Radio 4’s Mass Observation tribute looks at British attitudes to royalty

Personal and public attitudes to royalty are explored in the latest of a Radio 4 series of reports devoted to the Mass Observation Archive at the University of Sussex, now celebrating its 75th year.

Archive Trustee Professor Dorothy Sheridan and historian Dr Lucy Robinson were interviewed by presenter Allan Little for the report for Radio 4’s Today programme.

Listeners heard excerpts from Mass Observation contributors detailing their feelings – often complex and candid – about the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana Princess of Wales in 1981 – the year that the Mass Observation project was re-launched to record and preserve the observations and opinions of ordinary people.

There were also contributions relating to the death of Diana and the various Jubilee celebrations marking the reign of Elizabeth II.

The report is one of a series exploring the material of the archive and marking its anniversary year.

The Mass Observation Project forms part of the University library’s Special Collections.

In a previous report (broadcast on Thursday 19 April 2012), historian Dr Claire Langhamer talked to presenter Allan Little about the archive and why the public engaged with it.

The original project, begun in 1937, was the inspiration of anthropologists, writers and film-makers Charles Madge, Tom Harrisson and Humphrey Jennings. The three researchers wanted to create an “anthropology of ourselves” based on observations of everyday behaviour by anonymous volunteers who wrote reports.

The project then expanded to include day diaries and responses to questions on general and current topics, issued by the Mass Observation researchers.

The material collated by the original Mass Observation project (which was wound up in the 1950s) formed an archive that arrived with Tom Harrisson at the University of Sussex in 1970. Today it is now in demand as a valuable source of information and inspiration for academics, writers and researchers ever since, providing human insights into topics ranging from World War II and the NHS to Princess Diana, homosexuality, pubs and beards.

The project was revived in the 1980s as a charitable trust and continues to this day, seeking opinion from volunteer writers countrywide, supporting history courses and research at the University and in schools and collaborating with researchers, writers and film-makers.

Mass Observation in recent years has inspired Andrea Levy’s Orange Prize-winning novel Small Island, Simon Garfield’s trilogy Our Hidden Lives, We Are At War and Private Battles, Victoria Wood’s BAFTA-winning drama Housewife, 49, Kevin McDonald’s YouTube documentary Day In A Life and a wealth of other publications. 

Notes for Editors

Listen again to today’s broadcast on the Today web site.

To listen to the Today report for 19 April 2012 in full and to watch out for further reports, visit the Today web site.

Find out more about Mass Observation at the University of Sussex and how to get involved by visiting the Mass Observation web site

University of Sussex Press office contacts: Maggie Clune and Jacqui Bealing. Tel: 01273 678 888. Email:

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Last updated: Wednesday, 30 May 2012