THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

Sound and moving images from the British Library

Introduction

Discover more about the British Library's 6 million sound recordings and the access we provide to thousands of moving images. Comments and feedback are welcomed. Read more

05 June 2019

Stuart Franklin remembers photographing Tank Man in Tiananmen Square

30 years ago this week the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing, China ended when the People’s Liberation Army fired on the student-led demonstrators. While the protests of 1989 took place across the whole of mainland China, it is the events in Beijing that dominated international coverage. The iconic photo of ‘Tank Man’ has come to stand as the defining image of the movement.

Tankman_new_longshot_StuartFranklin

Wide shot of Tank Man by Stuart Franklin (Source: Wikipedia)

In this classic photograph an unknown man holds two shopping bags and stands alone against a line of tanks. Captured by five different photographers, the most widely republished version was taken by Stuart Franklin of Magnum Photos. Stuart was interviewed by Shirley Read for an Oral History of British Photography in 2000 and he described how he took the photograph and how he got it out of China:

"So I hid the film in a box of tea" (C459/129/12)

In the interview Stuart considers what makes his photo of Tank Man different from the other four that were taken. Unlike the others, his shot includes smoke coming out of the fourth tank indicating it was about to move and adds “tension” to the image. Surprisingly, and despite the impact and longevity of the photograph, Stuart describes it as “feeble” and “pathetic” compared to Josef Koudelka’s photographs of Prague in 1968:

"It wasn't a very satisfying image to be taking" (C459/129/12)

Although Stuart is critical of his own photo he recognises its impact and discusses why it became so iconic:

"... a symbolic edge that it wouldn't otherwise have had" (C459/129/12)

Stuart speaks eloquently about how an image is defined as much by its dissemination as by its quality. So while he thinks he took better photographs of the protests, including those outside of Beijing, he is aware that they will never have the importance of Tank Man.

The identity of the protester himself has never been discovered, nor is it known what happened to him after the photo was taken. Yet through photographs such as Stuart’s he is as emblematic of the protests now as he was 30 years ago.

The complete interview with Stuart Franklin can be listened to online by those in Higher and Further Education institutions. For more information on an Oral History of British Photography see the collection guide to Oral histories of visual arts and crafts.

03 June 2019

Recording of the week: Lilian Baylis (1874-1937)

This week's selection comes from Steve Cleary, Lead Curator of Literary and Creative Recordings.

This week we feature the voice of Lilian Baylis, talking about the Old Vic and Sadler's Wells theatres, which she famously managed. The Old Vic company nurtured the careers of Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Peggy Ashcroft and Sybil Thorndike amongst many other notables of 20th-century British theatre.

The voice of Lilian Baylis (C1077/6)

The recording was made in the mid 1930s at the invitation of the Vic-Wells Association, and produced as a one-sided HMV Private Record. It is not known how many discs were originally pressed or still exist today.

Lilian Baylis disc

Our copy, which is signed by Lilian Baylis on the label, was donated in 2003 as part of the archive of theatre designer Tanya Moiseiwitsch.

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

27 May 2019

Recording of the week: Gbamu gbamu jigi jigi! Happy times in WordBank

This week's selection comes from Dr Amy Evans Bauer, a former British Library volunteer.

The repertoire of contemporary celebratory exclamations is one of the most joy-filled parts of the Evolving English WordBank. This recording was contributed by a man born in 1965, who defined his accent as Nigerian and spoke both English and Yorùbá.

GBAMU GBAMU JIGI JIGI

GBAMU GBAMU JIGI JIGI (C1442/2785)

The word is gbamu gbamu jigi jigi it’s a Nige… it’s a native Nigerian Yorùbá language of origin and it’s mainly associated or you know used when someone is expressing when someone is happy or when someone is showing how happy he is, you know.

Yorùbá is one of Nigeria’s four most widely spoken languages, alongside Hausa, Igbo and English (which is the official language). Part of the Niger-Congo group of languages, it is the first language of an estimated 20 million people in southwestern Nigeria, with more speakers in Benin, Togo, Ghana, Senegal, the Gambia, UK, USA, Brazil, Cuba and elsewhere. Like many other African languages, Yorùbá is tonal: the pitch at which syllables are voiced can denote different meanings of words of the same spelling. For example, oko means farm, whereas òkò means projectile.

