Re-opening the Call for Mass Observers; motivations of a volunteer

by Kirsty Pattrick – Mass Observation Projects Officer

Close up photo of a person handwriting an entry into a diary.

“Writing a Mass Observation directive is like taking a thought for a walk” F5186

I was drawn to this lovely quote from one of our Observers. It makes me think of the times I go out walking and the value I put on this as a chance to gain perspective and process my thoughts. It is something that regularly arises when our panel share their experiences of Mass Observation (MO); the chance their writing gives them to think and reflect, and the benefits of this.

Over the years of managing the project I’ve read of our Observer’s motivations and experiences and so often therapeutic feelings are mentioned. It’s not necessarily a driver but it’s certainly a positive experience of participating. That moment to themselves, to stop and think. To put their thoughts and feelings onto the page and to have their opinions heard. This could be on a subject they feel strongly about or something they have little experience of. From Directives (open questionnaires) on Sex Education, Brexit and Kindness to Homelessness, Eurovision, and Protests, we attempt to generate questions on topics they can all respond to.

“It is calming, makes you use your brain and gives a sense of purpose” H1776

There are multiple reasons why people join Mass Observations national panel and as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded we saw a sharp rise in interest. For the majority, it makes them feel good and the process of writing feels rewarding as they know their contributions are valued.

As an archive of everyday life in Britain, people are motivated by writing for history, as a legacy of themselves and of maybe being like Nella Last, one of our most well know wartime diarists. Our Observers also know though, that their writing is being used by current researchers and this appeals, their voice being part of contemporary research.

“I picture someone looking for something, notebook and pen waiting, and scanning my pages in their search. Maybe stopping to read this bit right here, because hi, yes, I’m talking to you, unknown reader” C5706

In 2020 over 5,500 people put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard for Mass Observation. Of this figure 400+ were regular volunteers who wrote in response to prompts on different topics across the year (Spring, Summer, and Autumn). With reference numbers to protect their identity Observers can write openly, sharing their inner most thoughts and feelings. In much of the COVID-19 collection their emotions are palpable, as they document their lived experiences.

“Joking apart, he [Boris Johnson] is an unmitigated disaster for the country. And he is the reason why I don’t sleep. Well, that, and the fear of dying” (H7412)

Motivations to write

“I have learnt things about myself whilst doing it.. I think writing is very therapeutic, not only is the process a good exercise to keep you thinking but that ordering ones thoughts helps to bring about a calmness to me” B7546

There are many studies which have demonstrated the potential benefits of expressive writing for peoples physical and psychological health, both in the short and long-term. For some this could be improved memory, for others, greater psychological wellbeing and/or reduced depressive symptoms (Baikie., K & Wilhelm, K.; 2005).

Last year we asked our Mass Observers why they write, and what they gain from this experience. I want to share some of their responses. It might just ignite the writer in you…

For many Observers, their participation can be an emotional release, using writing as an outlet:

“I enjoy pouring onto the page what has been stacking up in my head – it feels like offloading stressful thoughts and discussing matters with an interested party is hugely rewarding” C7297

“By writing, I can get some things off my chest and also figure out what I actually think about certain topics.. I worry a lot about everything. I find that writing helps me to clarify things and put things into perspective” L6762

Although it is acknowledged that it is not always easy, some subjects can be challenging, others may feel triggering or are of little interest. Observers are keen to respond even if to tell us the subject didn’t appeal. Eurovision was certainly a divisive subject.

“I find the chosen subjects thought-provoking; sometimes, when writing, I discover I have opinions I didn’t know I had (or had never properly articulated). In that respect, I find the process helpful and occasionally therapeutic” H6004

“No one will judge it and there is no deadline. I have also found it quite cathartic; sometimes it’s just very nice to think about something quite carefully that is different from work/home” G6744

Observers share the importance of their voice being one of many and for this to be captured for posterity. Knowing their writing is being safeguarded in the archive.

“I know that my life is quite different in some ways from people who get married, have children, etc – and maybe it is important to me to feel included in social history” H6109

“I feel although my life is ordinary and forgettable to others, it is real, and it is mine… You can never tell what will become of interest to future researchers, so I feel MO is a great way of recording a tiny part of the large amount of otherwise unrecorded history” C3603

“I want to be honest with them, tell them how I feel and let them know that twenty, thirty, forty or even a hundred years ago, there was this bloke called me, and he had something to say” P6988

The strength of anonymity is key for many to respond to difficult or challenging topics. Researchers will know key biographical information, but Observers can write freely knowing their identity is protected. This often provides rich and insightful material.

“I would be less likely to answer some directives if I were not writing anonymously” H2637

“What I get from MO is a sense of “writing for a purpose”… The fact MO is anonymous and stored centrally, rather than somewhere in my house that people may find it and be upset after my death, frees me to be more candidC5847

How to get involved

We have now re-opened our call to new Mass Observers. We welcome volunteers of all ages across the UK and particularly those of you who consider your voice to be in the minority.

The way in which you respond and how much you write is entirely personal. For further information on becoming a Mass Observer visit No skills or qualifications are required, just a wish to write and to contribute, and of course some time.

