THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

18 posts categorized "Modern history"

22 June 2021

Windrush Day: Bristol’s Princess Campbell

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Today is Windrush Day, a day which honours the contributions and hardships of the British Caribbean community and those who travelled to the UK after the Second World War to help rebuild Britain and start a new life. To mark the day we have a guest blog from one of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage’s (UOSH) hub partners Bristol Archives, to tell the inspiring story of one of Bristol’s members of the Windrush generation, Princess Campbell.

Princess Campbell was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1939. As a young woman, she became one of the estimated half-a-million people from Commonwealth countries who answered the call for migrant workers in England. She came to Bristol in 1962, where she trained as a nurse and became the city’s first black ward sister.

In recent years, she became one of Bristol’s best-known members of the Windrush generation. Through the UOSH project, we can now hear about Princess’s life in England in her own words.

Photo of Princess Campbell

Pictured above: Princess Campbell in her nurse’s uniform (Bristol Archives, 44459/Ph/2/4).

In 2007, schoolchildren, involved in the ‘Easton and Us’ local heritage project, interviewed local residents to find out about their lives in Easton from the 1930s to the present day.

These oral histories, held at Bristol Archives, were recently made available for research through UOSH. Originally held on minicassettes, the recordings have been digitised so that we can once again hear the voices and experiences of the people who took part.

Princess Campbell was one of those interviewed and her story is compelling, from her experiences of racism to the many ways she fought against discrimination.

Keen to establish herself in a profession, Princess considered becoming a teacher before choosing to train as a nurse. Once qualified, she worked for years but encountered barriers when she sought to progress her career. She tells the children who interviewed her how hard black people have to work to prove themselves; in this clip, she talks about working hard to gain as many qualifications as she could.

Listen to Princess Campbell - clip one

Download Princess Campbell clip one transcript

Despite her skills in both general nursing and psychiatric nursing, Princess was passed over for promotion to ward sister. She describes how support from fellow staff helped her to overcome resistance to appointing a black woman and she was eventually appointed to this role.

Listen to Princess Campbell - clip two

Download Princess Campbell clip two transcript

Princess also talks about wider problems of discrimination for the growing black community. As she explains in this clip, she arrived in Bristol to find black people had little access to good jobs or decent homes. To solve the housing problem, she was involved in setting up a housing association to help both black and white people to find affordable accommodation.

Listen to Princess Campbell - clip three

Download Princess Campbell clip three transcript

Through her determination to bring about change, Princess was also involved in other movements. Soon after her arrival in England, she was involved in the Bristol bus boycott, a campaign against the local bus company’s refusal to employ black drivers and conductors.

The boycott was led by the activist Paul Stephenson but as Princess says, ‘I was one of the protestors - I can't help it... we would have our banners out there and protest peacefully and decently’. Ultimately, the bus company changed their policy and began to recruit black staff, although racism from other passengers was also a common experience.

Listen to Princess Campbell - clip four

Download Princess Campbell clip four transcript

Later on, Princess was also active in the aftermath of another high-profile protest. In April 1980, the St Paul’s riots in Bristol were a response to police treatment of young black people. Princess described attending Parliament to lobby MPs for improved facilities to young people, leading to the creation of a new youth centre.

Towards the end of her life, Princess’s achievements were recognised and celebrated. A few years after this interview was recorded, she received an OBE for services to the community. In Bristol, she was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Bristol and a nurses’ training centre was named after her at the University of the West of England. When she died in 2015, crowds lined the streets of Easton for her funeral procession.

This recording complements other material documenting the experiences of black people that can be found in the collections at Bristol Archives. Princess was a founder member of the Bristol Black Archives Partnership. Through this venture, people and organisations from Bristol’s African-Caribbean community - including people involved in the bus boycott - deposited records and personal papers with the archives. Available for research alongside these records, Princess’s interview adds a personal insight into the lives of people from the Windrush generation who made their home here.

Three logos - UOSH - Heritage Fund - Bristol Archives

This post was written by Allie Dillon from Bristol Archives.

Follow @BLSoundHeritage and @bristolarchives for more updates from the UOSH project teams.

