RECORDINGS OF ceremonial occasions are well preserved among the BBC Archive’s collections of 78rpm transcription discs. The 700-year-old Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London appears first in 1933, then 1936, 1937, and more sporadically in the post-war period from 1950 onwards.
This recording was made on 16 July 1936 and it appears on a 12” disc with the BBC catalogue number of 870854. The disc is one of a minority which plays from the centre outwards.
We hear footsteps and then a curious tone like a ship’s steam-powered horn being blown. The ceremony then begins its ritual exchange of words between the Sentry and the Chief Yeoman Warder. The Warder identifies the keys as ‘King Edward’s keys’ – something which he wouldn’t have to do for very much longer, as Edward VIII abdicated in December 1936 to marry Wallis Simpson.
A band plays the national anthem and the ceremony concludes with the same, seemingly distant horn tone heard at the beginning. Part of the recording’s appeal must have arisen from how relatively few people would ever see or hear the ceremony first-hand. Public access is still possible today, but only by the pleasingly archaic means of writing a letter well in advance and including a self-addressed envelope.
Audio digitisation and restoration by the London Sound Survey. Many thanks to BBC Worldwide for granting permission to reproduce this recording here.