Sound and vision blog

404 posts categorized "Contemporary Britain"

20 January 2022

Rosemary Goad

At National Life Stories we are sorry to hear of the death of Rosemary Goad, a former director of Faber & Faber, who was recorded by Sue Bradley in 2002 for the National Life Stories project Book Trade Lives. Book Trade Lives collected oral histories to capture the experiences of people who worked in publishing and bookselling in Britain from the 1920s onwards. Here, Sue remembers Rosemary and the agreement that allows us to hear her voice today.

Portrait photo of Rosemary Goad in an officeRosemary in her former office at 24 Russell Square, 2015. Photo © Robert Brown.

‘Their interview is closed for how many years?’ People could be incredulous that National Life Stories gave interviewees the option to embargo their recordings. ‘For the rest of their life? But it’s a public collection. Shouldn’t the records be open to everyone?’ In fact, when I started work in 1998 as the interviewer for Book Trade Lives, it felt like an act of faith to archive any oral histories at all. ‘Who will be listening anyway?’ was the question I heard from interviewees. ‘It’s like stocking a library with books,’ I’d say, repeating the answer I’d recently been given, ‘but now we’re collecting oral histories. And you can’t always tell in advance who readers or listeners will be.’

Rosemary had helped me prepare for my Book Trade Lives job interview, although she barely knew me at the time. She supplied pages from The Bookseller with family trees of publishing mergers and shared just enough low-down on one of the interview panel to make me feel that if I wasn’t an insider myself, at least there was someone kind enough to give me clues. When I was offered the job, I rang to thank her in Dorset, interrupting what sounded like an animated conversation. ‘I must go,’ I heard her say to whoever was there. ‘A friend’s on the phone with some rather good news.’ That was followed by a series of equally generous, and hugely enjoyable, social occasions. But it would be nearly four years before we sat down together in her London flat to begin her Book Trade Lives recording.

Remembering her maternal grandmother (Edith Milburn) [Tape 1 ide 1]

Remembering her maternal grandmother (Edith Milburn) [Tape 1 Side 1]

Rosemary Goad joined Fabers as a secretary in 1953, initially sharing a room with Valerie Fletcher, soon to become Valerie Eliot. ‘As I saw it,’ Rosemary said, ‘the firm was ruled by men but the women had quite an interesting time.’ She began to do publicity work – ‘the way I perceived my way out of being a secretary’ – while working as assistant to the editor Charles Monteith, and eventually acquired authors of her own, many of whom became life-long friends. Along with Joan Smith and Rachel Ingalls, they included PD James, whose books she continued to edit after retiring. Not that she claimed any credit. ‘You’re really more the continuity girl on crime editing, I think’.

Fabers in the early-mid 1950s ‘The women had quite an interesting time’. [Tape 5 Side 1]

Fabers in the early-mid 1950s ‘The women had quite an interesting time’. [Tape 5 Side 1]

Rosemary was made a director in 1970, the first woman employee appointed to the board. When she had arrived, secretaries in publishing were expected to have private means – ‘You could not have lived on the salary’ – and she later introduced schemes to improve terms and conditions for staff. ‘Once we had a union, [salaries] became much fairer.’ By the time she retired in 1988, the firm had been invigorated by a new regime, headed by Matthew Evans and Robert McCrum, to which Rosemary brought her warmth and discernment. In his own Book Trade Lives recording, the publisher Andrew Franklin, who worked at Fabers in the early 1980s, remembers Rosemary’s ‘extraordinary grace’ and her distinguished taste as an editor. Defender of the slush pile to the end – ‘I know there’s a lot of rubbish, but I always thought it was good, particularly for young editors, to look at what was coming in’ – she retained her trademark decency in an increasingly competitive publishing world. But Rosemary was not naive. In a poem written for her leaving party, her friend Seamus Heaney identifies her ‘unfooled smile’.

After those four years of waiting – she had seemed reticent about it and, rightly or wrongly, I didn’t want to push – Rosemary agreed to the interview on condition that it would be closed to public access for her lifetime. We started in July 2002 and finished the following March. The recording runs to around seventeen hours. A summary will soon be available, so I won’t pre-empt it here except to say that the interview – which takes the form pioneered by National Life Stories – follows Rosemary’s own life, from childhood and education to work before and after Faber, and that her recall of others goes beyond the well-known figures. Typically, her recording offers some discreet but revealing – and often very funny – glimpses of publishing life at the time, but the central and most vital presence is Rosemary herself.

On being recorded [Tape 20 Side 2]

On being recorded [Tape 20 Side 2] Transcript

Now, twenty years later, that recording can be shared. Which is, in the end, the point of the closure option. Without it, Rosemary may never have agreed and we wouldn’t be able to hear her voice at all. The same applies to many other National Life Story interviewees, a significant number of women among them. There is no need to spell out today what a loss their absence would be. Those anticipated listeners quickly arrived, and their numbers continue to grow exponentially.

‘I’ve always thought it was important to enjoy work, but I never thought one was making a great mark or footprint of any kind,’ said Rosemary. What could be a better basis for an oral history interview? I don’t suppose she would mind people cherry-picking memories about Faber celebrities – on the contrary – but those who take time to listen to the rest won’t be disappointed. Rosemary led a remarkable life of her own and she looks back on it here with insight and relish.

Rosemary Goad, 4 November 1928 – 11 September 2021.

Rosemary Goad's interview can be found by searching C872/78 in the Sound and Moving Image Catalogue. For more information about Book Trade Lives see the collection guide Oral histories of writing and publishing. Book Trade Lives was recently digitised by Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.