Kirsty Pattrick, Mass Observation Projects Officer

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Freedom Day – new perspectives on apartheid from the BLDS Legacy Collection

Today marks the 28th anniversary of South Africa’s first post-apartheid elections, now commemorated as Freedom Day. Previously, under the apartheid regime, non-whites in general had only limited voting rights, while black South Africans were unable to vote at all. The 1994 elections were the first non-racial national elections where everyone over the age of 18 from any race group was allowed to vote.

While working our way through the material from across the Global South held in the British Library for Development Studies (BLDS) Legacy Collection, it was noticeable that the issue of the apartheid regime would be addressed – in some way – in almost every country we encountered. As a consequence, we thought a blog post marking the anniversary of Freedom Day would be a great opportunity to draw attention to the multiple perspectives that the collection makes available to researchers and those interested in global reactions to events in the period from 1960-2000.

The most substantial engagement with the issue of apartheid can be found, unsurprisingly, in the material collected from other countries in Africa. The images below, found in information bulletins from Guinea and Senegal, give a snapshot of the debates around apartheid going on in these countries – the cartoons are especially striking in getting their message across.

Page from Fonike bulletin (Guinea), with cartoon condemning apartheid.
Fonike, BLDS Legacy Collection (Guinea, box 28)
Extract from Senegalese bulletin, Senegal D'aujourd'hui, with cartoon condemning apartheid.
Senegal D’aujourd’hui, BLDS Legacy Collection (Senegal)

In a similar way, the pages below, from a Ghanaian journal titled The Verdict, give us some insight into how apartheid was being discussed in Ghana, but also of how the issue was situated as being part of a wider ‘liberation front’ across Africa, with the idea of solidarity across this wider liberation struggle being an important theme. It is also worth noting that the article by Pius Yaokuma-Boateng specifically names the UK and American governments of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan as ‘the two most formidable opponents’ of the struggle for emancipation for South African blacks. In this way, we can see how material from collections like these can offer new, non-Western perspectives on major global events.

Discussion of the apartheid regime is not, however, exclusive to material from the African continent. The pamphlets below from the South American country of Guyana show how the idea of solidarity in the ‘struggle for liberation’ continues across the South Atlantic Ocean, thousands of miles away, and ties apartheid to the wider issue of Southern African liberation.

Front covers of two Guyanese pamphlets about the Georgetown Declaration of Solidarity and Support for the Liberation of Southern Africa.
Pamphlets, BLDS Legacy Collection (Guyana, box 1)

The pamphlets mark the International Forum on the Liberation of Southern Africa that was held in Georgetown, Guyana in 1981, and give a fascinating insight into the ways in which countries from across the Global South convened to mobilise greater international support for liberatory causes.

In a slightly different way, the front page from India News below, published in London, gives an indication of how prominent the issues around apartheid and potential sanctions for South Africa were at the time.

Front page of India News from May 28 1981, with article titled 'Plea for sanctions against S. Africa'.
India News, BLDS Legacy Collection (India, box 1036)

We have also included some images from a couple of the non-governmental publications we hold in the BLDS Legacy Collection. The first two images, a front and back page from the ANC-produced magazine Voice of Women are of obvious relevance here, giving a view of the apartheid regime not only from within South Africa, but specifically from the perspective of women living under the oppressive system of apartheid.

The final two images are a 1976 front cover of the Cuban magazine Tricontinental and an African bulletin produced in 1984 by the International Union of Students. These offer us another perspective again, one of international condemnation of the apartheid regime from the standpoint of anti-colonial solidarity across the non-aligned movement and the international student movement respectively.

While we haven’t had the time to dig into the material in any real depth, we hope that these examples of how the BLDS Legacy Collection’s holdings engage with the issue of apartheid give an idea of the multiple and varied perspectives the collection can offer on global events from the second half of the twentieth century.

If you are interested in learning more about any of the materials mentioned above or about the BLDS Legacy Collection in general, then please feel free to contact us at

Happy Freedom Day!

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Everyday kindness

By Suzanne Rose – Mass Observation Education and outreach officer

Richard Ratcliffe, currently on day 17 of a hunger strike as part of his campaign to free his wife Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe writes in The Guardian on 10th November 2021,

“Amid all this angry politics, I have been struck by the care and kindness of strangers – packages sent via Amazon, the visits from old friends, former teachers from school or university, my old boss. It is not food, but it is sustenance. Our story is dark in many ways, but that reminder of kindness is absolutely central to survival.”

It is perhaps fitting that he should write of the vital importance of kindness at this time. On Saturday 13th November 2021 it is World Kindness Day. To mark this occasion, KindFest will be celebrating all manner of kindness and inviting people to join the Kindness revolution.

Mass Observation is only too keen to support to this online festival of kindness and looks forward to celebrating all things kind. MO will be encouraging people to share examples of everyday kindness #MOKindness

The Mass Observation Archive has been recording everyday life and the thoughts, feelings, beliefs and opinions of ordinary people since 1937. Through diaries and responses to directives we can come to understand how kindness manifests through time and at key points in our history. A dip into the collection reveals examples of kindness from war time tales of childhood evacuation and the Blitz, to everyday kindness shown to the local milkman.

Of course these are the stories we have been told of the war and there are many differing accounts within the archive, which might suggest not everyone was so keen to show kindness at this time of crisis, but for those that did, their example is both heartening and humbling.

