Sound and vision blog

Sound and moving images from the British Library


Discover more about the British Library's 3.5 million sound recordings and the access we provide to thousands of moving images. Comments and feedback are welcomed. Read more

28 November 2014

Rare Noël Coward recording rediscovered

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The British Library Centre for Conservation contains a number of transfer studios in which a small but dedicated band of audio engineers are employed to convert at-risk analogue formats to high-resolution wav files, wav files being the Library's archival medium of choice for audio material.

Veteran audio engineer Tony Harris has the daunting job of processing the 'Bishop Sound' collection: hundreds of reels of tape and more than 3000 fragile lacquer discs that have been in the collection for several decades.


Audio engineer Tony Harris cleans lacquer discs from the Bishop Sound collection, prior to digitization.

It is a long time since the collection was paid any serious attention, and the received wisdom was that the recorded contents consisted solely of sound effects for theatre and film, probably made in the 1940s and 50s.

While this is true - there are literally hundreds of discs, tapes and even 3" tape loops of short sound effects - we were unaware that the collection also included a fascinating series of recordings related to post-war British drama. 

There are several excerpts from the BBC Radio Home Service programme The Critics, for example, in which Malcolm Muggeridge and others review the post-war arts scene.

Perhaps the jewel in the crown so far though is a live location recording of Noël Coward recorded speaking to the audience at the Lyric Theatre, 22 July 1947, following the first London performance of his play Peace in Our Time, an alternate reality story set in a Britain which had lost the Second World War. (The play is getting a rare revival next year to mark 70 years from the end of the war.)

Coward disc

Noël Coward lacquer disc produced by Bishop Sound. The inscription suggests the playwright may have commissioned it personally. 

In his diary for that night Coward wrote:

First night Peace in Our Time: I haven't heard such an enthusiastic noise in the theatre for many a year. After this cosy little triumph, Binkie gave a party, which was lovely. Got home late but happy. It is a bloody good play.

Click the link below to hear for yourself this 'enthusiastic noise', and Coward's typically elegant speech of thanks.

Listen to Noel Coward's speech at the Lyric

Recording used with permission of the Noël Coward Estate.

26 November 2014

Oral history for Disability History Month

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Hearing Concern oral history 25-2-9   32UK Disability History Month is an annual event which takes places between 22 November and 22 December. The 'Disability Voices' collection on British Library Sounds includes interviews from a number of partnership oral history collections archived at the British Library. The interviews available come from partnership projects with Scope ('Speaking for Ourselves: An Oral History of People with Cerebral Palsy'), Hearing Link ('Unheard Voices: Interviews With Deafened People'), The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) ('Oral Histories of Disabled People's Experiences of Education'), and also a selection of interviews with Paralympians from the British Library funded oral history collection 'Oral History of British Athletics', a rolling programme of life story interviews with British athletes which started in 1996.

In the following extract Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson talks about the social model of disability and trying to change people's attitudes to disabled people.

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson on the social model of disability  

Interviews recorded for Speaking for Ourselves, Unheard Voices and Oral Histories of Disabled People's Experiences of Education were all funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and were peer projects, which involved training volunteer interviews to interview others within their community. The Unheard Voices project also interviewed family members. In the following extract Tony Rugg talks about the value of the project as a research resource but also for the family members of deafened people.

Tony Rugg talks about the Unheard Voices project 

Image: Unheard Voices project volunteers at a training day at the British Library. Photo by Chris McGlashon.


25 November 2014

The eCreative “Sound Connections” pilot nears completion

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Guest blog by Tom Miles, British Library's project manager on Europeana Creative.

 The Europeana Creative project - which began in February 2013, with the purpose of encouraging creative professionals to reuse content on Europeana – is about to complete its second year. The five pilots that the project has developed are now either completed or reaching completion. The themes of the pilots are Natural History Education, History Education, Tourism, Social Networks and Design.

BL Sound and Vision has been involved in the Social Networks pilot: “Sound Connections”. Working with its project partners, Netherlands Institute of Sound & Vision (NISV), HistoryPin, Platoniq and Ontotext, the pilot is an opportunity for users to enrich audio recordings with their own knowledge and content. 

So, for the above recording of the Nuthatch, it's possible to find the recording on "Sound Connections" and add your own comments, photographs, links to Wikipedia and other articles, relevant links on Europeana, etc. 

There are four themes to explore: Birdlife, Aviation, cityscapes for London and cityscapes for Amsterdam.

 You can browse the site either by text or by exploring the map. Most of the recordings originate from the countries of the content providers - the Netherlands and the U.K. The pilot aims to breathe life into online content, so that more information is added to them by users with different perspectives and areas of knowledge. 

The project partners are still in the process of refining "Sound Connections", which is on track for its official launch in January 2015.