Sue Bradley edited 'The British Book Trade: An Oral History', British Library, 2008 and 2010. These days she listens out for animals in oral histories. Sue is a member of the Newcastle University Oral History Unit and Collective and a Research Associate on FIELD (Farm-level Interdisciplinary Approaches to Endemic Livestock Disease) in Newcastle University’s Centre for Rural Economy. Her article, ‘Hobday’s hands: recollections of touch in veterinary practice’, appeared in Oral History vol 49, no 1, 2021.

12 January 2022

Voices of British theatre design: Explore the world of theatre behind the scenes

Listen to theatre practitioners speak about their lives and work, their favourite productions, professional networks and the design process from scale model to stage set.

Voices of British theatre design is a new British Library website featuring over 50 audio clips from National Life Stories recordings. Interviewees include set and costume designers, scenic artists, directors and actors. The audio clips are presented within a series of 12 articles written by theatre practitioners. In every article, authors and interviewees draw on their technical knowledge and creative practices to reveal what happens behind the scenes, while weaving in personal reflections on the profession itself.

The website is divided into five themes: costume design, the design process, directors and designers, scale models, and set design. There are vivid descriptions of stage scenery, techniques for model making, the use of 3D design technology, and how to manage what the audience sees (and doesn’t see) from their seat. Contributors to the website also address wider questions on roles and relationships in theatre, and how to get started. What is theatre design education like? How reliable is the job market, and how has this changed over the years? What is it like to interpret a script, collaborate with directors, and engage with actors during costume fittings?

To celebrate the launch we’ve picked three clips highlighting different design elements that are explored on the website: model making, stage scenery, and costume design. Interestingly, in each case the interviewee mentions how their work impacted others involved in the production process. Scroll down to hear extracts from life story recordings with Lis Evans, Jocelyn Herbert, and Billy Meall.

Lis Evans talks about making, painting, and clothing miniature figures for her models

Assorted figures in a box, used for theatre design models
Assorted figures. Courtesy Lis Evans. Image not licensed for reuse.

Lis Evans (born 1965) is Head of Design at the New Vic Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent. In this clip she describes how she creates model figures from scratch using a variety of materials. The use of figures is an essential element of both her design process and how she presents the design to others.

This audio clip features in Peter Farley’s article, Communicating design: Creating a world.

Lis Evans on making figures for models (C1173/15)

Download Lis Evans transcript

The New Vic Theatre is ‘a theatre in the round’, where the stage is completely surrounded by the audience. Evans became Head of Design in 1991 and has designed over 120 productions during her time in this role.

Lis Evans was recorded by National Life Stories for An Oral History of British Theatre Design in sessions between 2006–2007. The interviewer was Elizabeth Wright. A written summary of the full interview can be word searched on the Sound and Moving Image Catalogue. Listen to the full interview on BL Sounds.

Jocelyn Herbert shares a surprising fact about Bertolt Brecht’s play Baal

Painted drawing by Jocelyn Herbert for Baal, showing an interior scene
Set drawing by Jocelyn Herbert for Baal by Bertolt Brecht (world premiere, Phoenix Theatre, 1963). Drawing © Estate of Jocelyn Herbert, from the Jocelyn Herbert Archive, housed in the National Theatre Archive. Image not licensed for reuse.

In this clip from her 1992 recording with Cathy Courtney, theatre designer Jocelyn Herbert (1917–2003) sets the scene for the world premiere of Bertolt Brecht’s play Baal. Brecht (1898–1956) was a German playwright and poet. He established the Berliner Ensemble theatre company with actor and director Helene Weigel, his wife, in 1949 in East Berlin.

This audio clip features in Roma Patel’s article, Stage design: 2D to 3D.

Jocelyn Herbert on projections for Baal (C465/13)

Download Jocelyn Herbert transcript

The play, Baal, was not performed until after Brecht’s death, and the first performance was not even produced by the Berliner Ensemble. It was in fact first staged at the Phoenix Theatre in London, in 1963. Jocelyn Herbert designed the play, and it was directed by Bill Gaskill (William Gaskill, 1930–2016) with actor Peter O’Toole in the title role.

Herbert talks about her preparatory drawings and models – Brecht’s script ‘lit up your imagination’ – and the technical process of designing projections for the stage using 1960s technology. She mentions working with Richard Pilbrow, who was the lighting designer for Baal, and his team to produce and install the projections. Herbert’s drawings for Baal can be seen in her archive at the National Theatre Archive.

Between 1985 and 1993 Jocelyn Herbert was interviewed by Cathy Courtney. The recordings are archived at the British Library and can be accessed on BL Sounds. Written summaries of the recordings can be word searched on the Sound and Moving Image Catalogue.

Billy Meall’s costume design for Shakespeare’s Richard III

Paul Jesson as Richard III, wearing a costume made by Billy Meall
Paul Jesson playing Richard III, wearing a costume made by Billy Meall. The costume featured a pebble in the boot to create a limp, and a glove with sewed up fingers. Projections in the background. Everyman Theatre. Photographer unknown. Courtesy Billy Meall. Image not licensed for reuse.

Theatre designer Billy Meall (born 1947) describes the terrifying costume he created for Shakespeare’s Richard III. The costume featured a shrunken hand, armour with a spiked hump, and a painful boot that caused the actor Paul Jesson to drag his leg around the stage. Paul Jesson (born 1946) is an Associate Artist of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

This audio clip features in the article On actors and costume design, by actor Eric Potts.

