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 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.
As part of the project, new oral history interviews with BBC staff were filmed.
These were individuals who are not included in the official BBC catalogue but who have a significant contribution to make to the collection. The interviews cover their whole lives, not just their BBC career, and broaden the scope of the collection. Each has been transcribed and tagged, linking them to existing resources.
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.
The BBC: A People’s History by the Connected Histories of the BBC project’s founding director David Hendy was published on 27 January 2022 by Profile Books Ltd. Based on many of the unique oral histories that the CH-BBC project is helping to bring to public view, it is the only BBC-authorised centenary history book and traces the BBC from its maverick beginnings through war, the creation of television, changing public tastes, austerity, and massive cultural change.
The BBC has constantly evolved, developing from one radio station, to television, then multiple channels and now the competition with the internet and streaming services. The BBC: A People’sHistoryis a history of a now global institution that defines Britain and created modern broadcasting; it is also a reflection of 100 years of British history.
Hendy’s history not only complements Asa Briggs’s five-volume oeuvre on BBC’s history by dealing with a much longer period but takes a different ‘bottom up’ approach rather than an institutional one, by focusing on the people’s stories: on oral histories from former staff, as found in BBC Oral History Archive, as well as on audience accounts and reactions on BBC’s presence/programmes in the public sphere of mid-twentieth-century Britain.
Hendy’s book tells not an institutional history but mainly people’s stories about setting up, staffing, advancing their careers, making friends and enemies, struggling and flourishing within an institution. It also tells people’s stories about the transformative cultural, educational and informational dimension of having the BBC as background throughout their lives.
All in all, The BBC: A People’s Historyhelps tracing the public understanding of the BBC’s own rich and complex past, and especially its role in a society and culture in constant change. This brilliantly-written account of the BBC’s history, that has already gathered many reviews and has gone recently into the top ten of the UK’s non-fiction charts, makes the BBC looks as much of a National Treasure as the NHS, that, using Hendy’s concluding words, “we sometimes never know just how much we need or want [it] until it’s gone” (Hendy 2022, 571). And such a contribution can’t be more timely, just weeks after the announcement of the new five-year licence fee deal before deciding on a new funding model for the BBC and on its future altogether.
Celebrating 100 years of the BBC, David Hendy’s book complements a brilliant series of digital resources. These include 100 voices that made the BBC, which includes many tantalising oral history clips in stories including on war, nation, pioneering women and entertainment.
We are proud to recommend David’s wonderful book!
‘A fascinating and informative account of the BBC’s first 100 years’ Daily Telegraph
‘A dramatic tale of innovation and determination’ Guardian
‘A masterpiece … this is the authoritative, much-needed history of the BBC’s first century’ David Kynaston, historian and Visiting Professor at Kingston University
I wear many hats, and aside from working on the Connected Histories of the BBC project (CHBBC), I am an English teacher. As the project develops, and new archive materials are released, I’m fascinated by the wealth of resources on offer, and feel profoundly privileged to read materials ahead of their release. Today’s blog highlights some aspects of the “100 Voices that Made the BBC” websites that we are creating for the BBC as part of this project, and how they can be used in teaching.
Our overarching aim in the project is working to make the archive materials from the BBC’s oral history collection available to the public. The “100 Voices” websites represent just one part of our work, offering the public some tantalising glimpses of the BBC’s collections, while, behind-the-scenes, we slowly get on with creating a database which will provide access to a huge range of materials. Each edition of “100 Voices” is built around a theme, and includes audio and video clips, documents, news bulletins and interviews from those who witnessed major events. For teachers, this is an incredible, rich archive of primary sources that can be used to broaden understanding of topics, and supplement lessons. They also provide an opportunity for students who are doing independent research to access primary sources of information.
Andrea Levy’s brilliant novel ”Small Island”, which appears in the A Level literature syllabus of several exam boards, tells the story of Jamaican immigrants trying to adjust to life in England. In “100 Voices that Made the BBC: People, Nation, Empire”, there is a section called “Caribbean Voices”. It talks about how the BBC provided programming for those living in the Caribbean, and includes a film clip from a 1944 cinema newsreel, “West Indies Calling” about some of those who came over to help with the war effort. “Caribbean Voices” gives some insight into the development of programmes for those new arrivals to British shores. Clips from the programmes are available, and allow us to see the types of programming that Andrea Levy’s Queenie and Hortense may have listened to, before arriving here.
Monica Ali’s book “Brick Lane”, another A-level text, talks about the life of Nazneen, a Bangladeshi woman who moves to London. Another part of the “100 Voices” websites focuses on the role of the BBC in India, charting the programming available to those in India both in the days of the British Empire, and after independence. In interviews recorded specially for this project, Mark Tully and Satish Jacob share their eye witness accounts of some of the major political changes that took place such as the declaration of a State of Emergency by the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1975, the attack on the Golden Temple, Operation Blue Star, and the creation of Bangladesh in 1971.
These clips and accounts give valuable insights into the background of some of the literature in the A level curriculum, and provide material that can be used to contribute to the understanding of the novels’ context.
Cultural Change and Development of Language
A significant part of the study of the English language, and of cultural change, includes study of how language changes and develops over time, and the influence of different cultures and pronunciations. Scattered throughout the “100 Voices” websites are interviews showing how the BBC adapted with the times, moving from the BBC’s use of modified ‘Received Pronunciation’ to the use of local voices and dialects. An example of this is in the section called “London Calling” which features a clip from an interview from “Women’s Hour” in 1976, with the Jamaican poet Louise Bennett. She was one of the first regular performers on “Calling the West Indies” after the war. This clip represented a radical departure from the usual BBC style which can be heard in other clips, such as that of John Snagge.
In particular, “100 Voices, People Nation and Empire” focuses on how Britain began the process of adapting to its multi-cultural and post-Imperial status, and the challenges the BBC faced in representing the changing nature of its audiences. This edition of “100 Voices” includes a clip from the opening edition of the documentary trilogy, “Windrush”, produced by Trevor Phillips. There are clips from some of the earliest BBC programmes for immigrants, such as “Make Yourself at Home,” and programmes that allowed regional and marginalized voices to be heard. Olive Shapley talks about how armed with mobile recording van, she was able to get out of the studio, and interview people going about their everyday lives in the streets. The main image on our project website is Olive Shapley with Mrs Emerson in the colliery village of Craghead, County Durham BBC North Region in 1939.
