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

20 February 2018

A first for women in Parliament: Mary Frampton on running the Serjeant at Arms office

Emme Ledgerwood, AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Student, University of Leicester and The British Library, writes about Mary Frampton, the first female Clerk in Charge of the Serjeant at Arms office. Mary Frampton was interviewed by Gloria Tyler for the House of Commons staff oral history collection (reference C1135/02/01-02). The interview can be listened to at the British Library St Pancras and at Boston Spa.

Today is Sarah Clarke’s first day in the House of Lords chamber as Lady Usher of the Black Rod. It marks another first for women in Parliament, as she is the first woman to take on responsibility for maintaining order within and around the Lords chamber and performing a key role in ceremonial occasions such as the State Opening of Parliament.

Copyright House of Lords 2018  Photography by Bob Martin SillverhubCopyright House of Lords 2018/Photography by Bob Martin/Silverhub

This comes ten years after Jill Pay became the first female Serjeant at Arms, Black Rod’s counterpart in the House of Commons. Women are now accepted members of the doorkeeper teams, for example Stella Devadason was the first to be appointed as a doorkeeper in the House of Lords in 1999. She went on in 2009 to become the first female Redcoat, the doorkeeper that welcomes members at the Peers’ Entrance.

Over the course of the twentieth century, as more women have fought and won election campaigns to become MPs, so too have women worked their way into positions of seniority among the parliamentary staff, but they have not all been as visible as Clarke or Stevadason. An early example was Kathleen Midwinter, who benefited from the need in 1940 to free up men for military service so that she was appointed as the first female clerk in the House of Commons.1

Another pioneer was Mary Frampton who entered the Serjeant at Arms office as a shorthand typist in 1950 and went on to become the first female Clerk in Charge of that office in the 1970s. Her job included booking committee rooms and liaising with Whips over the allocation of office space to MPs after an election. In Frampton’s day, Serjeants were traditionally men from a service background, such as Rear-Admiral Sandy Gordon-Lennox who treated his parliamentary staff as if they were “on the quarterdeck”. Unlike some of her colleagues, Frampton took this in her stride.

"I know some of them found it difficult" C1135/02/02

Here she describes another aspect of her job.

"Taking on the job" C1135/02/01

In this capacity she had to serve writs four times, famously to Arthur Scargill. On another occasion it meant her photograph made it onto the front page of The Times.

"Well I had this sealed letter" C1135/02/01 

Times front coverThe Times (London, England), Thursday, Jan 19, 1978; pg. 1; Issue 60214. © Times Newspapers Limited

However well she held her own in these circumstances, Frampton was unable to break through the next barrier. Towards the end of her career (she retired in 1988) she applied unsuccessfully to become an Assistant Serjeant. She admitted to feeling “a bit” of disappointment, remarking “I don’t know that they’d have had a female even then.”

1 Takayanagi, M. (2014-09-25). Midwinter [married name Midwinter-Vergin], Kathleen Margaret [Kay] (1909–1995), first female clerk in the House of Commons and United Nations official. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

The House of Commons staff oral history collection comprises 18 interviews with past and present members of the staff of the House of Commons. Interviews from the collection were featured on Radio 4's Archive House, 'The House', on Saturday 30 September 2006.  The interviews can be accessed at the British Library St Pancras and at Boston Spa. Interviews with former MPs conducted as part of The History of Parliament Oral History Project can be listened to online at British Library Sounds.

19 February 2018

Recording of the week: Mike Leigh

This week's selection comes from Stephen Cleary, Lead Curator of Literary & Creative Recordings.

Film-maker Mike Leigh in conversation with novelist William Boyd, 22 March 1991, at the ICA, London, around the time of the release of Life is Sweet, Leigh's critically acclaimed comedy-drama about the trials of an ordinary North London family. Leigh talks about his filmic influences, who include Ozu, Woody Allen and Satyajit Ray, and his rehearsal-based working methods. Life is Sweet currently holds a 100% rating on the critics' tomatometer at, as does his earlier feature High Hopes.


