About the Project

Olive Shapley (producer) with Mrs Emerson in the colliery village of Craghead, County Durham BBC North region
Image credit: Olive Shapley (producer) with Mrs Emerson in the colliery village of Craghead, County Durham BBC North region 01/01/1939 © BBC

The Connected Histories of the BBC catalogue was produced by the Connected Histories of The BBC Project. It makes available a fully searchable, digitised collection of oral history interviews all about the BBC. It allows access – free of charge and for non-commercial use – to a significant proportion of recordings and transcripts held in the BBC’s own Oral History Collection, including the overwhelming majority of those recorded between 1972 and 2001. It also provides access to interviews in the BBC History of North Regional Broadcasting Collection, the BBC World Service Moving Houses project, and Horizon at 50, a collaboration between the BBC and the Science Museum Group. A selection of BBC-related interviews from the British Entertainment History Project and from the Alexandra Palace Television Society are also included. Finally, it features 14 newly-filmed interviews with leading BBC figures which form the Sussex-BBC Centenary Collection. Interviews are available in a mix of video and audio-only formats, and are usually accompanied by transcripts. In some instances, there’s more than one interview – and therefore more than one transcript – for each person. We’ve collated the original metadata and worked to standardize and add to it. It has been enriched with searchable filters, additional biographical details and information.

Connected Histories of the BBC was based at the University of Sussex and funded by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Project partners included the BBC, the Science Museum Group, the British Entertainment History Project, and Mass Observation.

The project ran from April 2017 to December 2021. Its core aim was to bring into the public realm a significant part of the BBC’s Oral History Collection through digitising the original recordings and transcripts and then creating a new unified catalogue and website where they can be easily searched, listened to, watched, or read.

As well as creating the catalogue and website, Connected Histories of the BBC was responsible for running a number of public events and curating a series of websites for the BBC featuring highlights from the Oral History Collection which appear under the title 100 Voices that Made the BBC. Our aim, beyond making these recordings accessible, has been to create an online environment where they can be explored, not just as individual accounts but as a unified collection, enabling patterns to be identified and links with broader themes and other sources to be discovered.

Through our ‘Macroscope’, we hope that researchers will come up with new ways of searching, visualising, and processing this material – and, in turn, come up with new questions and new insights about the BBC and its wider historical significance.

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Public Events

Bradford: 50 years of BBC Radio: National Science & Media Museum (2017)


The project’s first public event was held at the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford on Saturday 7th October 2017 and celebrated fifty years of BBC Radio 1,2,3 and 4
On 30 September 1967, as the Summer of Love reached its climax, the old Home Service, Light Programme and Third were put to rest – and dear old Auntie nervously embraced pop. At exactly 7am on that Saturday morning, Tony Blackburn took to the air, welcomed everyone to “the exciting new sound of Radio 1”, and played his very first record, Flowers in the Rain. The BBC would never be the same again. Some reckoned it was the last gasp of a dying medium – that television would soon kill off radio altogether. In the half-century since, radio hasn’t just survived it’s thrived: a testimony to how important it is in our everyday lives, how much we love this taken-for-granted device.
As part of the fiftieth birthday celebrations, the BBC teamed up with the National Science and Media Museum and media historians at the University of Sussex for this one-off event. The event explored the role of radio in all our lives – the sets we had at home growing up, the technology that put our favourite voices and music on the air, the personalities who made it all happen behind-the-scenes. Guests were given the opportunity to explore the Museum’s collections, saw new archive footage from the BBC’s vaults, and heard talks by broadcasters and historians. The event also collected personal memories of radio, and recordings of delegates’ BBC reminiscences on film.

Britain Reimagined: A New Oral History of the BBC, British Library (2018)

On Tuesday July 10 2018 the project’s second public event was held at the British Library in London.
35 people attended the free event, where they were able to view rare footage from the BBC’s vaults and consider what it can tell us about how our national broadcaster has imagined – and reimagined – Britain, its people, and their changing place in the world.
Guests were invited to contribute to the project by sharing their memories of the events, completing a survey, and selected guests were invited to share their reminiscences in filmed interviews.
They were given a sneak preview of the new 100 voices website’s People, Nation, Empire pages, and the opportunity to see footage from the BBC oral histories archive.
Mike Phillips (pictured above) chatted with David Hendy about the BBC. Mike’s son accompanied him, along with his brother, Trevor Philips.
Through a series of clips, lectures and discussions, the event focused on the challenges presented for the BBC by its responsibilities in a more multicultural and migrant Britain. For a broadcaster that claimed to speak to the whole nation, this meant a need and demand for new programmes, new voices, new faces. Clips from rare, previously unseen footage from the BBC archives were shown to give insight into the BBC’s attempts to reflect working-class life, to be less metropolitan in outlook, to represent different faiths and ethnicities – in short, to be truly inclusive. The event concluded with a tour of the British Library’s Windrush exhibition, led by the exhibition’s curators.

