Sound and vision blog

409 posts categorized "Contemporary Britain"

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

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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

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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)

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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 )

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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]

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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.

18 November 2021

Introducing the Collections in Dialogue commission with Leeds Art Gallery and the British Library

Written by Jill McKnight, Artist-in-Residence. Jill McKnight’s commissioned work is on display at Leeds Art Gallery until 16 October 2022. Plan your visit on the Gallery’s website.

I am an artist based in Leeds working across sculpture, writing, installation, drawing and print and I’ve been selected as the artist in residency for Collections in Dialogue, a co-commission project by the British Library and Leeds Art Gallery. The project brief particularly interested me because it focused on cultural identity which is one of my central artistic concerns, particularly the representation of working-class people in Northern England and lesser-heard voices that would otherwise be lost or overlooked. This opportunity has been incredibly timely, enabling me to develop these interests through researching the Library’s and Leeds Art Gallery’s digitised collections. My research will culminate in an exhibition of new artwork at Leeds Art Gallery next year.

I am exploring specific areas of the two collections; World & Traditional Music and Accents and Dialects collections in the British Library’s sound archive and Works on Paper at Leeds Art Gallery. As both collections are vast – 6.5 million recordings in the sound archive, and over 10,000 works on paper – I established key themes to direct my research. As an artist working in the city, I chose to explore how people in the Leeds region have represented themselves and others in the two collections. Where there are gaps in representation in one collection, particularly of people traditionally underrepresented in the arts, I plan to bring them into conversation with representations in the other collection through my work.

Following meetings with British Library Curators Jonnie Robinson and Andrea Zarza and the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage team, I have been searching the Library’s Sound & Moving Image Catalogue to identify relevant recordings.

The Opie Collection of Children’s Games & Songs fascinates me because rhymes passed down by word of mouth tell collective stories about society. Rowland Kellet was a folklorist born in Leeds, who I learned about from this collection. Kellet collected children’s games, songs and jingles from across the UK, including variations of the same song in different parts of Leeds. Although many different versions of folk songs exist, each version is unique to the performer. These communal songs share a relationship with work songs and folk songs, which connect with Leeds’ industrial history.

Kellett comments on the timelessness of these songs in his interview with Iona Opie, saying, ‘There is no life, there’s no deaths of these songs. To me they are eternal. You can’t kill them because, because if you try to kill it you bring a different variant of it.’ I have been fortunate to view some of Kellet’s paper archives held at Leeds Central Library, and will be listening to folk songs performed by Kellet, recently catalogued as part of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project.

Leeds is a city that has thrived due to the diversity of its population. In recordings like 'Conversation in Leeds about accent, dialect and attitudes to language', part of BBC Voices, six interviewees from Moortown, Leeds, talk about their own accents, Yorkshire dialect and the Punjabi language – one interviewee recognises both regions as being rooted in common industrial identities, saying, ‘you could say they were twin cities basically, twin states Yorkshire and Punjab.’

In 'Leeds - Millennium Memory Bank' six teenagers from South Leeds talk about being proud of working-class, with one explaining, ‘Even when my dad gives me pocket money I don’t like it, because you know like I ending washing up for him or something, because I like earning money because then I know I’ve worked for it.’ This same work ethic in 1999 connects with lines from folk song The Maid’s Lament, performed by Mrs Johnstone and recorded in 1967, by Fred Hamer.

Excerpt of The Maid's Lament sung by Mrs Johnstone [BL REF C433/7]

At Leeds Art Gallery, I chose to focus on the works on paper collection due to its range – from sketches to finished compositions; watercolours to photography; large quantity and conservation considerations that have meant some works have never been on display.

Works of art on paper spread out across a wooden table.            Selection of works on paper that I viewed in person at Leeds Art Gallery © Jill McKnight

I met with Assistant Curator Laura Claveria to discuss key words and themes, including working-class culture, women, children and Leeds-related artists, from which Laura sent an initial longlist of relevant works from the collection. From this, I made a shortlist to view in person. It was fantastic to see the works up close, where intricacies and details conveying the hand of the artist often jump out more directly than in digital form.

Artist sitting at a wooden table consulting paper files and writing with pencil in notebook.                 Researching Edna Lumb’s artist file archive at Leeds Art Gallery © Jill McKnight

So far I have discovered a number of artists unknown to me, including Edna Lumb (1931-1992) and Effie Hummerston (1891-1982). Both artists were born and studied in Leeds and went on to capture some of the area’s male-dominated industrial landscapes in their paintings. Edna Lumb’s work achieved national recognition during her lifetime. This is reflected in the large amount of material in Lumb’s artist file. However, critics noted that it was the scientific community, rather than artistic, who more frequently celebrated the work due to its realist depiction of industrial technology.