Broadcasting interviews like this represented a radical departure from normal BBC practice as set out by its first Director-General, John Reith. In 1924 he wrote a memo to staff declaring that “The speakers on Sundays should be men who can really get their message over, with a good voice and correct diction, and preferable preachers with a reputation.” That statement in itself is a fabulous discussion topic for a lesson, debate or assignment.
The clips, images and documents in the “100 Voices” websites are a treasure trove of snapshots of cultural change, and offer gems of information and visual representations of cultural change, and national diversity. I would urge you to search for your own diamonds in these carefully curated resources.
I’ve always loved Wilfred Owen’s war poetry, particularly the visceral imagery of “Dulce et decorum est.” While one of the editions of “100 voices” focuses on the Second World War, rather than the First, they still offer clips that give an insight into the life of a nation at war, and the inescapable irony that in spite of Owen’s derision of the idea that it is fitting to die for one’s country, and his disturbing imagery, the world went to war again a few years later. For students who have no experience of war, to listen to the chilling clip of Neville Chamberlain announcing that this country is at war, gives an understanding to the solemnity of the event that is unparalleled: https://www.bbc.com/historyofthebbc/100-voices/ww2/country-at-war
I found the Immersive Virtual reality Education Production of the 1943 Berlin Blitz 360˚ to be particularly fascinating. It uses original archive recordings from September 1943 when the BBC’s war correspondent, Wynford Vaughan-Thomas, boarded a Lancaster bomber to transmit the experience, and recreates a view from the cockpit on that night. He described it as “the most beautifully horrible sight I’ve ever seen”. As a writer, I can see how that quote could be used as a writing prompt for a piece of creative writing.
There is a wealth of material for English teachers in the archive, but even more for History teachers. I’m old enough to remember the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the Cold War, the focus of “100 voices: the BBC and the Cold War.” The Cold war is a large part of the History syllabus. I didn’t fully understand the significance at the time (and I wonder if we ever know how truly significant any event is until we’re able to judge it from a distance), but it was fascinating to listen to Bridget Kendall, the BBC’s former Moscow Correspondent, give a vivid behind-the-scenes account of the rise of Perestroika and Glasnost and the ultimate end of the Soviet Union.
In a new interview recorded specially for this project, Gienek Smoller, who at the time was the assistant head of the BBC Polish Section, reveals how an IBM computer was used to get news in and out of Poland during Martial Law. He talks about his experiences working for the reform organizations “KOR” and “Solidarity,” and fighting for freedom.
Another fascinating section talks about the threat of Nuclear destruction and includes the controversial BBC film “The War Game” Originally scheduled for transmission sometime in 1965, and banned by the BBC, it was released twenty years later.
For those studying the Second World War, the 100 Voices: the BBC and World War Two is particularly relevant . There are interviews with those working behind the scenes to bring the news, eyewitness accounts of major events, and diary entries from the Mass Observation Archive. There are accounts of how the BBC helped the war effort, and even how the music played in broadcasts provided secret messages to resistance fighters in occupied Europe.
There is so much more to draw from in the “100 Voices” collection, with resources for the Sciences (“The Birth of TV” and “Radio Reinvented”), Arts, Media History, Journalism, Politics and many other subjects. Every time I approach the collection, I learn something new, or find a new insight. I could easily keep writing, but perhaps it would be good to hand over to the other teachers out there to see how they can use this incredibly diverse and valuable collection of resources.
If you’ve used any of the archive materials in your lessons, we’d love to hear from you. If you’d like to share your lesson plans using the materials, we’d love to put them on our website.
JUNE 5, 2020
The challenge of inheritance
We’re delighted to announce that Professor Margaretta Jolly, a co-investigator in the Connected Histories of the BBC project, has just been awarded the 2019 Hogan Prize. The prize is given to an ‘outstanding essay’ submitted to a special issue of a/b: Auto/Biography Studies.
Here, Professor Jolly offers a bit of the background to her award.
In an age of citizen journalism, popular memoir and oral history communities, we enjoy an incredible variety of personal life writing. But for every life story circulated, there is the question of how it will be sustained and inherited. This of course is at the heart of the CH-BBC project, whose aim is to preserve, connect and celebrate the personal stories of BBC staff for future generations.
My essay in the special issue of a/b: Auto/Biography Studies, ‘Survival Writing: Autobiography versus Primatology in the Conservation Diaries of Alison Jolly’ offers an exploration of my mother Alison Jolly’s work as a primatologist of ring-tailed lemurs. I propose that my mother chose autobiographical modes to unsettle anthropomorphic and western perspectives, and to enhance conservation efforts in Madagascar. I arranged publication of her diaries posthumously, at her request and have found solace in this and in feminist cyborg scholar Donna Haraway’s ideas which interlink all species’ survival in the wake of the ‘anthropocene’.
Attenborough’s warning is clear: inheritance is increasingly a collective challenge, but that makes it no less personal.
Margaretta Jolly, June 2020.
APRIL 9, 2020
To Be Continued
Former BBC Monitoring Service employee’s journals found and adapted into a new web series.
“I don’t know what the future may bring, but I think there are fairly good prospects in the BBC. After two years there, I have a good chance of getting on the established staff and thus qualifying for a pension. So, perhaps for the first time in my life, I am in a good steady job at last.” Dick Perceval, 12th June 1950.
22 years ago, in Brighton, I found a box of journals in a pile of rubbish by the side of the road. Written by a man called Dick Perceval, they cover the 50 years from 1925 – 1975. They are an extraordinary record of the life of an ‘ordinary’ man.
From 1950 to 1964, Dick worked as a report writer for the BBC Monitoring Service. Previously, he had worked as a journalist, until the outbreak of World War Two interrupted his career. After volunteering to join the Royal Artillery as a Gunner and spending six months on anti-aircraft guns at Enfield Lock, Dick was suddenly summoned to the War Office to be interviewed for a job. He had no idea what the job was, or why they had chosen him, but as result of the interview he was recruited to work at Bletchley Park, as part of the team in Hut 3, where Enigma messages sent by the German Army and Air Force were decrypted, translated and analysed for vital intelligence.
On the conclusion of the war, Dick went to Hamburg, working in political intelligence as part of the Allied Control Commission, before returning to the UK to take up a job with the BBC Monitoring Service.