Billy-meall-designing-the-costume-for-richard-iii

Download Billy Meall transcript

In another clip, Meall talks about learning the craft from a costume supervisor called Cathy Alger, who he worked with at the Liverpool Playhouse at the start of his career. He was resident designer at the Liverpool Playhouse until 1998, after which the management of the Playhouse was merged with the Everyman Theatre.

Billy Meall was recorded by National Life Stories for An Oral History of British Theatre Design in 2006. The interviewer was Elizabeth Wright. A written summary of the full interview can be word searched on the Sound and Moving Image Catalogue. Listen to the full interview on BL Sounds.

Voices of British theatre design was produced by Cathy Courtney, Camille Johnston, Mary Stewart, and Elizabeth Wright. We would like to thank article authors, interviewees, and image donors, who are fully credited on the 'About the project' page. National Life Stories is very grateful to The Linbury Trust for making this website possible.

Blog by Camille Johnston, Voices of British theatre design Web Co-ordinator & Oral History Assistant Archivist, National Life Stories at the British Library.

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

21 December 2021

Ian Rawes and the London Sound Survey

By Steve Cleary, Lead Curator, Literary and Creative Recordings.

In October this year many of us at the British Library were distressed to hear of the death of Ian Rawes. Best known to the wider world for his field recording project London Sound Survey, Ian once worked at the Library. He was here for a period of 13 years, leaving in 2014.

Sound and Vision Acquisitions Officer Ian Macaskill remembers Ian from the early days:

In earlier times, when some of us were based in the British Library building in Micawber Street, Ian worked as a Sound Archive Vaultkeeper. He was unfailingly hard-working and helpful to all. A great loss.

After he left, Ian returned as a researcher, working in the Reading Rooms on projects such as his 2016 book of 'forgotten sound-words' Honk, Conk and Squacket. Ian was well-liked among his former colleagues and would often join some of us for a pint in the Boot or the Skinners Arms on a Friday night, after work had finished and the Reading Rooms had closed.

The London Sound Survey is a web resource presenting over 2,000 recordings of everyday life in London and beyond. Most were made by Ian between 2008 and 2020. Some guest recordists are also featured, including Richard Beard, with a selection of his Hackney wildlife recordings. The site also includes many related articles on the theme of urban sound.

Ian used a variety of techniques to make his recordings. I recall him demonstrating his headworn binaural microphones. To the casual observer, these looked much like headphones, and didn't attract public attention. These were used to make stereo recordings in many different urban environments. Here is one from 2010, made at an anti-capitalist protest encampment by St Paul's Cathedral. And here is another, featuring the gentlemen who stand outside the restaurants in Brick Lane trying to drum up custom.

Discretion was advisable in certain settings, but other kinds of recordings, such as these environmental recordings made along the Kent and Essex sides of the Thames Estuary used a more traditional field recording approach. The now-disappeared sound of the Coryton Oil Refinery siren served as a moment of reflection during Ian's memorial service.

Some highlights from the collection - among them the memorably titled 'Cigarette Ponce' - were issued on vinyl on the Vitelli label under the title 'These Are the Good Times'. The collection itself is archived permanently at London Metropolitan Archives

Ian's second published LP Thames was issued by the Persistence of Sound label. This contained a mixture of industrial and environmental recordings, from the inner workings of Tower Bridge to the sounds of the Essex shore. There are plans for the label to release some of Ian's last recordings on a new LP in 2022.

Online tributes to Ian included a very well-informed piece by Tony Herrington in The Wire and another from Susannah Butter in the Evening Standard, and there were many comments on both public and professional forums from those who had worked with Ian and/or known him personally. All testified to his generous, affable nature and healthy sense of humour. Ian was great company and was never in the slightest pompous or pretentious about his work. He will be very much missed.

Ian Rawes in a pub in Cambridge in 2017

Above: Ian in a pub in Cambridge in 2017. Photo: Steve Cleary.

17 December 2021

BL Sports Word of theYear 2021

Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English, writes:

It’s perhaps not surprising that vax and its more conventional older sibling, vaccine, were designated 2021 Word Of The Year by dictionaries in the UK and USA respectively. This weekend also sees the annual BBC Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) awards ceremony, which leads rather neatly to my annual review of linguistic highlights I’ve collected from mainstream media over the last twelve months in search of the 8th unofficial British Library Sports Word of The Year (SWOTY 2021). Inevitably, pandemic-related vocabulary once again featured prominently in sports coverage throughout 2021. In The Guardian alone, last year’s ubiquitous biosecure bubble subtly morphed into bio-bubble or simply bubble, while pingdemic began to appear in the sports pages from July as numerous sportsmen and -women withdrew from teams or events to self-isolate following notification of a close contact to Covid-19. Despite this, the terms selected here focus exclusively on the more enduring aspects of sporting discourse. Here, then are the ten nominees for SWOTY 2021:

February (Sir Alastair Cook responding to praise at his prediction that England would win the men’s Test at Chennai, Channel 4): even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while

February (Ebony Rainford-Brent reflecting on England’s victory in the men’s Test in Chennai): the batters set things up in the first innings

March (Pamela Cookey’s half time analysis of Severn Stars tactics in the Vitality Super League fixture against Leeds Rhinos, Sky Sports Mix): [they] had time to work that to circle edge you can see the desperation

April (Nick Dougherty responding to Butch Harmon’s comment about Cameron Smith’s haircut at The Masters, Sky Sports Golf): I think they call it a Tennessee waterfall over there

