THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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263 posts categorized "Contemporary Britain"

01 April 2019

Recording of the week: well sick

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This week's selection comes from Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English.

The widespread use among young speakers of sick [= 'great, excellent'] follows the pattern of several slang terms in which the conventional meaning is inverted by speakers who subsequently use it as an all-purpose term of approval. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) records a similar process with wicked from the 1920s and bad from the 1950s onwards, for example.

Taken out of context this can, of course, lead to confusion between the generations as illustrated by a text message I once received from my then 18-year-old daughter. Having just seen one of her favourite bands at Reading Festival she texted: Peace just finished! fifth row! was sick! I chose to interpret this as good news.

Text-message

This positive meaning of sick was one of the most popular submissions to the Library's Evolving English WordBank, a crowd-sourced collection of dialect and slang created by members of the public in 2010/11, as illustrated by these two contributions, and is first recorded in the OED in 1983.

SICK [Manchester C1442/1917]

female (b.1987, Manchester) Sometimes with my friends I say that’s sick meaning that’s extremely good. I’ve got a feeling it comes from sort of Afro-Caribbean influences,  Asian British Asian influences as well, that’s where I seem to hear it the most.

SICK [West Midlands C1442/1332]

male (b. West Midlands) One of the most common phrases I use is sick for something really good it’s extremely common between me and my mates we would say oh how was the gig last night ... oh it was sick.

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

27 March 2019

Airey Neave: working for science in parliament

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Forty years ago, on 30 March 1979, the Conservative MP Airey Neave was killed in a car bomb attack as he drove out of the House of Commons car park. He is remembered for the way he died, but also as a war hero who had escaped from Colditz and  as the man who organised Margaret Thatcher’s successful campaign to become Leader of the Conservative Party in February 1975, subsequently becoming Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

PIC_P_687.Political Parties.1Meeting of the Shadow Cabinet c. 1977. Airey Neave second from the left. Photograph by Tom Blau, copyright The Parliamentary Archives

However what is rarely remembered about Neave is his long-standing parliamentary interest in science and technology.

Neave was familiar with the world of scientists from childhood. His father Sheffield Neave was an eminent entomologist whose work as editor of the Nomenclator Zoologicus is remembered in this clip from an interview with Neave’s cousin Julius.

S.A. Neave PresidentSheffield Neave, Secretary of the Royal Entomological Society 1918-1933, President 1934-35. Copyright The Royal Entomological Society

Julius Neave describes Sheffield Neave (C409/34/03)

When elected as MP for Abingdon in a 1953 by-election, Neave became responsible for the interests of the many research scientists who lived in his constituency. They worked at a range of public and privately-owned scientific research establishments in the area. These included the Atomic Energy Research Establishment (AERE), the Rutherford High Energy Laboratory, the Culham Laboratory for fusion research, the Esso Research Centre, the Hydraulics Research Station, and two Agricultural Research Council stations. Throughout his time at Westminster, right up until the week before his death, Neave was corresponding on their behalf with Ministers and trade unions on issues such as pay and manpower cuts.1

John Lyons, a union negotiator for AERE staff, remembers meeting Neave at Harwell and again when giving evidence to a 1972 select committee inquiry on science policy.2

John Lyons describes Airey Neave (C1495/08/05)

The inquiry was run by the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology, of which Neave had been a member since it was set up in early 1967.3 Neave was regarded as a member of the parliamentary ‘science elite’,4 his specialist status strengthened through his role as a legal adviser to an industrial firm that manufactured equipment for nuclear reactors.

He actively supported calls for parliamentary reform during the early 1960s, in part because he sought an improvement in MPs’ ability to scrutinise scientific and technical issues. He helped write a 1963 Conservative Political Centre (CPC) pamphlet that advocated moving detailed business from the floor of the House to standing committees,5 and belonged to a Parliamentary and Scientific Committee group that recommended a select committee would improve parliamentary control over scientific and technological policy. As a member of the Commons Library Committee, he supported changes that brought two science graduates onto the library staff in 1966.6

By 1967 he was considered enough of an authority to be invited by political scientist Professor Bernard Crick to discuss parliamentary procedure on air and to write another CPC pamphlet 'Control by committee'.

