Sound and vision blog

Sound and moving images from the British Library

60 posts categorized "BBC"

18 August 2023

Parkinson in the archive

This week the sad news of Michael Parkinson’s death was announced. Known as the ‘king of the chat show’, Parkinson had a rich television and radio career. Which included most famously presenting his own show Parkinson, and, from 1986 to 1988, Desert Island Discs.

Row of Michael Parkinson tapes

Whilst cataloguing audio for the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project, I had the pleasure of working on some Parkinson show excerpts from the LBC/IRN collection (C1438). You can listen to these recordings onsite at the British Library by searching Michael Parkinson AND C1438’ on our Sound & Moving Image catalogue. Some personal highlights include interviews with Anthony Hopkins (C1438/92/0078) and Tony Benn (C1438/90/0098). Parkinson had a real charm for interviewing, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to these recordings.

The Library holds many more recordings featuring Parkinson, which can be found by searching ‘Parkinson, Michael, 1935-2023’. His legacy and contribution to broadcasting will continue to be appreciated, archived and made accessible to the public.

This post was written by Grace Johnston, Reference & Technical Specialist, Sound Archive & Listening Service. 

16 December 2022

BL Sports Word of the Year 2022

Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English, writes:

A fortnight ago, I stumbled across BBC football correspondent, Ian Dennis, playing Radio 5 Live's World Cup Bauble Challenge with Breakfast presenters, Rachel Burden and Rick Edwards. While the game itself was mildly diverting, I was more intrigued to hear – in the space of about three minutes airtime – the acronyms VAR [= ‘(football) video assistant referee’], TMO [= ‘(rugby) television match official’] and DRS [= ‘(cricket) decision review system’]. The existence of the terms reflects the increasing reliance of professional sport on technology and additional off-field experts to assist with on-field decisions; their use in this light-hearted exchange shows just how quickly they’ve permeated mainstream discourse. A few days previously I’d read a column in the Guardian in which Adrian Chiles dismissed sporting jargon as baffling and off-putting to the uninitiated, so I assume he'd have found that conversation really annoying. For me, though, it provided another set of entries in my growing list of vernacular English gleaned from the mainstream sporting press and media.

With various dictionaries announcing their 2022 Word of The Year – Collins plumped for permacrisis, while the rather more left field goblin mode emerged from Oxford’s public vote – it also reminded me it was time for an annual review of the linguistic highlights I’ve collected over the last twelve months. Here, then, are the ten nominees for the 8th unofficial British Library Sports Word of The Year (SWOTY 2022):

April (Mary Earps introducing demonstration of technique for executing accurate, long-range, drop-kick clearance, BBC Online): we’re gonna do some zing zingers sidewinders

May (Peter Crouch discussing tactic of player lying down behind defensive wall at free kicks, That Peter Crouch Podcast): I’d be a helluva good draught excluder

June (Michael Atherton of Ollie Pope’s fielding position versus New Zealand, Sky Sports): Pope goes in to boot hill

July (Gabby Logan of Georgia Stanway goal versus Spain, BBC1): absolute blooter of a goal from Georgia Stanway

July (Isa Guha of David Willey hitting boundaries off first two balls of Hardik Pandya over, BBC2): David Willey fancies a little cheeky innings here

July (Rachael Burden interviewing Paul Farbrace about philosophy of new England coach Brendan McCullum, BBC Radio 5 Live): tell us about Bazball

August (Andy Hunter quoting Liverpool manager, Jürgen Klopp, reflecting on the importance of learning from experience, Guardian): I got washed with all kinds of water in my life

September (Simon Burnton of evolution of traditional nightwatchman role, Guardian): Broad […] was padded up and ready if necessary to play the role of free-hitting nighthawk

October (Aaron Bowyer of England’s women’s Rugby League team, Guardian): England aim to replicate the exploits of football’s Lionesses this summer, but they have competition from the Jillaroos