This recording contains a letter that you will not find in the English alphabet. The Yorùbá alphabet consists of twenty-five letters. Almost all of the consonants have the same pronunciations as in English, except for the letters p, gb and ṣ:

The letter gb has no similarity in the English language. It does not represent a separate pronunciation of g and b as spelled but articulated as a simultaneous release of both, following a contraction of the lips and muscles of the throat.
(Fakinlede, K. 2002. English-Yorùbá Yorùbá-English Modern Practical Dictionary, p. 11-12)

The expression is also striking for its poetic devices of repetition and onomatopoeia, whereby a word is formed through imitative sounds that convey its content. (The term onomatopoeia derives from the Greek onoma, onomat [= ‘name’] + -poios [= ‘making’]). The first part of the phrase, gbamu gbamu, indicates being overfilled, and the second, jigi jigi, resembles a drumbeat rhythm. As Professor Karin Barber told me, “In Yorùbá, speech easily turns to song, and it’s said that aiduro nijo [not standing still is tantamount to dancing].” When I asked my Nigerian friends from Yorùbáland Yinka, Funke and Edward whether they say gbamu gbamu jigi jigi, they immediately flung their arms in the air and swung their hips while chanting it back to me. Their moving answer transformed our spoken interaction into contagiously grinsome conversation-as-choreography! (Try this on someone today!).

Our contributor’s verbal celebration contrasts with the numerous utterances of dismay that are preserved in the collection, and which are often similarly replete with arm flinging. Favourites that we have tweeted include the Yiddish expression oy vey and a refrain of my own West Sussex and Hampshire childhood soundscapes my giddy aunt.

We’d love to know the exclamatory slang and dialect that you shout, sing and dance when the silent stillness of a texted emoji just won’t do. So do tweet us at @VoicesofEnglish. Meanwhile, I wish you all a jazz hands kind of day!

Amy’s at-sea poetry installation SOUND((ING))S is available to hear online or to read in chapbook form as the transcript PASS PORT. 

24 May 2019

Bicentenary of Queen Victoria – is this her voice?

Queen_Victoria_by_BassanoQueen Victoria in 1882 by Alexander Bassano

By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

Queen Victoria was born two hundred years ago on 24th May 1819.  The most famous and, until recently, the most long reigning of British monarchs, Victoria represented a whole century of development and achievement where Britons were at the forefront of science, engineering and the arts.

It is known that she was persuaded to record a cylinder of greeting on 8th August 1898 to send to Emperor Menelik of Ethiopia but insisted that it be destroyed after he had heard it.  In return, the Emperor and his Queen recorded greetings to Victoria in 1899 and these have survived (BL shelfmark M 1865; digital access via BL reading rooms). 

There are references in letters and first-hand accounts of hearing a recording made by Queen Victoria reported in the book by Paul Tritton The Lost Voice of Queen Victoria (1991 Academy Books).  With the circumstantial evidence it would appear that the recording is probably Queen Victoria, but the unfortunate fact is that the few sentences she speaks are barely decipherable.  There are various interpretations of the spoken text, but she seems to say:

Britons restless for their Queen to speak,

let me answer,

if can be,

XX,

that I have never forgotten.

The fourth line is unintelligible and has been variously interpreted as ‘we all had a wonderful festival’ and ‘towards the end of a wonderful gift to me’, referring to her Golden Jubilee.  It sounds like neither to my ear, but we have subjected the National Sound Archive’s original 1991 transfer by Peter Copland of the Bell-Tainter Graphophone cylinder owned by the Science Museum to the latest restoration technology.  The wax coated cardboard cylinder is believed to have been recorded by Sidney Morse at Balmoral in 1888.

Queen Victoria

While the sound of that recording is poor, we can hear the Queen’s cousin and contemporary Prince George, Duke of Cambridge (1819-1904) in better quality, recorded by Edison’s agent Colonel Gouraud on 22nd December 1888.  His message to Thomas Edison, the inventor of sound recording, is as follows:

I congratulate you on the marvelous success of this invention which I think will produce singular results in the future.

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

Duke of Cambridge

George_-_Duke_of_CambridgeCollodion of Prince George by Roger Fenton 1855

For all the latest news follow @BL_Classical

23 May 2019

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

Photo # 1MEPs 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.

16 May 2019

Mother Carey's Chickens

Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife & Environmental Sounds writes:

In 19th century coastal folklore, the harsh and unforgiving nature of the sea was often personified by the cruel sea witch Mother Carey.

Carey was said to wreak havoc on the ocean waves, conjuring up devastating storms that would destroy any vessel unlucky enough to be caught in her sights. The ship’s crew would be sent to their deaths so that Carey and her partner, Davy Jones, could feast upon their rotting bodies.