 Photo by Potatojunkie on / CC BY-NC-ND

This recording comes from a substantial collection of talks and discussions held at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London between 1982-1993. 

Follow @BL_DramaSound and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

12 February 2018

Recording of the Week: The Listening Project Symphony

Paul Wilson, Curator Radio Broadcast writes:

This week’s selection celebrates World Radio Day 2018 (13th February) and is an example of the art of radio at its best: blending creativity with actuality to illuminate aspects of our life and times and, in this instance, one of the moral dilemmas of our day. It's an excerpt from the Listening Project Symphony, a beautiful composition by Gary Carpenter for the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, first broadcast live from Manchester in December 2012. The piece incorporates extracts from some of the intimate and often surprising conversations which have emerged from The Listening Project, a collaboration between the BBC and the British Library in which family members or friends are invited to share their stories, private thoughts and feelings with an unseen radio audience.  

BBC Philharmonic at Salford Quays  2012
The BBC Philharmonic Orchestra at Salford Quays, 2012. Photo courtesy of the BBC

In this extract we briefly hear voices from three separate conversations, each poignant or moving in its own way even in this edited form. The third - part of a conversation between a young British Muslim woman of Indian/Pakistani descent and her India-born mother - will hold a particular resonance for some. The daughter begins by gauging her mother's response to a hypothetical question about marriage: how would you feel if I were to marry a man of a different religion? She then takes the hypothetical situation a step further - how would you feel if my partner were another woman?

The Listening Project Symphony (excerpt) 

The complete Listening Project Symphony can be heard on the BBC iPlayer here and the Listening Project’s BBC homepage is here. The complete collection of unedited Listening Project conversations can be explored at the British Library’s Sounds website.

09 February 2018

Linguistics at the Library - Episode 2

PhD placement students, Andrew Booth and Rowan Campbell, write:

In the second episode of Linguistics at the Library, Andrew and Rowan discuss some of the differences between regional accents and ‘RP’ (Received Pronunciation), and why people might feel that they have to change the way they speak to work in certain jobs. Using clips from the British Library’s Evolving English Collection, we look at the concepts of stigma and prestige, and how social factors can influence the way we perceive accents.

Tweet us your questions! @VoicesofEnglish

This week’s ‘What’s the feature?’ used a clip from: BBC Voices Recording in Driffield. BBC, UK, rec. 2004 [digital audio file]. British Library, C1190/16/02. Available:

Interesting links:

Have you experienced discrimination due to your accent? Submit your story to the Accentism Project:

Peter Trudgill’s piece on modern RP:

Social Mobility Commission report:

Prejudice against English teachers with Northern accents:

Overt and covert prestige:

Linguistics at the Library Episode 2


05 February 2018

Recording of the week: Dongo lamellophone and fireside chatting

This week's selection comes from Isobel Clouter, Curator of World & Traditional Music.

Here is an intimate recording made by one of our long time field recordists John Brearley. Travelling with his own violin to encourage a two-way flow of ideas, as suggested by anthropologist Alan Barnard, John Brearley sought out players of musical instruments and people who could perform healing dances and songs throughout Botswana, with positive results. John amassed a large and varied collection of music and interviews which illustrate the relationships he formed with the musicians that he recorded. The sound of the dongo (lamellophone) is but one part of a beautiful recording of the musician G/ashe G/ishe and his family chatting by the fireside.

Dongo (lamellophone) and fireside chatting (BL reference C65/60)

Dongo_lamellophone of Gashe Gishe (Photo by John Brearley)

Dongo (lamellophone) of G/ashe G/ishe

John Brearley continues to record in Botswana. His collection is an ongoing work that began with his first trip to Botswana in July 1982 to investigate and record traditional music, and to observe to what extent the influence of radio and recorded music had interrupted the use of traditional instruments. In particular he wanted to hear the music of the Basarwa. (The countries in southern Africa use different names to refer to Bushmen populations. In Botswana the term employed most often is Basarwa). Over 1000 recordings from John Brearley's collection can be explored on British Library Sounds.