Control by CommitteeConservative Political Centre pamphlet, 1968

Towards the end of the 1960s his opinion was being sought within the Conservative Research Department on developing policy regarding “certain criteria on which a new Government on taking office could review Government Research Establishments.”7 Neave pointed out that one question should be whether the establishment functions were “proper functions for government … and would they be better done in industry under contract?”

A review of government research establishments was soon underway after the 1970 Conservative victory. The resulting Rothschild Report,8 with its recommendation that government-funded research be conducted on a “customer-contractor principle”, caused such consternation among the scientific community that it immediately became the subject of the inquiry to which John Lyons and the report’s author Lord Rothschild gave evidence.

As a member and then chair of the Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology, Neave was dealing with topics such as defence research, the UK’s nuclear reactor programme and coastal pollution, engaging with many scientists who both supplied evidence or acted as special advisers to the committee. Arthur Palmer, the committee’s first chair, wrote that “one outstanding gain from the existence and activity of the committee has been the steady building up of a network of connections, both personal and corporate, with industry, with leading scientific and engineering personalities and with the specialist journals.”9

Frank Land, an expert in information systems, was one of those personalities, and explains how he contributed to an inquiry on the prospects of the UK computer industry.10

Frank Land on being a select committee adviser (C1379/17/13)

Neave was a pro-active member, arranging for fellow members of sub-committee D to take part in a two-day computer course at Imperial College in January 1970.11

On 3 May 1971, Neave was in the chair when Margaret Thatcher, Secretary of State for Education and Science, gave evidence to the committee on the research council system.12 Opinions on how government should fund scientific research were fluid at that stage, so it is unclear to what extent Thatcher and Neave agreed on developments in policy.13 She had begun to contemplate “fundamental change”, while Neave expressed conviction in a New Scientist interview that research councils should retain control of their budgets, and he made known to Cabinet his criticism of the Rothschild report the following year.14

However there is no doubt that Thatcher and Neave shared a delight in the aspirational, ultramodern surroundings of scientific research, evident from the photos of Neave escorting her on a successful visit to Harwell in September 1973.

IMG_20190221_122236359

He remained a member of the Select Committee on Science and Technology until 25 February 1975, resigning within weeks of Thatcher’s election as Leader of the Conservative Party to lead her private office and take up his Shadow Cabinet appointment. However he continued to see value in using science to promote Thatcher at home and abroad, suggesting to the FCO that Thatcher could include a visit to “some big scientific or industrial project” on her visit to the USA in September 1975.

If Airey Neave had lived to serve in Thatcher’s government he would have brought an informed view to discussions about Conservative science policy. Even more likely would have been his disappointment with the 1979 reorganisation of the select committee system that saw science, education and the arts covered by just one select committee, diminishing MPs’ ability to scrutinise science for more than a decade until a separate Science and Technology Committee was reinstated in 1992.

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.


1 AN/110 Civil Service: Unions, Pay etc., Papers of Airey Neave, Parliamentary Archives.
2 Science and Technology Committee, Research and Development: Minutes of Evidence and Appendices, 12 July 1972, HC 375 1971-72.
3 Science and Technology Committee, First Special Report, 1 Feb 1967, HC 330 1966-67.
4 N. J. Vig and S. A. Walkland, ‘Science Policy, Science Administration and Parliamentary Reform’, Parliamentary Affairs, 19 (3), (1966), p. 284.
5 Conservative Political Centre, Change or decay: Parliament and government in our industrial society, (1963).
6 AN/337, Library Committee (House of Commons), Papers of Airey Neave, Parliamentary Archives.
7 Letter to Ernest Marples, 16 May 1969. AN/303, Conservative Party Public Sector Research Unit, Papers of Airey Neave, Parliamentary Archives.
8 The Organisation and Management of Government R. and D., A Report by Lord Rothschild, the Head of the Central Policy Review Staff, in A Framework for Government Research and Development Cmnd 4814, (1971).
9 Arthur Palmer, ‘The Select Committee on Science and Technology’ in Alfred Morris, ed., The Growth of Parliamentary Scrutiny by Committee, (1970), pp. 15-30.
10 Science and Technology Committee, The Prospects for the UK Computer Industry in the 1970s, 20 Oct 1971, HC 621-I 1970-71.
11 Circular from the Select Committee Clerk, 12 Dec 1969. HC/CP/2800, Parliamentary Archives.
12 Science and Technology Committee, Research Councils, 21 July 1971, HC 522 1970-71.
13 Jon Agar, ‘Thatcher, Scientist’, Notes and Records of the Royal Society, 65, no. 3 (2011), p. 224.
14 Philip J. Aylett, Thirty Years of Reform: House of Commons Select Committees, 1960-1990, (unpublished PhD thesis, Queen Mary University of London, 2015), p. 146.