Mass Observation’s ‘What Is Happiness?’ survey from 1938, also reveals much about how closely aligned this is to kindness with many noting that being kind to others is a source of happiness for ourselves.

Asked in 1989, writers for the Mass Observation Project responded to a directive on Rules of Conduct and how these are observed in daily life. Responses spoke of manners and behaviour, but also of kindness and the simple act of smiling at a stranger.

Kindness can be found throughout the collection as it permeates responses to directives as diverse as the NHS, Social Wellbeing, Friends and Neighbours, Close Relationships, Education, Growing Older, Present Giving and Receiving, The Family, Childhood and Dear 16 year old me, which encouraged people to reflect and show a little kindness and compassion to their younger selves.

There are, however, many places and spaces where kindness may be harder to find and to this end Mass Observation’s outreach and engagement programme has sought to capture the voices of those who so often go unheard, such as those in prison, or who are street homeless. Responses shine a light on areas where society could do more to show and offer kindness.

Mass Observation was well placed to record the Covid-19 pandemic and has collected over 10,000 narrative accounts in the form of diaries, journals and directive responses detailing this extraordinary time in our lives. Many echo the experiences of the Second World War. Despite the empty streets of Lockdown and the lack of human contact, kindness still seeps through many of the accounts of this time. From support for the NHS and care workers, to friends, family neighbours and communities coming together to show kindness, we are offered a glimpse of what it meant to people.

Mass Observation continues to explore and record topics, which are vital to our understanding of ourselves and everyday life in Britain and is thrilled to be working with the School of Psychology at The University of Sussex on the new directive on Kindness, which will be launched at Kindfest 2021.

Extracts on Kindness from Mass Observation

“A great reminder that kindness is like a golden thread running through human beings regardless of time or place.” Professor Robin Banerjee, Head of School of Psychology at University of Sussex

The Mass Observation Archive is housed at The Keep as part of the University’s Special Collections. If you would like any further information about the collection please email and keep up-to-date with all things Mass Observation @MassObsArchive

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Posted in MO (Mass Observation), The Keep

Welcome to Legacy…

The University of Sussex Library Legacy collection

A diverse collection of over 20,000 documents, pamphlets, books and reports which have been collected by the Library since it opened in 1964 From local to national, the well known to little known organisations the collection covers a huge range of subjects.

To aid discovery the collection is split into 8 themes:

  • Gender Studies and Feminism
  • Popular and Counter Cultures
  • Post WW2 World Order
  • Political Movements and Parties
  • Trade Unions
  • Social Movements
  • Social Welfare
  • War

There are hundreds of LGBTQAI+ journals and books from the personal libraries of Rosey Pool and Harvey Matusow (see our previous posts to learn more about the unique character that is Harvey Matusow)

  • Front cover of pamphlet Women where are your jobs going
  • Front cover of The Abolitionist - a quarterly journal from Radical alternatives to prison - Summer 1979
  • Front cover of Battling for copyright - freelance journalists versus the media conglomerates
  • Front cover of Asian girls group
  • Front cover of Heads together by Frank Beswick M.P. - A discussion of the worker's place in industry
  • Front cover of Report of conference on a minimum wage - National anti-sweating league
  • Front cover of What the schools say about the cuts
  • Front cover of Toryism road to chaos
  • Front cover of Ginger - the magazine for one parent families, June 1981, No.56
  • Front cover of FACT the Labour party monthly - April 1951
  • Picture of The young say yes pamphlet
  • Front cover of the story of farm tools - Young farmer's club
  • Front cover of END Journal of European nuclear disarmament - Issue 14 Feb-Mar 1985
  • Front cover of END - Journal of European nuclear disarmament - Issue 7 Dec 1983-Jan 1984
  • Front cover of Story of a school
  • Front cover of NUS voice of the students
  • Front cover of A charter of protection? A pilot study of the working domestic violence and matrimonial proceedings act 1976 by Jane Ansell
  • Front cover of Britain's social services today and tomorrow by Arthur Wauters
  • Front cover of NUS on the attack - an introduction to National Union of Students 1972-1973
  • Front cover of Our women - go forward to the world they want
  • Front cover of Britain reborn No.5 Men and money - The Co-operative party

A rich resource for research, available to all Library users.

Work to catalogue all Legacy items continues in earnest, all catalogued items can be found on Library search and requested to be viewed in our Legacy reading room.

If you would like more information about the collection email

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Posted in Legacy collection, The Library

Listening to the Most Hated Man in America – Part 2

A glimpse into the audio archive of Harvey Matusow

By Duncan Harrison – UOSH Audio preservation engineer

A Political Career on Tape

The first thing to be aware of is that this audio content does not really provide a chronological narrative of Matusow’s life. Like everything related to him, we rather obtain snapshots or glimpses of varying size and quality into the numerous activities he undertook throughout the years. The political recordings, consisting of various appearances at home, on the radio and even during testimonial hearing, swing back and forth between the midst and immediate aftermath of Matusow’s ‘red baiting’ career. One moment we might hear Harvey in full anti-communist flight, warning a local radio audience or a rapt crowd of university students about the dangers of the movement, while the following tape will find him holding court with an interviewer in discussion about his forthcoming book which will reveal the lies and inaccuracies upon which recordings of the previous kind were apparently founded. This alone is valuable content in that it offers us real time, audible access to Matusow in the process of doing what made him most notorious.

