THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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78 posts categorized "Interviews"

19 November 2018

Recording of the week: Sheila Girling describes fellow painter, Helen Frankenthaler

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

To celebrate the launch of Voices of art we're listening to artist Sheila Girling's (1924-2015) description of fellow painter, Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011). 

Helen Frankenthaler was an American abstract expressionist artist. Girling gives a detailed illustration of Frankenthaler's gestural and 'spontaneous' painting style. She mentions that Frankenthaler was one of 'Clem's' protegées. This was Clement Greenberg, the influential and at times contentious American art critic.

Sheila Girling was a painter and collagist known for her large abstract paintings and her sensitive use of colour. Born in Birmingham, she lived in Vermont for a short time with her family while her husband, the sculptor Anthony Caro, taught at Bennington College. The couple returned there many times. At Bennington, Girling and Caro were part of a close circle of artists who were experimenting with new artistic techniques. These included Kenneth Noland, Helen Frankenthaler and Jules Olitski.

Sheila Girling on Helen Frankenthaler (C466/296)

539_sheila_with_scrfSheila Girling. Courtesy Barford Sculptures Limited

This clip features on the Voices of art website. Voices of art is a new British Library resource that explores the art world behind the scenes through life story recordings with artists, curators and writers. Extracts from oral history recordings accompany a series of essays by writers who have been immersed in the art world of the 20th and 21st centuries. To hear more from Sheila Girling, see Hester Westley's article Coaching from the side lines: Sheila Girling and Anthony Caro.

Voices of art is supported by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.

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

15 October 2018

Recording of the week: Montserrat Volcano Observatory

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This week's selection comes from Emme Ledgerwood, Collaborative Doctoral Award student with the British Library's Oral History department and Leicester University.

“I think great science comes from this natural curiosity”

This recording for #EarthScienceWeek comes from Stephen Sparks, a volcanologist who describes how the Montserrat Volcano Observatory advised the government of Monserrat during the eruption of the island’s volcano in 1995. In this clip he reflects on the relationship between science, policy and decision-making, and the value of curiosity-driven science when providing scientific advice.

Stephen Sparks: the social benefits of volcanography (C1379/89) 

021I-C1379X0089XX-0003A1

This clip is featured on the Voices of Science website. The website draws clips from the National Life Stories Oral History of British Science project which includes over 100 life story interviews with scientists and engineers.

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

10 September 2018

Recording of the week: 'English atheist'

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This week's selection comes from Dr Paul Merchant, Oral History Interviewer.

Nearly twenty years ago, on the 4th of March 1999, an interviewer working for BBC Radio Thames Valley’s contribution to the enormous BBC Millennium Oral History Project – ‘The Century Speaks’ – visited a local school to interview an 11 year-old girl. She was one of the youngest interviewees among a UK ‘sample’ of over 5000. The opening question produced a response which clearly surprised the interviewer:

English atheist (C900/17576)

Interviewer: How would you describe your identity? By that I mean your national identity.

Interviewee: English. English atheist.

Interviewer: Ah. [...] You’ve said atheist very quickly; tell me about that.

Interviewee: Erm, I just like, I didn’t want to be any particular religion but I didn’t want like committing- commit myself into saying I didn’t believe there was anything there, so I decided to be an atheist.

Interviewer: So you…

Interviewee: Because being an atheist means you believe that there’s someone- something around or up there, but you don’t know what it is. And you don’t think it’s really God, but you don’t know.

Interviewer: Oh right, and do you, do you- what do your parents believe?

Interviewee: They’re the same, they’re atheists.

Interviewer: Do you think that you’re an atheist perhaps because they are?

Interviewee: Yeah, just been influenced by them, so...

Interviewer: Yes? Is that it, do you think?

Interviewee: Yeah.

Interviewer: Are any of your brothers believers?

Interviewee: No. They’re all atheists like us.

Interviewer: And do you feel that being an atheist actually is a sort of definition – it really does define you as something; it’s like a religion of a sort?

Interviewee: Yeah. It’s like on its own.

Interviewer: Tell me a bit more about it, how it defines you, being an atheist.

Interviewee: It’s just like: you don’t need to commit yourself into anything; you can just like say you’re an atheist when people ask you what religion you are. And then they don’t ask anymore. So that’s it really. [laughs] [C900/17576, 00:15-2:00]

The clip is engaging not just because the interviewee is charmingly open and positive. It is also because it seems to wake us up from a strange dream in which the only people who talk about atheism are rather senior, male intellectuals of one sort or another. Here, an eleven year-old girl speaks of a form of atheism that:

• is related to religion but not through opposition to it: “you can just like say you’re an atheist when people ask you what religion you are”
• is chosen (“I decided to be an atheist”) but happily acknowledged as the outcome of context – her position in a family of atheists (“yeah, just been influenced by them”)
• is regarded as a substantial position (“its like on its own”) without being claimed as superior to any other
• involves a denial of the existence of ‘God’ (“you don’t think it’s really God”) without in any way placing limits on what existence itself might consist of (“you believe that there’s someone- something around or up there”)

PM recording of the week image The Century Speaks leaflet part cover

The British Library holds all of ‘The Century Speaks’ interviews in a collection called ‘Millennium Memory Bank’ [MMB]. I found the interview with this young “English atheist” as part of a project – a new collaboration with the major Understanding Unbelief project at the University of Kent – exploring the nature of religious ‘unbelief’ in MMB and other oral history collections at the British Library. What will I uncover next?

