Sound and vision blog

23 posts categorized "Modern history"

01 August 2022

Recording of the week: Women’s work on the record

This week’s post comes from Myriam Fellous-Sigrist, Data protection and Rights Clearance Officer.

Women picking netted gooseberries in Bedfordshire  1941

Above: Wartime Activities, women picking fruit, Bedfordshire, 1941. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Source: LSE Library.

One of the many joys of oral history is learning about unexpected topics. Whether recording an interview or discovering another interviewer’s work, oral history - and especially life story recordings - is full of information that we would not suspect if we were to only read the catalogue records and summaries.

In the last few months, I have worked on three collections of interview cassettes that were preserved by the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project. These are An Oral History of British Horticulture (British Library ref. C1029), An Oral History of the Post Office (C1007) and the Hall-Carpenter Oral History Archive (C456). Most of the interviews are several hours long, sometimes up to 13 hours. Unsurprisingly, they cover much more than the topics of horticulture, the Post Office, or gay and lesbian experience in the United Kingdom. Some of the transversal themes are fascinating to observe, and one of them is women’s work in the mid-20th century, across social classes and geographical areas.

A large part of my work as an UOSH Rights Officer is to review newly digitised and catalogued sound recordings before deciding whether they are suitable for online open access. When it comes to oral history recordings, conducting a sensitivity review requires paying attention to the interviewee’s family members, key life events and relationships. Each time, I am reminded of the wealth of sociological and historical information that is usually captured in the first hour of most interviews, which often depicts the origins of two parents and four grandparents, as well as their occupations and roles inside and outside the home.

Listening to these recordings shines a light on the power of sound archives, and on the limits of their written description. The four extracts below show the importance of diving into the audio version of any interview, to go beyond the misleading categories that are inevitably created by cataloguing and summarising. This includes the simplistic, and often wrong, category of 'housewife' used to describe an interviewee’s mother. Often the interview summary also hides the many paid and unpaid occupations that many women had in the 20th century. These jobs are revealed when oral history narrators talk about their mothers, aunts, grandmothers and themselves. Although my selection is only of female narrators, the shift in women’s and men’s roles is also described through these personal accounts, as can be heard in the last extract.

My selection starts with Pamela Schwerdt, who was co-interviewed for the Oral History of British Horticulture project in 2002. She was born in Esher, Surrey in 1931. Her father was a naval officer and her mother’s occupation is described as 'none given' in our catalogue. Yet, the first part of the interview unveils a busy trio of women who, between themselves, set up and chaired for a century the National Wildlife Society. Its success culminated in Pamela’s mother receiving a CBE in 1986 for her work as President of this Society.

In this clip Pamela talks about the three Presidents of the National Wildlife Society. The British Library ref. is C1029/08.

Listen to Pamela Schwerdt

Download Pamela Schwerdt transcript

In the same oral history collection dedicated to horticulture, Peggy Cole described in 2003 the many paid jobs that her mother had in the 1940s and 1950s. Despite being catalogued as a 'housewife', her mother worked as a hospital cleaner, a woodcutter and fruit picker. In this extract, Peggy, who was born in 1935, recounts how her mother worked after the birth of her last son in 1950 as one of a hundred other female seasonal workers near Easton, Suffolk. The British Library ref. is C1029/11.

Listen to Peggy Cole

Download Peggy Cole transcript

In the third extract, we hear about Gladys Hillier who worked as one of the few postwomen in the 1940s in Gloucester, where she was born in 1917. In the interview that she gave in 2002 as part of the Oral History of the Post Office project, she described how she went from working in an aircraft factory during World War II, to delivering the mail in 1947 until her retirement in 1982. The British Library ref. is c1007/57.

Listen to Gladys Hillier

Download Gladys Hillier transcript

Women’s new paid professional activities during World War 2 are discussed in our fourth interview. Jackie Forster, who was born in 1926 in London, reflected on the impact this social change had within her own family. In an interview for the Hall-Carpenter Oral History Archive, she explained how her mother worked as an ambulance driver during the war and started making money in the Stock Exchange to support her two children. Jackie’s mother became the breadwinner after her husband, who was an army doctor posted in India, was declared missing in 1939. In this extract, Jackie describes the new family roles and dynamic, and how these had to be accepted by her father, who eventually returned to England in 1945. The British Library ref. is C456/87.

