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BBC Radio 4 In Touch
15 July 2008

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In Touch hears from the bookseller who wants to sell large print books but just can’t get hold of them. There seems to be a resistance to them, even though they could solve many people's desire to go on reading when sight deteriorates and listener Rachel Huskisson thinks she might know why. She runs a bookshop in Chichester and she contacted us to tell us about the difficulties she had in even finding out about the books that large print producers like Chivers, now taken over by the BBC, had for sale.


In Touch follows up the confusion and concern about what's happening at the National College for the Blind at Hereford, which was highlighted on last week’s programme.


College Road
Tel: 01432 265725
Fax: 01432 376628

This year, to coincide with the London Festival of Architecture, the audio-description company VocalEyes are doing it again. You can go along and have an audio experience of landmark buildings such as The Gherkin, O2, and the one we chose to coincide with the start of the Proms this coming Friday, the Royal Albert Hall.




105 Judd Street
Helpline: 0845 766 9999 (Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm)
Tel: 0207 388 1266 (switchboard/overseas callers)

The RNIB provides information, support and advice for anyone with a serious sight problem. They not only provide Braille, Talking Books and computer training, but imaginative and practical solutions to everyday challenges. The RNIB campaigns to change society's attitudes, actions and assumptions, so that people with sight problems can enjoy the same rights, freedoms and responsibilities as fully sighted people. They also fund pioneering research into preventing and treating eye disease and promote eye health by running public health awareness campaigns.

John Derby House
88-92 Talbot Road
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Tel: 0161 872 1234

Henshaws provides a wide range of services for people who have sight difficulties. They aim to enable visually impaired people of all ages to maximise their independence and enjoy a high quality of life. They have centres in: Harrogate, Knaresborough, Liverpool, Llandudno, Manchester, Newcastle upon Tyne, Salford, Southport and Trafford.

Burghfield Common
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The GDBA’s mission is to provide guide dogs, mobility and other rehabilitation services that meet the needs of blind and partially sighted people.

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Registered charity with national cover that provides practical support in the areas of housing, holidays, information, employment and training, cash grants and welfare rights for blind and partially-sighted people. Leaflets and booklets are available.

Central Office
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Tel: 020 7837 6103
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National League of the Blind and Disabled is a registered trade union and is involved in all issues regarding the employment of blind and disabled people in the UK.

Far Cromwell Road
Tel: 0161 406 2525
Textphone: 0161 355 2043

Trustees from the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) and the National Library for the Blind (NLB) have agreed to merge the library services of both charities as of 1 January 2007, creating the new RNIB National Library Service.

Arndale House
Arndale Centre
M4 3EQ

0845 604 6610 - England main number
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The Disabled Living Foundation provide information and advice on disability equipment.

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TX: 15.07.08 2040-2100



Good evening. Tonight: the mystery of the missing large print books - we hear from the bookseller who wants to sell them but can't get hold of them. We also follow up the confusion and concern about what's been happening at the National College for the Blind at Hereford, we'll be hearing some of your many responses. And with the start of the Proms just days away a unique opportunity for visually-impaired people to enjoy an audio described tour of the Royal Albert Hall.

Audio description of the Royal Albert Hall
And there's an oval arena in front of us, that's 102 feet by 68 feet. One way of describing it is somebody said it's shaped like a toilet seat.

And we'll be hearing more from the great venue later in the programme.

Now it's often said that large print is the poor relation when it comes to ways of reading for visually-impaired people. There seems to be a resistance to them, even though they could solve many people's desire to go on reading when sight deteriorates. And listener Rachel Huskisson thinks she might know why. She runs a bookshop in Chichester and she got in touch with us to tell us about the difficulties she had had even in finding out about the books that large print producers, like Chivers, now taken over by BBC Audio Books, had for sale.

I run a small bookshop in Chichester and I've been trying to get hold of large print books for children and I've just been having a real struggle. We use a database called Nielson Book Data and on that we couldn't seem to find any large print books listed. I contacted my wholesalers, I tried to contact individual publishers and I tried to contact Nielson to see why we didn't seem to have any large print books available.

