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.

Piccadilly Circus atmosphere 193?

SOME OF the BBC recordings consist of just brief fragments of sound with no precise date and scant catalogue details. One of them is this recording (BBC library number 9226), described on its label as: Traffic and flower sellers, Piccadilly Circus, recorded before 1939.

It’s of some significance, since the central part of the recording with the flower sellers’ voices was used in the introduction to the long-running radio series In Town Tonight. Beginning in 1933, this ran until 1960 and from 1955 was simultaneously broadcast on television. The format was the ancestor of programs like Nationwide and The One Show with its topical mixture of studio chat and location recording. The London Sound Survey has an excerpt from a 1949 broadcast in which presenter Brian Johnston gets aboard a fire engine on a call-out.

Also used in the introduction was the cheerful-sounding Knightsbridge March, composed by Eric Coates. An announcer’s voice would end the introduction with the words: Once more we stop the mighty roar of London’s traffic and, from the great crowds, we bring you some of the interesting people who have come by land, sea and air to be In Town Tonight.

One of the two flower sellers’ voices is more distinct and you can hear her saying: Have some violets, gents. Lovely sweet violets. Following an exchange of emails with the Museum of Soho, I’ve learned that this is the voice of Agnes Pegg, a well-known figure in London in her day. You can listen to a short interview with her from 1955 elsewhere in this section.

Agnes Pegg, flower seller, at Piccadilly Circus

Agnes Pegg’s death in 1973 brought to an end a working life which had begun when she was ten years old, helping her grandmother in the same trade. Her passing was noted in the Evening Standard and other newspapers, and part of her funeral procession’s route went through Piccadilly Circus.

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.

Piccadilly Circus atmosphere 0:35