On the 12th June 1950, he writes,
“I handed in an application to the BBC in answer to an advertisement of theirs for “Report Writers” in their monitoring service at Caversham. Qualifications were a knowledge of foreign affairs and journalistic experience – salary, rising by annual increments of £45, up to £995 a year.”
Dick spoke fluent German, having spent some of his childhood in Germany. In 1925, he attended the University of Berlin on a one year foundation course, and his connections to Germany were further solidified through his marriage to Sorina Erbes – a German woman, 23 years his senior, and a fabulously flamboyant character. More of her later…
Dick started at the Monitoring Service in the Russian section and not, as he expected, in the German section. His journal gives a sense of the working environment at Caversham.
“Individually, the other six people in my section are all nice, but there is a marked tendency on the part of everybody there to keep to himself and I rather miss the spirit of camaraderie that I experienced throughout the war, and also in the Hamburg intelligence office. I have not therefore found any close friends at Caversham and, indeed, during the nine months I have been there, I have only met one of the 300 odd people working there outside the office socially, and that was a young man whom I invited round for a drink during the five weeks that we lived in a flat near Caversham. My work is entirely writing, most of which I do alone in a typing cubicle, and that suits me quite well.”
Dick loved writing. As a young man he had dreams of being a great author. Or Prime Minister. He couldn’t quite decide which. He came from a very privileged background and as a young man believed himself to be a genius. He was also a Romanticist, and his attempts at writing novels, which he documents in his journals, resulted in love stories with tragic and melodramatic plot lines, based on the people he surrounded himself with. Which brings me back to Sorina.
Dick met Sorina in 1931, when he was 22 years old, and was captivated by her. She was 44, married with three sons aged 12, 16 and 19. Following her divorce, her remarriage and a second divorce, Dick and Sorina were married in 1936, when he was 26. It was the biggest mistake of his life. It was a desperately unhappy marriage, his family cut him out of any inheritance and he didn’t have any children – a fact that caused him great sadness later.
Sorina died in 1960, of a heart attack and in his arms. After a couple of journal entries in which he reflects movingly about her death and on their life together, Dick stops writing until 1964.
“It is with great hesitation that I start writing a journal again, after an interval of about three years, I believe. During that period, I have had little time, and less inclination, to do this, although much that is of great importance to me has happened during these three years.
On 5 September 1961, I married again. I married Sheila, whom I had known for some years previously at the BBC, where she also worked before our marriage. It has been a most happy marriage and a great blessing in my life.” July 25th 1964
With the support of Sheila, Dick took early retirement from the BBC in 1964. He goes on –
“My work at the BBC continued much as before, the last few years being spent in the Far Eastern section of the Monitoring Service, which I much preferred to the Russian and East European sections I had previously worked in, partly because my own past experience in the Far East made it much more interesting to me, and partly because the people I worked with were more congenial to me. It was more interesting, but still not very interesting. The truth is that my heart was never really in my work at the BBC, most unfortunately. Whether this was my fault or not it is difficult to know. Except for one, comparatively brief period there, when I worked in the East European section, I was reasonably happy or at least as much so as one can expect to be when one’s heart is not in one’s work. But this is the fate of the vast majority and I was one of them.”
He reflects on whether he achieved ‘success’. He says that he started with the BBC on £750 per year and this rose to over £2000 by the time he left, but the increase was due to automatic processes, rather than through promotion, so he considered that his career was neither success nor failure.
“Neither a failure nor a success, alas, just about sums up the whole of my career to date, in my opinion, and that is the cause of the disappointment in my life that I feel. The main cause – but if I feel disappointed, this does not mean that I feel embittered. Not at all. I have long asked myself what true success in life may be, and how it can be judged. It is a question that fascinates me. I realised long ago that success cannot be measured merely by what a man earns, nor necessarily by what rank, position or grade he may rise to.”
In 2018, I visited Caversham to look at Dick Perceval’s staff file, which had been kept in the archives. The first document in the file is from 1938, 10 years before he started working there. It is a letter to the editor of the BBC magazine The Listener, to enquire if there were vacancies. The final document is his leaving note. Under the title Assessment of Career (including efficiency, conduct and any special aptitudes), there is a note that reads,
“Mr Perceval opted for Voluntary Early Retirement after nearly 16 years of service as Report Writer, Monitoring Service. On many occasions he acted temporarily as Senior Report Writer.
His period of service shows he was always conscientious and hardworking.” It is not an effusive report!
I have been working with sound designer Scott Smith and performer Gerard Bell to adapt entries from Dick’s journals into a series of short films that are available, for free, as a web series called To Be Continued. Dick Perceval’s story is brought to life through the re-appropriation of archive footage. A cast of hundreds is drawn from old Hollywood films, public information broadcasts, cine club creations and home movies.
Dick Perceval’s journals are fascinating. He writes about the life events that we all experience – falling in love, heartbreak, loss, disappointment, acceptance and of world events – war, elections, times of uncertainty, even a European Referendum. Dick’s journals shine a unique light onto the 20th century.
Subscribe to the series for free to receive links to further episodes delivered to your email address, on the same date that Dick wrote the journal entry. The series, which began on January 1st will continue till December 31st 2020.
What was it like to work for the BBC during the Second World War and did it play a special role in shaping the public’s experience of war? These are two of the issues addressed during our project’s third public event held on Saturday 19 October 2019 at The Keep in Brighton.
David Hendy introduced the latest addition to our 100 Voices that Made the BBC website https://www.bbc.com/historyofthebbc/100-voices/ww2 . David highlighted how the BBC’s oral history archives contain interviews with staff regarding their wartime experience. Among the recordings are Mary Lewis from the Duplicating Section who spoke of the “social revolution” that took place at the BBC, and Frank Gillard who was recruited as the War Correspondent.
I was particularly interested to hear about how large numbers of BBC staff were evacuated out of London during the war to Bristol, Bedford, Bangor, and Weston-Super-Mare. However, the BBC continued to operate from Broadcasting House and we learnt how the staff slept on the floor of the Concert Hall whilst facing the very real threat of being hit by German air bombers. Indeed, Broadcasting House was hit in October 1940 resulting in several deaths and many injuries.
Another extremely rich source of archival information was introduced by Fiona Courage, the curator of the Mass Observation Archive, which is held at The Keep. Among the 16 documents from the Mass Observation Archive available on the website are various responses from ordinary listeners to war news, A particularly striking one is the entry made in Adelaide Poole’s diary which noted that at times she could not bear to listen, wondering “what else the BBC will broadcast in order to give a thrill to those who sit at ease in far-off places?”