War from the inside: Oral histories from the BBC, The Keep (Brighton) (2019)


On the 19th October 2019 the third public event of the project was held at The Keep, a home to historic documents, including the Mass Observation Archive, partnered with the project.
The MO Archive’s curators teamed up with the BBC and the University of Sussex and through hearing personal accounts from key BBC figures, we traced how the BBC helped shape our experience of World War 2 – at home, abroad, and in our minds. By exploring rare recordings from the BBC’s vaults and the stories they tell about how our national broadcaster has reported war and helped us live through it, we retraced landmark coverage of the Blitz and D-Day, but also lesser-known stories from behind-the-scenes: the ‘secret war’ of coded messages and secret beams, the arguments over the hit-series Music While You Work, the strange life of siege experienced by a generation of broadcasters who felt themselves on the front-line.
Finally, participants had the chance to see new clips from the BBC’s archive and hear from the legendary war correspondent Allan Little. The event also offered a unique opportunity to participants to take their place in BBC history by bringing their own memories and visiting our special pop-up TV corner to record their reminiscences on film.

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Blogs

A number of blogs were written by the team during the project. These are reproduced below:

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Project Team

David Hendy is Emeritus Professor of Media and Cultural History at the University of Sussex. He is a media historian, interested very broadly in the role of sound, images, and communication in different human cultures across time. He’s especially interested in the role of modern ‘mass’ media – radio, cinema, television, the internet – in shaping popular life and thought in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. His books include Radio in the Global Age (2000), Life on Air: A History of Radio Four (2007), which won the Longmans-History Today Book of the Year Award and was nominated for the Orwell Prize, Public Service Broadcasting (2013), Noise: A Human History of Sound and Listening (2013), based on his 30-part Radio 4 series of the same name, and The BBC: A People’s History (2022), an authorised history published to coincide with the Corporation’s 2022 Centenary. David broadcasts regularly, and has written and presented numerous talks and documentaries for BBC Radio 3

Professor Margaretta Jolly is Professor of Cultural Studies in the School of Media, Arts and Humanities, University of Sussex and directs the University’s Centre for Life History and Life Writing Research. Her specialisms include life writing, oral history and audio/visual story-telling, particularly as these have been used in women’s liberation and other social justice movements. She is editor of The Encyclopedia of Life Writing (Routledge, 2001) and author of Sisterhood and After: An Oral History of the UK Women’s Liberation Movement (OUP, 2019), based on the archive she helped create in partnership with Polly Russell at the British Library 2010-14. Alongside her work with the Connected Histories of the BBC project, she leads The Business of Women’s Words: Purpose and Profit in Feminist Publishing, partnered with The British Library and funded by The Leverhulme Trust.

Margaretta Jolly

Dr Ben Jackson

Professor Tim Hitchcock, Tim Hitchcock is Professor of Digital History at the University of Sussex, and from 2014 to 2021 served as co-director, and latterly, director of the Sussex Humanities Lab. He has published widely on the histories of the histories of poverty, gender and sexuality, focusing primarily on eighteenth-century London. With Professor Robert Shoemaker and others, he has also created a series of websites helping to give direct public access to primary sources evidencing the history of Britain and underpinning the evolution of a ‘new history from below’. These sites include The Old Bailey Online, 1674 to 1913 (https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/); London Lives, 1690-1800 (https://www.londonlives.org/); Locating London’s Past (https://www.locatinglondon.org/); Connected Histories (https://www.connectedhistories.org/); and The Digital Panopticon: The Global Impact of London Punishments, 1780-1925 (https://www.digitalpanopticon.org/). For the Connected Histories of the BBC, he has overseen the development of the website, and with Dr Ben Jackson helped to develop the macroscope approach to data visualisation utilised here.

Tim Hitchcock

Denice Penrose is an information professional, and was the project administrator. She has an MSc in Information Science and is a chartered librarian, and has formerly managed multi-site libraries in FE settings. Denice has worked on the data structures in the project, including building a thesaurus and facetted syntax to aid searching. She has a particular interest in user friendly data tagging, and the synergy between human and AI tagging. She works on a range of other contracted and freelance projects, which include teaching, writing and other research projects.