This year’s list perhaps inevitably focuses on three sports that held major international competitions in 2022 – football (women’s Euros and men’s World Cup), cricket (women’s World Cup and men’s T20 World Cup) and Rugby League (men’s, women’s and wheelchair World Cups). Two entries – Lionesses [= ‘England women’s football team’] and Jillaroos [= ‘Australia women’s Rugby League team’] – are nicknames for national teams in their respective sports. Both occur frequently in published articles and wider sporting discourse. Indeed some nicknames are so well established that they’re arguably more commonly used than the name of the country they denote – the All Blacks [= ‘New Zealand men’s Rugby Union team’] is probably the most obvious example. I’m not aware of any widely used equivalent for the England (or Scotland, Wales or Ireland) men’s Rugby Union team, although the England women’s team are frequently referred to as the Red Roses. Undisputed world champions in sporting nicknames (and many sports) must surely be Australia, whose particular fondness for the pseudo suffix <-roo> came to my attention this autumn. In a single week in late October/early November, Guardian articles featured the following monikers: Kangaroos [= ‘Australia men’s Rugby League team’]; Socceroos [= ‘Australia men’s football team’]; Jillaroos [= ‘Australia women’s Rugby League team’]; and the wonderfully creative Wheelaroos [= ‘Australia wheelchair Rugby League team’].


Rather disappointingly, there was a match report the same week about the Diamonds [= ‘Australia women’s netball team’] – might I suggest Catcharoos or Springaroos would be more compatible? Of this list, the Kangaroos and Jillaroos both became world champions and the Diamonds won the netball title at the Commonwealth Games or Commie Games as I heard several young hockey players call it – a hypocorism (i.e. affectionate diminutive form), which is a linguistic phenomenon at which Australians might also claim to be world champions.

Even more productive than <-roo> is the suffix <-ball>, captured here in the entry Bazball. The first element, Baz, is the nickname of the current England men’s Test cricket coach, Brendan McCullum. The suffix <-ball> is, I suspect, inspired by Moneyball, the title of a book and film celebrating a methodology devised by Oakland Athletics general manager, Billy Beane, the principle of which was to create a successful baseball team by prioritising statistical analysis over coaching ‘instinct’. The <-ball> suffix is now frequently attached to the name of an innovative coach or player as a convenient shorthand for a specific philosophy or tactical approach.


Although McCullum himself apparently dislikes the term, Bazball refers to what many observers consider a high-risk – and extremely entertaining – attacking approach to the more sedate form of cricket traditionally associated with Test matches. In this year’s Guardian, I’ve noted the following examples of this morphological process on at least one occasion: Pepball, Kloppball, Rangnickball, Farrellball, Wengerball, Bruceball, Viratball, Potterball, Josball. Sports fans will recognise the individual coaches or players referenced in each case; some are used positively (i.e. in praise of the exponent’s philosophy); others more negatively (i.e. criticising their approach). Where Bazball appears to be the implementation of a so-called ‘red-ball reset’ for men’s cricket in England, Josball might be considered the culmination of the equivalent ‘white-ball reset’ instigated by former captain, Eoin Morgan, and now modified by the present incumbent, Jos Buttler.

Another entry in this shortlist captures the essence of Bazball: nighthawk [= ‘batter sent in when a wicket falls shortly before close of play and instructed to make quick runs’]. The term nighthawk is clearly a play on the conventional cricketing wisdom of employing a nightwatchman in such circumstances [= ‘(lower order, i.e. non-specialist) batter sent in when a wicket falls shortly before close of play and instructed to play out time thereby reducing the risk of losing another specialist batter’]. The contrast between viewing the loss of a wicket towards close of play as a potential banana skin requiring a nightwatchman and seeing it as an opportunity to be exploited by a nighthawk somehow epitomises Bazball. Collins defines nighthawk as a synonym for night owl [= ‘someone who works more effectively late at night’]. In a cricketing context, then, the implication is that a nighthawk presumably relishes rather than fears batting in a pressurised situation at close of play. I also suspect the <-hawk> element implies the sense of the US English metaphor, hawks and doves, in that hawks advocate an aggressive response to a perceived threat, while doves favour a conciliatory (i.e. defensive) approach.