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

08 August 2018

Actors and directors: the Anwar Brett collection

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Anwar Brett (1966-2013) was a freelance film critic and the author of the book Dorset in Film (Dorset Books, 2011). For around 25 years, from his early 20s onward, he wrote for a broad range of different national and regional newspapers and magazines.  He also contributed to The International Directory of Film & Filmmakers and the 1995 edition of Children’s Britannica.

It is clear he was passionately interested in film and also devoted to his home county of Dorset (he lived in Wimborne). His other interests included boxing and football.

Anwar-Brett

Anwar Brett's wife Tracey donated his massive archive of tapes of interviews and press conferences to the British Library in 2016. The collection numbers approximately 1500 tape cassettes, covering the period 1989-2006; and approximately 900 CD-Rs, covering 2007-2013. This unique set of recordings features film actors and directors, mainly in a press conference setting but also sometimes in more informal settings - on-set or in telephone conversations (a 2001 telephone interview with Rita Tushingham is almost wholly concerned with the fortunes of Liverpool Football Club!). 

Speakers include major international and British stars such as Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Russell Crowe, Johnny Depp, Whoopi Goldberg, Samuel L. Jackson and Helen Mirren; and directors Kathryn Bigelow, Beeban Kidron, Spike Lee, Mike Leigh, Barbet Schroeder, Martin Scorsese and Wim Wenders -  to give a more-or-less random sample from this hugely varied collection.

The tapes are currently being catalogued by my colleague Trevor Hoskins. Trevor is about a quarter of the way through at the moment but it will be a long while yet before the end is in sight.

To follow progress and to see the tapes catalogued so far please go to our Sound and Moving Image catalogue and type in 'Anwar Brett tapes'. All are available to listen to on request via our free Listening and Viewing Service. You will need a British Library Reader Pass though.

Anwar-Brett-cassette

To whet your appetite, here is a short clip of the then 23-year-old Danny Dyer, recorded on-set by Anwar Brett in June 2001, during the filming of the The Mean Machine.

Please note that this recording was made outdoors on a windy day, with consequent very noticeable wind noise. Contains strong language.

Listen to Danny Dyer

With thanks to Trevor Hoskins and Nick Churchill.

25 June 2018

Recording of the week: "There was always the smell" - inter-generational memories of the steel industry

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This week's selection comes from Charlie Morgan, Oral History Archive & Administrative Assistant.

The last time I wrote a recording of the week post it was about the artist Michael Rothenstein’s memories of growing up in the Cotswolds (C466/02). For him, these were all mediated through sights and sounds. This week it’s another childhood memory but we’re heading north from Gloucestershire to Yorkshire, leaving rural life for industrial work, and swapping sounds for smells.

Frank Homer was interviewed by Alan Dein in 1992 as part of the Lives in Steel project. Frank grew up in Sheffield and spent his career in pre-privatisation British Steel. Like many, he followed his father into the industry, albeit against the desires of his parents. This recording specifically deals with how Frank remembers his father, how it seemed like he was always at work and how “you never got the chance to chat too much”. He says he has one memory but “it’s not visual”, it’s the smell of his father’s overalls in the house – “there was always the smell of the steel industry”. Decades on he describes how he can still smell that same smell.

Later on in the interview Frank tells us about another inter-generational relationship when he describes working in the same department as his son Michael. Frank says he now knows how his father felt, but at the same time he fears for the future and questions whether his children will be the last generation to work in the industry. Of course we now know he was right to be concerned; Sheffield currently produces more steel than any time in the past but the work is highly automated and only employs a fraction of what it once did.

Frank himself died in 2016 and we are left in the dark about whether Michael continued to work with steel. Likewise, we don’t have his memories of working with his father. What is it that sticks with him, what does he remember? Perhaps another smell? Well, that’s for a different interview.

Lives in steel cd front

Lives in Steel was a National Life Stories project that ran in the early 1990s and was the first national oral history of the British steel industry in the twentieth century. 88 life story interviews were recorded with interviewees from all levels of the industry including blastfurnacemen, rolling mill managers, fitters, crane drivers, stock takers, rollermen, melting shop managers, descaling inspectors and concast managers. You can access the full life story interview with Frank Homer online at British Library Sounds.

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

21 May 2018

Recording of the week: "We regret to inform you" - bad news from the sound archives

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This week's selection comes from David Govier, Oral History Archivist.

An Oral History of the Post Office includes memories of telegram delivery boys who delivered telegrams by hand with news of war casualties during the Second World War, and their reflections on what it was like delivering the bad news. Delivery boys were always told what the news was. They were instructed to ask if there was a man in the house first. They also had to wait at the door in case a reply was requested.

