THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

3 posts categorized "Law"

19 August 2019

Recording of the week: securing the right to read

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This week's selection comes from Josie Wales, Rights Clearance Officer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

Along with many other libraries around the world, the British Library celebrated LGBTQ+ Pride this summer, with staff from St Pancras and Boston Spa joining the parades in York and London.

This Recording of the Week takes us back to 1985, when Pride was a very different kind of event with a much stronger political tone. With around 10,000 people in attendance, the 1985 march was considered to be the biggest to date. In comparison, an estimated 1.5 million people gathered in central London to mark the annual parade this year.

This recording comes from a collection of brief street interviews conducted at the 1985 Pride March, through which we can gain an insight into the atmosphere of the event and the thoughts and preoccupations of those attending. A recurring concern were the raids and seizure of imported books by UK Customs and Excise, which most famously involved independent bookseller Gay’s the Word in Bloomsbury, but also affected other organisations that sold or distributed gay and lesbian reading material. More than one hundred imported titles were deemed ‘indecent or obscene’ under the 1876 Customs Consolidation Act, and confiscated.

Photograph of rows of books in a bookshopPhoto of neatly stacked books placed in front of a wall of bookshelves by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash. Click here to view image credit.

In this short clip, a marcher from the Gay Christian Movement, a charity founded in 1976, describes the impact  of this state censorship and the expensive legal battle against it, and shares their thoughts on our right as people in a free society to read and, most importantly, to choose what we read.

Securing the right to read (C456/121)

Both the Gay Christian Movement and Gay’s the Word faced charges of conspiring to import indecent material, but mounted successful opposition to these acts of repression with the strong support of both authors and publishers and the wider community of readers.

Technology has altered the way in which many of us engage with and access reading material, but the sense of community and solidarity that can be created through literature, particularly for LGBTQ+ and other marginalised populations, remains just as important. This theme will be explored over several events at the British Library in the upcoming season, including Banned Books Week in September, which examines censorship and other barriers to self-expression. More information and tickets can be found on our events page.

Discover more LGBTQ history at the British Library.

This recording belongs to the Hall Carpenter Oral History Archive, which has been digitised as part of the British Library's Unlocking our Sound Heritage project

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

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30 November 2016

Beneath the calm exterior: A glimpse into the world of the Crown Court clerk

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 Michael McKenzie QC, Clerk of the Central Criminal Court 1979-84.

Crown Court clerks are pivotal to administering trials of the most serious criminal offences such as burglary, rape, murder and terrorism. In-depth life history interviews with former Crown Court clerks have revealed how they dealt with listening to harrowing stories day after day. Interviewees spoke about the effort involved in trying to appear expressionless and impartial, as their job demanded, particularly when they may have been feeling incensed by what they were hearing in court, or holding back tears, or trying not to laugh and to keep a straight face. They described taking a verdict in a murder trial, their hearts pounding, palms sweating, absorbing the tension in the courtroom, and feeling nervous about taking the verdict correctly under pressure. Interviewees discussed the emotive moment the foreman of the jury has just announced the defendant has been found, “Guilty”, and then the court clerk waits until the shouts and wails from the public gallery have abated before they carry on, seemingly unphased and unflappable, in their measured and controlled ‘court voice’. They spoke about seeing photographs of murders and injuries that were so disturbing that they made the conscious decision that they would never look at court photos again; the horror of dealing with child abuse cases especially; having nightmares when they first began clerking; and recounting in vivid detail the cases that they said came back to haunt them. In the following clip, clerk of the Central Criminal Court between 1979-84, Michael McKenzie QC reflected on putting the charges to the notorious serial killer, Peter Sutcliffe, known as the Yorkshre Ripper.

Michael McKenzie reflects on putting the charges to the Yorkshire Ripper

The Crown Court clerk interviews were conducted by PhD student Dvora Liberman and will be publicly accessible towards the end of 2017. This collection was created as part of a collaborative research project between National Life Stories and the Legal Biography Project at the London School of Economics.

By Dvora Liberman

 

07 November 2016

Recording of the Week: Suffrage for Women

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This week's selection comes from John Berry, Technical Services Preservation Assistant.

The recording is poor; a cacophony of background noise, the content speech is quiet. In many respects the speaker, Christabel Pankhurst, is unpolished stuttering and stammering through the speech in a manner that we could not envisage in our highly managed and marketed world of western politicians. But this detracts nothing from the demands which are being made for enfranchisement of women to vote, which are clear, convincing and to the point. It is a highly illuminating glimpse into the justifications and strategies as well as the political aspirations of the women’s suffrage movement in the early 20th century.

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Suffrage poster depicting an issue of the periodical, The Suffragette, with a figure of a woman, "Justice," clad in armour, bearing a banner labeled W.S.P.U. (Schlesinger Library)

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