The BBC is gradually making some of its huge archive of radio and television material available online. It is a unique resource reaching back to the 1930’s and like Your Paintings, which I mentioned in an earlier posting, it belongs to all of us.
There is a slight problem though – many tapes were wiped for various reasons and there are significant gaps in the Archive. In the early days of television and radio many programmes were broadcast live and simply not recorded, others were not thought worth preserving. For instance, there are no remaining recordings of George Orwell, even though he regularly made broadcasts with the BBC.
Now that the BBC is celebrating 90 years of broadcasting they are calling for people to search their attics, basements and sheds to try to re-discover some of these lost broadcasts – The Listener’s Archive would like to hear of any good quality recording on any format to help fill the holes (also see this update – Listener’s Archive Appeal Update). It may sound ridiculous that such a huge organisation is calling on its listeners to help them out (and even more ridiculous that so much material has been lost) but incredible discoveries do occur – just last month a recording of the BBC’s coverage of the Moon landing, previously thought lost for ever, was discovered by Philip London who, at the age of 12 in 1969, had recorded the broadcast from the TV on a machine his dad had recently brought back from Singapore! It is amazing to think what treasures are still sitting around gathering dust, just waiting to be rescued…
In an attempt to make some of the existing archive available to the public there are a couple of pages on the BBC website with rarely seen material from throughout its vast history.
The main page of the BBC Archive is a little uninspiring, but rooting around reveals that it contains a wide range of material covering a variety of topics. For instance there is a documentary on Henry Moore, the first British documentary on a living artist (originally broadcast in 1951); coverage of The Beatles arriving at London Airport in 1964; inside the clock tower of the Houses Of Parliament to see how Big Ben Is Cleaned (a part of the Blue Peter programme from 1980); and a range of clips from Tomorrows World from 1965 to 1994, as well as dozens of other oddities which would not now get an airing on traditional broadcast television. The Archive is arranged so that if you want to look up an individual programme, a specific person, or a particular subject then you can, or you can simply browse under the Collections heading.
There is a slightly more attractive home page on BBC Four Collections – it seems to have more full length programmes rather than just excerpts, but I may be wrong there. It’s main category is London, which has a fascinating programme on How They Dug The Victoria Line first broadcast in 1969; a look at Swinging London (Three Swings On A Pendulum) from 1967; right up to 1999 with a look at the characters who work at Billingsgate Market (Fish Tales).
Other categories offer a vast range of factual content from BBC Radio 4, programmes on the armed forces, the art of interview, and American culture.
Now get in the attic, shed or basement and start searching!