In the afternoon we split into three groups for our Reminiscence session where the participants were invited to share their wartime memories or their experience of listening to the BBC in more recent conflicts. Among the contributions was John who was evacuated to Bournemouth during the war and remembers the radio as absolutely crucial to his family and to him as a child – especially the news at nine O’clock and Children’s Hour.
Two of our contributors told us about the disappearance of tanks and Canadian soldiers from Brighton overnight and how the BBC later in the day brought news of the D-Day landing. The grandfather of one of our group presented the news and she retold how he explained to her that if he was reporting on controversial material an armed guard would stand next to him as he spoke into the microphone to make sure that he did not reveal anything sensitive – which he really resented. A discussion was held on the current BBC news output and whether viewers are “cosseted” from images of dead bodies and whether this poses a threat to the credibility of the BBC.
This discussion set the scene perfectly for the plenary session with our guest speaker Allan Little. Allan has been a BBC correspondent since 1985 and reported from Baghdad during the first Gulf War in 1990 and 1991. He gave a fascinating insight into the relative independence of BBC correspondents by giving details of his report on the bombing in 1991 of the Amiriyah air raid shelter where over three hundred people were sleeping. Despite facing criticism in Britain of the report being an instrument of propaganda, Allan stuck by his story as it was what he and Jeremy Bowen had witnessed. However, BBC Correspondents face criticism from all sides and Allan explained how during his time reporting on the breakup of Yugoslavia (1991 to 1995) he faced death threats for being perceived as a Western spy.
I found that the mixing of the memories of BBC staff and listeners created a powerful synthesis that highlighted the nuances of the history of the BBC. I very much look forward to the next event which will be held in 2020 on the topic of the Cold War.
OCTOBER 31, 2019
Opening-up the oral history of the BBC during World War Two
We’ve recently launched the sixth of our 100 Voices that Made the BBCwebsites, featuring some enticing highlights from the Corporation’s oral history archives. It’s all about The BBC and World War Two and it went live on 3 September 2019, to coincide with the 80th anniversary of the announcement that Britain was at war with Hitler’s Germany.
It contains some pretty extraordinary recordings – and some pretty extraordinary written documents. There are sixteen separate web-pages, each one devoted to a theme. Open them up, and you’ll access 81 extracts from the BBC’s oral history recordings – giving accounts from 31 different individuals, 27 clips from the BBC’s programme archives, 21 key wartime documents from the BBC’s Written Archive Centre, and 16 documents from the Mass Observation Archive. The hope is that, collectively, they offer a kaleidoscopic series of snapshots of a large and complex broadcasting institution at work – not just the traditional view from the ‘mountaintop’.
Some of the stories the website tells – the announcement of war, or behind-the-scenes accounts of programmes like ITMA and Music While You Work and War Report – are broadly familiar. But these new accounts also throw up some unexpected details which have not previously made their way into the history books. There is for instance Alec Sutherland’s account of the ‘shadowing of Big Ben’. It involved producers on standby in the studios, ready to replace the live sound of Big Ben striking 9pm with a recording of its chimes if the Luftwaffe were flying over Westminster at the very moment it was due to be broadcast. Alec Sutherland – one of the stars of this collection: he was a producer in the BBC’s Recorded Programmes department and hitherto overlooked in published accounts – also recalls the mistakes that could be made when sending secret codes over the airwaves to the Resistance groups in occupied Europe. From Frank Gillard and Robin Duff and Malcolm Frost we hear of the rows with supposedly close Allies over the reporting of battles. From Elizabeth Barker, John Greene, Norman Collins, and Clare Lawson Dick, we get to witness some of the bizarre behaviour of broadcasting icons such as General de Gaulle, Winston Churchill, and J.B. Priestley.
I think, too, that these oral history accounts shatter a few stubborn preconceptions about the BBC’s role in the Second World War. To give just one example: on VE Day, we might expect the BBC to wallow in a mood of celebration and patriotic fervour. But we’ve dug up the running-order for the day’s broadcasts, extracts from some of the programmes, diary entries from listeners, accounts of what was happening behind-the-scenes. What they reveal is a BBC reflecting a much more nuanced, and, if anything, rather sombre mood. We hear from broadcasters who are exhausted and unsure of what comes next, civilians who cannot forget the lives lost, the people of Germany as they wait to hear the terms of their surrender. The BBC reaches 1945 with its reputation – and its impact on the world – enlarged. But after nearly six years of working under siege, grappling with Government control and a propaganda role with which it was never entirely comfortable, the different accounts of 8 May 1945 show an organisation which was also rather battered and bewildered.
A few weeks after the website was launched, we held a packed and lively public event at the Keep, here in Sussex: War from the Inside – Oral Histories from the BBC. It was a chance for me to talk publicly about the project and what we’ve found – something that forced me to stand back a little and ask myself what, if anything, the 81 interview extracts we had chosen added up to. Was there a connecting theme, something they had in common?
Listening to them again, I was struck by the sense that all those who worked for the BBC through the war – announcers like John Snagge, typists like Mary Lewis, correspondents like Godfrey Talbot, Monitors like Martin Esslin – believed they were doing ‘war work’ of genuine value. More than this, they were putting their lives at risk, their bodies on the line. This was a ‘total war’, in which the civilian population on the ‘Home Front’ faced black-outs, rationing, air-raid or fire-guard duties, and nightly bombing raids. This was the experience of the BBC’s employees, too. They had to get to and from work. They also, very often, had to leave home and be billeted many miles from their families for month son end. And, as many of our accounts in the oral history collection show, the Luftwaffe made the BBC a special target: its buildings and transmitters were bombed on several occasions, with loss of life and many injured. The minute-by-minute account we’ve been able to assemble for the first time of the two bombs which hit Broadcasting House – in October and December 1940 – bring this home with gut-wrenching effect, I think.
To work for the BBC during the war was to work in a permanent state of siege – to face genuine danger. In the sections of the website about ‘The BBC in the Blitz’ and ‘The Bombing of Broadcasting House’, and we get a vivid sense of the deeply-felt and complicated emotions this state of siege threw up: a sense of camaraderie which often cut across traditional hierarchies and gender lines; a feeling of belonging to one’s tribe – as Clare Lawson Dick so memorably described it in her account of sheltering every night along with hundreds of colleagues in the basement floors of Broadcasting House; a new desire for informality in working relations which would outlast the conflict.