08 November 2020

An interview with Major James Howe

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By Sarah Coggrave, Data Protection and Rights Clearance Officer, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Project.

In 1996, Les Back (Professor of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London), interviewed Major James Howe, MBE (1917- 2005), a musician and bandleader who led a dance band in a German POW (prisoner of war) camp during the Second World War.

Major Howe with his band in Berlin  1943

Above: Major Howe (centre, kneeling) with his band in Berlin, 1943. Used with permission from Alan Howe (photographer unknown).

The audio recording of this interview is  now part of the British Library collection, Oral history of Jazz in Britain. It has recently been cleared for online release as part of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project.

The interview brings to life a fascinating tale of creativity and survival against the odds. This blog post features selected excerpts.

James Howe in London  November 1943

Above: James Howe in London, November 1943. Used with permission from Alan Howe (photographer unknown).

James Howe was born in County Durham, UK on November 11, 1917 - exactly one year before Armistice Day. The son of a brass band conductor and miner, Howe grew up in a musical family. He and his brothers played in his father’s band, and his mother taught him the piano at the age of nine.

He left school at fifteen to become band boy in the Royal Scots Regiment. He was among the first UK soldiers to be sent abroad in 1939 when the Second World War broke out, and he served as a stretcher bearer in Belgium and then France. His duties were cut short in Le Paradis, Northern France when his regiment came under fire from German soldiers in May 1940. He was lucky to escape alive – many soldiers were killed or wounded here during the Battle of Le Paradis and the subsequent massacre.

Howe and his fellow captives were marched through France, Belgium and Holland to reach a prison camp in Lamsdorf (then in Germany but now in Poland), which is now known as Łambinowice. In the following excerpt from the interview he describes this harrowing journey.

James Howe describes his journey to Lamsdorf

Download A transcript of excerpt one

Camp life in Lamsdorf was initially very difficult for Howe and his fellow POWs. In the interview he talks about sleeping on straw, problems with lice and an insubstantial diet (a bowl of soup and five black potatoes per day). Salvation eventually came when the Red Cross started sending parcels to the camp. First food, and then materials for recreation, including books, sports equipment, and, miraculously, instruments. In this next interview excerpt Howe describes what a difference these deliveries made to camp life.

James Howe describes Red Cross deliveries to the camp

Download A transcript of excerpt two

Thanks to the arrival of instruments, and records to transcribe music from, Howe ended up conducting his very own dance band in the camp. This, and the evolution of camp entertainment, was a testament to the ingenuity of all concerned. In the camp were individuals with backgrounds in stage work, carpentry and music. They built their own camp theatre, created a ticketing system and had concert parties. Prisoners danced foxtrots and waltzes with one another, and found solace in music that reminded them of home.

In the next excerpt from the interview, Howe provides some insights into the mechanics of the camp entertainment system.

James Howe describes camp entertainment

Download A transcript of excerpt three

He also describes some touching moments of shared interests with the German guards at the camp, including one who invited him to his hut to listen to records. Another guard heard Howe playing the accordion, so brought his own violin so that the two could play together in his hut. According to Howe, the guard said:
'If Churchill and Hitler could see you and I now, there wouldn’t be any wars'.

Unusually, Howe’s POW band were even escorted to Berlin, Germany to play for fellow POWs at another camp, and in 1943, Howe, as a stretcher bearer and early arrival at the camp, was fortunate enough to be included in a repatriation agreement, which took him home to the UK via Sweden, with other similarly fortunate POWs. News of the POW band had travelled, and well-known UK band leader Billy Cotton helped to get them featured on BBC Radio.

In his interview, Howe remembers frantically telegraphing all his POW bandmates to reunite them in London for the performance. In 1944 he was sent back to France with his regiment, before finishing the war in Hamburg, Germany in 1945.

After returning home, Howe studied at the Royal Military School of Music in Twickenham, UK, and was appointed Bandmaster of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in 1949. His military band career took him all over the world, and as a band leader (later Director of Music of the Scots Guards) he travelled as far afield as the US, New Zealand, Australia and Hong Kong.

After his military career, Howe conducted the BBC Concert Orchestra, featuring on radio programmes such as Friday Night Is Music Night and Melodies For You.