Painting of Tingley Gas Works in the distant horizon above green fields.                Edna Lumb, Tingley Gas Works, oil on canvas, 1964. © Leeds Museums & Galleries.

Another fascinating part of the collection are works on paper by seven artists that were ideas for a mural scheme for Leeds Town Hall, a commission in 1920 led by Michael Sadler, which was also intended as a commemorative response to the First World War. Artists selected were local and national including Percy Hague Jowett, Jacob Kramer and Albert Rutherston. The mural designs took into account the architecture of the Town Hall, with features such as doorways represented by blank spaces. The majority of the works feature industrial or pastoral scenes of Leeds, including woollen mills, the canal and Kirkstall Abbey. Perhaps this is how the artists thought the people of Leeds would want their city represented, however the designs were heavily criticised and the murals were never realised, providing an insight into the politics of that time.

My first few weeks of research have unearthed an abundance of stories, which I am now responding to through initial sketches and writing of my own. This will further direct my ongoing research and inform my final proposal at the start of next year for the exhibition in spring.

Collections in Dialogue

Collections in Dialogue is a new artist co-commission project between Leeds Art Gallery and the British Library.

It is formed around the commissioning an artist based in the North of England to work with collections at both institutions as a catalyst to produce new work that creates a dialogue between them. Following a recruitment process, the commission was awarded to Jill McKnight in summer 2021. The work Jill creates will be exhibited at Leeds Art Gallery from March – October 2022 with some digital elements shown online.

Collections in Dialogue is part of the British Library’s growing culture programme in Leeds and the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage (UOSH) project.

28 October 2021

The Pinnacle Club: 100 years of women climbing and mountaineering

A 1921 photo of 8 women standing on a mountainThe first Pinnacle Club meet, Idwal Slabs, 1921. L-R: Emily (Pat) Kelly, Dorothy Evans, Mrs O Johnson, Harriet Turner, B Lella Michaelson, Cicely Rathbone, Constance Stanley, Blanche Eden-Smith. Credit: GS Bower

The Pinnacle Club is a national women’s climbing club founded 100 years ago, the inspiration of Emily (Pat) Kelly. Forty-three women supported its initiation, many of whom came together on 26 March 1921 at the Pen y Gwryd Hotel in North Wales to establish the Club ethos as follows: ‘The objectives of the Club are to foster the independent development of rock climbing amongst women, and to bring together those who are interested in these pursuits by organising Meets [sic] and other such means of communications as may from time to time be deemed advisable.’ (PC Handbook 1921 p2.) In 1989 the objectives were extended to include mountaineering.

Soon after its formation, and in keeping with its Welsh origins, the Club acquired Cwm Dyli, an old cottage in the heart of Snowdonia. Usually referred to as ‘the Hut', this was rapidly converted to accommodate groups and became the ‘home’ of the Club. In the 1980s the Club was able to buy the hut and then invested in modernising it.

A black and white photo of six women standing outside a Welsh cottageThe opening of the hut, including Evelyn Lowe, Mary Lear, Daloni Seth-Hughes, Jennet Seth-Hughes, Marjorie Wood, Penelope Seth-Hughes. Courtesy: Pinnacle Club.

Jean Drummond on finding the hut (C1876/24)

Download Jean Drummond on finding the hut (C1876-24) Transcript

To commemorate its centenary year, and with support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Pinnacle Club has recorded oral history interviews with 24 past and present members. These have all now been archived at the British Library and can be found by searching C1876 at the Sound and Moving Image Catalogue. The club has also digitised over 1500 images and several films related to its history, and extracts from these can be seen on the Pinnacle Club Centenary Website.

The oral histories were recorded over a period of eight months in 2020 between Covid-19 lockdowns. The recordings were conducted by seven members of the Pinnacle Club; in gardens, in well-ventilated rooms and, when face-to-face was not possible, remotely using Squadcast.

Participants include women who were among the climbing pioneers of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, as well as younger women who are active today. Their ages range from 96 (Gwen Moffat, C1876/23) to 26 (Milena von und zur Muhlen, C1876/04). The wider membership of the club was asked to suggest suitable women for inclusion in the project. As a result, the participants came from England, Scotland, Wales and Europe, from a variety of social backgrounds and with a wide range of experiences and mountaineering achievements. Together their stories illustrate the place of women in the outdoors and in so doing help redress the balance of a male narrative in the history of climbing.

