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Press release

  • 11 April 2005
  • Life and times of Bob Copper form new Sussex archive

    Bob Copper (left) with his father Jim at the Central Club, Peacehaven, 1951

    Bob Copper (left) with his father Jim at the Central Club, Peacehaven, 1951

    A lifetime's collection of notes, diaries and observations by folk legend Bob Copper are to be presented to the University of Sussex as the Bob Copper archive on Thursday April 14 in true Copper family style - with beer and song.


    Three generations of the Copper family - Bob's children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren - are expected to attend the presentation party at the University library, where an invited audience will hear them sing together in the style taught to them by Bob, who died aged 89 last year.


    Bob and his family are famous worldwide for their harmonised, unaccompanied singing of English folk songs handed down through successive generations of Coppers for the past 200 years. The Copper family has lived in the East Sussex village of Rottingdean since the late 16th century, giving them an unbroken link with a distinct rural cultural heritage.


    It was Bob's appreciation of this life that inspired his five highly-regarded books, poetry and observations on rural life and customs. Around ten boxes of notebooks, letters and scripts for plays, collected by the family following his death, will form the basis of the archive, which includes a unique recording of a 1950 BBC radio documentary about Bob's father Jim, analyses of the songs, Jim's handwritten accounts of farm life at the end of the 19th century and material collected during Bob's own association with the BBC.


    Bob's work will share shelf space with a varied catalogue of literary contributions housed in the University's Special Collections, ranging from the papers of Virginia Woolf and Rudyard Kipling to the radio scripts of Frank Muir and Denis Norden.


    Dorothy Sheridan, head of Special Collections, says: "Bob's archive is an important new acquisition and it fits well with Sussex's scholarly strengths in social history and popular culture. For me it is a particular delight - I used to sing in folk clubs and have admired the Coppers for years from far! "


    Jon Dudley, Bob's son-in-law, says: "We wanted to ensure that the material would be safe and shared with others. Sussex honoured Bob with an MA, which he was delighted with. We knew about the Special Collections archives so thought that the University would be the best place. Bob was an inveterate scribbler who was always jotting his thoughts on any scrap of paper he had to hand. His writings are sure to be of use to anyone researching his life, Rottingdean, agricultural history or folk song. An historian might be able to uncover some real nuggets and we would like to think it might lead to a Bob Copper biography."


    Alun Howkins, Professor of social history at Sussex, who knew Bob Copper and his work and recommended the idea of creating the archive, says: "Bob Copper is best summed up by his own work, his books and song collecting, as well as his singing."



    Notes for editors 

    The presentation evening begins at 6pm on Thursday April 14 and will feature music by The Rakes, singing by the Coppers and a display of Bob Copper archive material. For interviews, press access on the day or further information, contact Maggie Clune, tel: 01273 678 888 or email

    For more information about University of Sussex Special Collections, see

    For more information about the Copper family, see


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