Colour photo of James Howe

Above: James Howe, pictured towards the end of his life. Used with permission from Alan Howe.

Howe retired to Eastbourne, UK and channelled his musical talents into organ and conducting duties, as well as starting the massed band concerts at Croydon, UK in 1974, and organising POW reunion concerts. He continued to be actively involved with music until very late in his life (in the interview he demonstrates his skills on the cornet) and a plaque dedicated to his memory is installed at Eastbourne bandstand. After Howe passed away in 2005, his ashes were buried in the cemetery in Le Paradis, in accordance with his wishes.

02 October 2020

Banned in South Africa: Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

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It is hard to imagine a set of circumstances in which the possession of a vinyl record of a Christian minister would be illegal.

But this did happen, and not so long ago. The year was 1966; the country was South Africa; and the speaker was Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

King disc label

In July 1966, the disc pictured above was distributed to 1200 church and community leaders throughout South Africa. The South African Publications Control Board banned the record on 19 August that same year, with no reason given. A police spokesperson reportedly said that mere possession of the disc would be grounds for prosecution.

This was at a time when the minority white population dominated the majority black population through the system of ‘apartheid’. Apartheid was a policy of legalized racial segregation and discrimination that existed in South Africa for most of the second half of the twentieth century.

Two years before this incident, future president Nelson Mandela had been imprisoned: a 'life sentence' that was to last 27 years.

The disc features a speech by Dr King given in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, in October, 1964, at a meeting of the Episcopal Society for Cultural and Racial Unity. It included a call for US society and its churches to cleanse themselves of racism. It seems this was not a message the South African authorities wanted people to hear.

The records were pressed and distributed by the Rev. Dale White (an Anglican priest, and director of the Wilgespruit Christian Fellowship Center near Johannesburg) and Bode Wegerif (an executive in a Johannesburg publishing company).

The British Library only acquired a copy of this rare record in 2019, when it was kindly donated to the collection by Jannie Oosthuizen.

Jannie wrote at the time:

The LP record was in the record collection of my father, D.C.S. Oosthuizen. He died in 1969, but we remember the record as children, and played it from time to time.

We never noticed that it didn’t have Martin Luther King’s name on the label, and I had assumed incorrectly that it had been bought on sabbatical in the states in 1968.

But in finding it again recently and looking up the history, I realise that it must have been sent to him (as a South African church leader) when the record was first distributed in 1966.

A contemporary press release about the banning, with quotes from Dr King, is available to view on the web site of the African Activist Archive.

22 September 2020

Nuclear history: Triangulating sources and government secrecy.

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Joshua McMullan examines the ongoing security review of the ES and AB series at the National Archives in the context of oral history interviews recorded for 'An Oral History of the Electricity Supply Industry'.  

Photograph of Peter Vey at the Chernobyl nuclear power station complex in 1988Peter Vey at the Chernobyl nuclear power station complex in 1988, as part of an international delegation led by Lord Marshall. Courtesy of Peter Vey

On the 13th July 2018, senior civil servants from the Ministry of Defence requested that files pertaining to the UK nuclear programme, located within the ES and AB series at the National Archives, be ‘temporarily withdrawn’ from public viewing. The MOD stated this was necessary in order to conduct a security review of said files and, while reviews of this nature are common, the scale is not. As someone researching the UK’s civil nuclear programme’s public relations strategy, the review put a significant hurdle in the way of my work. However, by listening to oral history interviews held at the British Library and conducted with people who worked for the nuclear industry I have been able to continue my research. I have also been able to connect these interviews to other archival sources, including files at the National Archives I was able to access before they were closed off for review. From this work I suggest the government will find it difficult to make secret aspects of nuclear history that were, and are, public. 

In particular the interviews with former managing director of the Central Electricity Generating Board, Sir John Baker, and former head of public relations at the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority and then CEGB, Peter Vey, have added a lot to my research and my understanding of how the industry worked, both from an organisational and technical point of view. This includes John Baker’s remarks on storing nuclear waste; including the industry’s policy on storing low level nuclear waste, as well as discussions over where future waste disposal sites might be located. In Peter Vey’s interview we learn of how he arranged lunches between Chairman of the UKAEA Sir John Hill and journalists, as well as how the UKAEA believed the BBC held a bias against them. Due to his past work for the UKAEA, Vey’s insights show us what kind of information might be held within the AB files. 

