Sound and vision blog

Sound and moving images from the British Library


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

29 January 2015

Inaugural National Life Stories Goodison Fellowship Award focuses on the history of food.

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Within living memory the food we eat, the way it’s produced and how it’s sold has changed out of all recognition. Up until 1957 only 20% of homes had fridges, food was purchased daily from local high-street shops and tastes were conservative – for most, eating-out meant fish and chips, eating-in was meat and veg, and garlic or olive oil were unheard of. Today we shop at supermarkets stocked with tens of thousands of products, we eat food from around the globe and we are as likely to eat in a restaurant, pick up a takeaway or reheat a ready meal as we are to cook from scratch. These transformations are detailed in a unique collection of oral history recordings collected between 1997 and 2012 by the National Life Stories project, Food: from Source to Salespoint, which is currently being digitised and prepared for online access.

  Ray Moore Incubator house

 Egg hatchery c.1950. Photograph courtesy of Ray Moore

I first came across the National Life Stories (NLS) as the subject of a newspaper article six years ago and I was immediately captivated by the idea of hearing directly from people in the past talk about their work and lives. After that, every time I came to London, I’d visit the British Library, find a seat in a reading room and dip in and out of the NLS recordings. I’ve been hooked ever since. So, when I heard about the NLS Goodison Fellowship, I leapt at the chance to apply. The award, run for the first time this year, aims to increase awareness of the NLS collections. I submitted a joint proposal with Polly Russell for a project called Food Matters that focuses on the archive’s rich body of food recordings.

Food has long played a central role in my life – after working in the wine industry for five years I then returned to University and completed a Master’s in the Anthropology of Food. Polly’s involvement with food started when she worked at Joyce Molyneux’s restaurant The Carved Angel and then later when she worked as an M&S Food Product Developer. In 2000 Polly left M&S to start a PhD with the British Library. Her research considered connections between identity and food production in the UK and as part of this she conducted life story interviews with food producers which were added to the NLS collections. Polly now works part-time as a curator at the British Library, overseeing, amongst other things, the library’s food holdings and research. Polly and I met when I worked as a British Library intern and we quickly established a shared enthusiasm for NLS and the food recordings in particular.

  Albert Pic 1 - credit A Roux

Photograph of Albert Roux. Courtesy of Albert Roux

The collection comprises more than 250 recordings with producers from across the food industry including factory workers, food writers, chefs, manufacturers and senior retail managers. These recordings document how changes in farming, manufacturing, distribution and retailing have transformed the nation’s diet within a lifetime.  There are interviews with butchers who describe slaughtering animals on their premises, accounts from farmers of how mechanisation transformed the countryside, stories from manufacturers of how the first ready-meals were produced as well as descriptions from Chinese migrants in the 1960s on setting up Britain’s first Chinese restaurants. And it’s not just the NLS food recordings that are a rich source of food history. Food creeps into other collections too, whether it’s descriptions of banker’s business lunches, book-trade deals done in Soho’s restaurants or scientists’ work on microwaves for weapons, that ended up being harnessed to reheat food.

David Gregory (b.1953) descirbes his first experience of walking into a supermarket

Frances Soar (b.1950) describes trying spaghetti and curry for the first time

Having frequently used the NLS recordings in our own research and writing about food we  know what a terrific resource it is.  Over the course of the next six months we will be contributing material to BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme and are planning to pitch for a Radio 4 Archive Hour slot. We are also going to draft an outline for a book that will use the NLS recordings to explore the history of food over the last 70 years. Being awarded the NLS Goodison Fellowship is a great opportunity – it will allow us to delve deep into the archive to discover new stories and characters so we can introduce different audiences to the value and interest of the NLS collection.

Barley Blyton, National Life Stories Goodison Fellow 2015 

Tesco store 1960s - Tescopix

Tesco store c.1960. Courtesy of

21 January 2015

Jewish Survivors of the Holocaust – an online collection of over 280 in-depth Holocaust survivors’ testimonies

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This week, to coincide with Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January, the British Library is launching Jewish Survivors of the Holocaust, an online resource giving worldwide access to 289 oral history interviews with Holocaust Survivors. The interviews comprise a vast collection of powerful accounts of the Holocaust from Jewish survivors living in Britain that now, thanks to funding from the Pears Foundation and the Brian and Jill Moss Charitable Trust, have been digitised and made available for anyone to listen to online for the first time at

HOL1 Children at Auschwitz concentration camp, Poland.  Auschwitz/Birkenau was one of the Nazis’ largest death camps.  The children are wearing typical camp clothing behind the electric fence. 