Dr Anna-Maria Sichani is a media and cultural historian and a Digital Humanist. Her research interests include cultural and social aspects of transitional media(l) changes, born-digital archives, computational archival science, digital scholarly editing and publishing, open scholarship, open scholarly communication, research infrastructures and digital pedagogy. Previously, Anna-Maria held a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship as an Early Stage Researcher affiliated with the http://dixit.uni-koeln.de and she collaborated with a range of international digital humanities projects and networks. She is also a Software Sustainability Institute Fellow. Anna-Maria is currently a Research Fellow in Media History and Historical Data Modelling working on the AHRC-funded ‘Connected Histories of the BBC’ project.

AnnaMaria Sichani
Anna-Maria Sichani

Dr Alban Webb , Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Sussex. Alban is a modern British historian and author of the award-winning London Calling: Britain, the BBC World Service and the Cold War. He is Co-Investigator of the AHRC-funded Connected Histories of the BBC project and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. His current research focuses on Cold War Britain and the role of public and cultural diplomacy in international relations.

John Hughes has more than 25 years experience as a journalist and has recently completed his Masters Degree in Digital Documentary at the University of Sussex. His previous experience includes working for the Anti-Apartheid Movement Archives Committee and the International Defence and Aid Fund. For the project John video edited some of the interviews, checked transcripts, written summaries, undertaken research, and worked on data input. He is a member of the Project Advisory Board.

John Hughes

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Collaborators

A project of this size and complexity required a large team. It consisted of: Professor David Hendy (Principal Investigator); Professor Margaretta Jolly, the Director of the Centre for Life History and Life Writing Research, University of Sussex; Professor Tim Hitchcock, Dr Alban Webb, Dr Ben Jackson, Sussex Humanities Lab, Dr Anna-Maria Sichani, AHRC Research Fellow, and Denice Penrose.

Other members of the team included Dr Fiona Courage, the Associate Director of Special Collections at the University of Sussex Library and the Project interns, John Hughes, Mathilde Davidson and Madubashini Rathnnayake.

Technical assistance was provided by Louise Falcini of the Sussex Humanities Lab; Rob Cooper, Matt Haynes, Chris Newell at BBC Research and Development.

Film crews and editing services for the Sussex Centenary Collection were provided by Catalina Balan, Louisa Streeting, Josh Harris, Lee Gooding, Luke Finn and John Hughes.

Robert Seatter, the Head of BBC History, and John Escolme, the BBC History Manager, worked closely with the project team throughout to collate and transfer the Corporation’s oral history material and provide insights into their collections.

Project Partners

As well as being funded by the AHRC, Connected Histories of the BBC worked with four Project Partners, each of which provided a substantial contribution-in-kind to our research between 2017 and 2021. Project Partners were also represented on the Project Advisory Board, and therefore provided invaluable advice throughout.

The BBC gave us access to – and undertook digitisation of – all analogue recordings and original transcripts from the main Oral History Collection, the BBC History of North Regional Broadcasting Collection, the BBC World Service Moving Houses, the TV Centre 50th Anniversary collection, and parts of the Alexandra Palace Television Society collection. They also provided technical, editorial and website hosting support for 100 Voices that Made the BBC, as well as extensive press and publicity support throughout. BBC Research and Development also provided the set of new voice-to-text transcripts that now accompany most of the interviews. The partnership was managed for the BBC by Robert Seatter in the Director-General’s office.

The Science Museum Group made available interviews from its Horizon at 50 collection, offered curatorial expertise when it came to featuring BBC-related objects held in its own collections, and hosted public events at the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford and the Science Museum in London. The partnership was managed for SMG by Dr Tim Boon.

The British Entertainment History Project – previously known as the BECTU archive – made available recordings from its extensive collection of oral history interviews with broadcasting practitioners, both for 100 Voices that Made the BBC and this website. Curatorial assistance and advice was supplied by Sue Malden and Mike Dick.

Mass Observation provided extensive curatorial support and advice. It also covered the royalty fees that allowed us to feature a selection of its archive material on several editions of 100 Voices that Made the BBC. The partnership was managed for Mass Observation by Dr Fiona Courage.

Although not a formal Project Partner, the British Library offered additional support. Its former Head of Sound and Vision, Richard Ranft, was a member of the project’s Advisory Board and the British Library hosted a public event in June 2018 linked to the launch of 100 Voices that Made the BBC: People, Nation, Empire.