John Baker on storing nuclear waste (C1495/14/07)

Download John Baker on storing nuclear waste transcript

Peter Vey on the BBC (C1495/51/07)

Download Peter Vey on the BBC transcript

We can further summarise this is the kind of information held in the AB files by looking at other archival records held at the National Archives, including PREM 19/3656 that details the UK response to the Chernobyl disaster. This file includes comments from former Deputy Chairman of the UKAEA, and at the time Chairman of the CEGB, Lord Walter Marshall, who wrote to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher advising her what to say and, crucially, what not to say regarding the design of UK nuclear plants. Lord Marshall’s advice was intended to avoid potentially awkward comparisons between the UK’s nuclear programme and that of the Soviet Union. We can also look at reviewed AB files such as AB 38/2164, which details the UKAEA’s public relations response to Chernobyl. In this file we can see the institutional mindset of the UKAEA, which had created a video claiming that an accident like Chernobyl, ‘could not happen here in the UK.’ Internal memos state that the video was not for the general public as it was ‘too technical’, and that an alternative video produced by the CEGB was more appropriate. Vey’s interview brings these documents together when he speaks of how the organisations that made up the industry collaborated to mitigate public concern over the dangers of nuclear power. We learn of how members of the industry viewed the public as well as which technical aspects of UK reactors they believed the public might be concerned with if the information became common knowledge. All of this is information I expected to find in the AB files.

Peter Vey on UK response to Chernobyl (C1495/51/11)

Download Peter Vey on UK response to Chernobyl transcript

By triangulating a variety of sources, including the oral histories held the British Library I have been able to continue with my research despite the ongoing security review of the AB files. However, the availability of so many other sources of evidence does raise an important conundrum for researchers and the government. Even with the MODs decision to retract what was once public information it will prove very difficult to remake the information into a secret when there are thousands of other sources available. Academics such as myself have been able to read and listen to a multitude of different people who know a multitude of different things and to distil it into our work. I am not the first to research the UK nuclear industry, and there are other researchers who are faced with this same hurdle. However, the real challenge is not for us who must navigate around this hurdle, but for the government. If they do decide to re-make swathes of information secret, they will face an impossible challenge of tracking down every source of recorded information in an attempt to close them off. This would include oral history interviews such as those with Sir John Baker and Peter Vey.

Joshua McMullan is an AHRC CDP PhD candidate at the University of Leicester and the National Archives looking at civil nuclear public relations in the 1970s and 1980s

Sir John Baker and Peter Vey were interviewed for the National Life Stories project 'An Oral History of the Electricity Supply Industry'. Their interviews can be listened to at BL Sounds. For more information on the UK response to the Chernobyl disaster see the blog 'Chernobyl: Perspectives from the British Nuclear Industry

20 November 2019

Hollywood Fights Back

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Written by Delaina Sepko, Sound Collections Researcher.

Hollywood Fights Back is a two part radio programme made and financed by the Committee for the First Amendment and broadcast on the American network ABC.

The episodes aired on 26 October 1947 and 2 November 1947 respectively.

The programme's content is spread across 6 shellac discs - also called 78s - which are automatically coupled for seamless broadcast playback.

This programme was made in reaction to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearings led by Representative J. Parnell Thomas of New Jersey into so-called subversive, Communist activities of private citizens, government officials and businesses.

In November 1946 Thomas took over HUAC, which had been running in various forms since the early 1930s, and he immediately took aim at Hollywood and what he considered a Communist influenced motion picture industry. He targeted actors, producers, screenwriters and directors for their suspected Communist beliefs and for supposedly spreading propaganda in their films.

