Centre for Life History and Life Writing Research

Connected Histories of the BBC

Connected Histories of the BBC is an ambitious five-year project which runs until the end of 2021. Its aim is to create access to an extraordinary national resource which has hitherto been largely hidden from view: the hundreds of recorded interviews the BBC has conducted over the years with its own staff – ranging from senior managers such as Directors-General through to popular on-screen personalities such as David Attenborough, pioneering editors of political programmes such as Grace Wyndham Goldie, and influential producers such as Sydney Newman, responsible for creating Doctor Who.

These frank accounts reveal in vividly personal ways the inside story of the BBC and its relationship with the wider world since its birth in 1922. Making them accessible promises to transform our understanding of the BBC itself and, indeed, of the cultural history of the last hundred years more generally.

Interview with Cecil Madden, with John Lane 1976. From the BBC Oral History CollectionInterview with Cecil Madden, with John Lane 1976. From the BBC Oral History Collection

The project is based in the Sussex Humanities Lab, at the University of Sussex, and is funded by a large grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. It is being led by David Hendy (Principle Investigator), and the team includes: Tim Hitchcock, Margaretta Jolly, and Alban Webb, who are the co-investigators; Anna-Maria Sichani, Research Fellow in Media History and Historical Data Modelling; and Denice Penrose (administrator). Project Partners include the BBC itself, as well as the Science Museum Group (including the National Science and Media Museum), the British Entertainment History Project, Mass Observation, and Adam Matthew Digital.

While the Connected Histories of the BBC project is not led by the CLHLWR, it draws on its expertise in its oral history methods.

There are several interconnected strands to the project:

First, Connected Histories of the BBC will deploy innovative Digital Humanities techniques to turn a set of scattered analogue records into a fully searchable digital catalogue by the BBC’s Centenary year, 2022.

It is also releasing selected highlights from the recorded interviews in 100 Voices that Made the BBC – a series of eight curated websites hosted by the BBC which also provide access for the first time to a host of other written documents, interviews and programme recordings, all drawn from the BBC and the collections of our various other Project Partners.

Each new 100 Voices website has a ‘share your memories’ page, which allows the project to gather new accounts of major broadcasting events. Each website is also accompanied by a free public event, at which people can hear talks from academic researchers and broadcasters, get sneak previews of new resources, and record their own memories of radio listening and TV viewing through reminiscence workshops and pop-up TV studios.

Finally, the project will be creating new interviews of its own, to enhance the BBC’s own oral history archive. Between 2017 and 2021, twenty-five individuals who have played a major role in BBC history will be filmed giving an extensive account of their lives and careers. These interviews will be transcribed, catalogued, and archived, so that they are accessible to future generations of researchers. People interviewed so far include the radio presenters Tony Blackburn and Annie Nightingale and the BBC’s veteran Delhi Correspondent, Mark Tully.