Matusow discussing his testimony in preparation for the publication of ‘False Witness’ Ref: SxMs8/6/3/1

Matusow’s post-HUAC line was that he had become a communist whistle blower in order to expose the cynical inner workings of McCarthyism. In a section of one recording while speaking of his previous testimonies, Matusow describes himself as an ‘actor’ who treated his appearances as ‘performances’ and to take him at his word we can see evidence that this may well have been true. Throughout several of these documents Matusow appears to be operating with theatrical zeal – quick witted, charming and clearly riding high on a wave of oratory satisfaction – it is not difficult to believe that we are listening to a highly intelligent figure who might find themselves successfully portraying a role in the service of their own deeper critique of American political behaviour. When, for example, he reflects on his testimonies as a member of HAUC, laughing scornfully at how he was able to predict and manipulate proceedings in order to influence juries and create newspaper headlines, we might well be convinced that he understood how to play the system. However in many other recordings which capture him in the act of whistleblowing itself – filled with unhesitating naming of individuals, businesses and organisations accused of communist leanings – this strand of performativity is far less easy to corroborate or believe in. Knowing what we do about the real life consequences suffered by those unjustly blacklisted under McCarthy era trials, such recordings make for complex, difficult listening.

Matusow giving a speech in Montana 15.10.52 mentioning the names and occupations of local people considered to have assisted communist causes. Ref: SxMs8/6/2/16/1

The Stringless Yo-Yo: Matusow’s Creative Turn

Recordings in the creative archive also lend an interesting perspective to the political period of Matusow’s life, namely in the form of materials related to his ‘Stringless Yo-Yo’ film. There are around 11 tapes in total specifically marked as relevant to the Stringless Yo-Yo however many fragments of sound from this group can also be heard on other tapes in the collection too.  The reels constitute various iterations of source material and master dubs of the film’s audio track, presumably intended for a number of different playback scenarios. The film, held by Screen Archive South East, is summarised as follows:

‘Harvey Matusow explores his complex relationship with the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in two reels of film. A range of archival images and sounds are edited together in a non-linear, avant-garde format.’

[1] Screen Archive South East

Matusow’s repurposing of this material into a work of avant-garde audio visual collage is an interesting step which attempts to introduce radical new angles and context to his political work. Whether this creative act, or indeed Matusow’s swift move into the art world following the end of his prison sentence, represents an attempt to vindicate or simply rebrand his true involvement in that controversial period is another subject for unreconciled debate, but as efforts in their own right they evidence many hours of work, obsessive attention to detail and an overarching vision for the outcome and subsequent use of the film, centred at all times, of course, on his own story. The Stringless Yo-Yo emerges continuously throughout Matusow’s life and career; both as the name given to various different projects or ideas and that of an actual toy he claimed to have invented and at one point successfully took to market.

A clip from ‘The Stringless Yo-Yo’ which sees extracts from Matusow’s various hearings edited and layered with music and sound effects. Ref: SxMs23/13/10

But whether it was a film, a story or a child’s toy, Matusow surely always had something to sell and unquestionably the quick wit and persuasive charm to go with it. Whether it be in radio appearances promoting his festival or ‘International Society for the Abolition of Data Processing Machines’ movement, a lecture delivered here at Sussex University during the 1970s or even his pro-marijuana legalisation debate on the Alan Burke show, Matusow’s character when in creative salesman mode bares striking similarity to the Matusow we hear lifting the lid on political events that once saw him dubbed ‘the most hated man in America’.

Harvey Matusow using his airtime to plug on of many projects. Ref: SxMs23/13/47

Family Life

Harvey’s background and early life as a kid raised on the streets of New York City is something he mentions often throughout the audio archive and while they only make up a small part of the collection, he saw fit to hold on to a handful of recordings featuring members of his own family discussing their lives and histories. In these recordings we obtain perhaps the most candid glimpses into Matusow’s life that can be found in the archive.

One reel from 1954 sees Harvey turn the tape recorder toward his parents during an informal yet insightful 30 minute conversation-cum-interview with Mr. Herman J. (‘don’t forget my middle initial!’) and Mrs. Sylvia K Matusow. In fantastic 1950’s style Russian-Jewish via New York City style accents they recall their early lives, memories of the old neighbourhood, past friends and business as well as stories from the childhood of Harvey and his elder brother Daniel. Much like Harvey, Herman Matusow is a charismatic raconteur; keen to share his stories and successes while Sylvia, unsurprisingly muscled out of conversation somewhat by the Matusow men, speaks in more measured yet no less loving and prideful tones about her family. This recording gives us quite a profound look at Harvey’s early life, with small details and stories of his childhood and character delivered with the authority and believability that only parental recollection can truly provide. The highlight of the recording is when, despite the informal nature of the taping, Herman Matusow makes a point to close the reel by saying:

‘…and here is to a wonderful little girl who is my wife. I can always say that she is responsible for my happy life and she was always by my side and god bless her forever and ever.’