25 March 2019

Recording of the week: Peter Blake remembers the Royal College of Art

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This week's selection comes from Camille Johnston, Oral History Assistant Archivist.

This week we’re travelling back to 1950s London, where a young Peter Blake was learning to draw. Peter Blake is an English Pop artist who famously co-created the cover art for the Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. In the 1950s he was a student at the Royal College of Art with Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff.

339_richard_smith_peter_blake_as_students_photo_robert_buhlerPeter Blake and Richard Smith (right), as Royal College of Art students c. 1956. Robert Buhler, Courtesy Royal College of Art Archive. Image not licensed for reuse

In this clip from his life story interview, Peter Blake conjures up his memories of the busy life drawing room. In the life drawing room you might find artists sitting on 'donkeys' and there would be at least 15 life models – each surrounded by a group of students jostling for space. Some artists took up more space than others, and Blake picks out the artists that one would avoid... As well as capturing the characters of his fellow students, Blake gives a vivid account of his tutors, and of the professional models:

Peter Blake on life drawing classes (C466/168)

In the recording Blake describes his tutors both as ‘vultures’ and ‘sharks’ – who would hover around the many easels and lurch in to rub out the students’ drawings and make corrections. He’s right in saying that this wouldn’t be tolerated by art students now! Despite this, in his next breath he describes how wonderful it all was.

This clip features on the Voices of art website. Voices of art is a new British Library resource that explores the art world from behind the scenes. Extracts from oral history recordings accompany a series of essays by writers immersed in the art world of the 20th and 21st centuries. To hear Peter Blake’s clip in context, see Tom Powell’s article 'Why can't you draw the model like that?' Remembering the life room through Artists' Lives and Lisa Tickner’s article Playing it by ear: Kasmin in the 1960s.

Peter Blake was recorded by National Life Stories for Artists’ Lives in sessions between 2003-2005. The interviewer was Linda Sandino. Listen to the full interview on BL Sounds.

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

18 March 2019

Recording of the week: Will Montgomery - Submarine

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This week's selection comes from Dr Eva del Rey, Curator of Drama and Literature Recordings and Digital Performance.

Camberwell Submarine_ Eva del Rey

You may have seen this extraordinary ventilation shaft known as the Camberwell Submarine on Akerman Rd. London SW9.

It was built in the 1970s as part of an underground boiler room and heating system for Myatt’s Field estates. It is regarded as one of a kind due to its dimensions and design. See urban 75 for more images.

The boiler room and heating system is no longer in use. The room is closed but there is a memento of its sound kept forever in the archives.

‘Let us cross a large modern capital with our ears more sensitive than our eyes’ wrote futurist maverick Luigi Russolo in The Art of Noises (1913).

Artist Will Montgomery made recordings of the machinery of the boiler room in action. He assembled them into a short piece and published it on Touch Radio website, 8th November 2008. He called it ‘Submarine’.

Touch Radio 036: Will Montgomery - Submarine

I went on location on a Friday afternoon last February and strolled along the site listening to Montgomery’s composition on my phone. White noise, a harmony of hissing sounds exhaling through the boiler's steel valves. It felt both eerie and calming as if the Camberwell Submarine had gradually come back to life.

Follow @BL_DramaSound and @soundarchive for all the latest news. Visit British Library Sounds to listen to more pieces from Touch Radio.

08 March 2019

International Women's Day: Oral History highlights

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To celebrate International Women’s Day, three colleagues from the British Library Sound Archive have handpicked three oral history interviews from National Life Stories collections.

Architect Angela Brady

“The women have got to be better than the men to survive in architecture.”

Angela Brady interviewed by Niamh Dillon C467/107 Track 5

This interview was selected for International Women’s Day by Niamh Dillon, who interviewed Angela Brady from 2013-2014 for the National Life Stories project, Architects’ Lives. Niamh reflects on Angela Brady’s career:

Angela Brady was born in Dublin in 1957 and trained as an architect at Bolton Institute of Technology. During her studies, she had her first encounter with the gendered attitudes within the profession. As a response, she determined to ‘work bloody hard’, successfully qualifying as an architect. During her early career she spent periods in Denmark working on housing and moved to London, working for large practices before setting up her own practice, Brady Mallalieu. She campaigned and won election as President of the Royal Institute of British Architects campaigning on a platform to increase diversity within the profession. She was only the second woman to achieve the position and presided over the organisation during the 2012 Olympics. In 2017 she was awarded an OBE for services to architecture.

