THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

8 posts from June 2019

26 June 2019

The Stonewall Riots: I wouldn’t have missed it for the world

Stonewall_Inn_1969

Stonewall Inn, 1969 (New York Public Library)

In the United States, actions to protest against discrimination of gay men and lesbians began in the 1950s. A decade later times were ripe for what would become known as the starting point of the gay revolution: the Stonewall Riots. Starting at 1am on a Friday night, 28th June 1969, the riots lasted for six days. Six days where gay men, lesbians, drags queens and transgender people confronted the police to protect and claim their spaces, dignity and rights. The turmoil led to the formation of the intersectional Gay Liberation Front in early July and, later in December, of the Gay Activists Alliance which was more strictly focussed on LGBT issues.

The mythology that has developed around the event is not only due to the fact that it, unbeknownst to those who raised their voice that night, made history, but also because of supposedly conflicting accounts of the night. However, David Carter (author of the book ‘Stonewall, the riots that sparked the gay revolution’), shows that when put under close scrutiny, narratives of the night don’t conflict at all and unreliable information can be easily isolated. It was a collective effort in which the whole LGBT community played their role.

Leee Black Childers, a photographer who worked closely with artists pivoting around Andy Warhol’s Factory, is one of the people who witnessed the uproar from outside the Stonewall Inn. He was 24 at the time, and had moved to New York from San Francisco a few years earlier. Looking for alternative lifestyles he found Greenwich Village, an astounding and fascinating mixture of urban realities, from residential houses and deli shops, to the Women’s House of Detention, past the gay scene of the Stonewall Inn in Christopher Street. He recalls a buzzing atmosphere, brightened by mostly gay male youth and statuesque figures running in their stockings up and down late at night. It was around these streets that his passion for photographing drag queens began, thanks to a fortuitous invitation to the wedding of The Factory’s stars Jackie Curtis and Eric Emerson. This was an environment he felt he belonged to; frequented by talented and of control people such as Andrea Whips and Holly Woodlawn, as well as a crossroad of artists who shuttled between Warhol’s Factory in Union Square and Mickey Ruskin’s Max’s Kansas City (originally a steakhouse, with a backroom just dedicated to the craziest people from all avenues of life).

"They're raiding the Stonewall" C456/76/08)

The Stonewall Inn wasn’t the only gay bar in the neighborhood. The Snake Pit, the Checkerboard, and the Sewer were all well-established venues, and had all been raided and shut down in the weeks preceding the riots.

In his interview, Leee Black Childers describes one of the police attacks at the Sewer, an after hour bar, where drag queens were lined up and arrested. He explains how the detention of crossdressers was legally possible due to a law that prohibited masquerading in public. Yet in most of these occasions, although harassed by the police, gay people would be let away unless caught in explicitly homosexual activities.

A few days after, Leee was sitting on the stoops of Christopher Street with some friends, when someone in clacking slingbacks came down the street screaming ‘They're raiding the Stonewall!’ and...

Blog by Lucia Cavorsi, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound HeritageThe complete interview with Leee Black Childers can be listened to onsite at the British Library in St Pancras or Boston Spa. For more information on an Oral History of British Photography see the collection guide to Oral histories of visual arts and crafts.

25 June 2019

Michael Ryle and the development of the House of Commons select committee system

Forty years ago, on 25 June 1979, members of the House of Commons debated proposals to restructure its select committee system to align with the way government departments were organised.

Portcullis_House_Select_Committee

A select Committee of the House of Commons in session at Portcullis House, circa 2010-12. Courtesy of UK Parliament. Licence: CC BY 3.0

In the words of the then Leader of the House, Norman St John-Stevas, these reforms were intended 'to redress the balance of power to enable the House of Commons to do more effectively the job it has been elected to do'.

Calls to redress that balance went back to the early 1960s. Among the academics, parliamentary staff and parliamentarians advocating procedural reform at that time was Michael Ryle, a clerk in the House of Commons whose 40-year career culminated in becoming Clerk of Committees in the late 1980s.

Michael_ryle_crop

Michael Ryle. Photograph courtesy of the Study of Parliament Group.

Ryle joined the House of Commons in 1951, and in his oral history interview recorded in 2003 he remembers how as a new clerk he was made to feel particularly welcome by a long-standing member of the House.

Michael Ryle on Churchill (C1135/13) [Part 2, 00:06:30 – 00:09:04]

Ryle describes his role as a founder member of the Study of Parliament Group (SPG) as one of his greatest achievements. In this clip he tells the story of how it came to be established in 1964 and early proposals for parliamentary reform.

Michael Ryle on the SPG (C1135/13) [Part 3, 00:19:16 – 00:22:46]

Within a few years some of those proposals were in motion when Richard Crossman, Leader of the House, introduced a handful of new select committees in the late 1960s. Some focused on a particular subject area, such as science and technology, but in 1979 the concept of specialist subject committees was shelved in favour of a system that mirrored government departments.