Three entries here are sporting jargon (i.e. specialised vocabulary used by, or at least familiar to, players and fans of a given sport, but probably incomprehensible to outsiders). These are zinger (aka sidewinder) [= (of goalkeeper) ‘sideways drop-kick volleyed clearance or pass’]; draught excluder [= ‘footballer who lies down behind defensive wall at free-kick’]; and boot hill [= ‘forward short leg’ (i.e. fielding position extremely close to batter)]. Zinger is defined as ‘something outstanding’ and generally attributed to US English, while Merriam-Webster defines sidewinder as ‘a heavy swinging blow from the side’. Mary Earp’s use here refers to a clearance, kicked from the hand in which the torso and leg of the kicking foot is almost horizontal to the ground at impact. Goalkeepers increasingly use this technique rather than the more ‘traditional’ drop-kick in which the ball is punted vertically in the air. The sidewinder is considered more accurate and thus allows the modern goalkeeper to initiate play rather than simply clear the ball hopefully upfield. A draught excluder placed at the foot of a door to prevent cold air entering a room is something we’re all probably familiar with – especially this winter. Often slightly playful in design, they bear an uncanny resemblance to the bizarre sight of a footballer lying down behind a defensive wall at a free kick. This tactic has emerged in recent years in response to goals occasionally resulting from free kicks intentionally directed beneath a defensive wall on the assumption that players in the wall invariably jump to present a taller barrier.


Oxford records boot hill as a humorous term in US English for ‘a place where people are buried’. Its meaning in cricket captures the gallows humour implicit in a fielding position that carries an increased risk of serious injury. While mainstream dictionaries record the more conventional meanings of all three, their use in sporting contexts is clearly relatively recent as they’re less widely documented: Collins includes draught excluder as a ‘new word suggestion’; sidewinder occurs frequently in online platforms, notably in video clips of the phenomenon; while boot hill merits an entry in Michael Rundell’s Dictionary of Cricket (1995).

Two terms here aren’t exclusive to sporting discourse: blooter [= ‘impressive hit/kick (esp. of ball)’] and cheeky [= ‘enjoyable and unexpected’]. Both occur in other informal contexts, so might be considered slang (i.e. informal forms), although there is an argument to consider the former as dialect (i.e. a localised form) as it’s most commonly associated with Scotland, as confirmed by the Scots Language Centre. It’s a little ironic that Gabby Logan – born in England of Welsh heritage but, crucially perhaps, married to a Scotsman – chose a Scots form, blooter, to describe an England goal. The form cheeky – often, as here, combined with little – is particularly common among younger speakers of British English. It typically implies a spontaneous, slightly self-indulgent act, as demonstrated in common collocations such as a cheeky pint or a cheeky Nandos (compare the older comparable form crafty fag for an illicit cigarette). This sense of cheeky is confirmed by an entry in Macmillan and is also the subject of a wonderful linguistic study.

The final entry simply reflects my own personal fascination, as a former teacher of German, with (i) idioms that are, if not untranslatable, offer no obvious equivalent in English; and (ii) Kloppisms (i.e. the musings of Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp). Reflecting on Liverpool’s uncharacteristically slow start to this season, Klopp translated the German idiom, mit allen Wassern gewaschen, almost verbatim as (to be) washed with all kinds of water [= ‘to know all the tricks in the book’]. Duden simply defines the phrase as ‘clever’, but it conveys something much more along the lines of possessing ‘know-how’, ‘cunning’, ‘experience’ and ‘a trick or two up one’s sleeve’.

As with previous years, most of this year’s entries are captured in the British Library’s Newspaper collections, National Radio Archive and UK Web Archive, demonstrating how the Library’s collections document the diversity and continued evolution of the English language.

And now it’s time to announce the winner. Given the extraordinary events in successive home Tests against New Zealand and India this summer and the remarkable Test series in Pakistan, in any other year Bazball would have been a shoo-in. However, England women’s football triumph this summer at Wembley was even more impressive, so the clear winner, both of the Euros and of SWOTY 2022, is Lionesses.

LIONESSES [GDN 03.08.22]

Follow Spoken English collections at @VoicesofEnglish.

09 December 2022

'Exercise for all': Challenging barriers to access for disabled people

This Disability History Month, staff from across the British Library have collaborated on a series of blog posts to highlight stories of disability and disabled people in the Library’s collections. Each week a  member of staff will showcase an item from the collections and present it alongside commentary from a member of the British Library’s staff Disability Support Network. These selections are a snapshot insight into the Library’s holdings of disability stories, and we invite readers to use these as a starting point to explore the collections further and share your findings with us.

This selection has been made by Sarah Kirk-Browne, Cataloguer of Digital Multimedia Collections.

