THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

271 posts categorized "Contemporary Britain"

25 June 2019

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

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

Portcullis_House_Select_Committee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

24 June 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

17 June 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 June 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Claudia Roden on Middle Eastern cuisine (C821/47)

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

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

06 June 2019

D-Day has come

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

By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

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

D-Day has come

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

D-Day minus one

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

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

Eye witness on Normany coast

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

For all the latest news follow @BL_Classical

23 May 2019

One of the very first MEPs: Joyce Quin, Baroness Quin, remembers the early days of the European Parliament

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Photo # 1MEPs their vote in the ballot box on 17 September 1979 in Strasbourg. This election would reveal Simone VEIL as the new directly elected President of the European Parliament. Credit: European Parliament

Today, despite the Government’s best intentions, Britons vote again in the European elections, nearly 40 years since the first cohort of MEPs was elected in June 1979.

Joyce Quin, now a member of the House of Lords and former MP for Gateshead (1987-97), was one of the 410 MEPs elected in 1979. She served as an MEP for ten years, and in her 2014 interview for the History of Parliament oral history project, she describes how she came to be selected as a Labour MEP candidate.

“Well, that was a very chancy thing in a way. About the time of the European elections, because I was lecturing on European policy and I was a member of the Labour Party, and also through my mother I still had links with where I grew up near Tynemouth in Witley Bay, I got asked to speak to a newly formed Fabian Society, the North Tyneside Fabian Society, about the European elections which I did and we had a nice meeting.

Then a couple of weeks later the secretary rang me up and said they had realised that they could nominate someone on the selection process for their local [European] constituency, because it was a constituency system in those days, which was called Tyne South and Wear.

And she said that the members would like to nominate me and I thought about it, and even though I was thinking that I would probably stay in the academic world, obviously it was a very interesting offer and I thought I’d really be interested in doing that, so I said yes while realising it was the first rung on an extremely long ladder.” [C1503/61 Track 1, 00:11:32 - 00:12:52]

Quin goes on to explain the backdrop to her selection process, aspects of which are as true today as they were 40 years ago.

“The trade unions were less organised for that European election than for any other selection I’ve ever come across because it came across people at the last minute, the Labour Party wasn’t certain whether they wanted to fight the European elections, there was a lot of pro- and anti -Europeanism, I mean it was quite a troublesome issue in the Labour Party at that time. … There were no women MPs in the north-east at all at the time and it was just the beginning of the rumblings of discontent about this in the Labour Party in particular and therefore a lot of the women’s organisations in the Labour Party looked at me with some interest.” [C1503/61 Track 1, 00:14:28 – 00:15:22]

Once elected, Quin was part of a new project in which fellow MEPs “were thrilled to be creating something so different and democratic and hopeful.” In this clip, she describes the idealism that permeated the atmosphere during the early days of the new institution.

Joyce Quin on the European Parliament (C1503/61) [00:16:14 - 00:18:37]

For the candidates of 2019, the atmosphere that awaits those that are elected as MEPs could not be more different.

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.

You can listen to the complete interview with Joyce Quin at British Library Sounds.

10 May 2019

Hearing the Dead – Florence Nightingale’s voice

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Sunday 12th May sees the 199th birthday of Florence Nightingale. To celebrate, Mike Esbester and Natalie Pithers share their experiences of exploring history with children, with particular reference to Florence's story.

How do children find out about the past? A challenging but crucial question for school teachers, the British Library, historians, genealogists and indeed anyone with a feel for history. Particularly for younger children, the nuances of historians’ interpretations and different theoretical approaches are difficult, if not impossible, to grasp. Instead, we make history more tangible by looking at the people and events of the past: from the everyday woman or man in the street, to ‘great lives’ and exceptional moments.

In some schools at the moment, children in Year One are looking at Mary Seacole, Edith Cavell and Florence Nightingale. A chance comment from the British Library’s Oral History Curator, Mary Stewart, alerted professional genealogist Natalie Pithers and academic historian Mike Esbester to the British Library’s sound recording of Florence Nightingale – and offered a great opportunity to make use of this and other sources with some Year One children in different settings.