Because presumably you knew that some were being produced?

Yes, yes, well I couldn't see why there wouldn't be any produced. And we did have some requests from some children who are visually-impaired for large print books. And so I obviously wanted to try and source some for them.

And what were you told?

The wholesaler said well there aren't any; Nielson said we haven't got any listed and I then sort of started on an internet hunt trying to track down large print publishers. I eventually got through to somebody who said you should try Chivers Press who publish large print books for children and I then got on to BBC Audio Books who have now taken over Chivers Press.

And your concern was that their books were amongst those that didn't appear to be on the Nielson database?


And what did Chivers say to you?

Well they said that there was no need for them to list their books on Nielson because bookshops wouldn't be interested in stocking their books.

Which presumably puzzled you because you were interested in stocking their books?

Yes, yes I couldn't understand why on earth they wouldn't want us to stock their books.

Well also on the line is Nick Forster, who's sales and marketing manager for BBC Audio Books. So Nick explain.

First of all I must apologise to Rachel if we've not handled an enquiry for her as effectively as we should. But the basic position is fairly simple - we don't indeed list our large print books - children's or otherwise - on the Nielson database. The reason for this is that historically when we have done the amount of interest that we've received from bookshops, both the large chains and from independents, simply hasn't been enough to justify the effort and the resources that we have to put in to maintaining that database of titles.

So does that mean you're not really interested in selling through bookshops at all?

It means that whenever over the course of the last 25 nearly 30 years of being large print publishers whenever we've tried the bookshops haven't been sufficiently interested. I don't think we'd be entirely against having another go, as it were, but we need reassurance that the interest is there.

Right. But you do do direct sales.

We do, that's the solution that we've arrived at, both for our large print books and for our unabridged audio we've established direct to consumer mail order businesses that trade over the internet, by telephone and through the post with people to make it as simple as we possibly can for them to obtain our unabridged audio and large print. But at the end of the day it's in our interests to get our books into the hands of people who want them.

Well quite. I mean Rachel did you know that, for example, that there was this information and that they did do direct sales?

Eventually I did. I did actually have a trade catalogue sent to me, after several requests one finally arrived. But the problem that I actually had with it a lot of the books that are listed on your backlist are actually out of print. And when I also went on to you website, for instance I looked at the Jacqueline books and you had 21 Jacqueline Wilson books listed and 12 of those were actually out of print. Which then makes it very difficult for people to find the right book and it actually is a bit of a - a disincentive, I mean you start searching through and you think well is this book still available - no; is this one available - no. It puts you off continuing to search through the list.

Nick Forster, we seem to have a bit of an odd situation here - we've got you a man who wants to sell books, we've got Rachel who also wants to sell books - it seems to be in your mutual interest to communicate well with each other but the communication hasn't really happened here has it.

I think that's a pretty fair assessment. And the proverbial devil is in the detail. When we publish a large print edition of a mainstream book we obtain the rights to do so for a limited period of time. We print as many copies as we think we can sell, which typically for a children's large print book will be as few as two or three hundred only. We print that many because we know we have a market for that many amongst our direct customers and amongst the public libraries. And then that's it, the life of that book is over as a large print edition.

So it's hard commercial interests in a way?

In a way it is. What we can't afford to do with print runs that small is have large numbers of books on the shelves of bookshops up and down the country which are at risk of being returned to us because the conventional business model for bookshops is to obtain things from publishers on sale or return.

Rachel, can I ask you, are you surprised that your fellow bookshop owners don't seem to have been as interested as you are?

Well actually I was at the AGM for the children's booksellers group a couple of weeks ago and I asked all the members present how they felt about large print books and everyone said: Yes please, we would love to have access to large print books, why can't we access this information as easily as we can information about other books?

I mean in the light of all this Nick I mean might you give it another go, may it be that there has been a shift because large print is often seen as the poor relation but maybe the time is coming when people are realising its benefits?

More than happy to revisit the issue and more than happy to look again at getting the titles listed on the Nielson database.

And your website, can you just explain to people where that information is?

