Preserving the Sound Archive

Preserving the Sound Archive

An interview with Julia Weaver, BBC Sound Archivist

Julia Weaver, who preserves sound recordings for the BBC, tells us about everything from wax cylinders to digital files.


How did the Sound Archive begin?

In the early days of the BBC, programmes weren't kept after they'd been transmitted, so obviously there was no archive. In 1937 a lady called Marie Slocombe joined the BBC as a secretary. Within the first few months of her joining she was asked to dispose of some recordings such as HG Wells and Churchill and George Bernard Shaw, but she felt that these were too important to actually do that, so she decided that she was going to store them away safely. I think it was some foresight there that these were very important recordings to be used in the future. By 1939 Marie Slocombe had amassed a collection of around 2,000 discs, which contained recordings by Hitler and Goebbels, among other prominent figures. She also recognised the need to keep recordings of ordinary people. For example, she kept back some recordings from survivors of the Titanic.
(sound clip)
There's also a copy of King Edward VIII's abdication speech, which at the time the BBC had been instructed not to record by the royal family. But Marie Slocombe couldn't resist making a copy of the abdication speech, and hid it away for many years until it was found in a secret cupboard.
(sound clip)
There have been many people since Marie Slocombe worked at the BBC that have that same passion for the content of the archive and have the foresight to actually keep many holdings back.

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