Florence-Nightingale
Florence Nightingale by Henry Hering, copied by Elliott & Fry, half-plate glass copy negative, 1950s (late 1856-1857) NPG x82368, © National Portrait Gallery, London. License CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 

C1693/1 Recording of Florence Nightingale, 1820-1910 

History at home – Natalie’s experience

Last term, the ‘Florence Nightingale and Bravery’ topic captivated my bubbly 5-year old. She’d been enthusiastic about Florence since the first day of term, when she walked home from school eagerly recounting how the class had been given an ancient battered suitcase. The case was full of medicine and bandages, but best of all it contained ‘a dead rat’ and ‘Miss had no idea how it got there!’ It’s not hard to imagine the joy I felt at hearing my own passion for history echoed back at me by my daughter.

As a genealogist I wanted to share some of my professional life with my daughter, and this topic was ideal. We snuggled on the sofa surrounded by paper printouts, starting with Florence’s Christening record. My daughter saw the writing: ‘it was really bad in the olden days, wasn’t it Mum?’ She was captivated by the idea that this person ‘in history’ had parents, and a Nanny and Grandad – just like her.

We checked other records – the censuses. With a magnifying glass to ‘look for clues’, we cross-referenced across sources to find out when Florence was born and the names of her parents. What about Florence’s place of birth? She shouted excitedly, ‘It’s Italy!’

Next, newspaper reports on Florence’s death. My daughter bounced on the sofa as we ‘discovered’ poems and romanticised illustrations of the ‘lady of the lamp.’ For comparison we looked for articles on Mary Seacole’s death. There were no pictures and reports were scant. My daughter nodded knowingly: ‘it’s because she was poor.’ I let her draw her own conclusions.

Lastly, we found Florence’s voice at the British Library Oral History. Ears angled at the laptop speakers, we listened to the crackly tones of someone who died over 100 years ago, bringing alive in a different way someone so far only experienced on paper. I might just have good old Florence to thank, not only for so much of modern nursing, but for my child’s budding love for history.

Florenceletter1-tl small
Example of a letter from the British Library collections: Letter from Florence Nightingale to Edwin Chadwick (Shelfmark: MS 45814)

History at school – Mike’s experience

Once I’d found out about the Florence Nightingale recording, I wanted to use it in a session I’d volunteered to give at Botley Primary School in Oxford. I hoped it would surprise the Year One children to hear the voice of one of the long-dead women they were finding out about that term, as well as produce a greater connection with the past.

We started by discussing what sources we might use to find out about the past, including looking at paintings and photographs of the Crimean War and thinking about what they might tell us. We had a look at one of Florence Nightingale’s letters, available from the British Library: it gave a personal insight into the conditions, as well as reassuring the children that grown-up ‘scribbly’ handwriting was nothing new! Importantly, we used it to question the idea that Nightingale was unproblematically virtuous – the children loved the rudeness of her comments about ‘drunken old dames’.

They were really keen to hear Nightingale’s voice – and whilst it was difficult to make out (unsurprising, giving the recording technology of the 1890s), they were excited. We talked about why the recording was made and the need to support war veterans before the modern welfare state.

I also took in a family possession – an 1855 jug sold to raise money for the Royal Patriotic Fund, a charity established in 1854 to support soldiers’ dependents. That the children could see something in front of them from the same time as Nightingale helped make that connection and they responded very strongly to the jug and the images it showed.

I was impressed with the projects the children had already been putting together, and the keenness with which they greeted the items we explored – their teachers have been doing great work with this generation of future historians!

1855 jug  1  low res
An item owned by Mike's family: 1855 jug sold to raise money for the Royal Patriotic Fund

History in mind?

