Sound and vision blog

4 posts from June 2022

20 June 2022

Recording of the week: Footsteps on gravel

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

Tape loop in box

The tape box in the image above measures 90 mm x 90 mm. Inside, as you can see, is a short loop of tape. This is one of nearly 300 similar items from the Bishop Sound collection. Each one features a prosaic title such as ‘Crowd Cheering’ or ‘Dog Barking’. They are sound effects dating from the late 1950s, designed for ‘the stage, film, television, exhibitions, pageants, etc., and all users of sound effects’.

Some years before, company founder Jack Bishop had the idea of replacing mechanical sound effects and ‘their somewhat capricious results’ with recorded effects that could be relied upon to sound the same every night.

Digitizing this sample tape for this week’s blog post presented our audio engineer Karl Jenkins with a modest challenge.

Audio engineer Karl Jenkins with tape loop

Audio engineer Karl Jenkins preparing to transfer the tape

We did not want to cut the original loop and add new leader tape if this could be avoided. However, the tape loop was too short to fit neatly onto the standard hubs of the tape player in the studio.

The answer, as you can see below, involved the judicious placement of a screwdriver.

Audio engineer Karl Jenkins transferring the tape

Listen to footsteps on gravel

Quotes are from Sound Effects: A Catalogue of Cuedisc Recorded Sound Effects (Bishop Sound & Electrical Co. Ltd.; London; date unknown).

Thanks to Karl Jenkins, Audio Engineer, and Andrew Pearson, Maintenance and Repair Engineer, Sound and Vision.

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

13 June 2022

Recording of the week: More than a headteacher

This week's selection comes from Sandra Agard, Learning Facilitator. 

'More than a headteacher' is how cousins Michelle Campbell-Davies and Rachel Clarke describe Betty Campbell, or Nan, as they knew her, in their chat recorded for The Listening Project to mark Black History Month in October 2021.

Bronze statue of Betty Campbell in Central Square, CardiffStatue of Betty Campbell in Central Square, Cardiff. Photo by 14GTR via Wikimedia, Creative Commons attribution CC BY-SA 4.0.

As the two cousins recall their family history and 'Nan’s legacy,' they painfully remember that as a child their Nan wanted to be a teacher – the response from her headteacher was 'it was never going to happen!' She went on to prove that teacher wrong!

Betty Campbell not only went on to be a teacher, she became the first Black headteacher in Wales. She was a trailblazer in Education and Community in Butetown, Cardiff.

This recording offers an insight into her remarkable life, legacy and all that she accomplished for her school, her community and for multi-culturalism.

According to Michelle and Rachel, their Nan had a 'clear vision on what equality looks like.' This entailed the importance of representation in the positions of power. One has to have a seat at the table to make decisions. Betty Campbell made sure she was at the head of table. As they put it, 'Nan was the boss!'

The cousins emphasise that their Nan was a pioneer for Black History Month. She made it her mission to promote the experiences of Black people and their contributions to British society through education. She also got involved in local politics by becoming an Independent Councillor. Originally, she planned on being a candidate for the Labour party in the local elections, but she was not selected. Undeterred, she decided to run as an Independent and, of course, she won! The words 'no' or 'can’t' were certainly not in her vocabulary.

Michelle and Rachel discuss their Nan's legacy [BL REF C1500/21254]

This then is the public face of Betty Campbell - head teacher, pioneer, councillor, trailblazer - but there are also the intimate memories of family moments.

Betty Campbell was not a very good cook. She also took terrible photographs, never waiting for anyone to be ready. No posing for her!

She loved singing in the choir.

She loved to travel and she made friends everywhere. Her granddaughter Michelle laughs at the memory of them all going to Canada to stay with people her grandmother had recently met in Butetown. For the cousins she was 'young at heart,' despite her advancing age.

As the cousins reminisce, they constantly say that they could not have progressed in their respective careers if it had not been for their Nan.

'I wouldn’t be the person I was if it was not for Nan,' says Michelle.

Nan gave them the confidence to pursue their dreams and destinies and the strength to navigate the constant challenges that they encountered in their daily lives.

Indeed, one of Betty Campbell’s mantras was, 'if you want something you have to go out and get it,' and she definitely did!

Betty’s achievements have earned her a spot among the 100 Great Black Britons; her place certainly deserved.

Betty Campbell left a lasting legacy for her family and the community.

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Sandra A. Agard is storyteller, writer, playwright, poet, cultural historian, and author of children’s books including, ‘Trailblazers: Harriet Tubman’ and ‘Amazing Women in Black History’. Sandra is a member of the British Library staff CRED Network and Learning Facilitator.