Project Governance

The Connected Histories of the BBC project follows the guidelines and procedures of the University of Sussex, and is subject to the University’s ethical review processes.

The Project Advisory Board and Digital Users Group provide support and guidance for the project. Their support and input provided over the course of the project has been invaluable, and the project team appreciate their input.

Project Advisory Board (PAB)

The Project Advisory Board (PAB) was convened to offer strategic advice in support of continuing progress.

Membership of Project Advisory Board:

Prof David Hendy (chair), (University of Sussex)
Dr Alban Webb (University of Sussex)
Dr Anna-Maria Sichani (University of Sussex)
Dr Ben Jackson (University of Sussex)
Bill Thompson (BBC)
ProfCaroline Bassett (University of Cambridge)
Denice Penrose (Project Administrator, University of Sussex)
Dr Emma Sandon (Birkbeck)
Dr Fiona Courage (Special Collections & Mass Observation, Library, Sussex)
Prof Helen Wood (University of Lancaster)
Prof Hugh Chignell (Bournemouth University)
Dr Jamie Medhurst (Aberystwyth University)Prof Jean Seaton (Westminster University)
Prof John Ellis (Royal Holloway)
John Escolme (BBC)
John Hughes (University of Sussex)

John Wyver (Westminster University)
Dr Kate Murphy (Bournemouth University)
Prof Lucy Robinson (History, University of Sussex)
Prof Margaretta Jolly (University of Sussex)
Prof Matt Houlbrook (Birmingham University)
Mike Dick (BECTU/BEHP)
Peter Collier (ITS, University of Sussex)
Prof Peter Mandler (Cambridge University)
Robert Seatter (BBC)
Rob Cooper (BBC R&D)
Prof Simon Potter (Bristol University)
Sue Malden (BEHP)
Dr Tim Boon (Science Museum Group)
Prof Tim Hitchcock (University of Sussex)
Dr Vicky Ball (De Montfort University) University of Lancaster
Dr Siân Nicholas (Aberystwyth University)

Digital Users Group (DUG)

The Digital User Group provided advice on technology, and offers specialist technological advice to support the project.

The Digital User Group (DUG) Consisted of

Prof Tim Hitchcock (chair), (University of Sussex)
Prof David Hendy, (University of Sussex)
Adam Harwood (University of Sussex)
Dr Alban Webb, (University of Sussex)
Dr Anna-Maria Sichani (University of Sussex)
Dr Ben Jackson (University of Sussex)
Bill Thompson (BBC)
Denice Penrose (University of Sussex)

Eirini Goudarouli (National Archives)
George Wright (BBC)
John Stack (NSMM)
Mahendra Mahey (British Library)
Mike Dick (BEHP)
Peter Collier (University of Sussex)
Rob Cooper (BBC R&D)
Sharon Webb (University of Sussex)


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100 Voices that made the BBC

100 Voices that Made the BBC consists of a series of specially-themed websites, developed by the Connected Histories of the BBC team and hosted by BBC History. The nine editions launched between 2015 and 2021 were designed to offer a taster of the BBC’s Oral History Collection and demonstrate how its interviews allow for new interpretations of key themes in the history of broadcasting.
The project aimed to showcase the voices of 100 people from the collection, but exceeded this tally, and produced two more themed websites than were originally planned. These ‘100 Voices’ are intended to sit alongside the BBC’s ‘100 Objects’ and ‘100 Images’ collections which will be part of the BBC Centenary Celebrations in 2022.

Elections

A woman is seated at a desk holding a sheet of paper. A woman worman is standing behind her, reading the document, alongside a man, who is lighting a pipe. The women are both holding cigarettes

1945 Radio Newsreel – BBC staff discussing a report on the General Election  ©BBC

The BBC pioneered the broadcasting of General Elections on radio and television. This edition considers how despite resistance from some quarters, the BBC found a way to bring the mysterious world of Parliament and politicians into living rooms.
This selection of clips from the BBC Oral History Collection was first published in 2015, to coincide with the UK General Election campaign that year. It features archive interviews with: Grace Wyndham Goldie, Ian Jacob, Leonard Miall, E.R. Thompson, Stephen Bonarjee, Harold Wilson, Hugh Carleton Greene, Paul Fox, Tony Benn, John Grist, William Whitelaw, Ludovic Kennedy, Cliff Michelmore, Robin Day, John Cole, and Margaret Douglas.
They offer vivid personal accounts of key moments in the evolution of political broadcasting since 1922. There are also sections on the evolving art of the political interview (including Jeremy Paxman’s famous encounter with Michael Howard in 1997), party political broadcasts, the coverage of party conferences and Parliamentary debates, the use in the studio of computers and the famous ‘Swingometer’, the racist election campaign in Smethwick in 1964, and short profiles of Grace Wyndham Goldie, Richard Dimbleby and Robin Day.
Alongside selections from the Oral History Collection, the website features rarely-seen TV archive recordings of election night coverage and other key political programmes, downloadable copies of several key documents from the BBC’s Written Archive Centre, and interviews with the elections expert David Butler, the former TV producer Suzanne Franks, and the former Head of BBC Political Programmes Sue Inglish, all recorded in 2015 especially for 100 Voices

