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Radio actuality recordings

A unique collection of original BBC and other radio actuality recordings brings to life the London of the 1920s to the 1950s. These sounds were captured at street markets, fairgrounds, skittle alleys, auction houses, hopfields and elsewhere.

Fortune teller 1939

WOMEN’S VOICES VERY rarely appear in pre-war actuality recordings. Men addressed groups and crowds as a matter of course in business, politics and religion. Women’s voices had a more limited public role, speaking in the schoolroom and as part of a few other occupations, including female bus conductors from the time of the First World War.

Otherwise, women typically spoke to others in a one-to-one manner during the course of their work. This 1939 recording (catalogue number 829412) features a fortune teller at the August Bank Holiday fair on Hampstead Heath.

The catalogue entry states that the fortune teller speaks to two different women, but the voice of only one is heard. The woman’s received pronunciation and very brief answers suggest that she may be accompanying the recordist.

The fortune teller uses the clairvoyant’s standard cold-reading tricks of Barnum statements, which are ones that hold true for many people, and shotgunning, where several different attempts at guessing a name are rattled off quickly in the hope that the client will respond to one of them. Some flattering comments are worked in as well, showing the social grooming aspect of the job.

Many thanks to BBC Worldwide for granting the London Sound Survey permission to reproduce this recording. It is not covered by the site’s Creative Commons licence so please don’t try to download or redistribute it.

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Fortune teller Hampstead Heath 3:34