The Listening Project is an audio archive of personal conversations, collected by local and national BBC radio stations. Since 2012, people have been invited to have a conversation recorded and broadcast (in edited form) by the BBC, and archived by the British Library. You can listen to over a thousand of the recordings in full through British Library Sounds. You can also learn more about the ongoing project on the BBC website.

The British Library is currently hosting an exhibition entitled Celebrating Beryl Gilroy which explores highlights from the archive of Beryl Agatha Gilroy, one of London's first Black headteachers. You can explore the free exhibition in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery at our St Pancras site until 26 June 2022.

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

07 June 2022

Chance patrons: Sir Nikolaus Pevsner and the pioneering age of British architectural history

'An Oral History of British Architectural Historians', is a new oral history project, recently deposited at the British Library Sound Archive. The collection was recorded by the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain (SAHGB) and documents the work of historians of British architecture from the mid twentieth century to the present day. In this blog Jake Bransgrove uses the oral history interviews with John Harris (British Library catalogue reference: C1804/03) and John Newman (British Library catalogue reference: C1804/04) to look at the life of Sir Nikolaus Pevsner (1902-1983) and 'The Buildings of' series of architectural guide books.

Portrait photo of the nave of King's College Chapel, CambridgeThe nave of King's College Chapel, Cambridge. The late Perpendicular Gothic flourishes were much admired by Nikolaus Pevsener. Copyright: Chris Boland

Between 1951 and 1974 Sir Nikolaus Pevsner published 'The Buildings of England', a forty-six volume series of architectural guide books. This was followed by successor series on Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Pevsner’s guides compiled historic buildings with unique or representative architectural value, bringing together formal analysis with wry observations. The books remain essential resources for those curious about their built heritage. For architectural historians in Britain, they are a landmark in the development of the discipline.

Pevsner was central to the project and personal reflections on his character, life and method help us to understand the guides’ significance. Evocative examples come from those with whom Pevsner worked. These include individuals like John Harris and John Newman who helped him at early stages to execute his daunting task. Their involvement with the guides also lead to later careers as researchers, writers and teachers in their own right. Both Harris and Newman have been interviewed for 'An Oral History of British Architectural Historians'.

Harris’s relationship with the 'Buildings of England' began with a period researching the first edition of the Lincolnshire volume (1964). Having previously worked as an upholstery apprentice and an antiques dealer, he was an unlikely choice for the position. Yet, energised by the thrill of the open road, Harris spent a contented period researching for Pevsner. Harris traced Lincolnshire’s sprawl of byways on his Lambretta motorcycle with his future wife Eileen on the back. He also snooped amongst grand if run-down houses – an experience he chronicled in a later memoir, 'No Voice From the Hall' (1998). In the following excerpt, Harris reflects on the reasons for his involvement in the project. At the same time he discusses the limits of his employer’s method:

John Harris on Pevsner's method (C1804/03/01 [00:39:41 - 00:41:11])

Download John Harris on Pevsner's method Transcript

In Harris' view, Pevsner had a less-than-intrepid approach to research, and did not fully consult topography, English social mores and archival material. On all these points, many others have since agreed.

Yet Pevsner had taken a chance in employing Harris, who had received no formal training in architectural history at this point. The path Harris subsequently took led him to the role of Head Librarian and Curator for the Royal Institute of British Architects. In this he was assisted by interventions from the likes of James Lees-Milne, connoisseur and writer for 'Country Life', and the collector Geoffrey Houghton-Brown. However, it was Pevsner’s patronage that had stamped Harris as approved in matters of architectural history. When considering his life story in perspective, it presents a noticeable fork in the road. As a result, he found himself working with prominent scholars like Sir Howard Colin, Sir John Summerson, Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Rupert Gunnis:

John Harris on working with prominent scholars (C1804/03/01 [01:31:07 - 01:35:57])

Download John Harris on working with prominent scholars Transcript

For John Newman, Pevsner’s editor for the two 'Buildings of England' volumes on Kent (1969) and long-time professor of post-medieval British architecture at The Courtauld Institute of Art, Harris’ story proved a kind of precursor. Newman had been a Classics teacher at Tonbridge School when he wrote to his future patron on a whim. He expressed an interest in the guides and asked for advice on how he might become involved in their preparation. This led to Newman meeting with Pevsner and then enrolling for an MA at The Courtauld on his recommendation. Whilst a student, Newman found himself working for Pevsner as a driver on research trips between terms. He would shuttle Pevsner from rural church to rural retreat, at the same time honing his own powers of formal analysis and interpretation. Newman eventually gained the opportunity to compile the volumes on Kent. Pevsner himself considered these books the best of the series.