Follow @BL_WorldTrad and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

02 February 2018

Partition Voices wins Public History Prize

August 2017 saw the 70th anniversary of the Partition of India. The ground-breaking BBC Radio 4 series Partition Voices documented this traumatic time through first-hand testimony, which were then crafted into three 40 minute programmes broadcast on 31 July, 7 and 14 August 2017. All three are available on the BBC iPlayer.

The series has had a legacy of its own as Kavita Puri (presenter) and Ant Adeane (one of the producers) then completed the additional work on the permissions forms, transcripts and content summaries necessary to archive 32 of the audio interviews into the oral history collections here at the British Library. The full interviews are available for researchers in the Library Reading Rooms, and will be launched for online access in 2019.

The Partition Voices collection (reference C1790) sits alongside many existing oral history collections which contain powerful testimonies of migration and the impact of the colonial British past. In what might be one of the last opportunities to gather these testimonies, Partition Voices recounted the first-hand testimonies from British Asians and Colonial British who lived through the partition of India 70 years ago.

The programmes documented the years leading up to the division and the bloody aftermath which saw up to 12 million people displaced and up to one million people killed. The final programme told of the legacy in Britain today, not only for those who lived through it, but for the second and third generations.

In my view the programmes managed the challenging task of reflecting the complexity of experiences: geographically within British India; reflections from women; as well as gathering testimony from many of the communities who lived through it, not only Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus, but also Anglo-Indians, Parsees and Colonial British. I was impressed by the use of personal testimony to weave a compelling narrative which did not shy away from difficult subjects. Here is a glimpse of stories from just four of the narrators.

The series had a wide impact as it brought to the fore this seldom-told but shared history between South Asia and Britain, which provoked reflection on the role and legacy of the British Empire. In reaction to the series many British people spoke of how they did not know about this part of their history, and British Asians – many thousands of whom are descended from families affected by partition – said how the programmes made them think in-depth about the events and legacy of 1947 in their own families and communities.

I’m delighted to announce that Partition Voices has now been recognised by Royal Historical Society, as winner of the both the radio/podcast category and overall Public History Prize 2018. The oral history team have had previous success in the Public History Prize, winning the web category for Voices of Science in 2015.

Part crop
Back row: Ant Adeane (producer), Tim Smith (producer), Hugh Levinson (Head, BBC Radio Current Affairs) Front Row: Mary Stewart (British Library Oral History Curator), Kavita Puri (presenter) and Mohit Bakaya (Radio 4 commissioning editor, factual) Not pictured: Mike Gallagher (producer), David Govier (British Library Oral History Archivist)

It was a privilege to attend the award ceremony last Friday to see this series recognised, and hear about so many other admirable and powerful public history projects commended by the RHS.

Mary Stewart, Curator of Oral History February 2018

30 January 2018

Mr Tickle in Connected Speech

PhD placement student Andrew Booth writes:

At the Evolving English exhibition at the British Library (2010-11), we asked visitors to submit recordings of their voices in specially designed telephone booths. Around 15,000 speakers took part, and the outcome is the Evolving English VoiceBank and WordBank – a collection of accents and dialect words from over the UK, and all around the world. Using the recordings can help linguists or language learners and language teachers in a variety of ways.

Connected speech is an umbrella term, which is used to describe the different processes of change words experience when spoken in natural and uninterrupted speech. It is easier to read a sentence with the words spaced evenly, thanitiswhentherearenospacesinbetween. In speech we do not have the luxury of set boundaries, and when natural speech occurs, some sounds are lost or changed to enable speed and fluency. The rhythmic organisation of English can cause letters to be inserted, changed or deleted. Here are some examples –

  • ‘ten minutes’ said quickly in the middle of a sentence may become /teminits/
  • ‘in bed’ in the middle of the sentence ‘sat up in bed’ could become /imbed/
  • ‘to a’ may become /towa/ in the sentence ‘came to a school’
  • ‘raw egg’ may become /ro:r eg/ when said quickly
  • ‘must have’ isn’t usually /must hav/, but pronounced /mustuv/

Teaching connected speech to learners of English can be an immensely complicated procedure if you are determined to spell out the rules and terminology that unveil the secrets to connected speech. Within connected speech we have the terminology of progressive assimilation which covers the first two examples above and linking or intrusive /r/ or /w/ explains the second two and weak forms which can explain the final one. Any or all of the terms are enough to put an English language learner (or anybody) off learning languages forever. However, by showing the features of connected speech the fluency and understanding of English can be improved rapidly.