Listen to Jackie Forster

Download Jackie Forster transcript

14 February 2022

Recording of the week: Neville Chamberlain and King George VI's broadcasts regarding Britain declaring war on Germany in 1939

This week's selection comes from Joseph McGeady, Learning Team Apprentice.

The British Library has recently launched its Speaking Out website, an online resource exploring the importance of public speaking and debating through a collection of sound recordings from the Library’s sound archive. 

Included in the Speaking Out collection are excerpts from two speeches made on the same day - 3rd September 1939. King George VI of Great Britain and his Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, made these speeches to announce the British government’s decision to declare war on Nazi Germany following the regime’s refusal to withdraw its troops from Poland by 11am on that day. Chamberlain’s announcement was broadcast at 11:15am; the King’s speech at 6pm. 

Black and white photo of King George VI addressing the nation via radioKing George VI addresses the nation. Image © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images.

King George VI speaking at the outbreak of war [BL REF C1398/0016]

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Black and white photo of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain speaking to the nation from a BBC broadcasting studioNeville Chamberlain announces the declaration of war. Image © Fox Photos / Getty Images.

Neville Chamberlain announces war with Germany, 1939 [BL REF 1CD0013823 D1 BD02]

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Radio and recording technology were clearly still nascent – there is a background of crackle throughout and none of the dynamic range and depth we take for granted in modern broadcasts and recordings. However, these limitations lend an authenticity to the sound excerpts - placing them in a distinct historical period; faithfully conveying the very formal style of British public speaking at the time; and emphasising the slow and sombre delivery tone of the speeches. The gravity of the situation and the uncertainty of the impending conflict are very apparent to the listener.

Many of us may find the prospect of public speaking quite daunting but we would not normally expect this of prominent public figures such as a King or Prime Minister. However, delivering these speeches proved difficult for both men for very different and personal reasons.

Neville Chamberlain had been a strong advocate of appeasement towards Adolf Hitler. Less than a year earlier, Chamberlain had proudly proclaimed “Peace for our time”, whilst displaying the agreement he had signed with Hitler in Munich concerning the German annexation of the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia. Hitler’s subsequent dismissal of the agreement, followed by the invasions of Czechoslovakia and Poland and the declaration of war on Germany proved to be a humiliating reversal in Chamberlain’s fortunes and would soon lead to his downfall.

For the King, announcing the declaration of war proved challenging in another way. George VI, or ‘Bertie’ to his friends and family, was born the second son of King George V and thus never expected to become King. He unwillingly ascended the throne after his brother King Edward VIII famously abdicated in December 1936 to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. The King had a bad stammer, which made public speaking very difficult for him. Having to deliver such an important national and international address would therefore have been exceptionally challenging for the reluctant monarch.

The profound air of pessimism in these broadcasts ultimately proved portentous for both figures. The Second World War would have a significant impact on the health of the Prime Minister and of the King. Neville Chamberlain would go on to resign his office in May 1940 and die from cancer before the end of the year. The stress of the war years took a heavy toll on the King and he would die in 1952, aged 56, having reigned for just under 16 years.

Speaking Out is generously supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund as part of Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.

Pink soundwave and the words 'Unlocking Our Sound Heritage', next to the National Lottery Heritage Fund logoFollow @BLSoundHeritage and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

24 January 2022

Recording of the week: The memory of liberation in Holocaust survivor testimonies

This week's selection comes from Dr Madeline White, Curator of Oral History.

In the week of Holocaust Memorial Day, our recording of the week reflects on the theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2022: 'One Day'.

Holocaust Memorial Day is marked on the 27th January, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The idea of liberation as ‘one day’ in a survivor’s story is a powerful one: when listening to survivors recall their wartime experiences, we often hear them discuss how they thought about ‘one day’ being liberated. Some survivors describe it as a moment they held on for, the hope of which sustained them; others describe it as a moment they felt would never come.

The testimony of Edith Birkin – given in an interview for National Life Stories in 1989 – contains a range of responses to both the idea of liberation and the liberation itself.

A painting by artist and Holocaust survivor Edith Birkin, depicting a group of prisoners at a concentration camp. A child embraces an adult through a barbed wire fence whilst another child looks on.