Angela Brady's interview is listed on the Sound and Moving Image catalogue (reference C467/107). For more information about Architects' Lives see the NLS project page.

Artist Sheila Girling

“…trying to fit two lives. It’s a great strain on women I think really, to have to cope. Because children are not just things you can put down and put away.”

543_sheila_girling_with_tony_caro_portrait047 - small
Sheila Girling with Anthony Caro. Courtesy Barford Sculptures Limited. Image not licensed for reuse.

This interview was selected for International Women’s Day by Hester Westley, who interviewed Sheila Girling in 2009 for the National Life Stories project, Artists’ Lives. Hester describes Sheila Girling’s approach to her artistic practice and family life:

Sheila Girling’s life story addresses the challenges which restricted women artists before the days of equality movements and general awareness of gender inequality. Girling trained as an artist at the Royal Academy Schools at a time when women students were expected to treat such training, the same as any male student’s, not as a step towards a profession but more like a finishing school. Following her marriage to the famous abstract sculptor Sir Anthony Caro, Girling put her own practice as a painter on hold, raising their two sons before returning to her studio practice in later life. In this recording she discusses with frankness and compassion the difficult choices she made as she sacrificed her own needs for the needs of others; without bitterness, her candid discussion of what it means to be a woman artist will speak to generations of women as they navigate marriage, motherhood and a professional life.

In this clip, Sheila Girling discusses how she balanced her artistic career, family life, and the career of her husband, Anthony Caro:

Sheila Girling interviewed by Hester Westley C466/296

Sheila Girling features on the new British Library website Voices of art. To read more about Girling’s life and work, see Hester Westley’s essay Coaching from the side lines: Sheila Girling and Anthony Caro. Read a written summary of Sheila Girling’s interview on the Sound and Moving Image catalogue (reference C466/296).

Doctor Una Kroll

“...we’re partners and we should be equal and we should be contributing equally.”

This interview was selected for International Women’s Day by Lucia Cavorsi, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage who has enhanced the catalogue records for Una Kroll’s interview. Una Kroll was interviewed by Rebecca Abrams in 1991 for National Life Stories. Lucia shares her experiences of listening to the interview and learning about Una Kroll’s life and work:

Getting closer to women coming from completely different paths of life is nowadays not only edifying, but crucial for women’s rights. That’s what happened to me when I worked with this collection item. I got captured by the words of Una Kroll; by her vision of the world; by her incorruptible idealism. A doctor, a feminist, a deaconess (at the time of the interview), an activist, a mother, Una Kroll channelled her anger for social injustice towards service and fight. As a doctor, she set up the first local services for cervical screening and breast analysis at her St. Paul’s Cray practice. As an activist she campaigned relentlessly and cleverly for the ordination of women. As a deaconess and profoundly religious person she challenged the patronising attitude of a male dominated Church.

As a feminist she didn’t conform to given rules and started wondering why women had handed so much power to men; why rules were made by men to hold up women. As a mother she was concerned to see justice and harmony for people who were oppressed, so to offer a fairer world to her daughter. As a woman, she wanted to show how good it was to be a woman; how women’s role in society is to explore better ways to live in harmony, without anyone undergoing segregation. She taught me that opposition to men is a necessary phase both for our political struggles and our growth as women, but it’s just a phase. That what we all need to aim for, is to truly recognise the equal nature of all human beings. To appreciate and understand the inherent dual nature, feminine and masculine, of God. Whatever this is.

To listen to Una Kroll speaking about the stuggle for the ordination of women, head to the Sisterhood and after website. Una Kroll’s interview has very recently been digitised by Unlocking our Sound Heritage. It can currently be accessed at the British Library through the Listening and Viewing Service and will be available more widely soon. Read a written summary of Una Kroll’s interview on the Sound and Moving Image catalogue (reference C464/10).

04 March 2019

Recording of the week: spontaneous mimicry on a yorkshire moor

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

Though many songbirds are capable of mimicry, it’s fair to say that some are more talented than others. The European Blackbird is one such example.  From the songs of other birds to the sounds of car alarms, the blackbird is not afraid of stepping up to the mark and having a go.