The Birth of TV

A black and white image, showing five dancers. Three women stand with their hands clasped over their heads, while two men kneel on the ground. The women wear similar costumes, flounced lace skirts, bare midriffs, and halter neck tops, while the men wear striped trousers and floral shirts.

Ballet at Alexandra Palace ©BBcC

The BBC launched the world’s first regular ‘high-definition’ television service in 1936. This selection of clips from the BBC Oral History Collection explores the story of the BBC’s involvement in early television, from John Logie Baird’s mechanical experiments in the 1920s through to 1953, when the Corporation’s Television Service covered the Coronation of a new queen.
‘The Birth of TV’ features clips from the archive interviews with: Tony Bridgewater, Harold Bishop, James Redmond, Cecil Madden, Grace Wyndham Goldie, Stuart Williams, Peter Dimmock, Ian Jacob, Norman Collins, George Campey, and Joanna Spicer. There are also interviews with several former members of the ‘scenic design’ staff, recorded by the Alexandra Palace Television Society.
Together, these interviews provide detailed personal accounts of the BBC’s early dealings with Baird, the first trials with the new technology, experimental transmissions, and how many of the most famous pre-war programmes were made at Alexandra Palace. The website has special features on Cecil Madden, early TV sets, the first attempts at international TV broadcasting, the history of Test Cards, pioneering outside broadcasts, working life at Alexandra Palace, and the 1937 and 1953 Coronations. It provides several examples of rarely seen archive footage, including film of John Logie Baird experimenting with his mechanical TV system in 1929, a recreation of the first ever TV play, newsreel coverage of Alexandra Palace in 1936, footage of the 1937 Coronation broadcast, and clips from several pre-war TV drama productions and talks programmes. Documents from the BBC’s Written Archive Centre include one of the earliest audience research reports into TV viewing dating from 1937, and those from Mass Observation include a 1949 report that asked correspondents to reflect on how TV might affect their ‘home leisure pursuits’. A downloadable copy of Edward Pawley’s book, BBC Engineering 1922-1972, is also available through the website.

Radio Reinvented

Radio DJ Tony Blackburn is sitting in a recording studio smiling

DJ Tony Blackburn 1967  ©BBC

To mark fifty years since the launch of Radio 1, ‘Radio Reinvented’ offered a selection of clips from the BBC Oral History Collection that tells the behind-the-scenes story of the suppression of pirate radio and the BBC’s first pop-music station. It also sets this tumultuous episode in broadcasting history against a wider reorganisation of radio across the whole of the Corporation. On 30 September 1967, Radio 1 went on the air, the Light Programme changed into Radio 2, the old Third Programme became Radio 3, and the old Home service emerged as Radio 4. Although it was a ‘television age’ – indeed, because it was a ‘television age’ – radio was being reinvented from top to bottom. Were the changes wrought in 1967 instrumental in helping the older medium to survive as a major cultural force in the UK – or were other, longer-term processes just as important?
This selection of interviews from the BBC Oral History Collection features clips from: Terry Wogan, Hugh Carleton Greene, Robin Scott, Gerard Mansell, David Hatch, William Glock, Howard Newby, Stephen Bonarjee, Patricia Hughes, Tom Crowe, Philip French, Martin Esslin, Barbara Bray, John Tydeman, Liz Forgan. An interview with the presenter Pete Murray, recorded by the British Entertainment History Project, is included, along with clips from two newly-filmed interviews for the Sussex-BBC Centenary Collection: with the veteran presenter Tony Blackburn and the former Radio 1 Controller Johnny Beerling.
Alongside a detailed insiders’ account of the launch of Radio 1, there are short features on: Radio Caroline, jingles, the DJ, needle time, radio drama, the role of the continuity announcer, evolving styles of presentation, the creation of the ‘Music Programme’ for classical music lovers, and pressure for an all-news network. There’s a longer profile of John Peel and a new appraisal of the controversial 1973 radio drama by David Rudkin, Cries from Casement as His Bones are Brought to Dublin. The website also includes several archive programme recordings, key government documents relating to the closedown of the pirates, and downloadable copies of audience research from the 1960s held at the BBC’s Written Archive Centre. Material from Mass Observation includes early accounts of ‘background listening’ to radio from 1949 and public reaction to the BBC’s rolling news coverage of the 1991 Gulf War.