From his time serving in the Committee office, Ryle experienced first-hand how the work of committees changed. 'The main changes I saw during my working life in the Committee office­ – which was most of my life­ – was this move towards the select committees becoming much more public, much more influential, much more concerned with the policy matters, much more testing of Ministers than they were in the old days. I saw real significant changes, especially of course after 1979.' [Part 2, 00:11:40 – 00:12:11]

A recent Liaison Committee inquiry has examined the effectiveness and influence of the departmental select committee system. The committee’s chair, Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, will deliver the annual Michael Ryle Memorial Lecture at a conference being held later this week where delegates will reflect on how successful those 1979 changes have been in meeting the reformers’ original goals.

Michael Ryle was recorded for the House of Commons staff oral history project in 2003. The interviewer was Gloria Tyler, a member of the House of Commons Library staff @commonslibrary. These short extracts come from an in-depth interview which can be accessed in the British Library reading rooms. A written summary of the full interview can be word searched on the Sound and Moving Image catalogue.

Blogpost by Emmeline Ledgerwood (@EmmeLedgerwood), AHRC collaborative doctoral student with the University of Leicester and the British Library Oral History department. Her PhD research is looking at governments’ attitudes to the management and funding of scientific research, 1970-2005. Emmeline Ledgerwood is a member of the Study of Parliament Group @StudyofParl.

24 June 2019

Recording of the week: Frank Land OBE - from Nazi Germany to the tea shop electronic brain

This week's selection comes from Dr Tom Lean, Project Interviewer for An Oral History of British Science.

Amongst the awards in this month's Queen's Birthday Honours list was a much deserved OBE for An Oral History of British Science interviewee Frank Land, Britain's first professor of information systems and a pioneer of business computing.

In this clip from his interview, Frank recalls the path that led him from a childhood in 1930s Nazi Germany to become one of the early programmers of Lyons Electronic Office, or "LEO", the world's first business computer, created in the 1950s by catering company J Lyons & Co to automate the business operations of their chain of tea shops.

021I-C1379X0017XX-0001A1Frank Land with his twin brother

Frank Land on emigration, education and working for Lyons (C1379/17)

The full interview with Frank Land can be listened to here.

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

17 June 2019

Recording of the week: Leonardo da Vinci's watery obsession

This week's selection comes from Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife & Environmental Sounds.

One of the major themes of the library's current exhibition Leonardo da Vinci: A Mind in Motion is water. From the workings of underwater breathing apparatus to the formation of waves, Leonardo had a lifelong fascination with water and the human desire to both understand it and control it.

Leo-news-item-800x450Leonardo da Vinci: A mind in Motion exhibition poster featuring a sketch of one of Leonardo’s thought experiments (Arundel MS 263, ff. 44v-59r)

The sound archive has a rich collection of watery recordings, ranging from waterfalls and rivers to rain and snow. Leonardo spent years studying how water interacts with obstacles of all sorts and the same can be said of some sound recordists. Richard Beard was one such recordist. During the course of his life, Richard recorded the sounds of water all over the world, from geysers in Iceland to waves in Australia.

This recording was made much closer to home, on the Isle of Wight, and features the sound of water gently cascading onto the sandy beach of Brook Bay. 

Waterfall at Brook Bay, Isle of Wight,  recorded in 2006 by Richard Beard 

Many more recordings of water can be found in the Weather and Water collections on British Library Sounds. Leonardo da Vinci: A Mind in Motion runs until Sunday 8 September 2019.

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

10 June 2019

Recording of the week: Loss of a world and a need to capture it

This week's selection comes from Charlie Morgan, Oral History Archivist.

Someone asked Goha what was his favourite music and he replied, ‘The clanging of pots and pans and the tinkling of glasses’ (Middle Eastern Food, p.520)

In 2018 Gaby’s Deli closed after 50 years on Charing Cross Road. A popular haunt of both theatre goers and Central London protestors, it’s also where the proprietor Gaby Elyahou claims (although who can really prove such a thing) to have introduced falafel to London. Gaby’s opened in 1965 and three years later, cookbook writer and cultural anthropologist Claudia Roden published her first masterpiece A Book of Middle Eastern Food, updated two years later with A New Book of Middle Eastern Food. While Gaby’s was pretty successful in selling falafel, Roden is the first to admit that Middle Eastern cuisine in general did not go down too well in the UK. In the clip selected for this blog she remarks on how “in those days I wasn’t thinking of the English, because at that time the English were not interested at all” and how the general consensus was it might all be “eyeballs and testicles”. Obviously things are different today, but this does raise the question of who Roden was writing for instead.

IMG_20190122_082706126My mum's copy of Mediterranean Cookery, my housemate's copy of A New Book of Middle Eastern Food and a teapot.

Claudia Roden was born in 1936 to a Jewish Egyptian family. In 1951 she left Cairo for France and then the UK to study art, but after the Suez Crisis of 1956 her family, like many other Egyptian Jews who were expelled or fled, joined her to settle in London. It’s there that Roden began, as a form of historical preservation, to collect recipes, and in this recording she gives her poignant reasons for doing so; “loss of a world, loss of a heritage and a need to capture it”.

