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.

Tiny Tim the busker 1935

VERY FEW RECORDINGS of street musicians were made in the pre-war period. Those that do exist are largely the work of the legendary BBC radio producer John Cheatle and his program ‘Street Show’. He persuaded several musicians, including a cornet soloist and a choir of unemployed Welsh miners, to perform in the BBC concert hall at Broadcasting House. Cheatle’s personality was recalled by commenters in the London Review of Books, and the Welsh choir recording has found new life on the BBC website.

So far only one pre-war example has to come to light of a London street musician recorded outdoors in their place of work. It’s under BBC catalogue number 870307 and comes from Covent Garden as part of the Dinner is Served series. The entry reads as follows:

“Tiny Tim”, an immense “clown” with red nose and a violin, gives an impromptu concert (whistling and singing with fiddle acc.) ‘If we hadn’t any ladies in the world’.

Thanks to an email from Paul Roberts, it can be identified as an English music-hall song written by Charles Collins in 1905 under the title If we hadn’t any women in the world. You can hear it reworked as an Irish-American barndance in James Morrison’s 1928 Columbia recording on the Irish Traditional Music Archive.

Tiny Tim’s performance is well in keeping with the bracing style of street music favoured decades ago, ranging from hurdy gurdies and barrel organs through to one-man bands.

Recording © copyright BBC. Recording © copyright BBC. Audio digitisation and restoration by the London Sound Survey. Many thanks to BBC Worldwide for granting permission to reproduce this recording here.

Tiny Tim the busker 1:45