She’s the mother o’ the wrecks, ‘n’ the mother
Of all big winds as blows;
She’s up to some deviltry or other
When it storms, or sleets or snows;
The noise of the wind’s her screamin’
‘I’m arter a plump, young, fine,
Brass-buttoned, beefy-ribbed yound seam’n
So as me ‘n’ my mate kin dine.’

(Extract from John Masefield's poem 'Mother Carey (as told me by the bo'sun)' published in 1902)

Mother Carey didn’t travel the open ocean alone though. Like any villain worth their salt, Carey was accompanied by her very own entourage, which, in this case, happened to be a flock of Storm Petrels (Hydrobates pelagicus). Dubbed Mother Carey's Chickens, these little seabirds were thought to signal the imminent arrival of the dreaded sea witch. 

Mother_Carey_and_her_chickens_by_J_G_Keulemans_1877_(frame_removed)Mother Carey and her chickens by J. G. Keulemans, 1877 (Biodiversity Heritage Library via Wikipedia)

As far as accuracy goes, Storm Petrels are a pretty good choice. Not because there's anything sinister about them, but because they're most at home on the open sea and can easily cope with the severest of weather conditions. While many other birds would be caught short in the middle of a tempest, Storm Petrels just take it all in their stride.

What you wouldn’t hear was their voice. For Storm Petrels are generally silent at sea (not a great trait for heralds of doom, but there you go). The complete opposite can be found at their breeding colonies however. Here individuals engage in sustained vocal activity, producing far-carrying purring calls from their burrows. The following extract, taken from a longer recording made by Alan Burbidge on Skokholm Island in 1998, is a great example of this.

Storm Petrel purring calls from burrow (BL ref 145176)

Harbingers of death should, at least in my mind, be loud. Very loud. Terrifying too. But our Storm Petrels are anything but that. Rather selfishly, they save their spine-chilling voices for when they're off duty. So if I was Mother Carey, I'd feel a little short-changed.

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

13 May 2019

Recording of the week: Gieseking and Bohm

This week's selection comes from Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music Recordings.

The early recordings of German conductor Karl Bohm often have a sprightly character and when he accompanied pianist Walter Gieseking, the resulting Piano Concerto No. 4 by Beethoven is a revelation. The famous opening statement by the solo piano is straightforward with no precious pretension or posturing. The whole performance is like a breath of fresh air.

Concerto for Piano and Orchestra no. 4 op. 58 G major (Shelfmark 1CL0055489) 


Walter-GiesekingWalter Gieseking (via Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0)

This and thousands of other classical music recordings can be heard at British Library Sounds. A new series of classical music podcasts, launched in May 2018, can be found on the British Library's Soundcloud page.

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

10 May 2019

Hearing the Dead – Florence Nightingale’s voice

Sunday 12th May sees the 199th birthday of Florence Nightingale. To celebrate, Mike Esbester and Natalie Pithers share their experiences of exploring history with children, with particular reference to Florence's story.

How do children find out about the past? A challenging but crucial question for school teachers, the British Library, historians, genealogists and indeed anyone with a feel for history. Particularly for younger children, the nuances of historians’ interpretations and different theoretical approaches are difficult, if not impossible, to grasp. Instead, we make history more tangible by looking at the people and events of the past: from the everyday woman or man in the street, to ‘great lives’ and exceptional moments.

In some schools at the moment, children in Year One are looking at Mary Seacole, Edith Cavell and Florence Nightingale. A chance comment from the British Library’s Oral History Curator, Mary Stewart, alerted professional genealogist Natalie Pithers and academic historian Mike Esbester to the British Library’s sound recording of Florence Nightingale – and offered a great opportunity to make use of this and other sources with some Year One children in different settings.

Florence-Nightingale
Florence Nightingale by Henry Hering, copied by Elliott & Fry, half-plate glass copy negative, 1950s (late 1856-1857) NPG x82368, © National Portrait Gallery, London. License CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 

C1693/1 Recording of Florence Nightingale, 1820-1910 

History at home – Natalie’s experience

Last term, the ‘Florence Nightingale and Bravery’ topic captivated my bubbly 5-year old. She’d been enthusiastic about Florence since the first day of term, when she walked home from school eagerly recounting how the class had been given an ancient battered suitcase. The case was full of medicine and bandages, but best of all it contained ‘a dead rat’ and ‘Miss had no idea how it got there!’ It’s not hard to imagine the joy I felt at hearing my own passion for history echoed back at me by my daughter.

As a genealogist I wanted to share some of my professional life with my daughter, and this topic was ideal. We snuggled on the sofa surrounded by paper printouts, starting with Florence’s Christening record. My daughter saw the writing: ‘it was really bad in the olden days, wasn’t it Mum?’ She was captivated by the idea that this person ‘in history’ had parents, and a Nanny and Grandad – just like her.