Photo of Radha and SharonPhotograph of Radha Nair-Roberts and Sharon Williams © BBC

A key issue in 'Disability, Health and Well Being' is challenging the obstacles that can prevent people accessing services in their local communities. Reflecting on this concern, I was reminded of friends Sharon and Radha, who recorded an inspirational conversation for The Listening Project in 2018.

In this recording, Sharon and Radha got together in Sharon’s home in Cardiff to discuss how their friendship developed and what healthy living means to them. They are both wheelchair users and first met a couple of years earlier at a conference. They quickly found common ground in their frustration at the lack of accessible exercise opportunities in their community. They both passionately support the rights of disabled people to manage their own health and well being, and decided to join forces to help improve this.

Both Sharon and Radha have life-long conditions, and they described their disappointment at only being offered finite and fragmentary physical and mental health services. After a spinal injury, Sharon spent a year in residential rehabilitation. But once this was completed, she was offered six weeks of Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy support, then left unsure what to do next. Radha has multiple sclerosis, and as her physical health began to deteriorate she became increasingly aware that the opportunities she wanted – and was legally entitled - to access, were not available in reality. In this clip they describe the importance of being able to find and use health services, and how the barriers for disabled people led to them beginning their campaign.

Sharon and Radha discuss the origins of their campaign [BL REF C1500/1730]

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Over the years, as their friendship grew, Sharon and Radha shared different personal experiences of being disabled and this helped to inform their work. In the recording they recalled stories of public transport, trying to access help through local politicians and the work of charities connected to specific health conditions. They soon realised that although there may be some good examples of local services, there was often low awareness of them and insufficient funding across the board. Through their discussions and research they also agreed it was particularly important to emphasise services that are cross-condition and named their campaign 'Exercise for All' in response. In this clip they describe the importance of health and well being services for everyone in a community.

Sharon and Radha on health and well being services for all [BL REF C1500/1730]

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One of the most moving parts of this conversation is Sharon and Radha’s reflections on how they transitioned from being able-bodied to their lives as wheelchair users. They explained the process of losing and regaining independence and negotiating changed relationships with family, friends, and themselves. The experience of giving up her career was particularly difficult for Radha, however they agreed that leaving work also opened up a new world of activity and friendship which has been essential for their well being. In this clip they describe their experiences of relearning a sense of self, and not being defined by disability.

Sharon and Radha on navigating changing identity and relationships [BL REF C1500/1730]

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Together Sharon and Radha have helped each other to re-examine and enjoy their lives. There have been many challenges, but they have also discovered new joys and reassessed what is important to them. In this final clip they describe the deeper meaning, positive energy, and rewarding relationships that they now feel in their daily lives.

Sharon and Radha reflect on their lives and friendships [BL REF C1500/1730]

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Sharon and Radha were recorded as part of The Listening Project, which began in 2012 and came to an end in 2022. The project captured personal conversations between people on a subject of their choosing, for broadcast in edited form on a BBC radio programme and archived in full at the British Library. We currently have a collection of over 2,000 recordings, spanning across the decade from around the United Kingdom. They offer an intimate and unparalleled glimpse into people’s lives, and their wide variety of experience. There are many voices of people with disabilities in this collection to explore, covering a huge range of topics.

Reflection from British Library staff Disability and Carer Support Network member Barbara O'Connor:

Sharon and Radha express so well the power of the collective voice. Their sentiment is moving and matter of fact: this the way it is. It shouldn’t be. We’re going to do so something about it. Power in community, strength through constructive group identity. This could be the unofficial mantra of the British Library’s Disability and Carer Support Network.

The path to hell is paved with good intentions. Examples of fragmentary provision are legion. I still flinch when I recall queuing for my 1st Covid jab. The civic-NHS mobilisation was impressive; walkie-talkie wielding high-vis clad volunteers, hot drink stands, even water bowls for the tethered-and-treasured. Nothing was overlooked, except of course, my access. The disabled signage and the ramp were in place. An entrance wide enough for my wheelchair? Oops. Tethered-but-not-so-treasured.

I find the conversation about the transition from able-bodied to less able-bodied uncomfortable. I’m only midway through the process and I struggle: grieving for the body that I had; unsure of how to reconstruct me; wildly flailing between my coping mechanisms, namely those of questionable black humour, shock and awe and raging anger. For one thing I can be sure, consign me to the 'Oh Bless, Oh Brave' brigade and you’ll experience the latter.