TENNESSEEE WATERFALL

July (Mel Jones describing Imran Tahir’s extravagant dive after taking a catch for Birmingham Phoenix against Southern Brave, Sky Sports Main Event): I thought he put a bit of mayo on that

July (Liam Gallagher tweet following Emma Raducanu’s success at Wimbledon, Guardian Sport): get on the Les Dennis tday [sic] and get behind Emma Raducanu celestial talent

August (Charlotte Worthington explains her first ever in-competition 360 back flip in Olympic BMX Freestyle, BBC 5 Live): I managed to pull off the 360 back flip aka the Ferrari which we kept under tight wraps in the lead up to the games

August (Deep Dasgupta discussing the batting approach of Indian cricketers, KS Rahul & Rohit Sharma) both of them have played what we call khadoos cricket

September (Ewen Murray quoting Lexi Thompson’s opinion on the absence of European supporters at the Solheim Cup, Guardian Sport): Thompson insisted the scale of backing for the US will not apply the P-word

November (Vicky Sparks quoting Beth Mead’s own explanation of an intentional shot-cum-cross at a free kick, BBC 5 Live): she calls it a crots

December (Chloe Merrell summarising England’s victory in the second Test v Jamaica, Guardian Sport): Sophie Drakeford-Lewis was tried at wing attack

This year’s list embraces six sports – cricket, netball, golf, tennis, BMX, and football. As in previous years, cricket features prominently, undoubtedly a reflection of the sport’s notoriously arcane vocabulary, but also perhaps because the stop-start nature of the game offers greater opportunity for spontaneous chat during a typical live commentary. In contrast to previous years, seven of the ten entries are attributed to women and six relate to female sport – a result, perhaps, of the gradual, but long overdue, increase in coverage of female sport and of greater female representation in the sporting media.

The entries reveal the usual linguistic suspects, including examples of jargon (i.e. specialised vocabulary, e.g. batter, circle edge and wing attack) and slang (i.e. informal forms, e.g. put a bit of mayo on, Les Dennis and Ferrari), while the phrase even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while looks like an idiom or even a proverb. The increasing influence of the Indian subcontinent on cricketing vocabulary is evident in the loan word khadoos. P-word is a code word formed by the well-established morphological process of taking the initial letter of the intended word and adding the suffix <-word>. I suspect P-word , like the blend crots, is a neologism (i.e. an idiosyncratic expression coined by the user for a one-off occasion). All ten demonstrate how press and media sports coverage is an excellent resource for discovering vernacular English.

The term batter [= ‘player who bats in cricket’] is recorded in the OED from 1773, but the most recent citation is 1854, while the hitherto more established form, batsman, has entries that run from 1744 to 1927. Until recently, for most (male?) British cricketers, batter was generally associated with Australian usage – i.e. a rare example of sporting dialect – but in September this year the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) officially adopted the form, batter, in its Laws of the Game. Promoting a gender-neutral term over a previously more widespread form is an unusual example of a governing body changing its terminology to reflect (and endorse) social change. Inevitably, the term divides opinion in cricketing circles, although the citation here pre-dates the ECB resolution. As a female ex-England cricketer, I imagine Ebony Rainford-Brent has always viewed this form as perfectly natural and uncontentious, and it’s reassuring to note that The Guardian has consistently used batter in its cricket coverage all year.

The two other items of jargon here come from netball. Watching Vitality Super League matches this season I’ve been struck by the number of commentators and players who refer to a specific area of the court as circle edge, rather than the (to me) more grammatically instinctive construction, the edge of the circle. By way of contrast, hockey players refer to the equivalent part of a hockey pitch as the edge of the circle (or, even more commonly the edge of the D). This preference for a compound noun and zero definite article in netball is confirmed by numerous netball coaching manuals, while the FIH rulebook confirms the preference for possessive ‘of’ in hockey.

CIRCLE EDGE

While every football position I can think of and indeed every fielding position in cricket, many of which are delightfully obscure, merits an entry in either the OED or its open access counterpart, Lexico, I was surprised to discover that the netball position, wing attack, does not warrant an entry in either. Interestingly, Lexico has entries for centre, goal attack and goal defence, but not for wing attack nor for wing defence. Yet anyone who has ever played netball – presumably at least half the UK population – will be familiar with the term and has worn a WA bib to prove it. In fact, the names for netball positions – and their corresponding abbreviations – were clearly considered sufficiently mainstream to appear as clues in March this year on BBC2’s Only Connect Series 16 Final; so come on, OED: let’s have wing attack and wing defence in the dictionary.

WA


Returning to cricket, Test Match Special commentator, Deep Dasgupta, described India’s openers, KS Rahul and Rohit Sharma, as typical khadoos cricketers [= ‘unspectacular but gritty and determined’]. ESPN Cricinfo website describes khadoos as a common label in Indian cricketing circles, especially in Mumbai, for a type of unglamorous, uncompromising cricketer with a never-say die attitude.

KHADOOS
A 2017 article in the Hindu Sportstar uses the veiled form, K-word, to refer to the same phenomenon – mirroring analogous disguised forms, which serve as euphemisms (e.g. F-word) or as a means of avoiding offensive terms (e.g. N-word). The implication is that khadoos has negative connotations for some, which is presumably the implication here with P-word [= ‘pressure’]. Sports stars understandably go to considerable lengths to disguise any outward display of nerves, so the use of P-word here suggests that the word pressure is not even in Lexi Thompson’s vocabulary. The OED lists several ‘X-word’ forms, but I haven’t found any supporting evidence for widespread use of P-word in this sense. The construction itself is clearly highly productive as in October, B-word [= ‘banter’] appeared in The Guardian as shorthand used by some (unsuccessfully, thankfully) to try and justify the unacceptable dressing room culture experienced by Azeem Rafiq and others at Yorkshire County Cricket Club and elsewhere.