As a rule, when teaching English, I will stay as far away from the terms above as possible. They only deter learners and do not help when pupils are already learning in a language that isn’t their mother tongue. However, I will not skirt the subject and have found a few rules that may help my teaching. Examples of a few of these are below:

Rule 1 - When a word ends in a consonant and the next begins with a vowel, the consonant may move to the other word or straddle between the two words: fast asleep sounds like fas•tasleep or back upstairs sounds like back ͜   upstairs

Rule 2 - If the consonant at the end of one word is the same as the start of another, the end consonant is not finished and merges with the beginning of the following word- thought ͜   to himself, less ͜   strict

Rule 3 - If a word ends in a single /n/ and the next begins with a /b/, /m/ or /p/ - the /n/ disappears and becomes a /m/ (see examples above)

Rule 4 - With non-stressed words of only one syllable that are not central to the context, compare the sentences – yes, we can! to we can do it! – the word can is much stronger in the first than the second

The examples above may seem to be imperceptible to a native speaker of English, they may even seem impossible when you try and say them in isolation. However, after listening to Mr Tickle time after time, I found that we really are chained to the conventions of connected speech, even though we do not know them.

Listen to the first minute and a half of the following excerpts from Mr Tickle read by native English speakers; see if you notice any of the rules in these sentences: (The first voice is someone from the South East of England, the second is from Manchester and the third is a Spanish speaker)

C1442X1339X1655X3044 extract 1

He was having a dream.  It must have been a very funny dream because it made him laugh out loud, and that woke him up.

C1442X1339X1655X3044 extract 2

He sat up in bed, stretched his extraordinary long arms, and yawned an enormous yawn.

C1442X1339X1655X3044 extract 3

Today looks very much like a tickling day,” he thought to himself.

Note that the Manchester speaker is also using connecting speech for /g/ in words ending ng. This could be another blog post in itself!

If we compare the same passage to a speaker whose first language generally does not use these connected speech features, you may be able to hear a difference. The Spanish speaker in the extracts above puts the same emphasis and length on each syllable:

In English we love to assimilate and compress words together or even delete letters from their original place when we speak naturally. There are many more examples of connected speech in the excerpt above that I have not included. Awareness of some of these features can help a learner not only to sound like a native speaker but also help them to understand these weird and interesting variations of our speech.

29 January 2018

Recording of the week: echolocating birds

This week's selection comes from Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife and Environmental Sounds.

Echolocation is a handy tool used by several groups of animals to understand the world around them. The major players are bats and cetaceans, who use the echoes of specialist calls to locate prey and navigate in conditions where visibility is poor, however a few other animals also possess their own biosonar systems.

Oilbirds (Steatornis caripensis) are one of only a handful of birds with the ability to echolocate. These nocturnal birds roost in caves across the tropical forests of northwestern South America and spend a considerable amount of their time in the dark. In conditions where eyesight is irrelevant, individuals use sequences of clicks to build up a 3D image of their surroundings. The rapid fire and variable nature of these sequences is captured in the following recording made in the Colombian Andes by wildlife sound recordist Ian Todd. Calls from nearby birds can also be heard, especially in the first half of the recording.

Echolocating oilbirds recorded by Ian Todd in the Colombian Andes on 9 Feb 2009 (BL ref 110359)


An Oilbird in the Asa Wright Nature Centre caves, Trinidad (courtesy of Alastair Rae)

As Ian explained in his accompanying notes, obtaining this recording was by no means a walk in the park.

"To gain access to the mouth of the cave we had to wade across the fast-flowing upland Rio Alicante, and then clamber up a series of huge boulders. The colony of Oilbirds was localised just within the cave entrance."

Hats off to you, sir.

Follow @CherylTipp and @soundarchive for all the latest news.