Herman J. Matusow

In a way that can be quite typical of recordings made during this era, when the ability to record one’s own thoughts and feelings was relatively new, he wants to ensure that he states a clear expression of love and gratitude for his partner – as though this simple taping of family memories might one day be a message to the wider world. Even to the objective listener and many years since all concerned have passed on, it is a very touching moment which one feels glad Harvey Matusow thought to keep intact.

Herman J. Matusow tells a childhood story about Harvey before launching into impromptu song. Ref: SxMs23/13/6

In contrast to this happy moment, the next family recording features a conversation between Harvey and his mother. The tape is not dated but we can glean from the discussion that Herman has passed away and that Harvey is now evidently a father, visiting his mother with baby daughter in tow. Most of the conversation takes the form of Harvey quite aggressively taking his mother to task for various injustices he remembers as a child, principally accusing her of resenting him in his childhood because she had wished for a daughter. He seems to be picking an argument with her throughout the talk, probing and poking at her character and personality even when she attempts to move the discussion on. The tape ends with a separate recording of two sequential phone calls between them where we hear Mrs. Matusow expressing concerns about how often she sees and hears from Harvey and his daughter. We ultimately lack the necessary context to fairly judge either party for what we hear in these recordings, but it is undoubtedly a candid moment which we can only wonder why Harvey saw fit to record and preserve.

Two 7 inch recording discs from Matusow’s brother Daniel also feature in this small collection of family recordings. Captured on laminated card Recordio discs, the recordings were sent as audio letters from different stages of Daniel’s travels, seemingly during military service. This makes for an interesting addition to the archive since Harvey Matusow is here simply one of many family members briefly greeted and referred to in the short recordings. Daniel Matusow lost his life during WWII military service, a loss which seemed to deeply effect Harvey and is mentioned often as a motivation for his beliefs during anti-communist speeches. That Matusow held on to these audio letters of his brother’s voice for so many years and throughout so many changes in the direction of his life comes off as a quietly poignant and unresolved piece of his story.

Harvey’s brother, Daniel Matusow, sends an audio back to his family during military service. Ref: SxMs23/13/16

The final recording which touches on Matusow’s home life brings us back into the more familiar realms of his tightly curated public persona during the ‘London era’. Audio from an ITV production of ‘Aquarius’ offers a portrait of Matusow’s life with Anna Lockwood. A short piece featuring extracts of the couple at home, discussing creative projects and even in the midst of their 9th wedding (Matusow was known to enjoy marriage, having wed a number of women throughout his life and enjoying multiple ceremonies with each – this one is held in a piano factory), the content demonstrates perfectly Matusow’s ‘life as a performance’ claim. They are portrayed as an eccentric but in happily love couple whose artistic practice is purposefully indistinguishable from their life together. There is huge value in this recording for its insights into Anna Lockwood alone, who is at times irritatingly described more in the context of her marriage to Matusow rather than her considerable and influential work as an experimental artist and composer. Even so, the audio represents a rare instance in which Harvey happily shares the limelight, their chemistry is sweet and genuine as they lead the film crew through a tour of their home offering praise and compliments to each other’s work and achievements.

Annea Lockwood and Harvey Matusow give a tour of their garden during an episode of ITV’s ‘Aquarius’ on which they were featured. Ref: SxMs23/13/47

And so?

Matusow’s appetite for the limelight of public speaking certainly caused him many troubles in life but it also seemed to be his primary tool of survival. Where Matusow frequently dominates the room in these recordings – with an oratory style equal parts dinner party yarn, self-obsessed monologue and professional sales pitch – it is evident that his proclamations are met as much with love, affection and consideration by some as they are disgust and anger by others.

These tapes are but one component in an overwhelming bank of materials which may or may not lead to an objective truth about Harvey Matusow. For every question these recordings successfully answer, another ten are created, yet despite this, we can clearly hear an essence of the same person evident in all of them. To listen to this audio is to hear a man caught up in the constant of telling his own story; ready at a moment’s notice to grasp his next opportunity or make his next play. Do his words and actions represent those of an insincere and opportunistic self-reinventor? Or do they reflect a poker faced love for red herrings and curveballs fitting of an artist of the avant-garde? Whatever the case it can surely be no accident that he would, for a time at least, find himself in a cultural milieu for whom confusion and subversion were artworks in themselves. That so little of Harvey Matusow’s controversial life can be spoken of with any clarity, even today, must surely be his proudest performance of all.

Harvey Matusow and friends in conversation at KPFA Radio Studios, 1972, unaware that the tape was recording. Truth, fiction or somewhere in the middle? Ref: SxMs23/13/3

The Matusow papers are split into two collections SxMs8 and SxMs23, if you would like to consult the papers please visit The Keep website for further information, or email


[1] Screen archive South East, ‘[The Stringless Yo-Yo]’ (n.d) [Accessed 30th September 2021]

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Posted in The Keep, UOSH (Unlocking Our Sound Heritage)

Listening to the most hated man in America – Part 1

A glimpse into the audio archive of Harvey Matusow

By Duncan Harrison – UOSH Audio preservation engineer

The Sound of Mr. Matusow

As with everything else in the last 18 months, the work of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage (UOSH) project has had to adapt around the restrictions of the Covid-19 pandemic. Back in April, with our project-specific recordings inaccessible until the summer months, we shifted focus onto digitising a number of recordings held in the Library Special Collections at the Keep. Among these recordings are several boxes of items belonging to the Harvey Matusow Archives.