As in previous years, several entries illustrate how the spontaneous nature of live commentary, punditry and post-match interviews promotes light-hearted exchanges and playful language. Our enduring fascination with, and enthusiasm for, rhyming slang, is demonstrated by Les Dennis [= ‘tennis’], which features in the wonderful Cockney Rhyming Slang website, while Urban Dictionary records Tennessee Waterfall [= ‘mullet-style haircut’] and adding mayo [= ‘to exaggerate a story that is not that exciting in order to get a reaction from listeners’], i.e. expressing a similar notion to Mel Jones’s use here of put a bit of mayo on. Similarly typical of our individual and shared pleasure in wordplay is the form crots [= ‘cross-cum-shot’ i.e. a ball played towards goal in the hope that it will either result in a goal or a goalscoring opportunity for a teammate]. As a blend of the words cross and shot, it’s interesting to note that Beth Mead favours crots over its potential rival shoss – presumably because crots adheres more instinctively to English phonotactic rules.

I haven’t found any other reference to crots nor to Ferrari [= ‘something especially outstanding/impressive/desirable of its kind’], used here to describe the spectacular trick performed by Charlotte Worthington in winning the Olympic BMX Freestyle gold medal. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to note that an equally exclusive Italian sports car – Maserati – conveys an identical notion in the 1972 Monty Python bus conductor sketch, in which Graham Chapman delivers the punchline to a joke followed by ‘Boom! Boom! Every one a Maserati!’. Finally, even a blind squirrel finds a nut [= ‘even if people are ineffective/misguided, they’re still sometimes correct by sheer luck’] is recorded in the Cambridge International Dictionary, although several online forums suggest acorn for nut.

Most of this year’s entries are captured in the British Library’s Newspaper collections, National Radio Archive and UK Web Archive, proving the Library is an invaluable resource for monitoring vernacular language. And so, after much deliberation, I’m delighted to announce this year’s winner is batter - in recognition of what it represents in terms of a more inclusive future and in the hope that England might find one or two in time for the second Ashes Test!

BATTER

Follow Spoken English collections at @VoicesofEnglish.

13 December 2021

Recording of the week: Recollections from a political activist

This week’s selection comes from Georgia Dack, Web Content Developer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

The British Library recently launched its new website Speaking Out, an online learning resource exploring the power of public speaking, protest and debate through its sound archive.

Featured in Speaking Out, is an interview with Lou Kenton (1908 – 2012), captured by Louise Brodie and Roy Gore as part of the Labour Oral History Project. Kenton was a big player in the campaign to suppress fascism and anti-Semitism in interwar Britain. As someone who knew little about the British anti-fascism movement in the 1930s, I found it fascinating to listen to Kenton’s recollection of events, and learn about his rich and intriguing life of political activism.

In the 1930s, British fascism had a short-lived rise that mirrored that of Nazi Germany, but lost momentum and died out at the beginning of the Second World War. The fascist movement was ushered in by Oswald Mosly, a Conservative-then-Labour MP who, taking inspiration from Hitler and Mussolini, formed the British Union of Fascists (BUF) in 1932. The party similarly adopted virulent anti-Semitism and exploited widespread unemployment and poverty to gain traction. Its uniformed paramilitary group, the Blackshirts, brought violence and intimidation to the BUF rallies often in held in London’s Jewish neighbourhoods.

Lou Kenton, born in Stepney to Ukrainian Jewish parents, left school at 14 to work in a paper factory, where he experienced such anti-Semitism first hand. This led him to join the Communist Party in 1929. As a printer, he also galvanised his trade union in anti-fascist work. As far-right sentiment grew, Kenton participated in two major events that helped to stifle the rise of the BUF. In the clip below Kenton talks about an attempt to disrupt a rally at the Kensington Olympia in June 1934. The Blackshirts responded to hecklers brutally, but they received a torrent of negative press as a result.

Lou Kenton on the BUF rally at Kensington Olympia

Download Transcript

Woman being violently arrested by police in political protestImage © Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

On 4 October 1936, Mosly had planned a march in the East End of London, an area with a distinct Jewish community. This led to the Battle of Cable Street, in which 6000 Metropolitan Police officers worked to clear a path for the BUF’s march of some 3000 people – but thousands of anti-fascists and local people outnumbered them and successfully blocked their route. Kenton was one of the people behind organising this, and during the event, he sped on his motorcycle to relay police movements to the crowds.

Lou Kenton describes the Battle of Cable Street

Download Transcript

Mosley called the march off, and the Public Order Act of 1937 was passed, which banned the wearing of political uniforms in public. The British Government finally banned the BUF in 1940.

Kenton continued to be a remarkably dedicated campaigner and activist for the rest of his life. In 1937, he rode his motorcycle to Spain during the civil war and joined the International Brigades (IB) as an ambulance driver on the front lines; in 2009, he was awarded Spanish citizenship for his contribution. Following the brutal Nazi massacre of the village of Lidice, Kenton joined the ‘Lidice Shall Live’ campaign and served as its chairman.

After the Second World War, he helped organise the Homes for Heroes campaign, which helped homeless veterans and their families take residence in unoccupied properties. He worked for the communist party until the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968, after which he was a member of the Labour party for the rest of his life. He worked for the Financial Times as a proofreader into his 70s, but even well into retirement, Kenton supported his causes, creating commemorative pottery for trade unions.