People, Nation, Empire

Pauline Henriques is seated at a desk with Samuel Sevlon in this black and white image. A large microphone bearing the letters BBC is inbetween them. They both hold pages of paper in front of them.

Pauline Henriques and Samuel Selvon in 1952 ©BBC

To mark seventy years from June 1948, when the Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury and King George formally ceased being Emperor of India, ‘People, Nation, Empire’ dipped into the archives to explore how the BBC has responded to a multi-cultural, post-Imperial Britain. It examines the representation of the immigrant experience on radio and television, and sheds light on the various ways in which broadcasters tried – and sometimes failed – to embrace diversity.
The selection of interviews from the BBC Oral History Collection features clips from: Cecil Madden, David Waine, Richard Francis, Robin Scott, Stuart Hood, Leonard Miall, Alan Bullock, Austen Kark, Charles Curran, Ian Jacob, Gerard Mansell, Martin Esslin, Ferenc Rentoul, Alexander Lieven, George Ivan Smith, Geraint Stanley Jones, Alwyn Roberts, John Snagge, Colin Morris, and Eric Fenn. Those from the BBC’s Oral History of North Regional Broadcasting Collection include: Olive Shapley, Ted Wilkinson, Grahame Miller, Alfred Bradley, and Yvonne Adamson.
The absence in either of these collections of sustained and explicit discussion of issues around immigration, racial discrimination, or cultural diversity is striking – as is the almost complete absence before the 1990s of interviewees from ethnic minority backgrounds. Given this, ‘People, Nation, Empire’ has had to draw on a lot of other archive material – especially written records and programme footage – in order to explore the theme of multiculturalism. Content of particular note includes: downloadable documents from the BBC Written Archives Centre, including news bulletins from 1948 reporting the arrival of the Empire Windrush and plans for programmes for immigrants in the 1960s; extracts from pioneering television programmes such as Special Enquiry: Has Britain a Colour Bar? (1955), A Man from the Sun (1956), Morning in the Streets (1960), Make Yourself at Home (1965), Fable (1965), and Empire Road (1978); programme archive recordings that feature interviews with several leading writers and poets, including Louise Bennett, Derek Walcott, John Figueroa, George Lamming, Langston Hughes, and James Baldwin; and Mass Observation records that explore public attitudes towards minority communities.
Special features focus on, among other themes, the origins of broadcasting to Europe, the BBC in India, pioneering programmes to the Caribbean, personnel links between Australia and the BBC, the work of Una Marson, Langston Hughes’ work for the BBC in 1964, the story of LGBTQ+ programmes on the BBC, the Black and White Minstrel Show,’ the pioneering access programme ‘Open Door, representations of the North, religious broadcasting’s approach to different faiths, and how programmes for children were conceived. In addition, ‘People, Nation, Empire’ featured an interview with the producer Tony Laryea, recorded by the British Entertainment History Project, and three new interviews – with Mike Phillips, Mark Tully, and Satish Jacob – recorded for the Sussex-BBC Centenary Collection.

Pioneering Women

BBC reporter Noni Wright is seated on the grass, holding a microphone. A young man is speaking to her while 8 others look on.

