Pioneer archivists inspire conference

Fitzsrovia Radio Hour's Tom Mallaburn, Fiona Sheehan and Jon Edgley Bond Fitzrovia Radio Hour's Tom Mallaburn, Fiona Sheehan and Jon Edgley Bond bring the story of the original 1930s archivists to life.

Behind every great man there's a greater woman, so the saying goes, and the early history of the BBC Recorded Programmes Library would seem to bear that out.

In the 1930s, when technology first allowed live radio material broadcast on the BBC to be recorded, the head of recorded programmes was a young executive called Lynton Fletcher.

Start Quote

Essentially, we're facing the same challenges in our daily work now as the pioneer archivists ”

End Quote Fiona Macbeth Archive Innovation Executive

Old photographs show him dressed for his day in an immaculate double-breasted, pin-stripe suit. Who knows what he was like to work with but, in keeping with his appearance perhaps, it would seem he was a man who Didn't Like Clutter.

When the amount of radio programmes recorded onto disks began to pile up in his office, Fletcher asked his then temporary secretary Marie Slocombe to throw them out.

Although Fletcher was a pioneer of early radio recording techniques, it was Slocombe who, dismayed at the thought of losing the earliest voice recordings of George Bernard Shaw, Winston Churchill and GK Chesterton among others, decided to keep them and categorise them. Without her foresight, many of the treasures now held in the BBC Archive may have disappeared forever.

Getting on for a century later BBC Archives has a staff of around 400 across programme making, logistics and the Archive Centre in Perivale.

One hundred and forty of those are media managers based in London, Bristol and Salford, who'll come together on September 26 for their bi-annual conference. Inspired by the story of Slocombe and Fletcher, the organisers have given the day a 30s theme.

What to keep

'Essentially, we're facing the same challenges in our daily work now as the pioneer archivists,' says archive innovation executive Fiona Macbeth.

Fitzrovia Radio Hour Fitzrovia Radio Hour give media managers conference a lift

'A new technology comes in and nobody is quite clear how to respond. Back then it was disc-based radio recordings, now it's file based, whether it is tv, radio or documents. Whatever it is, somebody has to begin working out what we keep and how we find the good stuff again for re-use.'

In May this year director general Tony Hall made a decision to scrap the Digital Media Initiative (DMI), which was designed to provide a digital archive, 'Fabric', as well as the tools to manage and store file-based content. This would have provided a central digital repository for all archive content.

Between 2010 and 2012, the project cost the Corporation £98.4m.

'It's been a challenging year for the department, but we've worked hard to lift morale,' says head of media management Maggie Lydon.

'The conference promises to be fun, as well as informative. It will be a forum to celebrate our successes, while at the same time motivating media managers and equipping them to support all content producing areas in the best way possible.'

Victoria Sponge

Morning sessions on the day will take the theme of pioneering new ideas and ways of working. After a 1930s lunch of ham salad, garden quiche, jelly and lashings of Victoria Sponge, the afternoon will be devoted to collaboration and how staff can work well as a team.

Speakers include ITV's head of production innovation, BBC Factual TV's head of production and the BBC's W1 manager. Colin Savage - a well-known face around the BBC - will host the event, wearing a vintage dinner jacket.

By drawing on their department's rich history, the steering group behind the event has made an impressive effort to draw inspiration for the present from the past.

Every piece of branding, from invites to lighting, follows the 1930s theme to ensure the era is illustrated throughout the day.

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It's been a challenging year for the department, but we've worked hard to lift morale ”

End Quote Maggie Lydon Head of Media Management
Period plays

The highlight will be the appearance of a team of actors - The Fitzrovia Radio Hour - who've been especially commissioned to write and perform two sketches that bring the story of the original 1930s archivists to life.

The group is enjoying increasing notoriety as portrayers of short, funny, radio plays in the style of a bygone era, with three appearances at the Edinburgh Festival, two West End runs and slots on the Review Show and the Today programme. Also dressed up in appropriate clothing, (cigars and moustaches too) they'll take the stage for 'The Archivists' in the morning session and 'Playing for the Team' in the afternoon.

'As the Fitzrovia Radio Hour we celebrate that glamorous, bygone era when radio drama was brand new and there were more stereotypes and cut glass accents than you'd find at Afternoon Tea at Lords,' says actor Tom Mallaburn.

'We write and perform original material in a period style and satirise the casual imperialism and stiff upper lips of the period. BBC Radio Theatre, playing to the media managers, is the perfect venue for us and something we are really looking forward to.'

The Media Manager Conference takes place on September 26 in the Radio Theatre at NBH. Invite only.

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