THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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96 posts categorized "Interviews"

25 June 2019

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

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

A Select Committee of the House of Commons in session at Portcullis House, circa 2010-12

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

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

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

Michael Ryle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

24 June 2019

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

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

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

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

Photograph of Frank Land with his twin brotherFrank Land with his twin brother

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

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

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

10 June 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Claudia Roden on Middle Eastern cuisine (C821/47)

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

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

23 May 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

29 April 2019

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

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

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

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

Photograph of George Ewart Evans with his children in the school garden at Blaxhall, SuffolkGeorge Ewart Evans with his children in the school garden, Blaxhall, Suffolk

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

George Ewart Evans and the Barley Mow (T1416)

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

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

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

25 March 2019

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

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

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

Photograph of Peter Blake and Richard Smith while students at the Royal College of ArtPeter Blake and Richard Smith (right), as Royal College of Art students c. 1956. Robert Buhler, Courtesy Royal College of Art Archive. Image not licensed for reuse

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

Peter Blake on life drawing classes (C466/168)

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

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

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

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

25 February 2019

Recording of the week: rabbits and chickens by post!

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

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

Photograph of a Royal Mail postboxPostbox and gatepost, Wainsford Road, Pennington / Robin Somes / CC BY-SA 2.0

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

Seamus McSporran (C1007/09)

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

31 January 2019

Classical Podcast No. 3 Albert Coates

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Albert Coates circa 1920 on a boat with legs crossedAlbert Coates circa 1920 (Bain News Service, publisher [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

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

David Patmore, a retired lecturer from the University of Sheffield, shares his passion for conductor Albert Coates whose flamboyant style and super-charged performances from the 1920s and 1930s were captured in his copious recorded output.  We discuss his early years under Arthur Nikisch (1855-1922) and include some of his commercial recordings and supplement these with unique off-air material and an interview with his daughter Tamara.

Title page for score of On the Field of Kulikovo
Title page of Cantata by Yuri Shaporin (BL collections)

Albert Coates rehearsing in his undershirt
Coates rehearsing in his undershirt (BL collections)

The recording of Mark Reizen and the Glinka overture used with permission of Marston Records.

Previous Classical podcasts can be heard here.

For all the latest news follow @BL_Classical