Noni Wright ©BBC

This edition of ‘100 Voices that Made the BBC ‘was prompted by the 2018 centenary of partial women’s suffrage. It draws on the BBC Oral History collection to explore the working lives of women at the BBC, both on air and behind-the-scenes, tracing the story from early pioneers in the 1920s and 1930s through to very recent debates about equal pay.
The selection of interviews from the BBC Oral History Collection features clips from: Olive Bottle, Janet Adam Smith, Mary Lewis, Grace Wyndham Goldie, Dorothy Preston, Mary Ticehurst, Monica Sims, Zena Skinner, Dorothy Torrey, Frances Line, Clare Lawson Dick, Charles Siepmann, Joanna Spicer, Jana Bennett, Zarin Patel, George Ivan Smith, Audrey Russell, and Yvonne Littlewood. An interview with Gillian Hush, part of the BBC’s Oral History of North Regional Broadcasting, is also included. Engineering staff, including
Gladys Davies, Barbara (‘Bimbi’) Harris, and Muriel Powell, are from the Alexandra Palace Television Society’s archives, and interviews with Yvonne Littlewood, Patricia (Paddy) Foy, and Margaret Dale, are from the British Entertainment History Project. Two new interviews, with Annie Nightingale and Lorna Clarke, filmed for the Sussex-BBC Centenary Collection, are also included.
The website profiles several women who never included in the BBC’s Oral History Collection but whose careers are historically significant, such as Hilda Matheson, Mary Somerville, Doris Arnold, Ada Hakeney, Elise Sprott, Fanny Cradock, Sue Lawley, Gwyneth Freeman, Muriel Howlett, Mary Hill, Peggie Broadhead, and Susan Belbin. More detailed profiles include analyses of the careers of the pioneering Marathi broadcaster Venu Chitale, the war correspondent Audrey Russell, and the pioneering Radio 1 DJ, Annie Nightingale.
A section on women of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop discusses the work of Elizabeth Parker, Daphne Oram, Maddalena Fagandini, Glynis Jones, and Delia Derbyshire. Other special features include items on Woman’s Hour, women engineers and camera operators, presenters, secretaries, typists and workers in the ‘General Office’, Controllers and senior managers.

The BBC and World War Two

Head and shoulders image of BBC War Correspondent in uniform, holding a BBC microphone.

Robin Duff ©BBC

On 3 September 1939 Britain went to war with Hitler’s Germany. In the fight against fascism, broadcasting played a starring role: as public informant, morale-booster, propaganda weapon. ‘The BBC and World War Two’ draws on the Oral History Collection to explore how the BBC shaped the popular experience of wartime – and how, by 1945, war had transformed the BBC itself.
This selection of interviews from the BBC Oral History Collection features clips from: Harold Bishop, John Snagge, John Daligan, Clare Lawson Dick, Stuart Williams, Mary Lewis, David Davis, John Green, Charles Hill, Alec Sutherland, CHG Millis, George Budden, Elisabeth Barker, Francis McLean, Godfrey Talbot, Frank Gillard, Tony Bridgewater, Leonard Miall, Alan Bullock, Harman Grisewood, Owen Reed, Malcolm Frost, Audrey Russell, Cecil Madden, William Paley, Robin Duff, Norman Collins, and Susan Ritchie. There are interviews with John Ammonds and Olive Shapley from the BBC History of North Regional Broadcasting Collection.
Alongside a detailed insiders’ account of the BBC’s role during the opening weeks of the war, there are features on the ‘Bore War’, music and comedy programmes as morale-boosters, life inside the BBC during the Blitz, bomb attacks on Broadcasting House, the BBC’s dealings with the Political Warfare Executive over propaganda broadcasts to Europe, coded messages being sent to resistance groups on the Continent, the BBC’s relationship with Britain’s allies, and the status of certain individuals – such as Churchill, De Gaulle and Petula Clark – as iconic wartime broadcasters.
There are several archive clips from broadcasts of the period. These include: Neville Chamberlain’s announcement of the start of war, Government announcements about wearing gas masks, a 1941 programme about Mass Observation, Ed Murrow reporting on the Blitz, the hit comedy series ITMA, Priestley’s Postscript, Workers’ Playtime, Music While You Work, Front Line Family and The Man Who Went to War – both from the BBC North American Service – Charles De Gaulle’s June 1940 appeal to the French, the announcement on 6 June 1944 that D-Day had commenced, commentary from the beach landings in Normandy, War Report, and special VE day broadcasts from May 1945. Documents from the BBC’s Written Archives Centre include secret plans to relocate broadcasting away from London, censorship arrangements for News, planning for D-Day and coverage of the Second Front. ‘The BBC and World War Two’ features a large number of extracts from Mass Observation, including several wartime diary entries that vividly capture public reactions – both positive and negative – to BBC output.

The BBC and the Cold War

A man is standing with his arms raised triumphantly. Behind him is a large banner bearing the word Solidarity in Polish.