For the uninitiated, Harvey Matusow (1926-2002) is a complex character to say the least.  With a life said to ‘intersected every major artery of post-war America’ one could likely dedicate years of study to just a single facet of his existence without ever quite getting a hold on what the man was truly all about.

A (very) boiled down account of his life goes something like this:

Born 1926 in New York City to Russian immigrant parents, Matusow served in the Second World War before becoming affiliated with the communist part in Manhattan. In 1950 he approached the FBI offering his services as a paid informant, beginning a professional career in testimony and blacklisting which eventually saw him become campaign aide to Joseph McCarthy and member of the House of Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC). The next few years in this capacity would see Matusow rise to the status of a minor celebrity in anti-communist circles before an eventual fall WHEN. Shockingly, he then recanted and produced his 1955 book ‘False Witness’ in which he revealed that much of his prior testimony was built not only on fiction and untruth but was actively encouraged and paid for by McCarthy et al. This admission ultimately landed Matusow in jail for perjury where he served a five year sentence (Wilhelm Reich was apparently in the cell next door). Upon his release, a socially ostracised Matusow struggled to build a new life in New York but found himself alienated and despised by many across all sides of the political spectrum. He decided to relocate to London in 1966, immediately attaching himself to the fledgling underground counterculture, spending a little under a decade working in the arts and media. Perhaps his most notable achievement during this era was to produce the International Carnival of Experimental Sound in 1972 – a veritable who (was) who of avant-garde music and experimental composition of the time, showcasing work from the likes of John Cage, Charlotte Moorman, Nam June Paik and Robert Ashley to name only a few. Following the event, Matusow moved back to America in 1973 and become involved with theatre and television, often in the guise of ‘Cockyboo’ – a clown persona he developed in this period. Accounts of the final decades of Matusow’s life depict a somewhat more sedate, spiritual existence in which he converted to the Mormon faith, changed his name for a time to Job, worked frequently with charitable causes and even became a children’s entertainer. In 2002 Matusow was involved in a car accident which would ultimately put an end to his dazzlingly unpredictable and multi directional life.

Black and white photo of Harvey Matusow seated in front of a microphone
Harvey Matusow – SxMs23

The materials held by Special Collections are split into two separate archives which chronicle Matusow’s political and creative pursuits across the years. Contained within both are a number of audio recordings captured mostly on open reel tape.  My own interest in Matusow was piqued when I learned of his artistic inclinations during the 1970s. Upon Googling his name whilst digitising tapes from the political archive I was gobsmacked to read that Matusow had rubbed shoulders with such luminary artists as Henry Chopin, Lars-Gunnar Bodin, the Fylkingen group and, most staggeringly, composer Anna Lockwood to whom he had been married and collaborated with frequently. The name ‘Harvey Matusow’ was suddenly imbedded in an era of sound and culture that I had spent years of my life consuming, yet I could recall nothing of having ever noticed it before. As if the victim of a kind of avant-garde Mandela Effect, I began to realise that I even had music and writing by the man sat on my shelves at home.

In spite of these discoveries and even having now had the chance to digitise recordings from his creative archive, I cannot say I feel much closer to understanding precisely who he was, what he did nor why. It seems I am not alone in this confusion however as even still opinions of Matusow and views on his activities tend to be united only by an inability to arrive at a single, provable conclusion. Views on the nature of his true motivations as informant and member of HUAC still defy consensus, even in spite of the significant documentation and media attention those activities received. Voices from the Left and Right of American politics have described his conduct during this era as damaging and unethical, yet there also exists sympathetic praise for the way in which his movements exposed the grizzly political machinations of the age. Others simply paint Matusow as a career hustler, driven by spotting opportunities for renown and a quick buck more so than any of ideology he aligned himself with. Some will cite their admiration for just how much he engaged with in his life, particularly in the creative world, while by others he is regarded as a brazen claimant of achievements and initiatives that he was barely involved in. Even friends who describe him as affable, generous and creative company seem to measure their experiences with Matusow in grains of salt. Whatever divide he found himself straddling, views on Matusow from either end are often entangled in a web of personal relations, histories and the vested interests of a complex cast of figures both political and cultural. To further complicate matters, these divergent, independent opinions exist in comparative scarcity when placed within the wider narrative about Harvey Matusow, which more often than not tends to be formed from things previously said, written or recorded by the man himself.

With my engagement in the archive mostly limited to creating digital copies of the audio content (quickly and in large volumes) it would not be an especially interesting blog post for me to proffer my own opinions about what he might truly have been getting at. Rather, I find it more interesting to talk about some of what can be found in the archive itself, focussing simply on what it is we hear when listening. In a visual culture such as ours, audio recordings can often obscure as much as they reveal about their subjects and we are required to depend on a degree of imagination and guesswork when filling in the gaps left by a lack of visual confirmation. Audio materials also requires us to pay close attention to the content and listen intently lest we miss vital fragments of information which disappear as suddenly as they arrive. We do not have an aural equivalent for the term ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ but if we did, it would be a perfect description of the challenges in researching or cataloguing sound recordings.  The trade-off when we do choose to engage with this form of listening is that such recordings can open up layers of detail unavailable to us in the materials we visually study. For someone like Matusow who evades easy classification and whose legacy exists largely as the result of his own curation, we find in his recordings a wealth of such details and the insights or contexts they can offer us are quite unlike anything we may find elsewhere in his extensive archives.  