The interviewers themselves, some of whom were also interviewees, although inexperienced in the processes of recording oral histories, were quickly committed to the task and felt privileged and honoured to be witness to the extraordinary stories they heard. Despite the challenges of the technical demands of equipment and technique, they were left with a real admiration for the women they interviewed and a strong belief that these stories deserve to be shared with a much wider audience.

When the Pinnacle Club was founded, climbing clubs of the day were mainly single sex. The first mountaineering club for women, The Ladies' Alpine Club was founded in London in 1907 and it merged with the Alpine Club in 1975. Only the Pinnacle Club and the Ladies Scottish Climbing Club, founded in 1908, remain women only clubs in the UK. In the early 1900s joining one of these clubs was the only way in which women could find like-minded female climbing partners and climb unhindered by the stereotypes of the day. Even in the 1940s and 50s, when the oldest of our interviewees started their climbing career, opportunities for, and expectations of, women were restricted. Many spoke in their oral histories of being frustrated by the limitations of girls’ education at the time, and low expectations of women’s athletic performance. Alongside higher education, travel and outdoor activity were seen to offer greater independence. Climbing was a very male dominated activity, but clubs like the Pinnacle Club allowed women to take on leadership roles.

A recurring theme throughout the oral history interviews is this experience of climbing with other women. Many members found this to be empowering and confidence building, and spoke about being encouraged and supported to climb at standards above and beyond their expectations. This seems particularly evident on international meets. It is no surprise that this led to the development of close bonds through shared, often life risking, experiences. The commitment, tolerance and trust required to be part of an effective climbing partnership can be a solid basis for friendship.

Stella Adams on joining the Pinnacle Club (C1876/21)

Download Stella Adams on joining the Pinnacle Club (C1876-21) Transcript

Although in the minority among the climbing community and in many cases their presence overlooked, women have contributed significant achievements in mountaineering and rock climbing around the world. A number of these achievements are recorded in the Pinnacle Club Journals (1924 – present), and they are now further documented in the oral history recordings.

Rhona Lampard on climbing Gasherbrum II (C1876/05)

Download Rhona Lampard on climbing Gasherbrum II (C1876-05) Transcript

Dorothy Pilley, a founding member of the Pinnacle Club and an outstanding climber of her time, said in her book Climbing Days that the formation of the club was 'a long conspiracy prompted by the feeling many of us shared, that a rock climbing club for women by women would give us a better chance of climbing independently of men, both as to leadership and general mountaineering.' For 100 years the Pinnacle Club has continued to thrive with these same objectives and now this history is preserved at the British Library. The oral histories provide an insight into the history of the Pinnacle Club, into the role of women in the development of climbing and mountaineering and into the ongoing need for a women-only space where climbers can gain the confidence and independence to continue the Club’s proud traditions.

Blog by Pinnacle Club Oral History Team

The oral history collection 'The Pinnacle Club: 100 years of women climbing and mountaineering' can be found by searching C1876 at the Sound and Moving Image Catalogue

22 October 2021

The wanderings of Blackbud: Preserving Blackbud’s Glastonbury demo

Written by Kirsten Newell, Data Protection & Rights Clearance Officer.

Last year, UOSH was lucky enough to interview the Subways  about their 2004 win at the Glastonbury Festival New Bands competition. You can read more about the history of the Emerging Talent Competition in this blog post on the collection, which marked the 50th anniversary of the 'Pilton Pop, Blues and Folk Festival', on 19 September 2020.

Now, a year later, and 17 years after their win, we have been able to put panellist Wes White’s questions to Joe Taylor, frontman of the joint 2004 ‘New Bands’ winner, Blackbud.

White sat on the jury to determine finalists for the Emerging Talent Competition from 2004 to 2007, having been heavily involved in the process through his mother, Hilary, who worked in the Festival Office. Recalling Blackbud, Wes held that the group had a ‘very different, languorous approach’ from the Subways, ‘with epic, mind-blowing jams’. While there was only one slot available on the ‘Other Stage’, Wes maintained that ‘Blackbud were an amazing band and some of our panel would cite them among their favourite ever bands to this day’.

Blackbud performing live outdoors in Glastonbury town

Above: Blackbud performing in Glastonbury town – image taken from CC images.

Wes White: Do you remember sending Blackbud’s demo into the competition?

Joe Taylor: No, since it would have been sent in by our manager Grant Newton at the time. He was Adam 's dad (Adam was the bassist), and looking back on it, he took the management very seriously and we were fortunate to have his support and efforts back then.

WW: As a Somerset band, had you been able to perform at Glastonbury before? Had all of you been in the audience in previous years?