24 October 2022

Recording of the week: Vaughan Williams Symphony No. 6 - the premiere

This week's post comes from Jonathan Summers, Curator, Classical Music Recordings.

Photo of Vaughan Williams disc

I was looking for something by which to celebrate the 150th anniversary this month of the birth of one of England’s greatest symphonic composers of the twentieth century, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). His nine symphonies span more than fifty years from the first, which he began in 1903, to the last, composed in 1956 and 1957.

More than twenty years ago the British Library sound archive acquired the collection of engineer Kenneth Leech, who began to record radio broadcasts from the mid-1930s on to lacquer discs. I was delighted to discover that Mr. Leech had recorded the opening of the Symphony No. 6 from its first performance on 21st April 1948.

Extract from the Radio Times

Adrian Boult is conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra in a Royal Philharmonic Society Concert from the Albert Hall. The sound from the unique lacquer disc is low fidelity and the beginning is clipped, but the power and impact of the music of this arresting opening is undeniable. Apparently, this is all that has survived of that first performance.

Listen to British Library disc 1LL0009106

Boult made a commercial recording of the work for EMI with the London Symphony Orchestra on the 23rd and 24th February 1949 at Abbey Road Studios, but he was pipped to the post by Leopold Stokowski who recorded it with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra for Columbia on the 21st February 1949 making it the first studio recording of the work. All of these performances are of the work before it was revised by the composer in 1950.

11 July 2022

Recording of the week: Trailblazers in women’s sports

This week’s selection comes from Sarah Kirk-Browne, Cataloguer of Digital Multimedia Collections.

EURO 2022 promotional flyer

Last week, the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 competition kicked off in Old Trafford. This is the second time England has hosted the tournament, and there are live matches in stadiums across the country. With an exciting and inspiring summer of women’s sport ahead, I would like to highlight this conversation recorded for The Listening Project in 2021.

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 one thousand recordings in full on our Sounds website, and learn more about the ongoing project on the BBC website. In this recording, archived in full as British Library call number C1500/2124, two pioneering sportswomen discuss their successes and experiences.

Leah Caleb started playing football at infant school, joining in with the boys in the playground. As her love of football grew, her mum heard about a new women's football team called Chiltern Valley run by Harry and June Batt. Leah joined the club aged 11, and at just 13 she went to Mexico to take part in the 1971 Women's World Cup. At the time, the media were comparing her footballing skills to George Best, and interest and ticket sales for the competition exceeded all expectations. 

Although she was representing England and played in front of crowds of 90,000, the team was not recognised by the Football Association or the then Women's Football Association (WFA), and on their return home they were banned from playing for three months. You can read more about the WFA’s reaction to this event in the WFA Archive held by the British Library at call number Add MS 89306. However, this sequence of events paved the way for much greater recognition and support for women’s football, leading to the huge popularity and excitement for the 2022 Euros that we are seeing today.

In this clip, Leah describes her love for the game:

Listen to Leah Caleb

Download Leah Caleb transcript

Joining Leah in this conversation is Dana Abdulkarim, who was the first Muslim and Arab woman to represent England in any sport. Like Leah, she was also 13 when her football career was taking off. She was encouraged to go for trials to play for England, but an injury combined with attitudes around her faith and participation in the sport proved to be a challenge. Instead she focused on rounders, which at the time felt more inclusive. She had great success and subsequently gained 67 England caps. She then went on to become Britain's first hijabi Muslim PE teacher, encouraging future generations of girls in sport. She is also a speaker, writer, and trustee at the Muslim Women’s Sport Foundation and the Chance to Shine charity.

Leah and Dana talk together about their trailblazing experiences as women in sport across different generations. They also discuss the challenges they have faced and their hopes for the future.

In this second clip, Dana talks about how things are changing for the better in school sports, and how much she is looking forward to the Euros:

Listen to Dana Abdulkarim

Download Dana Abdulkarim transcript

Get involved with preserving women’s football online:

The British Library is part of the UK Web Archive, which has an extensive collection of content from sports clubs (amateur and professional), fan sites, football research and events. There is no distinction in the collection based on gender, and we are working to ensure that information, discussion and creative output related to the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 competition is preserved for future generations. Anyone can nominate UK published websites for inclusion in the UK Web Archive by filling in our nominations form.