In next week’s post Duncan will be talking about and sharing some of his favourite audio clips from the Matusow archive.

The Matusow papers are split into two collections SxMs8 and SxMs23, if you would like to consult the papers please visit The Keep website for further information, or email

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Posted in Special Collections, The Keep, UOSH (Unlocking Our Sound Heritage)

Listening to Maureen Colquhoun

By Esther Gill – Hub project manager – Unlocking our Sound Heritage

It is Monday 1st February 2021, the UK is in lockdown and I am working from home, listening to a radio interview (UTK006/498) from 1973 with a councillor from Shoreham Urban District Council being interviewed by journalist Ivan Howlett. It’s from the Viewpoint series, part of the BBC Radio Brighton Collection held by the Royal Pavilion and Museum Trust, that is being preserved by the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage (UOSH) project. The councillor’s name is Maureen Colquhoun and she talks eloquently about her politics, why she is a socialist, about standing for Northampton North constituency for the Labour Party in the forthcoming 1974 general election. The interview lasts 30 minutes and touches on her commitment to encouraging more women into Parliament, the challenge of seeking election while being the ‘unfashionable age, for a woman, of 45’ and the isolation of the campaign trail:

“I don’t think people looking at politicians from the outside realise what an isolating experience it is. It’s very isolating to be a prospective candidate, you move into a town and you’re not really part of it, you’re something special to the Labour Party members and when you go into a room they are delighted to see you, tend to spoil you rather, but after the meeting you are more or less on your own in a hotel room. And this is a very lonely experience, in part, fighting for a parliamentary seat.”

She talks about the difficulty of being anti-Europe whilst your husband is pro-Europe:

He’s a great political ideas man. He’s someone whose opinions I very much respect – I try out my ideas on him. We’ve had a very difficult breakfast time lately because he is pro-Europe and I am anti. And the number of eggs that have got ruined on the breakfast table is absolutely incredible.

Black and white image of Maureen Colquhoun, 1978
Maureen Colquhoun, 1978
Credit: PA Images/Alamy stock

And she reflects openly on her own experience of being trapped, albeit happily, in the ‘career of marriage and motherhood’ that makes it hard for women to develop their own political careers. Somewhat uncomfortably for the listener, she also talks in a disparaging way about the ‘lower calibre’ of local politicians as opposed to national politicians. I am mildly interested and reflect on both how much has changed, along with how little, a common experience when listening to radio reporting from the 1970s. I then think no further of the interview.

The following day, Tuesday 2nd February 2021, still working from home, I read that a ground-breaking woman, the first out lesbian MP, has died at the age of 92. Her name was Maureen Colquhoun and before being selected as MP in Northampton, she was a councillor in West Sussex. Despite her significance and my own interest in women’s history and representation, I had never heard of her. The previous day I had listened with mild interest to the views of a 1970s county councillor and potential MP; now our Radio Brighton recording had suddenly grown in significance. Maureen Colquhoun was a committed politician with strong views and willing to stand her ground. In 1970 Shoreham Urban District Council tried to block her from being appointed to certain committee roles on the grounds that she ‘talked too much’![1] Happily for us today, she was willing to talk to the local radio station, Radio Brighton and she appears on local election day broadcasts (UTK006/440) and also a short piece from 1972 where she is critical of ‘piecemeal’ plans for the Saltings Bridge in Shoreham, the town that she represented (UTK006/428). However, the 1973 Viewpoint programme is a full half-hour interview, providing her with the opportunity to expand on her views, and to talk passionately and humorously at times, about the things that mattered to her. With my new knowledge, I re-listened with a different ear to the interview, slightly shamed by my only fleeting interest the day before and intrigued to hear more about this woman whose parliamentary career became significant, but perhaps not for the reason she would have chosen.

Maureen Colquhoun – Decision to go into politics

In 1974 Maureen Colquhoun was successful in her bid to become the MP for Northampton North and stood down from her Shoreham council seat in February of that year. While an MP she introduced the Balance of the Sexes bill, with the objective of requiring equal numbers of men and women on public bodies, and the Protection of Prostitutes Bill, campaigning for the decriminalisation of prostitution. She was an active socialist and feminist who came to Parliament to create change, but in 1979 she lost her seat and never returned to Parliament. The loss of her seat was due in no small part to the fact that she had been outed as a lesbian in 1975. Gossip columnist Nigel Dempster had reported in the Daily Mail that she had left her husband to live with Barbara Todd, the editor of Sappho magazine. In due course her local Labour Party de-selected her as their candidate for the 1979 election (subsequently overturned), apparently citing her ‘obsession with trivialities such as women’s rights’ and saying that ‘She was elected as a working wife and mother … this business has blackened her image irredeemably’[2]. Although she didn’t return to Parliament, she remained active in local politics and on driving change in public representation.

