This week's selection comes from Josie Wales, Rights Clearance Officer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.
Along with many other libraries around the world, the British Library celebrated LGBTQ+ Pride this summer, with staff from St Pancras and Boston Spa joining the parades in York and London.
This Recording of the Week takes us back to 1985, when Pride was a very different kind of event with a much stronger political tone. With around 10,000 people in attendance, the 1985 march was considered to be the biggest to date. In comparison, an estimated 1.5 million people gathered in central London to mark the annual parade this year.
This recording comes from a collection of brief street interviews conducted at the 1985 Pride March, through which we can gain an insight into the atmosphere of the event and the thoughts and preoccupations of those attending. A recurring concern were the raids and seizure of imported books by UK Customs and Excise, which most famously involved independent bookseller Gay‚Äôs the Word in Bloomsbury, but also affected other organisations that sold or distributed gay and lesbian reading material. More than one hundred imported titles were deemed ‚Äėindecent or obscene‚Äô under the 1876 Customs Consolidation Act, and confiscated.
In this short clip, a marcher from the Gay Christian Movement, a charity founded in 1976, describes the impact of this state censorship and the expensive legal battle against it, and shares their thoughts on our right as people in a free society to read and, most importantly, to choose what we read.
Both the Gay Christian Movement and Gay‚Äôs the Word faced charges of conspiring to import indecent material, but mounted successful opposition to these acts of repression with the strong support of both authors and publishers and the wider community of readers.
Technology has altered the way in which many of us engage with and access reading material, but the sense of community and solidarity that can be created through literature, particularly for LGBTQ+ and other marginalised populations, remains just as important. This theme will be explored over several events at the British Library in the upcoming season, including Banned Books Week in September, which examines censorship and other barriers to self-expression. More information and tickets can be found on our events page.
This week's selection comes from Vikki Greenwood, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.
C880 is a fabulously intriguing collection of interviews, conducted by Rena Feld, of twenty-nine women who either were or are conscientious objectors. Their reasons varied ‚Äď religious, moral, political ‚Äď but they held firm in the belief that war, for any reason, was intrinsically wrong.
Before I began listening to this collection, my knowledge of conscientious objectors during the Second World War was limited. I just knew they were men.
Weirdly, the concept of women conscientious objectors never occurred to me, simply for the reason that they were exempt from conscription. What I didn‚Äôt know though, was that any single woman between the ages of 20 and 30 could be called upon to report for war work.
British Women's Land Army recruitment poster, depicting a woman with pitchfork, captioned 'For a healthy, happy job join the Women's Land Army', circa 1940 (via Wikimedia Commons)
Some found that this was in direct opposition to their personal beliefs and refused. The results varied from fines to job loss and for some, like Barbara Roads (C880/02), imprisonment. And then there are others, like Angela Sinclair-Loutit (C880/23) who worked in war hospitals during air raids.
All of the interviews in this collection have some great stories behind them. They really highlight what living and working during WW2 was like, as seen through the eyes of people who just wanted peace. However, I would like to talk about just one of these women.
Diana McClelland was a physiotherapist, so exempt from war work summons, who specialised in treating children. From her interview, it‚Äôs not clear whether or not she actually managed to register as a conscientious objector, but she definitely wanted to.
During the Battle of Britain, there was a Government supported organisation called the Children‚Äôs Overseas Reception Board (C.O.R.B). This group evacuated children to the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, with the plan that when the war was over they would return home to their families.
In 1940, in her own words, Diana just wanted a short holiday to Canada. So, she boarded a C.O.R.B ship as a volunteer to accompany the children. Unfortunately, she boarded the SS Volendam and never made it to Canada.
Auxiliary Territorial Services (ATS) recruitment poster (The National Archives via Wikimedia Commons)
Spoiler alert: she did make it to Glasgow and none of the kids on board were lost.
The ship was torpedoed by the German submarine U-60, and the passengers and crew had to be evacuated and rescued by the accompanying ships. She gives quite a frank description of the events; the ship listing, waiting for the lifeboats, of the crew shouting in Dutch and the children oblivious to the danger. According to the captain, it was the most orderly evacuation he‚Äôd ever overseen, something he attributed to the passengers not knowing Dutch.
When Diana McClelland returned to Glasgow, holiday attempt foiled, she was asked if she would be willing to try again.
Naturally, she said yes.
The only reason she didn‚Äôt was because by the time she was meant to sail, the SS City of Benares had also been attacked, this time with a large number of casualties.
I won't lie, if I‚Äôd been on a torpedoed ship I don‚Äôt think I‚Äôd be willing to run the risk again. No matter how pretty Canada is. Which I suppose means these women were braver than I‚Äôll ever be, and I admire that.
Guest blog by Edison Fellow Chas Helge who is currently writing his dissertation on Beatrice Harrison
Suddenly, the door opened and the King came in. He was quite alone. He came up to me‚Ä¶ saying, 'Nightingale, nightingale,' he said, 'you have done what I have not yet been able to do. You have encircled the empire with the song of the nightingale with your cello.'
These are the words spoken by the cello virtuoso Beatrice Harrison (1892-1965) in 1955 for the BBC Home Service programme Scrapbook for 1924. Harrison, who was once a household name at the height of Great Britain‚Äôs colonial empire, lent her first-hand account to help create an historical snapshot of 1924. The monarch she is referencing is King George V. This interview is just one of the rare resources found in the Sound and Moving Image collection at the British Library. My Edison Fellowship facilitated travel to London to access this and many more primary sources for my dissertation exploring the career, life, and recordings of this outstanding early 20th century performer.