Claudia Roden on Middle Eastern cuisine (C821/47)

Roden began with “ourselves, my family” and moved on to “others who had come from Syria, or had come from Turkey”, eventually culminating in A New Book which is described in the introduction as a “joint creation of numerous Middle Easterners who, like me, are in exile”. But wherever the recipes came from and whatever stories they told, Roden was adamant that they “have to be written down, have to be made a record of”. With that in mind it’s apt that we come full circle to this Recording of the Week, itself, taken from an eleven hour oral history interview recorded by Polly Russell for the National Life Stories project ‘Food: From Source to Salespoint’. Because if books are one way of preserving history then recordings are another, and both are underpinned by the same principles of heritage. Interviews too are a “joint creation” and, in the domain of oral history, “loss of a world, loss of a heritage and a need to capture it” remains central.

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

06 June 2019

D-Day has come

US troops disembark landing craftU.S. Soldiers disembark a landing craft at Normandy, France, June 6, 1944

By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

For those people in occupied countries, this was life changing news.  Seventy five years ago today, as the allied forces landed on the Normandy beaches to liberate France and countries beyond with Operation Overlord, these words were broadcast by the BBC.  By the end of the day, 6th June 1944, 150,000 Allied troops had landed on five Normandy beaches.

D-Day has come

In 1944 the radio – or wireless as it was known – was the main source of information.  The day before D-Day, known as D-Day minus one, the BBC broadcast instructions from Supreme Allied Command to those in occupied countries to make sure they would be listening to their radios on D-Day during the actual invasion of the Normandy beaches.

D-Day minus one

Meeting_of_the_Supreme_Command _Allied_Expeditionary_Force _London _1_February_1944_TR1631Meeting of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force(SHAEF), 1 February 1944 

Reporter Richard North on board a ‘largish craft’ described the scene of the invasion during a live broadcast on the morning of 6th June 1944.

Eye witness on Normany coast

These recordings are from the Alan Cooban collection (C1398) digitised with funding from the Saga Trust.

For all the latest news follow @BL_Classical

05 June 2019

Stuart Franklin remembers photographing Tank Man in Tiananmen Square

30 years ago this week the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing, China ended when the People’s Liberation Army fired on the student-led demonstrators. While the protests of 1989 took place across the whole of mainland China, it is the events in Beijing that dominated international coverage. The iconic photo of ‘Tank Man’ has come to stand as the defining image of the movement.

Tankman_new_longshot_StuartFranklin

Wide shot of Tank Man by Stuart Franklin (Source: Wikipedia)

In this classic photograph an unknown man holds two shopping bags and stands alone against a line of tanks. Captured by five different photographers, the most widely republished version was taken by Stuart Franklin of Magnum Photos. Stuart was interviewed by Shirley Read for an Oral History of British Photography in 2000 and he described how he took the photograph and how he got it out of China:

"So I hid the film in a box of tea" (C459/129/12)

In the interview Stuart considers what makes his photo of Tank Man different from the other four that were taken. Unlike the others, his shot includes smoke coming out of the fourth tank indicating it was about to move and adds “tension” to the image. Surprisingly, and despite the impact and longevity of the photograph, Stuart describes it as “feeble” and “pathetic” compared to Josef Koudelka’s photographs of Prague in 1968:

"It wasn't a very satisfying image to be taking" (C459/129/12)

Although Stuart is critical of his own photo he recognises its impact and discusses why it became so iconic:

"... a symbolic edge that it wouldn't otherwise have had" (C459/129/12)

Stuart speaks eloquently about how an image is defined as much by its dissemination as by its quality. So while he thinks he took better photographs of the protests, including those outside of Beijing, he is aware that they will never have the importance of Tank Man.

The identity of the protester himself has never been discovered, nor is it known what happened to him after the photo was taken. Yet through photographs such as Stuart’s he is as emblematic of the protests now as he was 30 years ago.

The complete interview with Stuart Franklin can be listened to online by those in Higher and Further Education institutions. For more information on an Oral History of British Photography see the collection guide to Oral histories of visual arts and crafts.

03 June 2019

Recording of the week: Lilian Baylis (1874-1937)

This week's selection comes from Steve Cleary, Lead Curator of Literary and Creative Recordings.

This week we feature the voice of Lilian Baylis, talking about the Old Vic and Sadler's Wells theatres, which she famously managed. The Old Vic company nurtured the careers of Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Peggy Ashcroft and Sybil Thorndike amongst many other notables of 20th-century British theatre.

The voice of Lilian Baylis (C1077/6)

The recording was made in the mid 1930s at the invitation of the Vic-Wells Association, and produced as a one-sided HMV Private Record. It is not known how many discs were originally pressed or still exist today.

Lilian Baylis disc

Our copy, which is signed by Lilian Baylis on the label, was donated in 2003 as part of the archive of theatre designer Tanya Moiseiwitsch.

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