Roger Osborn (C1007/16) discusses the wording of war telegrams which would always start with the words “We regret to inform you…” A friend of Roger’s in Tring, Hertfordshire, ignored his instructions when delivering news of the killing of a woman’s husband. He noticed the woman out shopping and gave her the telegram. Her first reaction was to hit him over the head with her loaf of bread.

Des Callaghan (C1007/38) remembers delivering three telegrams in Nottingham to one home: one with the news that the son was missing, the second the incorrect news that he was dead, and the third that he was actually in a prisoner of war camp - and Des got a £1 note in return!

These extracts come from An Oral History of the Post Office, a collection of life story interviews with a sample of Royal Mail and Post Office staff in the UK conducted between 2001 and 2005. Interviewees include, of course, postmasters and postmistresses, postmen and postwomen but also those involved with postal sorting and transportation (by road, air and train); stamp design, printing and marketing (the story of the stamp); legal, purchasing and property departments. The collection also includes interviews with staff who worked in lesser-known departments such as the Post Office Rifles, the Post Office Film Unit and the Lost Letter Centre.

There is an emphasis within the collection on change within living memory from the 1930s to the 1990s: the separation of post from telecommunications, computerisation and automation, new management practices and the diversification of new services offered by Royal Mail and the Post Office.

A CD of extracts from the collection entitled “Speeding the Mail: an oral history of the post from the 1930s to the 1990s” was published by the British Library and the British Postal Museum and Archive in 2005, and over forty extracts are available online at British Library Sounds.

Speeding the Mail CD

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

23 April 2018

Recording of the week: a continual symphony of sound

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This week's selection comes from Charlie Morgan, Oral History Archive & Administrative Assistant.

Oral histories are often nostalgic; interviews tend to take place towards the end of an interviewees life and in many cases they are speaking about aspects of their life for the first time. In that respect Michael Rothenstein’s (C466/02) longing description of growing up in the Cotswolds is not unique. But the way he expresses the sights, sounds, and colours of his childhood, as well as the connections he makes to his artistic practice, make it particularly engrossing.

Michael Rothenstein was a printmaker, painter and art teacher whose work often incorporated aspects of nature and rural life – and it seems there’s a good reason for this. In this recording he speaks fondly of growing up in the Stroud Valley, describing it as a wild place with “a continual symphony of sound” where you could be almost deafened by “the birds, the sawing of the grasshoppers in the grass”. Not only is this a wonderfully vivid description, but for us who work in sound archives and are constantly advocating for the importance of sound it’s fantastic to hear someone frame their memories in this way. Still, Michael does talk about other senses too. Specifically he draws attention to the sites of nature and describes how in the summer “the air shivered with the cloud of butterflies… It was glittering, you cannot imagine how beautiful it was”.

1280px-Frampton_Mansell_St_Lukes_Church

Frampton Mansell, close to Stroud in the Cotswolds (Sourced from Wikipedia. Image credit: Saffron Blaze, via http://www.mackenzie.co

Interviewed in 1990 at the age of 82, Michael laments the pace of change during his lifetime. For him “the fields have lost their voice” and the butterflies have “vanished”. Yet if the butterflies have vanished they certainly live on in Michael’s work. Many of his paintings contain butterflies and this interview helps us to understand where the inspiration for this came from. To quote Michael’s friend Peter Muller “they have flown out of the Paradise of your infancy”. A beautiful phrase in a beautiful recording. If you think you’ve heard all there is to hear on childhood memories, think again and give this a listen.

This recording is from Michael Rothenstein’s interview in the Artists Lives collection. Artists Lives is an ongoing National Life Stories project to document the lives of individuals involved in British art, including painters, sculptors, curators, dealers and critics. This extract was published on the CD 'Artists' Lives' in 1998 and you can access the full life story interview online at British Library Sounds.

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

18 April 2018

Classical Podcast No. 1 - The first orchestral record made in Britain and the extraordinary story of Norfolk Megone, Nelson and Bonaparte

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By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

Cecil MarchBerliner E500 Cecil March recorded 18th August 1898

Welcome to the first of an occasional series of podcasts showcasing treasures from the classical collection of the British Library Sound Archive.

Part one of the podcast details the background to the first orchestral recording made in Britain in 1898 by the Hotel Cecil Orchestra. 

Part two  pieces together the extraordinary story of the orchestra's conductor, Norfolk Megone.  Below are images referenced in the conversation.

 
Cecil front page-page-001Front page of the Hotel Cecil magazine (BL collections) 

Cecil back page-page-001Back page of the Hotel Cecil magazine (BL collections)

Bertini manager blurb-page-001Introduction by G. P. Bertini, manager and dedicatee of the Cecil Two-Step (BL collections)

Sheet music title pageTitle page of sheet music (BL collections)

Will Bates Schubert SerenadeBerliner E5009 Serenade by Schubert played by Will E Bates recorded 16th August 1898

 
Megone Bridlington(Courtesy Marlborough Rare Books)

Devonshire Park(Courtesy Marlborough Rare Books)

For all the latest classical news follow @BL_Classical