So, yes, the oral history accounts of the Second World War help reinforce and embellish the BBC we know: an organisation which grew in reputation and size during the conflict, and which discovered a more popular touch. But I would argue they also reveal what we might call an epigenetic mutation in the BBC’s DNA. Between 1939 and 1945 it was an organisation which, in terms of its mood and its working practices and its ethos, had changed in subtle but profound – and irreversible – ways. This, I believe, is something we would not have got if we relied on the written archives alone.
Connected Histories of the BBC.
AUGUST 20, 2019
Project Management Systems: Our project Journey
One of my first tasks as project administrator was to identify a Project Management System for the Connected Histories team to use. As an information professional, with a background in libraries management, and a techie at heart, this is the sort of challenge I relish.
Over the years, I have selected and implemented a wide range of organisational tools for various projects, and I am very comfortable with new systems. I considered what we would want from a project management system for this particular project, and came up with a list of criteria against which to evaluate prospective tools:
Task Management facility which included subtasks, reminders, task delegation and notifications or reminders of deadlines
Communication features which allowed for face time, email, online chat
Secure document storage and management, which offered version control and document sharing for collaborative working.
Reporting tools such as graphs, Gantt charts and flexible reporting facilities, allowing for the monitoring of progress.
Budget management features
Project calendar and calendar sharing
CRM facilities (Customer Relationship management) for storing contact information of people connected with the project.
Accessibility – mobile apps; desktop app and online services
I investigated a range of different options before selecting Bitrix. There is both a free and paid version, and while it is not designed for research project administration, it is the one free tool that ticks all the boxes above. It has an impressive range of functions. It’s easy to create and assign tasks, adding deadlines and tags, documents and comments. It includes email accounts, if wanted, but works with existing email addresses. The system includes customer relationship management, budgeting tools, and a range of reports that are customizable, although this requires an understanding of database structures. There is a desktop app, allowing for live chat, and face-time calls. Of all the tools I tried, this has the best functionality, although it is not as simple in appearance as others, contributing to its lack of success for this project.
Some of the data with which we are working in the project is confidential, and data security is paramount, particularly for the data received from the BBC. This had to be stored securely, and after a period of time, we were able to arrange a separate, secure server. This meant that there would always be elements of the project that would be housed separately, creating an additional level of complexity.
However, it was the human factor that I did not consider sufficiently, particularly the varying levels of engagement with the digital world and technology within the team. While I loved Bitrix, the team found that having to learn a new system was cumbersome, and complicated. There is a tension in academic circles between the way administrators work, and the way academics work, and sometimes what works for an administrator is not suitable for an academic. Ultimately we decided to stop using Bitrix.
Through a process of trial and error, looking at what everyone was using, and the programmes they found accessible and easy to use, we have settled on a ‘system’ that works for us, using a variety of programmes, rather than a single umbrella tool:
Data storage for working documentation is on the University’s Box system, and although we regularly discuss where in particular things should be stored, it allows everyone access to all of the documentation.
We have a secure server for the BBC data
We use email, (mainly Outlook, provided by the University) and I tend to attach documents, or include links to the document in Box.
I send out a weekly roundup of Project information (our Friday Update) and this is extremely effective.
In the update, I include a list of outstanding actions. I keep these listed in my Outlook tasks so I can monitor what needs to be done.
I manage the budget in spreadsheets, and all of the reports from the Finance System come as spreadsheets.
We have a separate project email account that includes a project calendar, which is shared with the team.
Reporting systems are not ideal, but reports can be collated if necessary
On reflection, for similar projects in the future I would:
Take more time to see what is currently being used by team members, and whether it is suitable. People can be reluctant to embrace yet more systems, and sometimes the best answer is to work with something that integrates with what they are already using.
Keep my own system for managing the project, probably spreadsheets, but distil these into a more engaging format for the team.
Ultimately, I think there is a gap in the market for a project management tool which is free, and suitable for research projects – providing the level of complexity needed for the administrators, and an engaging, easy to use front end for academics. Are there any developers out there who would like to collaborate on developing one?
Denice Penrose, August 2019
JULY 26, 2019
The BBC oral history collection as sound and data.
Most historians work in text – we imagine ourselves surrounded by books and filing cabinets full of archival scribblings. But increasingly, we also work with other kinds of data. For myself, the BBC Connected Histories project has challenged me to think differently about how I do research and what kinds of sources I use. In part this is because the project focuses on an ‘oral history’ collection – the BBC’s own oral history. But much more importantly, by obliging me to think about ‘sound’, it has also obliged me to think about space and place; video and image in new ways.
As information of all kinds has been transferred into a digital format something odd has happened. What were once discreet forms of ‘data’ – an audio recording, a description on the page, an architect’s drawing; have all been turned to forms of a digital signal – allowing us to weigh a .dat against a .doc, against a .jpg, .wav or .kml. These are all individual file types, but all made from the same binary code.
This, in turn, has challenged the project to think harder about how we work with the over 600 oral history interviews in the archive. Each interview is represented in a variety of forms. They exist as original tape recordings, and as human generated transcripts in hard copy. In turn, we have versions of them as PDFs of the hard copy transcripts; and as OCRd text derived from those transcripts, and as digital copies of the audio and video recordings of the interviews, and finally as digital texts created via a speech to text engine created from the recordings. The Connected Histories of the BBC project is working directly with four different representations of a single event – an oral history interview: an image (.pdf), an OCR’d text (.txt), a digital recording (.wav), and a speech to text version (.txt).
In the first instance, we are building the Connected Histories archive around these four data types in the expectation that comparing them will help both expose the limitations of each; and illuminate the ideological selection that these different forms imply. The archive will be built to allow these four representations to exist in parallel – linked for search and analysis. This approach will allow us to ask what was left out of the human transcripts? Do they hide the Umms and Ahhs of normal speech, or have errors of fact been silently corrected, or indeed libels excised? And it will allow us to interrogate the background sounds accidentally recorded in the interviews; and measure the cadence and volume of speech. Were these interviews quiet conversations, or emotionally charged encounters? And can we associate particular segments of ‘text’ with heightened tension evidenced from the recordings? And can we measure the distance between the two. Can we measure contempt or admiration in the tone and volume marked in audio – and can that in turn allow us to understand the textual representation differently?