Speaking Out has been delivered as part of Unlocking Our Sound Heritage, a UK-wide project supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, that will help save the nation’s sounds and open them up to everyone.

UOSH_Footer_2019_Magenta (004)

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

09 December 2021

Geoff Webb on polio

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 curator will showcase an item from the collections and present it alongside commentary from a member of the British Library’s 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.

Dr Madeline White, Oral History Curator, has selected this fascinating self-recorded memoir by Geoff Webb. These recordings tell the story of one man’s experience of the polio epidemics of the twentieth century. Polio is the colloquial name for poliomyelitis, an infectious disease that at its most severe can cause spinal and respiratory paralysis. In the late 1800s the disease began to spread across the world, leading to frequent outbreaks and global epidemics which persisted until the development and widespread distribution of effective vaccines in the late 1950s and 1960s. Some people – like Geoff Webb – experienced life-changing impairments as a result of contracting the disease.


A black and white photo of a polio patient in iron lung being visited by his family; a woman and a small babyPolio patient in iron lung, courtesy of National Museum of Health and Medicine/Wikimedia

Geoff Webb was born in 1927 in Peshawar on the northwest frontier of India. His father was in the Indian army so he spent his early years moving between India and England with his parents, until starting boarding school in England in 1934. His self-recorded reminiscences – recorded in the 1970s and deposited at the British Library in 2009 – preserve a detailed life history, the story of a life which (in his own words) would be ‘distinguished only by its ordinariness’, were it not for the virulent polio infection he contracted in 1959 at the age of 32.

For a man who had rarely been ill, the infection came as a shock. He recalls his doctor telling him he would need to spend a few days in hospital and remembers being carried from his home to an awaiting ambulance. Several weeks later he woke up, paralysed, eyelids sewn down, unable to talk or to breathe independently. He remained that way for several months. In the following extract, he describes the slow pace of his recovery:

Geoff Webb on being on a ventilator (C1383-01-02)

Download Geoff Webb on being on a ventilator (C1383-01-02) Transcript

Geoff remained on a mechanical ventilator for the rest of his life. You can hear the regular movement of the ventilator in the background of the audio and his speech remains controlled by its movements, so he delivers his reminiscences in the same four-words-at-a-time rhythm that he describes in the extract. In this way, the audio is a rich, dynamic record of polio-induced disability – it is not just what he says but how he says it that gives us an insight into his lived experience.

These reminiscences are a very real, very honest account of the realities of living with permanent disability, but – perhaps contrary to how Geoff himself perceived his reminiscences – they are more than just a technical record of symptoms, therapies, and physical and legislative challenges. They are also powerfully human. His account demonstrates one of the key strengths of the life history recording, displaying the moments of reflection that occur when people consider their experiences in the context of their whole lives. Here, he reflects on how for him finding humour in the everyday was the key to finding meaning in life:

Geoff Webb on humour (C1383-01-06 )

Download Geoff Webb on humour (C1383-01-06) Transcript

One of the chosen themes of UK Disability History Month 2021 is ‘Relationships and Sex’, which is a topic on which Geoff Webb reflects in his reminiscences. Throughout the six hours of his recordings, Geoff places a powerful emphasis on his various relationships – including many platonic relationships as well as romantic and sexual ones – exploring how those interactions were both defined by his disability and in turn shaped his identity as a disabled person.

He talks about his wife and negotiating his relationship with her as they both reckoned with a future that neither of them had anticipated, and his children, who were born before he contracted polio. He discusses his parents, his friends and his carers and the roles each of these people played – or ceased to play – in his life before, during and after his hospitalisation. He describes the people he met through his disability activism, which involved rallies, petitions, visits to Westminster, and writing articles and contributions to the publication The Responaut, a magazine for people dependent on mechanical breathing aids. He also references the women who enabled him to have fulfilling sexual encounters following the dissolution of his marriage.

And then there is Annie. The following extract concludes his reminiscences and needs very little commentary: it is an emotive description of love, companionship and the power of human connection.

Geoff Webb on meeting Annie (C1383-01-06)

Download Geoff Webb on meeting Annie (C1383-01-06) Transcript

Reflection from British Library staff Disability Support Network member:

DSN member Barbara, provide us with her thoughts that were provoked by Geoff’s story and hearing him speak about his life with Polio:

Geoff astonishes me. Not his circumstance, but him. The charisma, the insightfulness. No wonder Annie fell for him. She didn’t stand a chance.
Listening to Geoff speak made memories form (or misinform) thanks to Hollywood - the iron lung, the plucky cripple. Outside my local chippy, a plaster statue of a sad eyed boy in callipers, holding aloft his collecting box. The prophylactic sugar cube.

Contemporary parallels: Post-polio syndrome, often presenting years later; symptoms such as fatigue, joint pain, brain fog. The eradication of polio in richer countries by the 1960s, yet it still ripped through poorer regions two decades later and can, even today, be found in small pockets. All this despite the availability of a cheap, easily administered vaccine. Sound familiar?

Analogies between polio and the Cold War. There are allusions to fighting the 'unseen enemy', the 'enemy within'. Who’s the Knight in the shining wheelchair? Why it’s a polio-paralysed Roosevelt, leading the free world, indomitable, in the face of all evil, Nazi, Soviet, viral.