This curriculum topic was a great opportunity to introduce children not only to particular episodes in the past but also the method and process of historical research. At home and school we were able to think about the figures that are popularly remembered from the past, the ‘great lives’, and those who haven’t been remembered – those ‘old dames’ Nightingale bemoaned as well as individual soldiers and others from all sides of the conflict. This level of abstraction wouldn’t work well with the children, so the primary sources allowed us to get to grips with the bigger questions – and for that, the British Library’s collections, oral history and manuscript, were a great help. It was also important that this wasn’t simply a discussion about the past, but opened up conversations about gender stereotypes and what women and men were and weren’t allowed to do – and how that has changed today.

Blogpost by Mike Esbester and Natalie Pithers

Biographies

Natalie Pithers is a professional genealogist, driven by a long-standing interest in her own family history and a desire to help others find out about their pasts. She offers her professional services as Genealogy Stories, helping people link family history with wider social contexts of the time; at the same time, her website is a means of sharing her own research and general tips to help people. She tweets as @geneastories.

Mike Esbester is Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Portsmouth. Taking history out of the University and into other settings, like schools, is an important and fun part of the History team’s work. The team tweet as @UoP_History and run an active blog. Mike researches and teaches on a variety of topics relating to 19th and 20th century Britain, including the history of accidents, safety and risk. He co-leads the collaborative ‘Railway Work, Life & Death’ project, looking at accidents to British and Irish railway workers from the later 19th century to 1939, and tweets as @RWLDproject.

Natalie, Mike and Mary Stewart are currently working together, with a number of others, on an initiative to bring together historical researchers – archivists, academics, local historians, family historians, genealogists and more – to share expertise and to promote better cooperation. The Oral History Society is supporting this initiative. This collaborative effort is going under the banner ‘Historians Collaborate’ – for those on Twitter, look for (and please use!) #HistoriansCollaborate.

29 April 2019

Recording of the week: George Ewart Evans and The Barley Mow

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

The Barley Mow is a classic end of the night folk song; funny enough to leave you in a good mood, adaptable enough to please the crowd, and it’s about drinking so normally has the pub on your side. It’s also tricky enough to show off the singer’s chops and frankly I’m always impressed that someone can remember every measure to congratulate, from the gallon right down to the gill.

We hold many recordings of the song in the World and Traditional Music collection and I’m particularly fond of a rather chaotic version at the Butchers Arms in Carhampton (side note: Carhampton is notable as the home of wassailing (second side note: I once went to a very good pub quiz at the Butchers Arms)). However, the recording I want to highlight today comes from our oral history collections and the interviews of George Ewart Evans.

SG18_Matthew Mary George Ewart Evans Susan and Jane in graden at Blaxhall School adjustedGeorge Ewart Evans with his children in the school garden, Blaxhall, Suffolk

George Ewart Evans is one of the godfathers of oral history and, after moving from Wales to Suffolk in 1947, Evans spent the 1950s through the 1970s recording the voices of local workers and neighbours. He’s probably best known for his books including Ask the Fellows Who Cut the Hay, but the great thing is that we hold his original interviews at the British Library and you can listen to them online. One of these interviews is with a Mr W. Boulton and, amongst his descriptions of seasonal work in Burton-on-Trent and Suffolk step dancing, Boulton regales us with his own rendition of the Barley Mow. Keep listening and, after some prodding from Boulton, you’ll hear Evans join in too.

George Ewart Evans and the Barley Mow (T1416)

According to Robert Bell, “the effect of The Barley Mow cannot be given in words; it should be heard, to be appreciated properly” and I’d have to agree with him. If you want a look at how this might have been in the 1950s then do check out this amazing footage from the Ship Inn, Blaxall at the East Anglia Film Archive (side note: Blaxhall is where Evans lived in Suffolk (second side note: thanks to my family for humouring my detour to the Ship earlier this year)). As for 2019 you’ve just got to hope that you come across a performance yourself, and in that I say good luck to you all – and of course as well to the company, the brewer, the landlord…

More information on the George Ewart Evans collection can be found in our collection guide to Major national oral history projects and surveys

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