JT: I know I was at Glastonbury Festival as a child, and although I don’t remember much, It does feel like a dream. Probably most of my time was spent in the children’s area because I remember trampolines and a helter skelter slide. I was also in the audience several times as a teenager, and also when we played, but I couldn’t say for sure which years. I remember some amazing moments most of which were off the main stages and in the more obscure places. I remember Amy Winehouse and Bonnie Raitt on the Jazz world stage, seeing Brian Wilson, Aphex Twin at the Glade, I remember being there in the mud, and one year feeling big relief that I didn’t go when there happened to be a huge storm!

Listen to Blackbud’s ‘Wandering Song’

[British Library ref. C1238/4548 BD3]

WW: What do you remember about the night of the competition finals, at Pilton Working Men’s Club? Did it seem special then, or was it just another gig at the time?

JT: In that time, I think we were gigging a lot and beginning to travel further away from our home base, so I seem to remember it was nice to play somewhere fairly local. I also remember a bit of tension, there being other bands that we had to directly compete against but also feeling confident that we were just going to play a very short set, and have the most fun possible. Perhaps by coincidence, Jeff Buckley was playing as a background music before we went up on stage. I think it added to the meaning of the performance for me as I was really inspired by his music at the time.

WW: Some of the contest’s winners and finalists have only ever played Glastonbury once - but Blackbud went on to numerous bookings at the Festival in the following years. Do you have a favourite memory from among those performances?

JT: The most memorable must have been the actual ‘Other Stage’ performance that was cancelled due to a sudden downpour, and we decided to play an acoustic set down by the side of the stage for the few fans that were waiting in the rain for us to come out! We just started jamming on acoustic in the rain and people gathered around, I remember the feeling of just enjoying that moment so much even though we didn’t get to play on the actual stage…

WW: Is there anything you would change?

JT: Not sure… change something in the past? I suppose there have been moments I would have liked to change, or be somewhere else, but actually everything that happens makes us who we are today and I wouldn’t want to change anything.

WW: In the wake of the competition, there was a great deal of record company interest in the band. Did it seem that Glastonbury and the competition success helped in bringing the band to the labels’ attention?

JT: Yes probably... it was a combination of things that got labels interested, firstly we were dedicated musicians, and really enjoyed playing together, and we were investing our time and energy into the band, working really hard developing our sound, gigging in pubs and clubs, small fairs and all kinds of places, while writing material and rehearsing, recording home demos and building a fanbase, so there may have been some interest already happening, but I think the Glastonbury Festival competition was a catalyst in terms of attracting industry people to the band and what happened was that several labels were trying to develop a relationship and sign us which was an incredible situation.

Listen to Blackbud’s ‘158’

[British Library ref. C1238/4548 BD1]

WW: Blackbud announced an ‘indefinite hiatus’ in 2009. What are you up to musically now, and are you still in touch with the other group members, Adam and Sam?

JT: The thing with Blackbud during our time signed to Independiente, was that the whole industry was rapidly changing (and still is) and we happened to be one of the last bands to get a major development deal. It was an amazing experience, and it came to a natural end as the sale of music also declined. The important thing for me is that I was always a student of music, and kind of in love with the guitar. So when the opportunity came to take some time off from Blackbud, I began to explore and grow in different ways, leading to 4 years living and studying flamenco in Seville. I composed and produced for my wife (singer Mor Karbasi), and we travelled all over the world with this project which we built together, playing with many great musicians along the way. Now I am based in Israel, working in the Jerusalem East West orchestra and a flamenco guitarist, and doing sessions with many groups as a freelance musician. I have a home studio where I record and produce, and I release the music I make as a solo artist, under my own name. I have been in touch with Sam and Adam in the last years, and it was always really great. Even though we live different parts of the world, we would still have a connection if we were to jam together. Sam played with some well-known artists as a session drummer and now works at Amnesty International, which is really admirable, and Adam also plays with artists in the Bristol area and recently became a father, which is something I can relate to!

WW: The band is still fondly remembered by passionate fans. Is there any sign of an end to that hiatus on the horizon?

JT: Haha...I suppose the last question hints to this answer. We live in different parts of the world. To be honest I would love to do a reunion and have suggested it to Adam and Sam when I had plans to come back to the UK but it didn’t happen yet. I hope my solo music also appeals to those fans and satisfies their curiosity in the meantime.

WW: How do you feel about that early demo being archived in the British Library?

JT: I feel it’s a real honour!

Many thanks to Wes for giving his questions, and to Joe for agreeing to be interviewed. Blackbud’s demo will be available to stream next year on UOSH’s upcoming website.

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