top speed of around 20 mph, but that still leaves plenty of time to indulge in a ‘wee swally’ in the bars below deck. Booze has always played a part in these cruises along the Clyde. In 1853 the Forbes MacKenzie Act outlawed the opening of Scottish pubs on a Sunday. However, pleasure craft were exempt, so thirsty workers flooded onto the cruisers on their day off, and the floating bars have been busy ever since.  Heavy drinking on the steamships is said to be the origin of the phrase 'Steaming Drunk', shortened in Glasgow simply to ‘Steamin’.


After a couple of hours in the bar, Victorian drinkers disembarking on the Isle of Bute were relieved to find, right on the quayside, probably the most magnificent toilets on our coast. The majestic Public Conveniences on Rothesay seafront have been restored to their full porcelain glory. The Gents are a sight to behold - women and children are welcome to explore too for the price of ticket.  The thundering roar of ‘The Deluge’ chain flush loo now echoes around empty ornate urinals. But once the mighty whoosh of The Deluge drowned out the sighs from generations of grateful Glaswegian shipyard workers standing in stalls. 

The sounds of the working coast aren’t the beautiful calls of nature you’ll find on windswept cliff-tops or secluded beaches, but that’s why I take those noises of humanity to my heart.  They speak to me of our relationship to the sea, how we’ve made it our home and it’s nurtured us in return.


Now we’ve been given the chance to vote for our favourite sound of the coast, so please listen to the wonderful Top Ten contenders put together here.

Much as I love the melancholy call of the seals or the clattering chatter of the Kittiwakes, my vote goes to ferries on the Mersey…

The bells and horn sounding in the fog are both a warning and a comfort, a reassurance and a call to adventure.

Please vote for your own favourite from the Top Ten before 27 August 2015 … make your vote count!


Sounds of our Shores is a three month collaborative project between the British Library, the National Trust, the National Trust for Scotland and audioBoom Ltd, running from 21st June to 21st September 2015. 

11 August 2015

Conference Report: Performing the Archive, Galway, 2015

Galway blog3re

I have just returned from the ‘Performing the Archive’ conference at the National University of Ireland in Galway, 22-24 July.  

This was an international conference on performance archives attended by delegates from European countries and the United States: most of them archivists, academics, artists and/or PhD students working with archives.

The three-day programme contained six plenary panels and six concurrent sessions with papers on 25 different topics, which, multiplied by three speakers per session, made a total of 75 papers presented. See programme.

The venue was the Arts Millennium Building, with the evening receptions held at the James Hardiman Library, both modern spaces conveniently close to our student accommodation campus in Corrib Village.

I only have space to mention just a few highlights:

Lost Theatres and their Digital Remains

Various discussions were dedicated to two of the most prominent theatres in the history of Dublin: the Abbey Theatre, considered to be Ireland’s national theatre; and the (fourth) Theatre Royal, which had a capacity of 4000 seats and was reputedly the biggest theatre in Europe.

The Abbey Theatre has an ongoing archive online digitisation project consisting  so far of over a million items of audio, video, photographs, scripts, set designs, posters, documents, and oral history interviews with actors, writers, directors and staff from the Abbey.

In addition, both theatres are being digitally reconstructed with the use of 3D digital technologies by Hugh Denard and his team of Trinity College, Dublin.  Read more.

Complementing these two online resources is the ‘Playography Ireland’ site, which combines two comprehensive databases of new Irish plays produced professionally since 1904.

Holding a Mirror Up to Nature and Society

Next year Ireland celebrates the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising which has been described as ‘the foundational myth of the modern Irish state’ in ‘the war of independence against Britain (1919 - 1921) and the creation of the Irish Free State'. See, for example, Professor David Reynolds's recent article in New Statesman.

Much questioning has gone into the sources for building memory and historiography and in anticipation of the coming commemorations, part of the conference focused on voices absent from the archives, with an emphasis on women and queer histories.

Particularly relevant were two papers: one by Ciara Conway and the other by Miriam Haughton, both of National University of Ireland, Galway.

Professor Tracy Davis of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois  presented a paper on the manuscript diaries of Frederick Chesson, in her words ‘a diary of nobody’, to bring attention to ‘the matrix’ of Victorian diaries and their importance for the writing of history. 

Considering theatre as a mirror and microcosm of society, Professor Patrick Lonergan of National University of Ireland, Galway, presented a paper on gender and how theatres perform in society based on his research at the Abbey Theatre archives, including an interesting example of the imbalance in the number of toilets provided for men and women!

Creativity and Archives

There was also a focus on creative ways of seeing archived materials and conceiving dynamic alternatives of engagement.

For example Blake Morris spoke of The Walk Exchange a collaborative project which develops public educational and creative walks, in which the participants are invited to think about the urban as a text.

Theatre practitioners using archives who spoke included playwright and researcher Jenny Roggers; playwright and journalist Colin Murphy, who spoke about his 2010 play Guarantee; theatre director Louise Lowe of ANU Productions, who talked about PALS: The Irish at Gallipoli; Paula McFetridge, Artistic Director of Kabosh Productions, who has worked on several projects in Belfast; and Joan Sheehy of Limerick City of Culture, who talked about The Colleen Bawn Trials.

Tanya Dean of National University of Ireland, Galway, presented a paper on positive ways of seeing theatre which is not live but yet exclusive as ‘something other than performance', such as the NT Live initiative of London’s National Theatre.

Overall this was a very stimulating three days, efficiently organized by Charlotte McIvor and her colleagues. Conferences like this always give me lots of food for thought for many months to come. A big thank you to everybody who made this conference possible.

Vote for the UK's favourite coastal sound!

Whether it’s the sound of waves rolling on to golden sands, seagulls crying from the clifftops or children playing on the beach, we're on a mission to discover the UK’s favourite coastal sound! Drawing from some of the finest recordings submitted by members of the public to the Sounds of our Shores project, we've come up with a list of 10 sounds that in some way represent an aspect of the UK coastline. From nature to industry, transport to entertainment, these evocative sounds immediately transport you to the coast, having the power to bring back treasured memories or instantly calm the senses. 

So what have we chosen? Here's a breakdown of the 10 sounds that have been selected for this public vote:

1. Children playing on Brean Sands

 2. Dredging oysters at Brightlingsea 

3. Gentle waves at Trwyn Llanbedrog 

4. Ghost train ride - Palace Pier, Brighton 

 5. Kittiwakes at the nest

 6. Mumbles raft race

 7. River Mersey ferries in the fog

8. Seagulls and waves at Black Bay, near Monreith 

9. Seals calling and snorting on Raithlin Island 

 10. Singing Sands, Eigg, Scottish Hebrides

To take part in the vote to find the UK's favourite coastal sound, simply complete the Sounds of our Shores online poll here. We'll be announcing the winner in early September so make sure you register your vote before midnight on Thursday 27th August.

Sounds of our Shores runs until the 21st September so there's still plenty of time to record and upload your favourite coastal sounds. Full details of how to take part can be found here.


Sounds of our Shores is a three month collaborative project between the British Library, the National Trust, the National Trust for Scotland and audioBoom Ltd, running from 21st June to 21st September 2015.

05 August 2015

Memories Of Hiroshima And After

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