Edith Birkin 'The Last Goodbye', image courtesy of Denis Maryk.

Edith Birkin (née Hoffmann) was born in Prague in November 1927. She was 12 when the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia and 14 when she and her family were sent to the Łódź ghetto. She remained there until the ghetto was liquidated in 1944 and she was deported to Auschwitz. In the early part of 1945 she was sent on a death march to Flossenburg, then transported via coal truck to Bergen-Belsen, where she was liberated.

In this edited extract, Edith describes the conditions in which she waited for her liberators to arrive, what she imagined the moment would be like, and how the reality was quite different from what she had pictured.

Edith Birkin describes the liberation [BL REF C410/030]

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There are moments of joy in Edith’s recollection. She describes the moment as ‘marvellous’, remembering the first food she ate – tinned macaroni – as ‘heaven’, and explaining how she shares that same food with her family every year to personally commemorate the moment. Yet what she and her fellow inmates had imagined would be a euphoric moment filled with dancing, singing and kissing was dampened by their severe ill health. The inmates were too weak to celebrate. The food the liberators brought them saved some and killed others. They were free but not safe.

Decades after the event, we often assume that liberation was ultimately a joyous event for survivors. The war was over, they were alive, they were no longer incarcerated and were able to return home. The word ‘liberation’ itself elicits ideas of liberty and salvation, which is consistent with the popular notion of liberation marking the break between incarceration and independence, between suffering and relief, between certain death and the opportunity to live. Edith’s testimony complicates this narrative, showing us that the moment of liberation was emotionally complex and that it did not necessarily mark the end of suffering.

In this edited extract she describes returning to Prague after the war, just 17 years old at the time.

Edith Birkin describes her return to Prague [BL REF C410/030] 

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The most striking part of Edith’s description of this time in her life is her declaration that this, for her, was ‘the worst time of the war’. Contrary to what one might expect – contrary even to her initial response to being liberated – the reality of liberation was often far from ‘marvellous’. Edith recalls the loneliness of being the sole survivor of her family; the discovery that friends and neighbours who had promised to protect property had in fact stolen it for themselves; and the helplessness of not knowing where to turn. Perhaps her most crushing realisation was that the hope that had sustained her in the concentration camps – that she would find surviving family members and be reunited with her friends one day – was gone. For survivors, the dawning realisation that life would truly never be the same again was a trauma all of its own.

Oral history provides a unique opportunity for us to understand and engage with the ways in which people remember the past. Liberation was one day in Edith Birkin’s life, but its significance shifted as her situation changed, taking on a whole range of meanings as her story develops: it is simultaneously a dream, a joy, a disappointment, a moment of justice and the precursor to the darkest period of her life. As this example shows, it is through survivor testimony that we can gain a fuller appreciation of the nuances of historical events that can often seem unambiguous.

We should note, however, that exploring the past through testimony – particularly remembering genocide through testimony – can only tell us part of the story. In reflecting on liberation and in listening to survivors describe their memories of liberation, we must remember that for millions of people that one day never came.

On this Holocaust Memorial Day, we remember all those who never saw liberation, as well as those who did.

A banner graphic for Holocaust Memorial Day, featuring a candle alight against a black background, the Holocaust Memorial Dya logo, the words 'We're marking Holocaust Memorial Day' and the hashtag #HolocaustMemorialDay / 27 January

Edith Birkin was interviewed in 1989 by Katherine Thompson for The Living Memory of the Jewish Community. Her full interview is available to listen to online on British Library Sounds.

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

21 December 2021

Ian Rawes and the London Sound Survey

By Steve Cleary, Lead Curator, Literary and Creative Recordings.

In October this year many of us at the British Library were distressed to hear of the death of Ian Rawes. Best known to the wider world for his field recording project London Sound Survey, Ian once worked at the Library. He was here for a period of 13 years, leaving in 2014.

Sound and Vision Acquisitions Officer Ian Macaskill remembers Ian from the early days:

In earlier times, when some of us were based in the British Library building in Micawber Street, Ian worked as a Sound Archive Vaultkeeper. He was unfailingly hard-working and helpful to all. A great loss.

After he left, Ian returned as a researcher, working in the Reading Rooms on projects such as his 2016 book of 'forgotten sound-words' Honk, Conk and Squacket. Ian was well-liked among his former colleagues and would often join some of us for a pint in the Boot or the Skinners Arms on a Friday night, after work had finished and the Reading Rooms had closed.