This project self-consciously plays in the vast gulf between sound and text; but it also challenges historians to think harder about how information is recorded; and how our own practise of analysis and representation are effected by moving beyond text.
Professor of Digital History
MAY 23, 2019
What’s in an (oral history) archive?
When I initially started working for ‘Connected Histories of the BBC’ as a PostDoc Research Fellow, almost a year ago, I naively felt rather confident about my knowledge of what an archive might contain. I have previously worked with various mainly textual-based archives for my PhD research, as well as for different Digital Humanities (DH) projects I was involved with in recent years. I am familiar with the “allure of the archives” but also with the undocumented, scattered, unexpected assets, the often chaotic structure of files, folders and boxes. I am aware of – and by now, trained-in – how to treat and respect the original archival order, how to cite and use archival assets as a way to understand and narrate (often hidden) histories about the past.
But there is more that should interest us in an archive than archival assets. The historicity of the archival assets, linked to their very materiality, the historicity of the archival procedures, the documentation standards, the various archival catalogues produced throughout the years, the material aids and technologies, from paper clips to pencil marks and from handwritten paper catalogues to Excel spreadsheets; all of them are traces and agents of distinct moments in the history of the archive itself and, of course, they are of value themselves. One can experience all of these different archival qualities in the BBC Oral History Collection, and much more.
The BBC’s Oral History Archive was originally created in the early 1970s, when Frank Gillard started recording audio interviews with key ex-BBC people to mark the 50th anniversary of the BBC in 1972. This was done under the Reminiscences of the BBC banner – presumably an internal name given to distinguish it from BBC programmes. The project and the interviews continued throughout the years. From the beginning though, the BBC Oral History collection contained much more than oral history recordings, in audio and, subsequently, in film: correspondence with interviewees, production material such as transcription notes, question-sheets, consent forms, and so on.
In addition, the Collection has never been preserved or documented as a unified archive. Audio and audiovisual files have been preserved and documented at the BBC Written Archive Centre at Perivale and written assets (including correspondence, legacy transcripts and production material) have been stored and documented at the BBC Written Archives Centre. In the Written Archives there have been several distinct collections containing material from (or related to) the Oral History of the BBC. To complicate things further, there is also the ‘North Collection’, which includes interviews with BBC staff who worked over many years in the Corporation’s ‘North Region’ based in Manchester, and which used to operate as an independent collection.
Various cataloguing standards have been applied to all these assets through the years, resulting in a variety of filenames, multiple catalogues and audits of various formats. Moreover, different levels and qualities of archival information have been used to describe these assets and their relationships within those catalogues, and, alongside the recent digitisation of the material, they are posing additional challenges in terms of data provenance and accuracy. All these preservation and documentation attempts, alongside their subjects, have their own historical right and value: they also form ‘the archive’.
Working with the BBC Oral History Archive encompasses dealing with its historical legacy in every aspect. While we are trying, through this project, for the first time to bring together a scattered multimedia archive, we are also striving to make sense of various archival assets and their layered documentation. As a result, I now have a more comprehensive understanding of what an (oral history) archive might contain in terms of content but also in terms of its different materialities of archiving and documentation.
This has influenced my work on data modelling: for the digital archive we want to create for the BBC Oral History collection, I am assessing all the archival assets alongside all their information layers in order to develop a robust, clear and flexible data model, and an information architecture that will make this archive accessible in all its complexity and glory. In future posts, I will be able to share with you more technical aspects of the work we‘ll be doing. But for now…wish us luck and stay tuned!
MARCH 15, 2019
We’re entering a particularly busy time in the life of the Connected Histories of the BBC project. This month’s blog focusses on some of our upcoming events.
The Digital User Group (DUG) consists of experts in digital archiving, and meets regularly to provide support and assistance for the project. The DUG will be meeting in March and will be looking at the proposed data models, tagging and data structures for the database we are developing in order to make the BBC Oral History Archive more easily available to the public.
The Project Advisory Board (PAB) consists of academics, project partners and industry experts. The PAB meets annually to review the progress of the project, and to provide advice where needed. The PAB will be meeting at the University of Sussex in July.
We’re delighted that Elisabeth Robson Elliot, the former head of the BBC’s Russian Service, has agreed to be interviewed for the project. We plan to use excerpts for the next version of the 100 Voices websites, which will focus on War. Bridget Kendall, the former Diplomatic correspondent of the BBC, and now the first female head of Peterhouse, has also agreed to be interviewed for the project. We’re excited to hear what they can tell us about their experiences working for the BBC. We have identified three other individuals who we are approaching to be interviewed this year. Previous interviewees have included Lorna Clarke; Tony Blackburn; Johnny Beerling; Annie Nightingale; Mike Phillips; Satish Jacob and Mark Tully.
Alban Webb and David Hendy are reading through transcripts of the BBC oral history collection in preparation for the next ‘100 Voices’ website. Due for launch in September, the new website will focus on what the BBC’s archives can tell us about its role in the Second World War, and the Cold War. The website will feature exclusive extracts from the BBC Oral History Archives, and give an insight into war reporting. We will also include footage from the new interviews we will be filming in the coming months.
An important part of the project is collecting memories from members of the public. In the summer, we are planning another public event, which will showcase the new website, and offer an opportunity for the team to collect memories. Please sign up to our mailing list to receive updates, and copies of our news releases. We are also on Twitter: @ConnHistofBBC
Denice Penrose, Project Administrator
JANUARY 10, 2019
Why oral history? The BBC and the challenge of memory
Introspective, sometimes confessional, the 650+ filmed interviews with former staff in an ongoing oral history of the BBC contrast dramatically with the broadcaster’s lustrous front face. But for anyone wanting to understand the policies, people, direction and self-image of a broadcaster so uniquely powerful and respected, they are a treasure trove.
Former war correspondent, later BBC executive Frank Gillard’s inspired decision in 1971 to interview retiring staff anticipated the rise of ‘corporate oral history’. Today, recordings of the memories – and voices – of employees at all levels are recognised as valuable additions to the business archive, enhancing our understanding of a company’s development and culture.
