ONE OF THE most talked-about features on this site is the modest collection of actuality recordings from the 1930s and 1940s. Nearly all of them were originally made by the BBC, and it’s with the kind permission of BBC Worldwide that they appear here.
I dig out the recordings on their original 78rpm transcription discs, and it’s pretty obvious that most haven’t been played in decades. As far as I know none have been digitised before, with the exception of the Columbia London street noises disc from 1928.
There’s real satisfaction in bringing each recording back to life as an electronic Lazarus and letting them all be heard for free by anyone, because they’re part of our common heritage.
The good news is that BBC Worldwide have approved a second batch and this is what you’ll be able to hear over the next few weeks:
1. V-E Day celebrations, 1945. Street musicians recorded outside the Rose Restaurant in Soho, performing a cheeky song about Hitler with banjo accompaniment.
2. Victory celebration, 1946. Arrival of the Royal Barge at Westminster at 10pm. Described as a ‘sound picture’.
3. Bertram Mills Circus, 1946. Actuality recorded during a performance by Bertram Mills Touring Circus with live music, two stunt horse-riding acts including the Bakers and the Cumberlands. Exciting atmosphere with crack of whips, applause.
4. Guy Fawkes celebrations in Camden, 1947. Children sing and ask for penny for the guy.
5. South Hammersmith by-election 1949. Canvassing and speeches by candidates, mayor and returning officer.
6. Coronation Eve: London sounds and scenes, 1937. Kensington Gardens: keepers shouting ‘All out’, the usual evening warning before locking gates. Admiralty Arch: cries of programme, seat and periscope sellers – ‘Don’t forget your periscope, a bob each’.
7. Festival of Britain, 1951. Short tracks without commentary. Children at turnstiles, Festival bell, Eccentrics’ Corner with matchstick mandolin and smoke-grinding machine making odd noises.
8. Street musicians: 1947. Four short tracks recorded in the West End, including one busker playing a home-made xylophone.
9. Railway Rhythm, 1947. Inside the Clapham Junction signalbox. Block bells indicate when a train is about to enter a section. Each bell has its own note and the signalman knows the tone of each.
10. Shophar, 1948. Ancient synagogue horn played by M. Roth, the Beadle of the Central London Synagogue.
11. Evacuation of civilians, 1940. A woman evacuee describes how she was sitting quietly in a shelter when a 500 lb. bomb descended on her house. Went to a school five minutes away where she saw her friend, her friends mother and sister killed. 400 people killed in the shelter that day. Grief almost overcomes this speaker.
12. Battle of Britain, 1940. The comments and reactions of a typical family group watching an air-battle over the Kent- Sussex border. Recorded near Crowborough, Sussex. “First one I’ve seen . . . plenty of Spitfires about . . . going down in flames . . . six Spitfires or Hurricanes . . . that’s it blowing up down there”. Ominous drone of planes, increasing and decreasing throughout; some gunfire.
Plus a couple of recordings left over from the first batch which haven’t yet been uploaded.