The London Sound Survey is a web resource presenting over 2,000 recordings of everyday life in London and beyond. Most were made by Ian between 2008 and 2020. Some guest recordists are also featured, including Richard Beard, with a selection of his Hackney wildlife recordings. The site also includes many related articles on the theme of urban sound.

Ian used a variety of techniques to make his recordings. I recall him demonstrating his headworn binaural microphones. To the casual observer, these looked much like headphones, and didn't attract public attention. These were used to make stereo recordings in many different urban environments. Here is one from 2010, made at an anti-capitalist protest encampment by St Paul's Cathedral. And here is another, featuring the gentlemen who stand outside the restaurants in Brick Lane trying to drum up custom.

Discretion was advisable in certain settings, but other kinds of recordings, such as these environmental recordings made along the Kent and Essex sides of the Thames Estuary used a more traditional field recording approach. The now-disappeared sound of the Coryton Oil Refinery siren served as a moment of reflection during Ian's memorial service.

Some highlights from the collection - among them the memorably titled 'Cigarette Ponce' - were issued on vinyl on the Vitelli label under the title 'These Are the Good Times'. The collection itself is archived permanently at London Metropolitan Archives

Ian's second published LP Thames was issued by the Persistence of Sound label. This contained a mixture of industrial and environmental recordings, from the inner workings of Tower Bridge to the sounds of the Essex shore. There are plans for the label to release some of Ian's last recordings on a new LP in 2022.

Online tributes to Ian included a very well-informed piece by Tony Herrington in The Wire and another from Susannah Butter in the Evening Standard, and there were many comments on both public and professional forums from those who had worked with Ian and/or known him personally. All testified to his generous, affable nature and healthy sense of humour. Ian was great company and was never in the slightest pompous or pretentious about his work. He will be very much missed.

Ian Rawes in a pub in Cambridge in 2017

Above: Ian in a pub in Cambridge in 2017. Photo: Steve Cleary.

08 November 2021

Recording of the week: James Baldwin at the Cambridge Union

By Steve Cleary, Lead Curator, Literary and Creative Recordings.

The British Library launches a new web resource this week. It is called 'Speaking Out', and it seeks to explore the spoken word in its most forceful guise: that of the public address.  Through historical archive recordings, together with new essays, we aim to shine a light on the art and power of public speaking in all its forms.

Today's 'Recording of the Week' showcases a landmark speech by the US writer James Baldwin.

On 18 February 1965 Baldwin was invited to speak at the Cambridge University Union. The motion was 'The American Dream is at the Expense of the American Negro'. His opposite number in the debate was the conservative writer and broadcaster William F. Buckley Jr., a supporter of the racial segregation that existed in the Southern states.

The debate was a significant moment in the story of the US civil rights struggle. Baldwin's speech specifically is among the most celebrated in the history of the Cambridge Union. David Leeming's 1994 biography of Baldwin tells us it received a standing ovation and carried the post-debate vote, receiving 544 votes, as against 184 for Buckley.

Photo of James Baldwin - copyright Getty Images

James Baldwin. Photo copyright © Getty Images. 

Listen to James Baldwin

Audio copyright © James Baldwin Estate

Download Transcript

Founded in 1815, the Cambridge Union Society is the oldest debating society in the world. Speakers are drawn from all walks of public life and include politicians, peers, scientists, journalists, celebrities, experts of all kinds, and student debaters. 

In the summer of 2007, following successful negotiations with the Cambridge Union Society, the collected recordings of more than 600 of the Society's weekly debates were transferred to the care of the British Library. The Society was concerned to find a new permanent home for the collection, lacking the facilities on their own premises for archival storage of the material or the provision of regular public or student access to it.

The period covered is 1963-1999. Although the bulk of the collection is made up of TDK D90 audio cassettes dating from 1983 onwards, there are also many open reel tapes dating from the earlier period (such as the James Baldwin tape, pictured below). 

Photo of James Baldwin tape box

All the recordings are available to listen to at the British Library but you will need to apply for a Reader Pass if you don't already have one.

22 June 2021

Windrush Day: Bristol’s Princess Campbell

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

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.

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.

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