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.

Victory celebrations 1946

AFTER THE bacchanalia of VE Day, Londoners had to wait a year and a month for the more restrained victory celebrations of 1946. Even so, it provided an abundance of foreign dignitaries and a parade of troops drawn from the furthest reaches of the Commonwealth and Empire. Such scenes would not be repeated in London until the coronation of 1953.

The cover of the official programme for the event, produced by HMSO, had a fustian look:

1946 victory celebrations programme

But the event itself was lively, and the celebrations continued into the night with a trip along the floodlit Thames to Westminster by King George VI and his family in the Royal Barge. The recording on this page (BBC catalogue number 872990) captures the moment when the Barge arrived to be greeted by cheering crowds and a 21-gun salute.

The recording is relatively long to be without commentary, and the catalogue entry describes it as a ‘sound picture’ with a ‘very good atmosphere’. The trumpet fanfares and the music of the National Anthem and Pomp and Circumstance heard in the recording were relayed to the crowds through an array of 500 loudspeakers.

A fireworks display followed but the huge crowds took a long time to disperse and, according to the report in the Canberra Times, many Londoners missed their trains home:

Thousands gave up hope when time came for the last trains approached, and they settled down in parks, gardens and doorways to wait the first transport on Sunday morning. [. . .] An hour before dawn, when the congestion was sorted out, London became a city half asleep and still half awake. Some revellers fitfully maintained song and dance but most dozed uneasily on hard couches, crouched in coats or huddled under sheets of paper. Some even slept at bus stops to be the first in morning queues.

A black-and-white Pathé newsreel of the daytime celebrations can be found on YouTube, as can some amateur footage in colour. But, apart from still photographs, this recording seems to be the only surviving testament to the enthusiasm of the crowds at night.

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.

Victory celebrations 3:33