FDR’s prominence, the frustrations of injured veterans and a population recently touched by epidemic seem to have coalesced opinion and change, albeit slow. No coincidence, I think, that the Design for All and the Disability Rights movements gained momentum at this time

Most of all, I am haunted by Geoff and his miracle drug, redemptive love. He refers to Annie as the 'bomb-shell' arriving (more conflict metaphors). I chuckled. I cried. I imagined a sexy Shirley Eaton á la Carry on Nurse sashaying into his life. His words 'From that day onwards, it was no longer Geoffrey, the independent cripple, but it was to be Annie and Geoffrey and their exploits, inseparable from one another'.

Barbara

Find out more

You can listen to Geoff Webb’s full recording on the British Library Sounds website where a full transcript of the recording is also available. Geoff Webb’s recording forms part of our ‘Disability Voices’ collection, which contains a selection of interviews on a range of disabilities and disabled people’s experiences, all of which are accessible for remote listening via the internet on British Library Sounds. For more information on the wide range of disability oral history collections at the British Library, consult our oral histories of disability and personal and mental health collection guide.

08 December 2021

Documenting Bengali music in Britain

Written by Val Harding and Julie Begum from the Swadhinata Trust ahead of their British Library event 'Songs of Freedom: Celebrating Fifty Years of Bangladesh' on 16 December 2021.

In 2016 we set up an oral history project at the Swadhinata Trust aiming to document multi-generational experiences of Bengali music in Britain. The Swadhinata Trust is based in East London and is a secular group that works to promote Bengali history and heritage amongst young people. To date we have collected 30 interviews and various musical recordings that are now available to listen to in British Library Reading Rooms as the 'Bengali music and musicians in the UK Collection' (BL REF C1796).

Swadhinata Trust OrganisationBengali Women and children at Shahid Minar at Altab Ali Park in Tower Hamlets, London, for a trans-national commemoration event © Swadhinata Trust

There has been a South Asian presence in Britain for over 400 years, and music has inevitably played a part in this presence. In the first half of the 20th century lascars and seamen from the north east of India who worked for British owned ships and the Merchant Navy began to settle in London’s East End, the Midlands and Northern cities. The Bangladeshi community of today grew from these roots.

In 1971 the nation of Bangladesh was born after a war of liberation from the rule of West Pakistan, and this year, 2021, marks the 50th anniversary of independence. The suppression of Bengali language and culture by West Pakistan was a key trigger in the liberation struggle. The celebration of Bengali language and culture is thus an essential and prominent aspect of Bengali identity in the UK today.

In his interview from our 'Bengali Music and Musicians in the UK' collection, Mahmudur Rahman Benu tells the story of the troupe of artists he led singing liberation songs in 1971. Like many of the interviews in this collection, it is in English and Bengali language and includes many musical demonstrations.

The history of 1971 is again reflected in an interview with singer and songwriter Moushumi Bhowmik who wrote the well known song 'Jessore Road' - inspired by Allen Ginsberg’s 1971 poem 'September on Jessore Road'. Other stories from 1971 come from two sisters, Yasmin Rahman and Rumana Khair, whose parents were activists in London during 1971.  Yasmin and Rumana sang as children at meetings and rallies supporting the war effort. They describe their experience in this excerpt from an interview:

excerpt of interview with Yasmin Rahman and Rumana Khair [BL REF C1796/15]

Download Transcript

From the mid-1950s through to the 1970s Bengali migrants to the UK faced many barriers. The late 1970s saw the emergence of community activism to fight racism, and with it, a gradual emergence of music that hitherto had been kept hidden behind closed doors. In her interview, Julie Begum explains how her experience of music started when she was a teenager in London, living in Tower Hamlets in the late 80s and early 90s. She describes how her and her Bengali friends were part of the community around the 'Asian underground sound', going to raves in warehouses where artists such as brothers Farook and Haroon Shamsher began to DJ as 'Joi'.

Since then, there has been a prolific growth of music making. Our interviews document migration and musical development in the UK, annual cultural events such as the Boishaki Mela (Spring Festival), music history from Bangladesh and West Bengal, theatre, and the music of the younger generations in the UK and in Bangladesh itself.

These areas are illustrated across various interviews in the collection. An interview with Mukul Ahmed, director of the theatre group Mukul and the Ghetto Tigers, demonstrates the integration of Bengali music and song into theatre. Present-day interest and innovation from the younger generation is illustrated in the interview with a ten-year-old performer, Anvita Gupta. The sound artist Abdul Shohid Jalil talks about his composition of Bengali inspired electronic music. The history of music in Bengal itself is also reflected in the interview with sarod player Somjit Dasgupta.

Bengali music is a broad term that encompasses musical practices in both Bangladesh and West Bengal in India. Before partition in 1947 this was one region, Bengal, sharing the same language, culture and music. The music of this region includes classical, folk and modern traditions, and notable composers of songs such as Rabindranath Tagore and Kobi Nazrul Islam. Our interviews include those who learn and perform these genres, and even present-day songwriters and composers, and the younger generation who are producing a fusion of music that reflects their Bengali and British backgrounds.

Our aim is to document music in the community and the culture that surrounds music. Our interviews are with community members and community music schools. The more professional and well-known musicians that we have interviewed are musicians working with the community, running classes and teaching, and involved in everyday community music making, such as Himangshu Goswami, Mahmudur Rahman Benubhai, tabla player Yousuf Ali Khan, singer Alaur Rahman, and teachers at the Udichi School of Performing Arts. Some of our interviewees are also people from other South Asian and non-Bengali backgrounds who participate and enjoy Bengali music.