In September 1947 Thomas summoned dozens of Hollywood actors and screenwriters before HUAC but only ten appeared for questioning. This group would become known as the Hollywood Ten. Thomas opened the hearings with an imposing line up of ‘friendly’ witnesses ready to name names and publicly out colleagues they thought might be guilty. In this case, guilty could simply mean suspected. For example, Walt Disney and Ronald Reagan - then President of the Screen Actors Guild - were both willing and generous when offering up names of suspected Communists and their sympathisers. Disney and Reagan merely mentioning colleagues or employee names during the hearings was enough to incriminate them. Despite these accusations and in the face of great pressure, the Hollywood Ten refused to answer any of the Committee's questions and citing the 5th Amendment to support their silence. Making an example of their insubordination, Thomas fined and sentenced the Hollywood Ten to jail for up to a year for their contempt of Congress.

Reacting to such a devastating blow dealt so close to home, Phillip Dune, Myrna Loy, John Huston and William Wyler formed the Committee for the First Amendment (CFA) in September 1947 and met for the first time in Ira Gershwin's living room. They were sympathetic to the Hollywood Ten's plight but they were also worried for their own careers. If the Hollywood Ten could be summoned before the HUAC and have their reputations and personal beliefs laid bare and publicly scrutinised, then so could Dune, Loy, Wyler or anyone else from the film industry. They described the CFA as a non-political group of stars, writers, producers, scientists, senators and men of letters.

Timed to coincide with the first episode’s broadcast, the CFA flew in two groups to Washington D.C. – one departing from Hollywood and the other from New York - to observe the hearings and to deliver a petition for redress of grievances to the US government, which is part of the First Amendment and a basic tenant of American democracy. In this case, the petition was a formal complaint made against the US government and under the Bill of Rights, any American citizen can lodge one. 

Marsha Hunt reads the CFA petition:

 Marsha Hunt (9CL0041856)

Redress petition coverRedress petition cover (Item 25466014, the National Archives, Washington, D.C.)

Accompanied by a PR campaign filled with photo shoots and interviews, this trip to Washington, D.C. was choreographed to make the most of the stars' high profile status, popularity and beloved public opinion and do so using as many mass media outlets as possible. This method ensured the CFA shared their message with as many Americans as possible, as many ways as possible. Hollywood Fights Back was one part of that campaign.

Hollywood Fights Back episode 1 disc labelHollywood Fights Back episode 1 disc label

The first episode served as an introduction to the HUAC, its hearings as well as the CFA and its objections to both. It was opened by Judy Garland and followed by Gene Kelly, who suggested that if Americans liked films made by those subpoenaed by HUAC, then they could be called subversive too. Kelly suggested the HUAC objected to and dismissed average Americans’ sensibilities and points of view.

Gene Kelly (9CL0041852)

The episode's contributors are quick to ask who is behind HUAC and what is its purpose? 

William Holden explained who spearheaded HUAC and should be held responsible for its members' actions.

William Holden (9CL0041854)

Its purpose, John Huston continues, was to propose legislation that counters subversive activities. By the time Hollywood Fights Back was broadcast, the HUAC had been in existence for nine years and in that time, it proposed only one piece of legislation that was eventually rejected by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional.

Hollywood Fights Back made a clear distinction between what it found unsavoury about HUAC investigations and what it considered unlawful. The CFA did not approve of the topics addressed at the hearings but their real objections were directed at the way the hearing were conducted. 

Myrna Loy (9CL0041854)

Lucille Ball, famous for her comedy routines and ability to make people laugh, was profoundly serious when she explained how she and her fellow CFA members thought HUAC was tarnishing the Bill of Rights. This document, fundamental to American democracy, and the civil liberties it granted to American citizens, she explained, was only one pillar of their democratic society and if that pillar were knocked over, then the rest could fall too. Ball was keen to make listeners understand that HUAC and the hearings threatened much more than the careers of Hollywood film stars.

Lucille Ball (9CL0041854)

And if Ball's comments fell on deaf ears, the CFA enlisted WW2 veteran Audie Murphy to help listeners appreciate the CFA's concerns. Murphy was the most decorated WW2 American veteran and was well known and well respected across America. Murphy explained how the HUAC was undoing all the hard work he and his fellow veterans did to win the war and protect democratic values and rights not just in the United States but across the globe.

