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.

London Tape Recording Club 1958

DURING THE 1950s tape recorders became cheap and portable enough to enter the aspirations of dedicated hobbyists. The democratisation of this technology was greeted not only as a new means for individual expression, but also as a focus for self-organisation.

This half-hour recording was produced by the London Tape Recording Club, most likely at the end of 1958 or in early 1959. It was the second local club for tape enthusiasts to be formed in Britain.

The recording presents the activities and contributions of individual members within the framework of the club’s identity. Once that’s established through an account of its founding, the club can start to act as a corporate body. It enters into friendly, reciprocal relations with other clubs as well as with the crew of the South Goodwin lightship, the predecessor of which had sunk in 1954 with only one crewman surviving.

There is confidence and pride in the club’s purpose. One commentator asserts that the international exchange of tapes between recording clubs achieves more for world peace than the efforts of diplomats. It’s intriguing to hear how a group of unrelated individuals are able to co-operate with ease and build a formal structure with office-holders and a constitution. They don’t stop there. Soon a national federation of tape recording clubs is proposed and put into effect.

Perhaps a parallel is drawn in at least some of the members’ imaginations between the federation and the British Commonwealth, which is mentioned twice in the recording. But the club and the federation also suggest hopes for collective social mobility on the part of what sounds like a predominantly working-class and lower-middle-class membership. With Sputnik circling the Earth and electricity flowing from the Calder Hall reactor, the future must surely be a meritocratic one belonging to men keeping abreast of technology.

The London Tape Recording Club seems to be foremost a brotherhood, following the then abundant examples of craft unions, workingmen’s and gentlemen’s clubs. The appearance of a young woman at the inaugural meeting causes comment and some excitement. In a short piece of actuality an office-holder asks the woman’s name. Her fiancé speaks for her, giving the name of Dorothy Tidy. After a pause the office-holder asks for her address, to the laughter of those present. The brotherhood is re-affirmed.

A breakdown of the recording’s contents is given below. The spelling of some of the surnames is necessarily guessed at.

00:00 – Big Ben chimes, ‘London Tape Recording club presents Sound and Story’, music. The story of the LTRC told by Arthur Large. John Weir organised election in mid-1957 to represent BATRS members in London. Roger Asling elected. Then a meeting in a room above the Ship and Shovel near Charing Cross, later popular with LTRC members. ‘Roger Asling took the chair and everyone had a chance to have their say.’ Decision to form a club made, wrangling over a constitution. Recording extracts from the meeting. A woman, Dorothy Tidy, is introduced but her fiancé speaks for her. The audience sounds nearly all male and mostly quite young.

04:27 – Albert Chapman: Review of the club’s founding done as a mock sermon – ‘among the worshippers in the temple of the tape there was murmuring’. The meeting of the ‘brethren’ at the Ship and Shovel described.

10:52 – Musical interlude.

11:18 – Large: One of the LTRC’s first activities was to send Christmas greetings to the crew of the South Goodwin light vessel. Proposed by Trevor Davis after finding out the lightship had just been given a recorder by the people of Ramsgate. Message consisted of impromptu recordings at a meeting and Christmas music, plus some thoughts on recording. Unnamed commentator: ‘After a while, I found that recording pure and simple was not one of the prime purposes and uses of a tape recorder, and I found that I could use it to make contact with other people who had a similar interest to myself. By that means I have widened my interests and also I have found new friends and I have also widened my interest in classical music.’

12:28 – Musical interlude: ‘Let’s take a stroll through London’.

13:34 – Large: LTRC sends a recorded greeting to the Edinburgh Tape Recording Club.

13:47 – Pat Coffinger: London Airport feature with actuality from air traffic control tower and commentary. Describes view all around with six runways surrounding the 120-foot tall tower.

15:44 – Large: Coffinger was at time of recording an air traffic controller at London Airport, but left to work at Prestwick. A London tape feature would be incomplete without a look at ‘those fascinating out-of-the-way places that make London so interesting’

16:04 – Unnamed commentator: Recommends the Edinburgh listeners visit various places in London. Patent Office Library off Fetter Lane, ‘if you like a quiet place where you can study literally thousands of textbooks.’ Adopts Scottish accent to tell listeners it’s free to visit. [Imperial] War Museum in Lambeth: ‘here is kept all the impedimenta of two world wars’. Advises visitors to take a water-bus downstream from Charing Cross to Greenwich, with its Maritime Museum, the Cutty Sark, and the Observatory.

18:04 – Large: A big city like London has its disadvantages though. Unnamed Scottish commentator describes how he came to London in 1955 from Dunfermline. London much more expensive than Dunfermline, ‘although the barrow boys help a little’. Good accommodation hard to find. London may have four-and-a-half million people, ‘but you’ve no idea how lonely you can feel’.

18:35 – Large: Despite drawbacks, London is centre of our great Commonwealth of Nations.

18:49 – John Amflet: Actuality from Parliament Square with sound of traffic in background. Amflet gives a brief history of Parliament Square and describes the scene with its attendant pigeons and foreign visitors.

20:24 – Large: LTRC had 22 members at outset, 30 by Spring 1958, and over 40 by end of 1958. About half the members attend the monthly meetings, ‘inevitable that club nights are bound to interfere with members who work shifts or [are] on hours.’ Meeting consists of business, followed by main item of the evening, perhaps a demonstration of a new recorder. A break for refreshment, then ‘members’ tape time’. In March, John Amflet proposed a federation of tape clubs. This received enthusiastic support.

21:25 – Chapman: Outlines his ideas on what a federation could do. A strong federation could help counteract the ‘contemptuous’ after-sales attitudes of manufacturers, and the dishonest advertising of suppliers. Complains about the high costs of posting a tape abroad, ‘nearly a day’s wage’. Yet international tape exchanges are more effective for peace than ‘quarrelsome diplomats’, whose expense accounts could subsidise the posting of tapes.

22:34 – Large: Only other tape club at time of LTRC’s founding was in Edinburgh. But things have changed since then.

22:46 – [First name inaudible] Coffinger (female commentator): LTRC sent its second Christmas tape to crew of South Goodwin lightship. Tape recording clubs have spring up in most of the major towns and cities of the British Isles. A Federation of British Tape Recording Clubs has come into being. John Amflet now chairman of the Federation.

23:19 – Large: A picture in sound of our meeting place. Actuality in pub: Voice of landlord of Ship and Shovel inviting crew of the South Goodwin lightship to have ‘a nice big pint on me’. Large: LTRC outgrew the Ship and Shovel and sought a new meeting place.

23:52 – Musical interlude: Scottish music.

24:17 – Large: LTRC received tape from Edinburgh club in December. Extracts: Actuality with commentator at the Mound in Edinburgh, loud traffic. Firing of the one o’clock Edinburgh gun.

26:00 – Musical interlude: orchestral arrangement of ‘Oranges and Lemons’.

26:31 – Large: concluding remarks. LTRC’s new meeting place is at the Abbey Community Association, near Westminster Abbey.

26:59 – End credit, closing music.

For an excellent overview on the history of tape recording clubs, including sound files from clubs in Derby, Leicester and Nottingham, visit Mark Vernon’s Meagre Resource website. A summary of the development of tape recording equipment in Britain can be found on the Brenell tape recorder website.

Many thanks to Mr Colmer for this recording.

London Tape Recording Club 28:14