You can read more about the UK Web Archive’s UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 collection in this recent blog post by Curator of Web Archiving, Helena Byrne

27 June 2022

Putting 'AIDS: The Unheard Tapes' in context

Mary Stewart, Lead Curator of Oral History, gives more information on the interviews used in a new BBC documentary series.

Broadcast tonight on BBC2 is the first in a three-part documentary series entitled AIDS: The Unheard Tapes (27 June, 9.30pm BBC2). The series is a powerful showcase of selected recordings from the British Library’s extensive collection of oral history interviews with people living with HIV and those directly affected by the HIV epidemic. All three episodes will be available on BBC iPlayer.

AIDS: The Unheard Tapes uses personal testimonies to tell the story of the HIV epidemic in the UK from the early 1980s until the mid 1990s as experienced by the UK’s gay community, tracking a similar time period to the award-winning 2021 Channel 4 drama series It’s a Sin. Alongside new filmed interviews, each one-hour episode forefronts testimony from the British Library’s oral history collections recorded in the 1980s and 1990s. The documentary uses the audio from the archived interviews with each narrator's voice lip-synched for television by an actor. Sadly, many of the interviewees whose powerful testimony features in this series have since died.


Which oral history collections are featured in the documentary?

The programmes use selected interviews from two pioneering oral history projects, one recorded in the late 1980s and another from the mid-1990s onwards. Both were archived at the British Library for long-term preservation and public access.

The Hall-Carpenter Oral History Project features over 100 interviews conducted from 1985 until the early 1990s with gay and lesbian people in Britain. The testimonies contained in this rich and diverse collection were recorded as the HIV epidemic unfolded, so many of the interviews have stories from people living with HIV or from those who saw its effects on friends and their communities. Researcher Margot Farnham played a key role in organising and interviewing for the project and in the publication of two books* based on the testimonies. Margot’s voice features as one of the interviewers in AIDS: The Unheard Tapes.

HIV/AIDS Testimonies is a collection of life story interviews with people with HIV and AIDS recorded by researchers Wendy Rickard and Babs Gibson. 30 interviews were recorded between 1995-2000. In 2005 Wendy and Babs returned to re-interview as many of the original participants as possible, adding to the collection a second set of interviews capturing people’s experiences in the intervening decade. Where interviewees had since died, recordings with loved ones were made, where possible. The voices of Wendy and Babs also feature in AIDS: The Unheard Tapes.


What makes these collections stand out?

The power of life stories

The recordings in these collections are long and in-depth life stories in which the interviewees were asked to reflect on the entirety of their life experience: childhood, education, family, work, their social lives, communities and their relationships. This means that each recording captures a rich audio biography of the narrator in their own words recounting their experiences in vivid detail, drawing us into their emotional world, their humour and their turn of phrase. The documentary has, of course, used excerpts that are relevant to each interviewee’s experience of HIV, but the testimony is so compelling because it is drawn from the long life stories held in the archive. These interviews are a powerful reflection of their time – when knowledge of HIV had to be built from scratch and the prospect of effective treatment was at best experimental. This means that the recordings capture the uncertainty and emotion of the era, when no-one knew what the immediate future would hold.

Archiving the material for future listeners

The researchers leading these projects worked from the outset with the oral history team at the British Library to archive these frank and in-depth interviews (led by Curator Rob Perks, who worked at the Library 1988-2021). As with all oral recordings, each interviewee decided when and how their interview was made available, but everyone was interviewed in the knowledge that their recording would one day be publicly accessible. Many interviewees placed no restrictions on public access and these interviews have been accessible in the Library’s Reading Rooms for decades. There are still a number of interviews that are currently closed at the interviewees' request, and the Library will make these powerful recordings available to researchers in the future as soon as the access restrictions cease.

Without the Library's commitment over 30 years ago to archive and provide public access to these highly sensitive interviews there is little chance that they could be used in this documentary series. The production team at Wall to Wall Media listened to many hours of testimony in the Library’s Reading Rooms, selecting the material that they wished to broadcast. Where possible all of the interviewees or their loved ones were then re-contacted to ensure that they were happy for the audio to be broadcast.


What other oral history material is available at the British Library on HIV in the UK?

It is vitally important to recognise that this documentary series and the interviews selected to feature in it represent only some of the communities and individuals affected by HIV in the UK. This diversity of experience is reflected in the other testimonies held in the HIV and AIDS Testimonies collection and also in the wider body of material archived and made accessible by the Library’s oral history team – work which continues today. 