Oral history has often been seen as appropriate for community or family projects. and has distinguished itself as a method of choice for socialists, feminists, and working class historians, giving ‘history back to the people in their own words’, as Paul Thompson put it in The Voice of the Past. Rob Perks, the British Library’s oral history curator, considers that oral history’s radical origins have tended to make it ‘ideologically averse’ to business history. Yet the growth of corporate oral histories has extended the method’s boundaries, both in the business world and in big public enterprises such as the BBC. It’s obvious that businesses and big bureaucracies have their own stories to tell – from founder-entrepreneurs making good, to the politics of growth, acquisitions and mergers, to struggles for survival in a world of constant change, from internet shopping to austerity and globalisation. Yet when a business or enterprise hits its centenary, as the BBC will do in 2022, oral history can reveal the secrets of endurance, or help turn heritage into brand.
The BBC is of course an extraordinary corporation, with a compelling history. Advantaged through subsidy by licence, it has always needed to balance competing demands as entertainer, educator, journalist and civil servant. Oral history can convey what it has felt like to live with these exceptional responsibilities, taking us into the world of digitisation and the transformation of public expectations and demands. The pride, pleasure, anxiety and frustration of doing all of this and more, are audible in many recordings. Listening for these, particularly where they reflect organisational dissension and change – such as Director General John Birt’s internal market reforms – helps us negotiate the risks of ‘vanity’ history when institutions interview their great and good. The Connected Histories of the BBC [CH-BBC] project is frankly exploring internal differences and minority voices, and the social contexts in which the corporation lives. This includes new oral histories, independent of the BBC’s existing collection. An interview with Mark Tully, former Bureau Chief in Delhi, for example, who resigned in protest at Birt’s changes, offers the perspective of a once powerful BBC insider.
Mike Phillips, spotted for Open Door in the 1970s as a commentator on Caribbean affairs, offers another angle, reflecting on the BBC’s struggle to adjust itself to multicultural Britishness. Phillips supports the case that there were BBC people who pushed for greater equality in content, but also testifies to the deeply personal struggles this could entail. At times, BBC programmes on national identity were far more open and progressive than the conservative, inward-looking oral history interviews with top management.
Oral history’s unreliability as retrospection drawn out through the biases of particular interviewers is of course a long-standing complaint made by traditional, document-based historians. Certainly, the CH-BBC draws on the rich store of letters, programme materials and related archival items to test and triangulate what is remembered and recounted. But oral history has an advantage as a medium of sound and feeling over the written record. Further, the mythologizing elements of memory – for example, the BBC World Service as a friendly Tower of Babel – can be pressed for analysis. At its peak, the World Service broadcast in 45 languages including a Welsh service transmitting to Patagonia, and Portuguese for Jersey, targeting the ex-patriate staff working in the island’s hotels. Yet as this incredible service has been forced to retrench, in the context of the arguably greater babble of the internet, the meaning behind the fall of the Tower of Babel takes on more significance.
Thus the oral history of the BBC joins the emerging critical corporate history archive which includes Tesco, Barings, the National Trust and the British Book Trade. Common themes touch on personal careers as part of a collective development and culture, and illuminating too the larger context of ‘long economic downturn’ and financialisation, the speeding pace of production and audit trails. Yet the BBC’s willingness to open up and work with historians and curators to share these voices is itself the best signal that this is a history of the future as much as the past. Here, through opening and connecting the archive, corporate memory will meet community memory, inviting us all to share our own stories of a business which remains a way of life as well as a cherished national institution.
CI to the project
DECEMBER 13, 2018
100 Voices that Made the BBC: Pioneering Women
As part of the AHRC-Connected Histories of the BBC, Saturday1st December 2018 saw the launch of the fifth in the series of BBC websites, 100 Voices that Made the BBC.
Pioneering Women is published to coincide with the centenary of women’s suffrage in the UK, and explores the contribution that women have made to shaping close to 100 years of British broadcasting.
The website includes a large number of clips from programmes which have not been seen or heard since they were first broadcast several decades ago. There are also numerous extracts from interviews, as well as photographs and written documents that are being made publicly available for the very first time.
BBC journalist Martha Kearney (presenter of Today on BBC 4) reflects on the inspiring career of the BBC’s first female war correspondent Audrey Russell.
The surprising story that in its earliest decades, the BBC was at the forefront of employers who promoted equal opportunities and equal pay for women. Documents reveal the determination of the first Director-General John Reith that women and men “should rank on the same footing” and should be equally eligible for promotion.
Documents revealing that the BBC was one of the first organisations to introduce maternity leave – this was in 1929, and it was in order to retain the services of the Mary Somerville, who headed the School Broadcasting department.
In the year that has seen the appearance of the first female Doctor, the website celebrates the pioneering composer Delia Derbyshire of the Radiophonic Workshop, who was responsible for the extraordinary arrangement of Doctor Who’s theme tune.
Photographs, footage and interviews with other women of the Radiophonic Workshop including Daphne Oram, Maddalena Fagandini, and Elizabeth Parker, the sound designer for cult TV series Blake’s 7.
A specially recorded interview with the first female DJ on Radio 1, and the first female presenter of the Old Grey Whistle Test, Annie Nightingale, who talks about facing sexist attitudes in broadcasting, and how moving from journalism to radio allowed her to concentrate on what really mattered – the music.
A specially recorded interview with Lorna Clarke, Head of Production for Radio 2 and 6 Music, who discusses the equal pay dispute.
A unique BBC love story between the BBC’s first telephonist Olive May and engineer Cecil Bottle, which provoked John Reith to reprimand the head of engineering for letting it happen!
The story of Muriel Howlett, an Australian who was working as a typist in the BBC newsroom when John Reith asked her to report from on board the first flying-boat service from England to Australia in 1938.
A specially recorded interview with Dame Jenni Murray, presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, giving her personal response to the archive material being released on this website. Dame Jenni reflects on the pioneering BBC women who inspire her, including Audrey Russell, Mary Somerville and Hilda Matheson; and talks about her experiences of sexism in the1970s; and being a “member of the #metoo brigade”.
Interviews with women who became broadcasting engineers during the Second World War, and excelled in roles previously only occupied by men. Recorded interviews with important presenters and producers including Olive Shapley, Gillian Hush, Monica Sims, Yvonne Littlewood, Zena Skinner, Margaret Dale, and Susan Belbin.
A television interview from a 1954 edition of Mainly for Women, with the Indian politician and diplomat, Lakshmi Pandit.