Image of poster with white background and red writing, advertising Maureen Colquhoun speaking for the Save the West Pier campaign.
Poster advertising Maureen Colquhoun speaking for the Save the West Pier campaign
Credit: RPMT

Working your way through a large preservation project, it can be hard to hold on to the sense of the value of the material that is being preserved. Some rare or very topical recordings are clearly going to be of significance to future generations, but a lot of the time we just don’t know. After many hours of work on a collection, you can wonder whether anybody will ever listen to it again! Then an interview like this pops up and we are reminded as to why we are preserving these recordings. Knowing of her future, I listen to her 1973 words with more intent, with closer attention. We don’t know what will be of significance to future audiences, but if we let this material decay, if it sits uncatalogued, nobody will have the chance to discover.


Unlocking Our Sound Heritage (UOSH) is digitising and cataloguing the Radio Brighton collection for the Royal Pavilion and Museum Trust (RPMT). All material preserved through the UOSH project was selected against criteria of rarity, relevance and the risk it faced. The original tapes are stored at The Keep and a digital preservation copy of the audio files is now held at the British Library. Every digitised recording is also catalogued for the British Library’s Sound and Moving Image catalogue ( The catalogue for the interview with Maureen Colquhoun can be found on SAMI as UTK006/498.


  1. Langdon, Julia, ‘Maureen Colquhoun obituary’ (8th February 2021) [Accessed 14th June 2021]
  2. ‘Maureen Colquhoun’ (10th June 2021) [Accessed 14th June 2021]
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Posted in The Keep, UOSH (Unlocking Our Sound Heritage)

There ain’t no party like an East Slope party

By Karen Watson – University of Sussex Archivist

These days, most people know there ain’t no party like an S Club Party (well if you were born before 1990) but at Sussex in the early 1980s East Slope parties held that crown judging by a couple of photos from a new donation to the University of Sussex Collection.

Black and white photo of 4 people dancing at a party
East slope party Credit: Dave Biddlecombe photography
Black and white photo of 2 people dancing at a party
East slope party Credit: Dave Biddlecombe photography

These photos were taken by Dave Biddlecombe, an alumus who contacted us recently to donate 24 of his photographs to the collection. Dave was also the official photographer for Bright Red, a Brighton based drama company made up of SUDS (Sussex University Drama Society) graduates.

Black and white photo of SUDS rehearsing Oh what a lovely war! outdoors in the grounds of the University
Oh what a lovely war – 1983 – SUDS rehearsals around the grounds of the University Credit: Dave Biddlecombe photography
Black and white group photo of actors from Bright Red
Bright Red @ The Gardner Arts Centre Credit: Dave Biddlecombe photography

Dave also sent a photo of the poster for a SUDS production of Midsummer night’s Dream. Dave said “this was performed in the woods behind the Gardner Arts Centre with lighting in the trees and was one of the most magical performances I have seen”

SUDS Poster of Midsummer Night's Dream
SUDS Midsummer Nights Dream poster

So former students be warned even without Instagram and Facebook your party antics may well have been recorded and kept for prosperity at The Keep.

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Posted in Special Collections, The Keep

We’ll meet again – or how I gambled away Vera Lynn’s autograph and ended up in a Zambian jungle with a bunch of hippies…

By Danny Millum – BLDS Metadata and Discovery Officer

Normally when you tell your family / friends about what you do, unless you’re a fireman or a nurse they just zone out (especially when your job title is Metadata Discovery Officer).

But it really seems as if the BLDS was actually my genetic destiny, as it turned out that not only was my dad interested in the project but it turns out that collecting African pamphlets runs in the family.

Buried in our loft were the following:

  • East African Annual 1934-35 – Tanganyika, Kenya, Uganda, Zanzibar
  • Table Talk Annual Review 1935 (Melbourne) – incl sections on Australia’s Overseas Territories
  • Holiday 1947 (Philadelphia)
  • Times of Ceylon Annual 1958
  • Zambia 1964-74 – celebrating ten years of independence

The East African Annual is just one of a set inherited from one of my great uncles, either Owen or Edward. Owen was in the Royal Navy and travelled out to New Zealand via East Africa more than once. He died when his ship was torpedoed in 1943.

Black and white image of Danny's Great uncle in Burma in
Danny’s great uncle in Burma
Credit: The Millum family

Those from 1947 and 1958 would be brought by Edward, who was in the Merchant Navy but served in the RAF during the war. During his time in the Navy he was memorably entertained by Vera Lynn in Burma. She apparently sang from the wing of the aircraft she’d arrived in and he got her autograph but subsequently gambled it away – certainly the picture of him hungover suggests that such dissolute behaviour (so atypical for a Millum) may not have been a one-off.

The Zambian materials are more recent – my parents taught out there in the early 1970s when the newly independent country was clearly so desperate for teachers that it was prepared to hire any old hippie that walked out of the jungle.

Colour photograph of Dannys parents in the Zambian jungle
Danny’s parents in Zambia
Credit: The Millum family

Anyway, my dad’s now threatening to donate all these boxes of material to the BLDS Legacy collection – really hope he doesn’t find much more buried in the attic or at this rate this project is never going to end…..

(First posted on The University of Sussex Library staff blog May 2020)

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Posted in BLDS (British Library for Development Studies), IDS, The Library