Here is a brief overview of the oral histories of people living with HIV, or working in HIV specialisms, within the British Library collections. You can search the detailed catalogue records for all of the interviews on the Sound and Moving Image catalogue. There are search tips available on the British Library website. The Library's Listening and Viewing Service can provide assistance and information on how to listen to recordings. 

Invisible Women: Positively Women HIV Interviews is a collection of 16 oral history interviews with women living with HIV. The interviews reveal how HIV has affected them socially, at work and in their family lives. The project was carried out by Positively UK as part of a project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2007 and 2008.

Imagining Patient Zero: interviews about the history of the North American HIV/AIDS epidemic is a collection of 50 interviews recorded by Richard McKay between 2007 and 2008 as part of his research investigating the concept of ‘patient zero’ and the early years of HIV in North America.

Haemophilia and HIV Life History Project and HIV in the Family: an oral history of parents, partners and children of those with haemophilia and HIV comprise nearly 80 interviews and document the history and lives of those living with these conditions, as well as the experiences of the families of those infected. Extracts from both projects are available on the Living Stories website. These powerful oral history interviews are being used in the ongoing Infected Blood enquiry.

Listen here to interviewee Paul reflect on recording his story about living with haemophilia and HIV:

Paul interviewed by Sian Edwards, 2004, Haemophilia and HIV Life History Project C1086/12 © British Library

Download Transcript

The AIDS Era: an oral history of UK healthcare workers is a collection of interviews with 61 healthcare workers who cared for people with HIV at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s. Jane Bruton, an interviewee and one of the project leaders, is also interviewed for AIDS: The Unheard Tapes.

Geraldine was a staff nurse and then the Community Liaison Nurse on the HIV ward. In this clip from her interview she talks about the vital role of volunteers in the 1980s and 1990s:

Geraldine Reilly interviewed by Fiona Clampin, 2018, The AIDS Era: an oral history of UK healthcare workers C1759/51 © British Library.

Download Transcript

The oral history team are absolutely delighted to be currently working with CHIVA: the Children’s HIV Association on their interviewing project Positively Spoken. The project team are recording 50 interviews with young people about their experiences of growing up with HIV. The project is participative and includes peer interviews. Funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Positively Spoken is gathering powerful testimonies from young people, many of whom are speaking on record for the first time about their experiences of living with HIV.


Making AIDS: The Unheard Tapes possible

The production company for this series, Wall to Wall Media, liaised extensively with the oral history team as we worked through the permissions, rights and ethics for each recording considered for broadcast. This has been supported by colleagues from the Listening & Viewing Service, Soundcopy Service, Sound Licensing team and British Library Press. Both collections featured in the documentary have been digitised by Unlocking Our Sound Heritage, so thanks are due to the UOSH team and project funders the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Considerable thanks are also due to Wendy Rickard, Babs Gibson and Margot Farnham for their collaboration and consultation.

Finally, and most importantly, a massive thank you to all of the interviewees, interviewers and project leaders for their time, effort and generosity in helping the Library build and provide access to such an amazing array of personal testimonies.


Find out more

The Library’s LGBTQ histories web resource highlights material from across the collections. From Tuesday 28 June 2022 visit the Treasures Gallery in St Pancras to see the new case ‘Proud Words’ which showcases newspapers, books, leaflets and manifestos authored by LGBTQ+ people in the 1970s and 1980s - creating and claiming words for their community.

*Walking after Midnight: Gay Men's Life Stories (The Hall Carpenter Archives, 1989).

*Inventing Ourselves: Lesbian Life Stories (The Hall Carpenter Archives Lesbian Oral History Group, 1989).

Margot Farnham and David Ruffell, ‘Scenarios of Departure: the AIDS Paintings of David Ruffell’ in Ecstatic Antibodies, Resisting the AIDS mythology, edited by Tessa Boffin and Sunil Gupta (Rivers-Oram Press, 1990).

Wendy Rickard, ‘HIV/Aids Testimonies in the 1990s’ in Oral History, Health and Welfare edited by Joanna Bornat, Rob Perks, Paul Thompson and Jan Walmsley (Routledge 2000), pp 227-248. 

