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.

Coronation Eve 1937

THE CORONATION OF George VI and Queen Elizabeth took place in Westminster Abbey on 12 May 1937, the day which has originally been chosen for Edward VII’s coronation, before he abdicated.

Crowds began gathering in London the day before. BBC recordists were sent out to gather the raw materials for what was then termed a ‘sound picture’ of the build-up to the coronation. The two recordings reproduced are the first and fourth tracks from a transcription disc with the BBC catalogue number 869713. Tracks two and three are brief recordings of the royal train passing at speed through Welwyn.

The first is from Kensington Gardens, where the park keepers are calling ‘All Out’ to get people to leave before the gates are locked for the night. The catalogue notes state that this was the usual practice of the time, and not something done specially for the coronation.

The second recording consists of a lively crowd scene at Admiralty Arch at the east end of the Mall. There are the cries of programme, seat and periscope sellers: Don’t forget your periscope, a bob each; See the procession in comfort; Official programme and guide, two pence.

Periscope sellers made a reappearance, like the rare blooming of a cactus, at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2011. The periscopes were of a simple design consisting of a long cardboard tube with a mirror at each end, and one which is unlikely to have changed since 1937.

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.

Coronation Eve park keepers 0:56
Coronation Eve Admiralty Arch 0:43