Audie Murphy (9CL0041854)

Once so-called Communist propaganda was removed from Hollywood, who would the HUAC’s target next? How long would their hunt for allegedly subversive thoughts and activities continue? CFA members feared that other creative industries such as theatre and literature would come under the same devastating scrutiny. John Garfield explained some of the investigations already taking place into people working in these other fields.

John Garfield (9CL0041853)

As the episode concludes, Judy Garland makes another appearance and her pleas were aimed straight at the heart. She issued a call to arms inspired by duty and driven by fear of complacency.

Judy Garland (9CL0041852)

Hollywood Fights Back episode 2 disc labelHollywood Fights Back episode 2 disc label

The second episode focused on what the CFA considered HUAC civil liberty violations, a claim as dangerous for them to make as it was for those accused. If CFA members were not already under HUAC scrutiny, then they were aware they probably would be after their campaign. Simply mentioning sympathy for HUAC targets was enough to raise suspicion and potentially damage careers.

Danny Kaye voiced these concerns:

Danny Kaye (9CL0041856)

Nonetheless, the second episode addressed what CFA members believed was the heart of the matter: a committee acting with the government's blessing and devoted to rooting out un-American activities was conducting its affairs in an un-American way. Of course, the measure of 'American' was different for both sides and each would have argued their perspective was the true democratic one. CFA members were dedicated to the First Amendment, freedom of speech and the right to defend oneself against accusations; the HUAC was committed to identifying and stopping real or perceived ideas and individuals who they felt challenged and threatened democratic values and the historical status quo. Contributors to Hollywood Fights Back lambasted the HUAC again and again for treating witnesses as 'friendly' or 'unfriendly,' a practice they feared prejudiced public perception of the hearings and the people they targeted. HUAC did not, in the contributors' opinions, give the accused a fair chance to defend and protect themselves.

Using transcripts from their 27 October hearing visit, June Havoc, Groucho Marx and Keenan Wynn demonstrate the different approaches the HUAC took when questioning the two types of witnesses:

Havoc, Marx and Wynn (9CL0041856)

The HUAC offered one perspective - subversion and guilt - and in an attempt to balance the debate, Hollywood Fights Back offered alternative opinions. To accomplish that, the contributors read newspaper articles, editorials and public statements published around the country in which the authors questioned HUAC’s ethics or disagreed with its methods. These other voices in Hollywood Fights Back belong not just to film stars and other celebrities, although these high-profile figures were the ones that helped get peoples' attention, but also to average American citizens expressing their concern: if the HUAC’s reach extended to Hollywood, then it could certainly reach their home towns. How far would HUAC go, they asked?

Hollywood Fights Back set out to counter the HUAC and its sympathetic media presence and balance opinions about the ethical and legal nature of HUAC hearings. Yet its ultimate aim was higher. Contributors wanted the hearings abolished and buried so that they could never happen again. The episode concluded with another rally cry and encouraged listeners to consider what the HUAC was doing and to write and condemn its investigation.

Episode 1 contributors: Charles Boyer, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Lauren Bacall, Peter Lorre, John Huston, Danny Kaye, Marsha Hunt, Cornel Wilde, Richard Conte, Evelyn Keyes, Burt Lancaster, Paul Henreid, William Holden, Robert Ryan, Florence Eldridge, Myrna Loy, Robert Young, Lucille Ball, William Wyler, Fredric March, John Garfield, Deems Taylor, Artie Shaw, Elbert Thomas, Harley Kilgore, Archibald MacLeish, Claude Pepper, Glen Taylor, Vincent Price, Edward Robinson, Paulette Goddard, Audie Murphy, Humphrey Bogart, Van Heflin.

Episode 2 contributors: Fredric March, Myrna Loy, Douglas Fairbanks, Rita Hayworth, Florence Eldridge, Lauren Bacall, Burt Lancaster, Danny Kaye, Evelyn Keyes, Paul Henreid, June Havoc, Groucho Marx, Keenan Wynn, Humphrey Bogart, John Huston, Marsha Hunt, Hurd Hatfield, Peter Lorre, Burt Ives, Geraldine Brooks, Jane Wyatt, Vanessa Brown, Arthur Webb, Gene Kelly, George Kaufman, Moss Hart, Richard Rodgers, Leonard Bernstein, Thomas Mann, Dana Andrews, Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire, Richard Conte.

