Digging through the records at Perivale

Jarvis Cocker at BBC Archive Jarvis Cocker at BBC Archive's new home in Perivale, London

Ever had that moment of opening the fridge to get something and suddenly you can't remember what you were looking for? Jarvis Cocker has it on a grand scale.

The Pulp frontman and solo artist is standing among the 61 miles of shelving at the BBC Archive's new home in Perivale, London. Just a short hop from the Central Line stop of the same name, the gigantic warehouse space, with its 13 temperature-controlled storage vaults, houses four million pieces of media.

On the hunt for items for the April 17 edition of his 6 Music show, Cocker is in the record vault, surrounded by endless racks of commercially recorded vinyl. It's a muso's dream, and the presenter - who has a well-documented love of obscure and collectable recordings from library music to 70s easy listening - is in his element. If only he could remember what he was looking for…

BBC Archive worker Play that record - a member of the BBC Archive team at Perivale

'Ever since I started working here I was curious to see the archive. It's been dangled in front of me like a carrot for over a year,' he jokes. 'We eventually found the time to come down. But once I get in a place like this my mind just goes blank and I can't think of what I'm looking for at all…. It makes your head swim a bit.' To aid the process he pulls out a small notepad with a list of records he wants to find. Top of the list is Billy Fury; a song by the 60s singer, born on April 17, is needed for the show's regular 'On this day…' feature, so he sets off to find it.

Record move

Cocker is accompanied by assistant producer Tom Billington, who is recording him chatting to his guests - BBC broadcast media co-ordinator Nigel Griffiths and record label owner Johnny Trunk - as they encounter curiosities ranging from 16" vinyl records to wax cylinders.

Leading this gang of male music geeks around the maze of media is operational manager Paul Doherty. He's been heavily involved with the move from the Archive's previous location at Windmill Road to its new home in Perivale, and is breathing a sigh of relief that it's all over.

The keys to the ageing Windmill Road premises - fondly remembered though falling apart - were returned to the landlord at the beginning of the month, firmly closing a 42-year chapter in the Archive's history.

Start Quote

People love it here now; they actually prefer it to Windmill Road”

End Quote Paul Doherty Operational manager

The transfer was one of the biggest broadcast archive moves ever undertaken in the world. Twelve lorries transported 350 shelves' worth of content every day in order to shift the collection to its new destination in time. To make things even harder, each item was still 'operationally live' while in transit - so if a tape was needed urgently the move would be interrupted to provide it.

It was a tall order, but one that was accomplished on schedule - the last tapes moved in February and the whole process took 200 days - without a single customer complaint about items not being available. 'It went like clock-work, because there was a lot of thought put in to make sure.' says Doherty. 'It was also very well publicised. If anyone didn't know about it they must have been in the Antarctic.'

Hidden treasures

The 80 Archive staff who transferred with the items have settled into their new home. Though it wasn't deemed financially viable for the building to have a manned canteen, it does have a bank of microwaves and a deal has been struck with the neighbouring Technicolor building for staff to use the canteen there.

'People love it here now; they actually prefer it to Windmill Road,' reckons Doherty. 'When everything was taken out of the offices you could really see the state of the place, the smell…'

He is interrupted by a strange buzzing sound emanating from the racks behind him. Closer inspection reveals Jarvis Cocker has pulled out a psychedelic rock record and is playing it on a lunchbox-shaped plastic record player from the 60s that he's brought along with him.

'It's quite handy to carry around with you when you go record shopping,' he smiles, then strides down the corridor in search of more hidden treasures, another satisfied customer of the BBC Archive.


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