But why bother wasting time mimicking other sounds when you’ve got a perfectly good song of your own? If you’ve ever listened to a singing blackbird, you’ll know that its voice is a wonderful thing, full of passion and flair. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. As male birds use their songs to attract a mate and ward off potential rivals, it never hurts to have a few tricks under your wing. Being able to mimic other sounds and incorporate them into your song could mean the difference between a successful breeding season and a frustrating few months.

2021012_app_si_C_IV_909Male Blackbird by Wilhelm von Wright (Finish National Gallery, CCO via Europeana)

The following recording of a blackbird, made by Richard Margoschis in 1992, is a special one, not just because the male is able to accurately mimic the call of a nearby bird, but that he appears to do so spontaneously. While singing from a hawthorn bush on the edge of a yorkshire moor, our blackbird is accompanied by the mournful 'pu-we' whistles of a nearby Golden Plover. As the plover continues, our male stops, listens and then gives his own rendition of the call.

Blackbird spontaneous mimicry of a Golden Plover (BL ref 33668)

Was this just a one-off? Or was our blackbird so chuffed with his efforts that he decided to make this imitation a permanent feature of his song? Unfortunately we'll never know. But what we can say is that this little bird gets ten out of ten for effort.

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

This recording has been digitised as part of the library's Unlocking our Sound Heritage project.

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25 February 2019

Recording of the week: rabbits and chickens by post!

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This week's selection comes from Dr Rob Perks, Lead Curator of Oral History.

I recently went to post a letter in my local post-box and discovered that it had disappeared! Gone without warning or explanation. It had been there for as long as anyone could remember and it made me think about how post-boxes are such a fixture of our environment, both in the town and in the countryside (where I live), that we take them for granted. And behind every post-box is an amazing network of people and systems carrying our letters, packages and postcards all over the world. 

Postbox_and_gatepost _Wainsford_Road _Pennington_-_geograph_org_uk_-_253116Postbox and gatepost, Wainsford Road, Pennington / Robin Somes / CC BY-SA 2.0

National Life Stories’ ‘An Oral History of the Post Office’ interviewed 117 people working for Royal Mail from the 1930s (or the GPO, General Post Office, as it was then known). Working for the GPO was ‘a job for life’ and being a postman often ran in families. Seamus McSporran was Postmaster on the remote Isle of Gigha off the west coast of Scotland in the 1960s where people (long before Amazon) relied on mail-order catalogues for parcel post deliveries of everyday items. And at certain times of the year rabbits and chickens would also go through the post!

Seamus McSporran (C1007/09)

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

08 February 2019

Where our laws are drafted: 150 years of the Office of Parliamentary Counsel

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On 8 February 1869 the Board of the Treasury met to discuss “the drafting or preparing of Bills introduced into Parliament on the part of Her Majesty’s Government.” The Treasury minute goes on to note “the advantage of bringing all important Government Bills under the view of one person,” and being “pleased to direct that the office as proposed shall be constituted to be called the “Office of the Parliamentary Counsel”.

The Office of Parliamentary Counsel has grown from one man and his assistant in 1869 to consist of a staff of 60, including some 50 experienced barristers and solicitors. Led by Elizabeth Gardiner, the team’s job is to assist government departments in preparing Bills.

In a BBC interview Gardiner remarked that, "what they used to say was that every Labour government legislated more than a Tory government but that every government legislated more than the previous one, of that colour.”

The experience of Patrick Macrory, director of Unilever, seems to corroborate that view. He worked as an assistant at the Parliamentary Counsel Office during the late 1940s under Granville Ram (known as the ‘Maestro’) and alongside Harold Kent who later became Treasury Solicitor.

Interview with Patrick Macrory, C408/005, Tape 1, Side 2, 00:23:18 – 00:24:31

In this excerpt from her 1988 interview for NLS Legal Lives, Baroness Hale explains how parliamentary draftsmen contribute to the work of the Law Commission on law reform.

Baroness_Brenda_Hale
University of Salford Press Office [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Interview with Baroness Hale, C736/008, Track 4, 00:17:29 – 00:20:52

Those currently working in the Office of Parliamentary Counsel are facing unprecedented challenges, drafting legislation to accommodate the constitutional novelty that is Brexit.

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.