Polish Solidarity ©BBC

‘The BBC and the Cold War’ marks the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9th November 1989. In both its domestic programmes and those broadcast overseas by its World Service, the BBC mapped the course of the Cold War for a global audience. Moreover, as an international broadcaster, the BBC soon found itself engaged in an arms war of the ether, as it beamed its programmes over the Iron Curtain.
Reflecting on the critical role the BBC played, as a source of both news and intelligence, the BBC Oral History Collection reveals insider accounts from the cultural frontline of the Cold War. The website features clips from interviews with: Anatol Goldberg; Ian Jacob; Gerard Mansell; Alexander Lieven; Maurice Latey; Martin Esslin; Charles Curran; Ferenc Rentoul; Harman Grisewood; Oliver Whitley; Hugh Gaitskell; Huw Wheldon; Hugh Carleton Greene; Frank Gillard; Tony Benn; Noel Clarke; John Tusa. Alongside these are programme clips that illustrate the significance of broadcasting during the Cold War: the competing speeches of British Prime Minister Anthony Eden and Opposition Leader Hugh Gaitskell during the height of the 1956 Suez crisis; issues of civil defence and the horror of thermonuclear destruction, as seen in the 1965 BBC drama The War Game, which was banned from broadcast for twenty years.
In interviews recorded for the Sussex-BBC Centenary Collection, Eugeniusz Smolar reveals how an IBM computer provided a vital link between the Polish Solidarity movement and BBC journalists as they reported on the imposition of Martial Law in Poland in the early 1980s. Bridget Kendall and Elisbeth Robson-Elliot give eye-witness accounts of the collapse of Soviet communism in Moscow. And Peter Udell reflects on a career broadcasting over the Iron Curtain.
From the emergence of a new global conflict out of the unresolved tensions of the Second World War, to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the BBC provided a running commentary on the lived experience of the Cold War. This included giving voice on the airwaves to those living on the other side of the Iron Curtain, in the BBC German Service programme Letters without Signature. Exploring the theme of nuclear disarmament, as exemplified by the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp. And the uses made of the open source intelligence supplied by the BBC Monitoring Service to its BBC and British government customers. As a consequence, ‘The BBC and the Cold War’ offers unique insights into the role of broadcasting during the defining geopolitical conflict of the second half of the Twentieth Century.

Entertaining the UK

Morcambe and wise are standing on a stage, performing. Morcambe is singing, one arm raised, while Ernie has both arms outstretched, and is leaning back. Both are wearing black suits and bow ties.
1970 Eric Morecambe, Ernie Wise – (C) BBC – Photographer: Unknown

Eighty-five years after the BBC broadcast its first-ever variety programme for television – during the 1936 RadiOlympia exhibition – Entertaining the UK draws on a range of interviews from the BBC Oral History Collection to explore the most enjoyable of the BBC’s three founding principles: to entertain. Along with the Reithian injunctions to inform and educate, collectively they have underpinned public service broadcasting in the United Kingdom for a century.
Comedy, music, drama, natural history, and a sense of occasion and spectacle have all played their part in convening the country, nations and regions around the BBC’s broadcast output. Entertaining the UK sheds new light on this rich heritage, giving us a ring-side seat next to some of the most memorable moments in the history of broadcasting. These include the magic of Morecambe and Wise – and the Christmas Special with André Previn – the invention of the Generation Game, and the origins of Dr Who. Innovative new formats, such as Sportsview and Grandstand pioneered new journalistic techniques, while the advent of natural history broadcasting irrevocably changed our relationship to the world around us. Drama and comedy allowed us to examine the light and dark sides of the human condition, and music has remained part of the rhythm and rhyme of broadcasting over the last 100 years.
Interviews from the BBC Oral History Collection include: Paul Fox; Steven Hearst; Bill Cotton; John Ammonds; Frank Muir; Donald Baverstock; Hugh Carleton Greene; Desmond Hawkins; Tony Soper; Monica Sims; David Attenborough; Alan Hart; Michael Grade; Sydney Newman; Peter Dimmock; Seymour de Lotbiniere; Bryan Cowgill; Ray Lakeland; Francis House; Meryl O’Keefe; James Burke; Roger Mosey; Amanda Farnsworth; William Glock; Humphrey Burton; Yvonne Littlewood; Alun Oldfield Davies; Cliff Morgan; Huw Wheldon; Michael Jackson; Andrew Stewart; James Hawthorne. In addition, there are also clips from British Entertainment History Project interviews with James Gilbert, Dennis Main Wilson, David Attenborough and Pete Murray, with Johnny Beerling, from the Sussex-BBC Centenary Collection.
Entertaining the UK reflects a core editorial concern for the BBC: the need to engage audiences with broadcast material that informs and educates, while also entertaining them sufficiently to keep them coming back. The BBC’s solution was to create content that did both, as far as was possible, fusing them into its particular brand of public service broadcasting.

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Contact

Email: connectedhistoriesofthebbc@sussex.ac.uk