Beatrice Harrison‚Äôs development was meteoric. She was second of four prodigiously talented sisters: May, Beatrice, Margaret, and Monica. Their early musical studies were supervised by their firebrand of a mother, Annie Harrison. Annie was a talented amateur singer and pianist, and perhaps because she was not able to pursue a musical career herself, mobilized all of her family‚Äôs resources to the careers of her children as professional musicians. One of the most fascinating windows into the Harrison family‚Äôs lives are their practice journals. The girls were expected to keep meticulous records to document every hour of every day‚Äôs productivity. Annie‚Äôs devotion and tenacity paid off. Beatrice received exceptional training at the Royal College of Music, the Frankfurt Hoch Conservatory, and the Hochschule f√ľr Musik in Berlin. While studying with the famous German cello pedagogue Hugo Becker (1863-1941), she won the Mendelssohn Prize at age seventeen.
Beatrice became close friends with Princess Victoria, so close, that it was Princess Victoria who paid for Harrison‚Äôs beloved cello, the great ‚ÄėPietro Guarnieri‚Äô. In August 1928 HMV made some private recordings for the Princess. Here is one of the third movement of Elgar‚Äôs Cello Concerto in E Minor featuring Beatrice on the cello and Princess Victoria accompanying her on the piano.
Another recording, which can be heard at the British Library, is an interview conducted in 1986 with Margaret Harrison (1899-1995), Beatrice‚Äôs younger sister. Margaret herself was a prodigy as the youngest pupil of the Royal College of Music (age 4) and her piano skills were extensive enough that she toured with Beatrice in the United States (they even made it to Texas). Here, we can listen to Margaret create a portal, not only into the life of the Harrison family, but also into the private life of Princess Victoria.
Harrison‚Äôs greatest claims to fame straddle two different sides of the music world during the 1920s. Today, Harrison‚Äôs legacy endures for her recordings of the Elgar Cello Concerto recorded under the baton of Sir Edward Elgar himself. She was his preferred cellist for the concerto and he credited her for popularizing it after its disastrous premiere. They first recorded it together in 1919 and 1920 by the old acoustic process.
Elgar and Beatrice Harrison recording for HMV in 1920
A new recording was made by the electric process on 23rd March 1928 where two turntables were recording simultaneously. Using modern digital technology, these two recordings made at the same session have been combined to create a new stereo version. It also stands as the most accurate representation of what Elgar intended his famous concerto to express.
The second contribution Harrison made was as an international radio superstar. In 1924, she had a 'hard tussle' (her words) to convince managing director of the BBC Sir John Reith to have sound engineers go to her garden near Oxted in Surrey. Her vision was to recreate on live radio what she had successfully accomplished herself many times: marry the rich sound of her cello with the song of the nightingale. In the dark, positioned under an oak tree, surrounded by rabbits, microphones, and wires, Harrison performed Rimsky-Korsakov‚Äôs Chant Hindu accompanied by the sound of nightingales to a radio audience of a million people. Four years later she recreated this for the HMV microphone.
Meanwhile, the live broadcast was a hit. It was the first time the BBC had broadcast the sound of birds in their natural habitat. Harrison received more than fifty thousand fan letters and welcomed hundreds of visitors to her estate from every corner of the British Empire. They all hoped to meet ‚ÄėThe Lady of the Nightingales.‚Äô Harrison and the BBC recreated their broadcast every springtime for twelve consecutive years and later, in the 1955 Scrapbook programme mentioned above. Here is an excerpt from that broadcast describing what happened in 1924 and ending with her recollection of the King's comments mentioned above.
Harrison‚Äôs success even led to her appearing as herself in the 1943 British propaganda film The Demi-Paradise, and extraordinary scene where she plays in a garden with nightingales during an air raid for a radio broadcast.
Harrison embraced her status as an international British cultural icon and thus named her memoir The Cello and the Nightingales.
As an American, the Edison Fellowship was my ticket to accessing not only the British Library‚Äôs resources, but many institutions and individuals in London. The Harrison Sisters‚Äô scores at the Royal College of Music and Harrison‚Äôs correspondence (contracts, internal memos, and letters) with the BBC at their archives in Caversham. Both the RCM and the BBC Archives were so very kind and helpful, especially the RCM librarians who made dozens of trips into the basement to pull up heavy boxes of music, I thank you for helping this helpless American.
While in London, I was privileged to meet the two leading Beatrice Harrison historians, David Candlin, Chairman of the Harrison Sisters Trust and Patricia Cleveland-Peck, author of many beloved children‚Äôs books and the annotator/editor of Beatrice‚Äôs autobiography, The Cello and the Nightingales. David was kind enough to invite me into his home and show me the Harrisons' church and graves and the Music House in Surrey. He also provided access to documents and countless photos I had never seen before.
Special thanks to Jonathan Summers at the British Library Sound Archive who manages the Edison Fellowships for help and guidance during my stay in London, and for accompanying me in Anton Rubinstein‚Äôs Cello Sonata and a Beatrice Harrison manuscript! Finally, thanks to Cheryl Tipp, curator of Wildlife & Environmental Sounds, for the use of a recording studio to finish the transcriptions of the recorded interviews.
Thanks to Somm Recordings for permission to use the Elgar recordings