The BBC has opened up its archives, to explore how TV and radio have understood and covered race, immigration, British identity, and nation across the twentieth century.

As part of the AHRC-Connected Histories of the BBC, the fourth in a series of BBC websites, 100 Voices that Made the BBC, has been released. It’s called People, Nation, Empire. Published to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush and the King’s formal renunciation of the title of Emperor of India, it explores how the BBC has tried to re-imagine itself in the multicultural and postimperial age – how it’s grappled over the years with the wider issue of who exactly gets to speak on air and who exactly gets to appear on screen. You can see it here

The website includes a large number of clips from programmes not seen since first broadcast several decades ago, as well as lots of interview recordings, photographs and written documents that are being made publicly available for the very first time through this website.

Subjects covered include:

  • the history of programmes addressing race and immigration
  • pioneering access television in the 1970s
  • broadcasting’s role in fostering Caribbean literature
  • the BBC in India
  • the World Service as a cultural melting-pot
  • portrayals of ‘the North’
  • religious broadcasting in a multi-faith world
  • the history of programming about LGBTQ+ issues.

As well as viewing clips and interviews, you can download and keep selected transcripts of interviews recorded with BBC pioneers and kept in the Corporation’s oral history archive.

You can also download important and previously unavailable documents from the BBC’s Written Archive Centre, which help reveal the inside story of the BBC.

Highlights include:

  • BBC news bulletins from the day the Empire Windrush arrived in 1948
  • Rare clips and images of African-American and Black British performers on pre-war and post-war BBC television.
  • Documents revealing the behind-the-scenes story of how and why the BBC launched programmes for ‘Asian immigrants’ in 1965.
  • Clips of, among others, Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Derek Walcott, George Lamming, Louise Bennett, and John Figueroa speaking on the BBC.
  • Clips from pioneering dramas and documentaries dealing with immigration and cultural identity: A Man from the Sun (1956), Special Enquiry (1955), Morning in the Streets (1960), Fable (1965), Black Christmas (1977), Empire Road (1978)
  • The very first episode of Make Yourself at Home, the BBC’s TV programme for Asian immigrants launched in 1965.
  • Specially recorded location-interviews with the veteran Indian correspondents Satish Jacob and Mark Tully, discussing the role of the BBC in India and its reporting of key events such as the storming of the Golden Temple at Amritsar and the premiership of Indira Gandhi.
  • A specially recorded interview with the novelist and broadcaster Mike Phillips, discussing the challenges of being a black reporter at the BBC in the 1970s.
  • Documents and interviews asking why The Black and White Minstrel Show was still being broadcast in 1978.
  • Extended clips from two early episodes of Open Door, the BBC’s radical 1970s experiment in ‘access TV’ – one by a group of Black London teachers, the other by the ‘Transex Liberation Group’ – alongside interviews and documents revealing the origins of the series.
  • Documents from Mass Observation revealing British attitudes about race and immigration since 1939.
  • The story of Una Marson, the BBC’s first black producer, who developed broadcasting to the Caribbean during the Second World War – including the earliest known recording of her, and newly-available documentary evidence of why she left the BBC in 1946.
  • Programme scripts from the pioneering series Caribbean Voices, including the first appearance of a poem by Samuel Selvon.
  • Vivid portraits of the life and culture of the BBC’s ‘North Region’ before and after the war, through freshly-released interviews with Olive Shapley, Yvonne Adamson, Alfred Bradley, and John Snagge.
  • Intimate descriptions of life among international broadcasters working at Bush
    House during and after the Second World War.
  • A frank account from the former head of religious broadcasting, Colin Morris, about disagreements between the BBC and the established churches over the direction of multi-faith programming in the 1960s and 1970s.
  • Clips of early episodes from pioneering children’s TV series such as The Flowerpot Men (1952), Playschool (1971), Grange Hill (1978), and recorded interviews telling the inside story of their creation.
  • A timeline of key events in the BBC’s attempts to represent sexual diversity since 1957, including clips from This Time of Day-Lesbianism (1965), Man Alive-Consenting Adults (1967), Open Door (1973), Gaytime TV (1995), and other key documentaries from the 1960s through to 2017.
  • A filmed recording of John Agard performing his poem Grey, from the Video Nation series – part of the BBC’s marking of the fiftieth anniversary in 1998 of the arrival of Windrush.
  • A specially recorded interview with the broadcaster Samira Ahmed, giving her
    personal response to the archive material being released on this website.

Full transcripts from the BBC’s Oral History archive being made available here for the first time include: Olive Shapley, Alfred Bradley, Ted Wilkinson, Yvonne Adamson, David Waine, Colin Morris, and Owen Reed.

There is also a section called ‘Share Your Memories’ where you can upload your own
thoughts and recollections as a viewer and listener to these BBC programmes.

Background

The text has been written by David Hendy and Alban Webb from the School of Media, Film and Music at the University of Sussex, with guest contributions from other media historians, including Aasiya Lodhi (Westminster), Jeannine Baker (Macquarie), James Procter (Newcastle), Jamie Medhurst (Aberystwyth), and John Escolme (BBC).

Previous websites in the 100 Voices that Made the BBC series can be found here. They include websites about the history of elections broadcasting, the birth of television, and the reinvention of radio in the 1960s. These websites also include a large number of programme clips, interviews, photographs, documents, and transcripts for download.

The 100 Voices that Made the BBC series is part of the AHRC-funded Connected Histories of the BBC project based at the University of Sussex and running from 2017 to 2021. For background, see here.

David Hendy,
University of Sussex
Wednesday 18 July 2018

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