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Paul Sargeant Paul Sargeant | 15:55 UK time, Thursday, 21 October 2010

Objects from the BBC collection


We’ve had a number of curators on the blog over the last few months looking at objects from their own collection as well as ones added by you. Then someone pointed out that the BBC has its own collection and we should get some of those objects onto the site.

Robert Seatter


Robert Seatter, the Head of BBC History, kindly responded to our call and has uploaded some of the objects from the BBC’s long broadcasting history. He’s also picked out a few of his favourites and the stories behind them.

Collections are funny things – occasionally purpose-built, but all too often accrued organically by happenstance.

The BBC has been a bit of a schizophrenic ‘collector’ in its long history. Its written archives reflect an essentially bureaucratic set up, with scrupulously stored minutes of meetings, annual reports and correspondence, while its TV and radio programmes were ephemeral, here-and-gone products. The early radio programmes were saved, for example, only by being stashed in a conscientious producer’s bottom drawer!

As for BBC artworks and artefacts, these have only latterly been collected with coherence, as interest in them has grown and grown. Here are a few gems from that collection…

Of course, we’d have to begin with the iconic BBC microphone, with its rather grand nomenclature: AXBT! Now, it’s a very symbol of the BBC, from its multiple depictions in the early days of radio - as announcers and singers, often be-suited and bow-tied, appeared behind them.

We had one out latterly at the behest of the President Sarkozy and the French Embassy, who were after the microphone used by General de Gaulle in his famous BBC broadcast to occupied France in June 1940. They gasped as we produced its pristine and shiny metallic form!

AXBT microphone


A little earlier in 1933, Eric Gill captured the new magic of broadcasting in the lyrical  statuary of Ariel and Prospero.

This stands above the entrance to Broadcasting House in London, and is one of the loveliest artworks commissioned by the BBC. Notorious in its day for the brazen nakedness of the boy Ariel, the statue attracted mythologies all of its own.

Like the story of the sculpture behind the sculpture…When the statue was being cleaned, we tested this one, and found to our delight that there was indeed something carved on the flat back of Prospero: the head of a beautiful girl. No-one knows who she was.

And of course, the collection also fascinates itself with the evolution of the BBC brand. It’s hard to believe now that in the BBC’s early days there was no formal BBC logo. It grew out of a sequence of decorative motifs – via the first TV on-air branding: the famous Bat’s wings logo (designed by Festival of Britain designer, Abram Games in 1953).

The revolving globe


We also have in the collection that famous revolving globe, which so many of us grew up watching.

Here’s the simple mechanical box which created it in 1963, when the world was still black and white, and when we saw the globe turning and reflected flat behind it via a simple mirror wall.





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