The inspiration and influence of Pevsner was crucial in kickstarting Newman’s career as an architectural historian, as he recalls in the following clip:

John Newman on Pevsner's influence (C1804/04/01 [00:43:08 - 00:47:57])

Download John Newman on Pevsner's influence Transcript

Employment on such informal terms was, as Newman himself is quick to note, a feature of the period. It is notable that neither he nor Harris ever received (or expected to receive) a doctorate. In its pioneering days, architectural history built itself up as a profession through acts of patronage much more than is the case today. For Newman, encounters of the Pevsner sort continued to shape his career. This proved the case when he was approached at the end of his MA by the then Director of The Courtauld, Sir Anthony Blunt – infamous ever since for his public unmasking as a Soviet spy in 1979 – to join the staff after graduation.

Accepting Blunt’s offer, Newman went on to teach at The Courtauld until retirement. He guided a generation of British art and architectural historians and supervised around twenty-seven PhDs. Unlike Harris, he maintained a relationship with the 'Buildings of' series through work on the early Wales volumes and in his role as advisory editor from 1983. He also worked as editor for 'Architectural History', the journal of the SAHGB, between 1975 and 1985. Newman emerged as an influential scholar-facilitator: an editor, advisor and teacher who was, in many ways, cut from the same cloth as Pevsner. Both were aware of their position in a community of scholars and built upon the work of their predecessors. They were as concerned with their own contributions as with supporting those of the future. As Newman recalled of Pevsner’s views on later editions of his guides:

John Newman on later editions of the guides (C1804/04/04 [00:31:17 - 00:32:30])

Download John Newman on later editions of the guides Transcript

For all the stories they contain, Pevsner’s guides have a story of their own too. History, even that of buildings, is ultimately the product of people, and of their personalities. For Harris and Newman, and many like them, involvement with the 'Buildings of England' and its Welsh, Scottish and Irish companion series was a pivotal experience. In the early days of architectural history the field was even smaller than it still is. Leading figures took on the stature of giants, with their shadows casting right down to the present. Their influence was disproportionate, and could have career-defining consequences. Such is the case with pioneers.

Blog by Jake Bransgrove, Project Assistant for the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain’s project ‘An Oral History of British Architectural Historians’. The collection can be found by searching C1804 at sami.bl.uk. For similar collections please see the collection guide on Oral histories of architecture and landscape design.

Further Reading:
Harries, Susie. 2011. Nikolaus Pevsner: The Life. London: Chatto & Windus. [British Library shelfmark: General Reference Collection YC.2012.a.5930]
Harris, John. 1998. No Voice From the Hall: Early Memories of a Country House Snooper. Oxford: John Murray. [British Library shelfmark: General Reference Collection LT.2013.x.3394]
Newman, John. 1969. The Buildings of England: West Kent and Weald. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. [British Library shelfmark: General Reference Collection W.P.429/38]
Newman, John. 1969. The Buildings of England: North East and East Kent. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. [British Library shelfmark: General Reference Collection YC.2003.a.2775]
Pevsner, Nikolaus, and John Harris. 1964. The Buildings of England: Lincolnshire. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. [British Library shelfmark: General Reference Collection W.P.429/27]

06 June 2022

Recording of the week: One stormy night

This week’s selection comes from Jonathan Benaim, Audio Cataloguing Coordinator.

Recordings of weather can give us a palpable sense of a time and place. When sounds from the surrounding environment are captured in a weather recording, we are able to imagine the scene, the totality conveying a cohesive sonic picture.

A cloudy skyA cloudy sky. Photo credit: Jonathan Benaim.

This thunderstorm recording has a nocturnal feel and evokes the natural world both great and small. It opens with the staccato sound of raindrops and the chirping of field crickets. It then surprises with a sudden, loud rumble of thunder. As the storm rolls on, the raindrops mass, their sound becoming louder and denser.

Second storm of the night France 2009 [BL REF 160301]

The recording is rich in texture and each detail helps us to build an image in our mind. The distant calls of sheep suggest a countryside location and also give a spatial depth. The pastoral sounds offer a soft counterpoint to the arresting claps of thunder.

The recording was made by Kyle Turner in Lacave, Lot, in France, on 25 May 2009. It is described in the British Library’s catalogue as the arrival of the second storm of the night. Kyle Turner recorded three storms that night in the same location. You can listen to the first storm of the night and the third storm of the night on British Library Sounds.

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