There is also a section called ‘Share Your Memories’ where you can upload your own thoughts and recollections as a viewer and listener to these BBC programmes.-
The text has been written by Dr Kate Murphy (Bournemouth)and Dr Jeannine Baker (Macquarie University, Australia), with guest contributions from other academics, including Professor Lucy Robinson (Sussex),Dr Sejal Sutaria (Grinnell College, Iowa), Dr David Butler (Manchester), Dr Emma Sandon (Birkbeck), Kate Terkanian (Bournemouth), Professor Helen Wood(Leicester), as well as Martha Kearney (BBC).
They include websites about the race and identity, the history of elections broadcasting, the birth of television, and the reinvention of radio in the 1960s. These websites also include a large number of programme clips, interviews, photographs, documents, and transcripts for download.
The 100 Voices that Made the BBC series is part of the AHRC-funded Connected Histories of the BBC project based at the University of Sussex and running from 2017 to 2021.
JULY 18, 2018
Website Launched- 100 Voices that made the BBC: People, Nation, Empire
The BBC has opened up its archives, to explore how TV and radio have understood and covered race, immigration, British identity, and nation across the twentieth century.
As part of the AHRC-Connected Histories of the BBC, the fourth in a series of BBC websites, 100 Voices that Made the BBC, has been released. It’s called People, Nation, Empire. Published to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush and the King’s formal renunciation of the title of Emperor of India, it explores how the BBC has tried to re-imagine itself in the multicultural and postimperial age – how it’s grappled over the years with the wider issue of who exactly gets to speak on air and who exactly gets to appear on screen. You can see it here
The website includes a large number of clips from programmes not seen since first broadcast several decades ago, as well as lots of interview recordings, photographs and written documents that are being made publicly available for the very first time through this website.
Subjects covered include:
the history of programmes addressing race and immigration
pioneering access television in the 1970s
broadcasting’s role in fostering Caribbean literature
the BBC in India
the World Service as a cultural melting-pot
portrayals of ‘the North’
religious broadcasting in a multi-faith world
the history of programming about LGBTQ+ issues.
As well as viewing clips and interviews, you can download and keep selected transcripts of interviews recorded with BBC pioneers and kept in the Corporation’s oral history archive.
You can also download important and previously unavailable documents from the BBC’s Written Archive Centre, which help reveal the inside story of the BBC.
BBC news bulletins from the day the Empire Windrush arrived in 1948
Rare clips and images of African-American and Black British performers on pre-war and post-war BBC television.
Documents revealing the behind-the-scenes story of how and why the BBC launched programmes for ‘Asian immigrants’ in 1965.
Clips of, among others, Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Derek Walcott, George Lamming, Louise Bennett, and John Figueroa speaking on the BBC.
Clips from pioneering dramas and documentaries dealing with immigration and cultural identity: A Man from the Sun (1956), Special Enquiry (1955), Morning in the Streets (1960), Fable (1965), Black Christmas (1977), Empire Road (1978)
The very first episode of Make Yourself at Home, the BBC’s TV programme for Asian immigrants launched in 1965.
Specially recorded location-interviews with the veteran Indian correspondents Satish Jacob and Mark Tully, discussing the role of the BBC in India and its reporting of key events such as the storming of the Golden Temple at Amritsar and the premiership of Indira Gandhi.
A specially recorded interview with the novelist and broadcaster Mike Phillips, discussing the challenges of being a black reporter at the BBC in the 1970s.
Documents and interviews asking why The Black and White Minstrel Show was still being broadcast in 1978.
Extended clips from two early episodes of Open Door, the BBC’s radical 1970s experiment in ‘access TV’ – one by a group of Black London teachers, the other by the ‘Transex Liberation Group’ – alongside interviews and documents revealing the origins of the series.
Documents from Mass Observation revealing British attitudes about race and immigration since 1939.
The story of Una Marson, the BBC’s first black producer, who developed broadcasting to the Caribbean during the Second World War – including the earliest known recording of her, and newly-available documentary evidence of why she left the BBC in 1946.
Programme scripts from the pioneering series Caribbean Voices, including the first appearance of a poem by Samuel Selvon.
Vivid portraits of the life and culture of the BBC’s ‘North Region’ before and after the war, through freshly-released interviews with Olive Shapley, Yvonne Adamson, Alfred Bradley, and John Snagge.
Intimate descriptions of life among international broadcasters working at Bush House during and after the Second World War.
A frank account from the former head of religious broadcasting, Colin Morris, about disagreements between the BBC and the established churches over the direction of multi-faith programming in the 1960s and 1970s.
Clips of early episodes from pioneering children’s TV series such as The Flowerpot Men (1952), Playschool (1971), Grange Hill (1978), and recorded interviews telling the inside story of their creation.
A timeline of key events in the BBC’s attempts to represent sexual diversity since 1957, including clips from This Time of Day-Lesbianism (1965), Man Alive-Consenting Adults (1967), Open Door (1973), Gaytime TV (1995), and other key documentaries from the 1960s through to 2017.
A filmed recording of John Agard performing his poem Grey, from the Video Nation series – part of the BBC’s marking of the fiftieth anniversary in 1998 of the arrival of Windrush.
A specially recorded interview with the broadcaster Samira Ahmed, giving her personal response to the archive material being released on this website.
Full transcripts from the BBC’s Oral History archive being made available here for the first time include: Olive Shapley, Alfred Bradley, Ted Wilkinson, Yvonne Adamson, David Waine, Colin Morris, and Owen Reed.
There is also a section called ‘Share Your Memories’ where you can upload your own thoughts and recollections as a viewer and listener to these BBC programmes.
Previous websites in the 100 Voices that Made the BBC series can be found here. They include websites about the history of elections broadcasting, the birth of television, and the reinvention of radio in the 1960s. These websites also include a large number of programme clips, interviews, photographs, documents, and transcripts for download.
The 100 Voices that Made the BBC series is part of the AHRC-funded Connected Histories of the BBC project based at the University of Sussex and running from 2017 to 2021. For background, see here.
David Hendy, University of Sussex Wednesday 18 July 2018
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.
Dr Ben Jackson is a Research Fellow in Digital Humanities at the University of Sussex with research interests (apart from Digital Humanities) in Heritage informatics, Digital media, Virtual prototyping, Large scale collaborative simulation and Distance Learning systems. His early career focused on technology in entertainment systems and he has a BSc in Multimedia and Digital Systems and a DPhil in Engineering and Design both from the University of Sussex.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
‘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
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.