Amongst those interviewed who migrated to this country, either as children or adults, there is often an expression of the hardship of psychological adjustment to living in the UK. For some who were practicing musicians or students of music back in Bangladesh and or India there was a period of time on arrival here when they could not find their voice and found themselves unable to express themselves through singing or music in the way they did back home. The process of overcoming this has been gradual, and only achieved through the encouragement of friends and family. These processes are succinctly expressed in interviews with Alaur Rahman, Moushumi Bhowmik and Nadia Wahhab.

We hope you will enjoy the interviews in the 'Bengali Music and Musicians in the UK' collection both at the British Library and also at the Swadhinata Trust. Please get in touch as we are always happy to hear from you regarding any aspect of our project.

Follow @BL_WorldTrad@BLSoundHeritage, and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

25 November 2021

Gerry and Paula discuss Paula’s severe social anxiety

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 curator 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 Dr Madeline White, Oral History Curator.


A photograph of an in focus coffee cup with two people out of focus in a conversation behind itCourtesy of Matt @ PEK/Wikimedia

At the British Library Sound Archive the oral history collections contain many interviews with people with disabilities, talking in their own words about their lives in full including – but not restricted to – their experiences of living as a person with an impairment. Our collection guide on oral histories of disability and personal and mental health showcases some of these collections – and we’re adding new collections in 2021, such as Whizz-Kidz’s ‘30 years, 30 stories’ oral history project.

Despite these efforts, some stories remain hidden. As people with disabilities exist in all spheres of life, their experiences and stories can be – and are – detailed in collections besides those which are explicitly labelled as ‘disability collections’. These stories are not always easy to find. The words we use to write text summaries to help make an audio recording more searchable are not always the same words that the user of the archive will search for in our catalogue. This is particularly true of the word ‘disability’, which may not have been used in the same way by interviewees and cataloguers several decades ago. It is also possible that an interviewee discusses a health condition or an impairment without specifically identifying themselves as ‘disabled’.

As I searched for these stories I reflected on one of the themes of UK Disability History Month 2021, ‘Hidden Impairments’. My challenge was to uncover stories of disability that have been twice hidden – once in the social sense of stories that often go unnoticed or untold due to the hidden nature of many disabilities; and again where the description and words in the catalogue might make them difficult to find.

The story I highlight here is of one woman’s experience of severe social anxiety, as told in conversation with her husband. Paula and Gerry recorded a 45-minute conversation on the subject of Paula’s impairment as part of The Listening Project, an audio archive of personal conversations recorded and broadcast by BBC radio and archived at The British Library. The project seeks to preserve intimate conversations between two people on a subject of their choosing, with a view to building a collective picture of the lives and relationships of people in Britain today. This methodology lends itself to very open and honest storytelling. It is unclear if Paula has ever identified herself as disabled, but her conversation with her husband is a powerful account of the impact of a hidden impairment on them both, as individuals and as a couple.

In this first extract, they describe how Paula’s anxiety manifested as constant stress, before during and after a social situation:

On negotiating social situations (C1500/719)

Download On negotiating social situations (C1500-719) Transcript

The whole recording charts the development of their relationship from the early days of their dating, through their wedding, to the present day, and the role that Paula’s anxiety – and eventually her attempts to overcome it – played in that development. Here, Gerry talks about how the extent of Paula’s anxiety wasn’t obvious to him in the early days of their relationship and the process by which he gradually came to understand the severity of Paula’s anxiety:

Explaining social anxiety (C1500/719)

Download Explaining social anxiety (C1500-719) Transcript

What is particularly moving about the one-to-one conversational style of The Listening Project recordings in comparison with more traditional, interviewer-interviewee style oral history interviews is the insight it offers into a situation or experience from two different perspectives. Some of the most touching moments of Paula and Gerry’s recording occur when Paula offers Gerry the opportunity to reflect on her condition from his perspective, as she does in the following extract when she invites him to talk about how he felt about their wedding, which was a particularly low-key affair to accommodate Paula’s anxieties:

How anxiety shaped their wedding (C1500/719)

Download How anxiety shaped their wedding (C1500-719)

Far from what Paula anticipated when she asked the question, they conclude that as much as there were moments of a traditional wedding that they’d missed, there were many ways in which Paula’s anxiety had enabled them to have the occasion that suited them both.

At the time of recording Paula had largely overcome her anxiety, having embarked in 2012 on a challenge to learn every sport at the Commonwealth Games in an effort to confront her own anxiety. Her conversation with her husband is nonetheless a valuable record of the experience of living with a hidden impairment, as well as a reflection on the social perceptions of invisible conditions and a challenge to negative perceptions of disability.

Reflection from British Library staff Disability Support Network member:

Paula’s story really resonates with me, as someone who has depression and anxiety, social situations can be a real trigger for me. When people experience poor mental health, it is very much a hidden, or invisible disability, and therefore makes it harder to talk about with other people, either to explain it or to seek help. I feel that sharing first-hand accounts like Paula’s is really important to raise awareness. Most disabilities and impairments people live with everyday are invisible to most other people, there are more invisible disabilities than there are visible ones.

Sarah

Find out more

You can listen to Gerry and Paula’s full recording on the British Library Sounds website. This recording is part of The Listening Project, a collaboration between the British Library and BBC local and national radio stations which has been capturing the nation in conversation since 2012. A selection of recordings made by The Listening Project is available for remote listening via the internet on British Library Sounds. For more information on the wide range of disability oral history collections at the British Library, consult our oral histories of disability and personal and mental health collection guide.

Sound and vision blog recent posts

Archives

Tags

Other British Library blogs