N.B. Most contemporary references to Episode 1’s broadcast date list it as 27 October 1947. The disc label for that episode and several newspaper articles from that time show that it was, in fact, 26 October.

Hollywood Fights Back episode announcement in The Evening Star, 25 Oct 1947Hollywood Fights Back episode announcement in The Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 25 Oct. 1947 (taken from Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress)

The British Library Sound Archive has physical copies of both episodes:

Episode 1 - 9CL0041852, 9CL0041853, 9CL0041854

Episode 2 - 9CL0041855, 9CL0041856, 9CL0041857

They are also digitally available for on-site listening.

Follow @delainasepko, @BLSoundHeritage and @soundarchive for all the latest news about our sound collections.

24 October 2019

Private Montford's army record

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Those of you who visited last year's British Library exhibition 'Listen: 140 Years of Recorded Sound' will remember a small display of one-of-a-kind voice-recording discs originally made by the public in coin-operated automatic booths.

Among these was a single 'Voices of the Forces' disc, loaned to us, like the other discs in this section, by the broadcaster Alan Dein.

The 'Voices of the Forces' scheme, which was inaugurated in April 1945, enabled members of the Forces to send messages home to their families. Each recording cost one shilling and ninepence, and the sender spoke into a microphone resembling a hand telephone, while the record was cut at a NAAFI (Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes) club by a Sergeant recordist. The discs were 5" (12.5 cm) in diameter and played at 78 rpm, so were quite limited in duration.

Voices of the Forces disc
Until this year, the Library had no good examples of these discs (although there must still be many out there in private hands) so we were delighted to be contacted by Piran Montford, who offered as a donation an original 1945 disc featuring his father Adrian Raphael Montford (aka 'Monty'), complete with its original mailing envelope. Although the disc was damaged, our head audio engineer Robert Cowlin was able to digitize and restore the recording.

Adrian Montford, now aged 96, had not heard the recording since he was a young man. He didn’t remember the contents, but suspected he still retained a strong Australian accent (he was born in London, but raised in Melbourne, Australia, before he returned with his family to live in Sutton in 1938).

The disc was recorded in either North Africa or Palestine in September 1945 and was posted home to his mother in Sutton.

Voices of the Forces disc envelope
The son of the sculptor Paul Raphael Montford, Adrian studied at Sutton Art School and then entered the Royal Academy, London, to study painting, and later sculpture

After the war broke out, Adrian joined the Home Guard in Sutton. He was called up on his 18th birthday, and served the entire war as a Private in the East Surrey Regiment.

Adrian was injured by a mine in the first battle of Monte Cassino in 1944, and developed gas gangrene. He had penicillin injected directly into his leg, a very early use of the medicine. In an Evening Argus interview from 17 September 2006, Adrian described his war experiences as '...traumatic, but all wars are traumatic. I didn't expect to survive.'

The end of the war in 1945 found Adrian in Palestine. While in Palestine, he took two flights to Florence, Italy, to study the art there. It was around this time he made the postal record of his voice.

Listen to Adrian Montford in 1945

Adrian was retained in the army for at least a year after the outbreak of peace. He was moved to Greece (see photo below of him taking a break from directing traffic on Chalkida's Old Bridge near Athens). He ended up driving for a sergeant who patrolled the local brothels throwing out soldiers.

Adrian Montford resting from conducting traffic on Chalkida's Old Bridge  Greece  1945

After being demobbed, Adrian returned to study at the Royal Academy in London.  

In 1951, he was awarded a 1st Landseer Prize of £20 and silver medal for a composition in sculpture. His first attempt to win the Prix de Rome led to a Picture Post magazine cover photo of the sculpture being cast. He attempted again, and in 1954 won the Prix de Rome for Buddha’s Sermon on the Flower.

Adrian went to study at the British School in Rome for two years. He returned from Italy to London, riding his Lambretta scooter over the Alps. Upon his return, he applied for a driving licence. A period of teaching at Sutton Art School and at Folkestone Art School followed.