Richard A McKay, Patient Zero and the Making of the AIDS Epidemic (University of Chicago Press, 2017).


04 April 2022

Recording of the week: Elvis on our minds for half a century

This week's selection comes from Sarah Kirk-Browne, Cataloguer (Digital Multimedia Collections).

Elvis image'45 RPM Elvis Presley Separate Ways b/w Always On My Mind' by A.Currell. Creative Commons attribution CC BY-NC 2.0.

Fifty years ago, on 29 March 1972, Elvis Presley recorded the single Always On My Mind. Despite only reaching number nine in the charts, in 2013 it was voted the UK's all-time favourite Elvis song. Last year during the lockdown, The Listening Project brought together two strangers who both perform as Elvis tribute acts. In their long discussion, Tony and Sal cover everything from their first introductions to The King, experiences with audiences, and the commercialisation of Graceland. Both enjoy celebrating the legacy of Elvis Presley and bringing his music to new audiences. In this clip they discuss some of their own favourite songs and eras of Elvis.

Elvis tribute acts discuss their favourite songs [BL REF 1500/2177]

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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.

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

14 February 2022

Recording of the week: Neville Chamberlain and King George VI's broadcasts regarding Britain declaring war on Germany in 1939

This week's selection comes from Joseph McGeady, Learning Team Apprentice.

The British Library has recently launched its Speaking Out website, an online resource exploring the importance of public speaking and debating through a collection of sound recordings from the Library’s sound archive. 

Included in the Speaking Out collection are excerpts from two speeches made on the same day - 3rd September 1939. King George VI of Great Britain and his Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, made these speeches to announce the British government’s decision to declare war on Nazi Germany following the regime’s refusal to withdraw its troops from Poland by 11am on that day. Chamberlain’s announcement was broadcast at 11:15am; the King’s speech at 6pm. 

Black and white photo of King George VI addressing the nation via radioKing George VI addresses the nation. Image © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images.

King George VI speaking at the outbreak of war [BL REF C1398/0016]

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Black and white photo of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain speaking to the nation from a BBC broadcasting studioNeville Chamberlain announces the declaration of war. Image © Fox Photos / Getty Images.

Neville Chamberlain announces war with Germany, 1939 [BL REF 1CD0013823 D1 BD02]

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Radio and recording technology were clearly still nascent – there is a background of crackle throughout and none of the dynamic range and depth we take for granted in modern broadcasts and recordings. However, these limitations lend an authenticity to the sound excerpts - placing them in a distinct historical period; faithfully conveying the very formal style of British public speaking at the time; and emphasising the slow and sombre delivery tone of the speeches. The gravity of the situation and the uncertainty of the impending conflict are very apparent to the listener.

Many of us may find the prospect of public speaking quite daunting but we would not normally expect this of prominent public figures such as a King or Prime Minister. However, delivering these speeches proved difficult for both men for very different and personal reasons.

Neville Chamberlain had been a strong advocate of appeasement towards Adolf Hitler. Less than a year earlier, Chamberlain had proudly proclaimed “Peace for our time”, whilst displaying the agreement he had signed with Hitler in Munich concerning the German annexation of the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia. Hitler’s subsequent dismissal of the agreement, followed by the invasions of Czechoslovakia and Poland and the declaration of war on Germany proved to be a humiliating reversal in Chamberlain’s fortunes and would soon lead to his downfall.

For the King, announcing the declaration of war proved challenging in another way. George VI, or ‘Bertie’ to his friends and family, was born the second son of King George V and thus never expected to become King. He unwillingly ascended the throne after his brother King Edward VIII famously abdicated in December 1936 to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. The King had a bad stammer, which made public speaking very difficult for him. Having to deliver such an important national and international address would therefore have been exceptionally challenging for the reluctant monarch.

The profound air of pessimism in these broadcasts ultimately proved portentous for both figures. The Second World War would have a significant impact on the health of the Prime Minister and of the King. Neville Chamberlain would go on to resign his office in May 1940 and die from cancer before the end of the year. The stress of the war years took a heavy toll on the King and he would die in 1952, aged 56, having reigned for just under 16 years.

Speaking Out is generously supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund as part of Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.

Pink soundwave and the words 'Unlocking Our Sound Heritage', next to the National Lottery Heritage Fund logoFollow @BLSoundHeritage and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

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