The hundreds of testimonies now available online at British Library Sounds are drawn from two major oral history projects: Jewish Care’s Holocaust Survivors’ Centre Testimony recording project which ran 1993-1998, and the Living Memory of the Jewish Community, a project run by National Life Stories at the British Library between 1987-2000 which gathered over 180 life story interviews with Jewish survivors of the Holocaust and their children.  Recordings were made with a wide range of survivors from many parts of Nazi-occupied Europe and with pre-war refugees (such as Kindertransport child migrants).  The main programme of survivor interviews was later supplemented by interviews with the children of survivors - the Second Generation.  With over 1000 hours of recordings, this is one of the largest collections of Holocaust testimonies in Europe. All but a handful of the 289 interviews have searchable content summaries and have been clustered into themes such as ‘camp experiences’, ‘Kindertransport’, ‘ghetto life’ and ‘resistance’ to enhance access for researchers. 

HOL3JPGA Czech Jewish woman from Prague shortly before her deportation by cattle truck.  Many died on the way to work camps or death camps, locked in overcrowded trucks without food or water. 

Since the BL started interviewing Holocaust survivors in 1987 many have sadly died but their voices and experiences have been preserved for future generations. The lesson of what happens when a society discriminates against an entire group of people in its midst could not be more relevant to recent events in Britain and Europe.

The following clips are taken from the full interviews on British Library Sounds

Barbara Stimler (b.1927, Poland, survived Lodz ghetto and Auschwitz concentration camp and a death march) talks about her deportation from the ghetto to Auschwitz. 

Anita Lasker-Wallfisch (b.1925 in Germany) talks about playing cello in the orchestra at Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. 

The launch of Jewish Survivors of the Holocaust will be marked as part of an event at the British Library for Holocaust Memorial Day: ‘Life in a Jar: Childhood experience of the Holocaust’ on Monday 26 January 2015 at 18.30-20.00.  At this event Lili Stern-Pohlmann and Sir Erich Reich, who both endured the Holocaust as children, will recollect their experiences. There will then be a screening of the emotive film ‘Irena Sendler: In the Name of Their Mothers’, which tells the story of a group of Polish women who saved the lives of thousands of Jewish children. After the screening and talk there will be an opportunity to explore the oral history interviews now available at the ‘Jewish Survivors of the Holocaust’ collection on British Library Sounds.  Visit and follow the link to book tickets. 

Dr Rob Perks, Lead Curator of Oral History at the British Library

Documenting the Fringe

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A guest post by John Park, Editor of Fringe Report.

The first volume of Fringe Report, covering the years 2002-2003, is now available exclusively for consultation by readers at the British Library.

Fringe Report was a website based in London which reviewed fringe theatre, arts, independent and arthouse film, dance, performance, poetry, music - anything that fell off the edge of the mainstream - though it often covered that too. There were no rigid lines.

It published two or three items a week all year round, was an accredited reviewer to Internet Movie Database and did in-depth interviews, features, gossip, and reports on parties. 

Over the coming years, the whole content of Fringe Report 2002-2012 is being put into book form and donated to the British Library as a historical archive, a snapshot of the off-mainstream arts at the start of the twenty-first century.

The next volume, currently in preparation, will cover all the Fringe Report Awards - there are 250 of them - from 2003 to 2012, with the award certificates reproduced in colour.  It is due for presentation in spring 2015. 


The cast and company of Yard Gal (Oval House Theatre, London, 2008), including actors Stefanie Di Rubbo and Monsay Whitney, and director Stef O'Driscoll, accept the Fringe Report Award 2009 for Best Production. Fringe Report Awards 9 February 2009, Leicester Square Theatre. Photo © Stefan Lubomirski De Vaux, 2009.

Fringe Report started in July 2002 and ran until 2012. It covered 50 shows each year and reviewed at the London Film Festival, the Dublin and Brighton Fringe Festivals, with reports over the years from other locations including Camden, Bath, Newbury, Reading and Montreal.

It had permanent writers in London, New York, Dublin, Denver, Edinburgh, Dallas, North-east England, St Petersburg and Hawaii; with up to 12,000 regular readers spread across the globe.  Most of them were in mainland Europe, England, Canada, United States, Republic of Ireland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, with others in the Middle East, across Asia, in Vietnam, China and Australia.

There was a monthly newsletter in English and Spanish as a briefing and gossip loop to PRs, actors, producers, directors, composers, performers, the public, theatregoers, arts enthusiasts, venue managers, promoters, impresarios, journalists, and other industry and showbiz professionals.

Each year there were 25 awards - the Fringe Report Awards - announced in January and presented on any day mid-February that wasn't Valentine's Day.

The first volume of Fringe Report, covering its first two years 2002-2003, was delivered to the Library on 18 December 2014, where it is now uniquely available.  It contains 478 pages of reviews of over 250 shows, plus interviews and articles.  A feature of the book - and of forthcoming volumes - is a comprehensive index of over 4,000 entries including shows, venues, companies and people.  Fringe Report always where possible contained full credits for the shows and events it reviewed or reported, and the index includes the names of 3,000 people involved.

When the whole archive is complete it will comprise 12 books including all published and previously unpublished material, 750 photographs, audio soundtracks of award acceptance speeches (including Sir Arnold Wesker, John Antrobus, Kevin Sampson, Dr Elliot Grove, Kiki Kendrick, Abi Titmuss, Holly Penfield) and film of the several years of the awards.