We checked other records – the censuses. With a magnifying glass to ‘look for clues’, we cross-referenced across sources to find out when Florence was born and the names of her parents. What about Florence’s place of birth? She shouted excitedly, ‘It’s Italy!’

Next, newspaper reports on Florence’s death. My daughter bounced on the sofa as we ‘discovered’ poems and romanticised illustrations of the ‘lady of the lamp.’ For comparison we looked for articles on Mary Seacole’s death. There were no pictures and reports were scant. My daughter nodded knowingly: ‘it’s because she was poor.’ I let her draw her own conclusions.

Lastly, we found Florence’s voice at the British Library Oral History. Ears angled at the laptop speakers, we listened to the crackly tones of someone who died over 100 years ago, bringing alive in a different way someone so far only experienced on paper. I might just have good old Florence to thank, not only for so much of modern nursing, but for my child’s budding love for history.

Florenceletter1-tl small
Example of a letter from the British Library collections: Letter from Florence Nightingale to Edwin Chadwick (Shelfmark: MS 45814)

History at school – Mike’s experience

Once I’d found out about the Florence Nightingale recording, I wanted to use it in a session I’d volunteered to give at Botley Primary School in Oxford. I hoped it would surprise the Year One children to hear the voice of one of the long-dead women they were finding out about that term, as well as produce a greater connection with the past.

We started by discussing what sources we might use to find out about the past, including looking at paintings and photographs of the Crimean War and thinking about what they might tell us. We had a look at one of Florence Nightingale’s letters, available from the British Library: it gave a personal insight into the conditions, as well as reassuring the children that grown-up ‘scribbly’ handwriting was nothing new! Importantly, we used it to question the idea that Nightingale was unproblematically virtuous – the children loved the rudeness of her comments about ‘drunken old dames’.

They were really keen to hear Nightingale’s voice – and whilst it was difficult to make out (unsurprising, giving the recording technology of the 1890s), they were excited. We talked about why the recording was made and the need to support war veterans before the modern welfare state.

I also took in a family possession – an 1855 jug sold to raise money for the Royal Patriotic Fund, a charity established in 1854 to support soldiers’ dependents. That the children could see something in front of them from the same time as Nightingale helped make that connection and they responded very strongly to the jug and the images it showed.

I was impressed with the projects the children had already been putting together, and the keenness with which they greeted the items we explored – their teachers have been doing great work with this generation of future historians!

1855 jug  1  low res
An item owned by Mike's family: 1855 jug sold to raise money for the Royal Patriotic Fund

History in mind?

This curriculum topic was a great opportunity to introduce children not only to particular episodes in the past but also the method and process of historical research. At home and school we were able to think about the figures that are popularly remembered from the past, the ‘great lives’, and those who haven’t been remembered – those ‘old dames’ Nightingale bemoaned as well as individual soldiers and others from all sides of the conflict. This level of abstraction wouldn’t work well with the children, so the primary sources allowed us to get to grips with the bigger questions – and for that, the British Library’s collections, oral history and manuscript, were a great help. It was also important that this wasn’t simply a discussion about the past, but opened up conversations about gender stereotypes and what women and men were and weren’t allowed to do – and how that has changed today.

Blogpost by Mike Esbester and Natalie Pithers

Biographies

Natalie Pithers is a professional genealogist, driven by a long-standing interest in her own family history and a desire to help others find out about their pasts. She offers her professional services as Genealogy Stories, helping people link family history with wider social contexts of the time; at the same time, her website is a means of sharing her own research and general tips to help people. She tweets as @geneastories.

Mike Esbester is Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Portsmouth. Taking history out of the University and into other settings, like schools, is an important and fun part of the History team’s work. The team tweet as @UoP_History and run an active blog. Mike researches and teaches on a variety of topics relating to 19th and 20th century Britain, including the history of accidents, safety and risk. He co-leads the collaborative ‘Railway Work, Life & Death’ project, looking at accidents to British and Irish railway workers from the later 19th century to 1939, and tweets as @RWLDproject.

Natalie, Mike and Mary Stewart are currently working together, with a number of others, on an initiative to bring together historical researchers – archivists, academics, local historians, family historians, genealogists and more – to share expertise and to promote better cooperation. The Oral History Society is supporting this initiative. This collaborative effort is going under the banner ‘Historians Collaborate’ – for those on Twitter, look for (and please use!) #HistoriansCollaborate.