Adrian taught sculpture for over 30 years at St Martin’s School of Art, with colleagues such as Anthony Caro and David Annesley, under the headship of Frank Martin; at this time, it was the one of the most famous sculpture departments in the world.

In August 1962, he married Selma Hope Nankivell (1934-), an artist and art lecturer. She became involved in preserving Brighton’s heritage, and was granted an MBE for this in 2006. They moved to Brighton in July 1965 with a young family to a house with a large garden. His life passion has been gardening, planting many of the trees to be found in the street. They still live in the same house 54 years later in 2019.

Adrian came out of retirement to teach life drawing at the Royal College of Art, London, ca. 1990, for some years, and he appeared on ITV’s South Bank Show around the same time, and in an article in The Times of 5 February 1991. He exhibited at the Royal Academy’s summer exhibition, continued to paint and make prints, and in later life, has been increasingly drawn to pottery.

Adrian has been a keen gardener, and although now more frail, he still takes great pleasure in the beautiful garden he has created. The photo below, taken by his son Piran Montford, shows Adrian in his garden studio, surrounded by both his sculpture and plants.

Adrian Montford in his studio  2019 - photo by Piran Montford

With grateful thanks to Piran Montford for the biographical information incorporated in this piece, and to Robert Cowlin for making the digital transfer of the disc.

06 June 2019

D-Day has come

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US troops disembark landing craftU.S. Soldiers disembark a landing craft at Normandy, France, June 6, 1944

By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

For those people in occupied countries, this was life changing news.  Seventy five years ago today, as the allied forces landed on the Normandy beaches to liberate France and countries beyond with Operation Overlord, these words were broadcast by the BBC.  By the end of the day, 6th June 1944, 150,000 Allied troops had landed on five Normandy beaches.

D-Day has come

In 1944 the radio – or wireless as it was known – was the main source of information.  The day before D-Day, known as D-Day minus one, the BBC broadcast instructions from Supreme Allied Command to those in occupied countries to make sure they would be listening to their radios on D-Day during the actual invasion of the Normandy beaches.

D-Day minus one

Meeting of the Supreme Command  Allied Expeditionary Force  London  1 February 1944 Meeting of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), 1 February 1944 

Reporter Richard North on board a ‘largish craft’ described the scene of the invasion during a live broadcast on the morning of 6th June 1944.

Eye witness on Normany coast

These recordings are from the Alan Cooban collection (C1398) digitised with funding from the Saga Trust.

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01 May 2019

The Duke of Wellington

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Sir Arthur Wellesley  1st Duke of WellingtonSir Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington by Thomas Lawrence

By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

Two hundred and fifty years ago today, Arthur Wellesley, Field Marshall His Grace the Duke of Wellington, was born in Dublin.  Most famous for his victory at the Battle of Waterloo where he defeated Napoleon in 1815, he was also Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary, Leader of the House of Lords three times and Prime Minister twice while upon his death he was still Commander-in-chief of the British Army.

Wellington at Waterloo by Alexander HillingfordWellington at Waterloo by Robert Alexander Hillingford

Born in 1769, when he died at the age of eighty-three in 1852, Wellington was given a state funeral, a rare honour also accorded Sir Isaac Newton, Lord Nelson, Palmerston, Gladstone and Sir Winston Churchill.  It is amazing to think that we can hear the voice of someone who attended the funeral of this great man born two and a half centuries ago. 

Ticket to Wellington's funeralTicket to the funeral (courtesy of Marlborough Rare Books)

Frederick Mead was ninety-two years old when he recorded his memories of the occasion in 1940.  He can only have been four or five years of age at the time and is obviously reading from a prepared script, but we are hearing the voice of an eye-witness which creates a living connection to the event.  Mead describes queuing with his brother to see the lying in state at Chelsea Hospital and his uncle withdrawing them as he saw no hope of attaining their purpose with such a large crowd.  In this extract, he goes on to describe the funeral including a reference to the Thames Embankment which at that time did not exist.

This recording comes from the Alan Cooban collection (C1398) digitised with funding from the Saga Trust.

Frederick Mead 1940

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