For members of the public we have a website for our direct to consumer sales business and that can be found at

Can I thank you both. Rachel thanks for raising it because it may be interesting to see how it develops.

Mmm thank you.

Rachel Huskisson and Nick Forster. And we'd be very interested to hear other people's responses to that, you can call our action line on 0800 044 044.

Now if you were listening last week you'll know about the grave concerns surrounding developments at the Royal National College of the Blind at Hereford - a vocational college for post-16 and mature students. Now a steady flow of phone calls, e-mails and letters drew our attention to a spate of redundancies at the college and the closure of some departments, notably the piano technology department which had produced succeeding generations of piano tuners. The college was changing its role and atmosphere we were being told and not for the better. But in interviews with us the college's principal and the chair of governors insisted that the changes they were making were necessary, were in tune with the kind of courses local authorities and the government wanted to provide and that a £25 million development, including a new sports and complementary therapy centre, were preparing Hereford for a bright future.

But your continued responses show that listeners, many of them with direct knowledge of the college, weren't convinced. Here's just a small representative sample of the 50 or so responses we've had.

Sample of responses
I fully appreciate the college must move on with changing times but as a successful blind piano technician I know that there's a great deal of work available for competent piano tuners in this day and age. It therefore seems to me a very short sighted policy for the college to close down this department of piano technology. What's more disturbing however is the way in which it's been done, I think it's deplorable...

I have two blind brothers, one has already completed his piano tuning course at RNC and the other is one year into his course and has no idea if he'll be able to complete it as they have slashed the courses. I can understand that if there is no longer demand for future courses then they would not take on new students but surely they should allow the existing students to continue in their education. There are limitations ...

I qualified at the RNC over 20 years ago as a piano tuner and have been in full time employment ever since. I listened with utter disbelief as the short sighted reasons were given for the fast scrapping of the tuning department. If there is a lack of students for the future then the tuning should be promoted, so why isn't anyone defending this very skilled trade of the ...

Having been trained as a piano tuner/repairer between 1987 and 1990 I gained not only my essential qualifications to become a professional piano tuner but the ability to live and travel independently, having received the specialist training that the college had to offer. This gave me much needed confidence to work and support myself and lead a normal life as a partially-sighted person. My business has gone from strength to strength ...

Last September I became a student on the piano technology course at the RNC. We began the academic year without suitable premises and ended it without any teaching staff. When our last remaining tutor was suddenly marched off campus it came as a complete shock to all of us. I was therefore surprised to hear principal Steadman say that there was full consultation with the individuals involved. Piano tuning offered me a well paid secure future but it now looks as if I'll be returning to the ranks of the long term unemployed. If I have any future at the college it probably requires me to qualify for the 2012 Olympics.

Well we did invite the minister for lifelong learning - Bill Rammell - on to the programme, his diary was too full this week but we're keeping the invitation open. His department did, however, send this statement:

The government cannot intervene in the day-to-day management of individual organisations. It's up to the Royal National College to determine how it wishes to respond to the challenges of supplying quality provision for the learners it serves. However, we have invested heavily in improving the responsiveness of further education institutions to learner needs and have established a clear quality management system to ensure the highest standards are maintained across the sector and we do expect all publicly funded organisations to promote good employment practices. The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and the Department for Children, Schools and Families are working closely together to ensure that all our learning providers in the further education system are able to respond to the challenges of the future.

And, as I said, our invitation to minister Bill Rammell remains open.

Now you may recall that last year we featured a new trend - the notion of audio describing not just films and television programmes, which we're all familiar with, but buildings. And this year, to coincide with the London Festival of Architecture, the audio description company VocalEyes is doing it again. You can go along and have an audio experience of landmark buildings, such as the Gherkin, the O2 and the one we chose to coincide with the start of the Proms this coming Friday - the Royal Albert Hall. Mani Djazmi joined the audio tour for us.

Audio description by Di Langford
Welcome to the Albert Hall. It's a Grade I listed multi purpose entertainment venue which was opened in 1871. And an eight year restoration programme was completed in 2004. And we, at the moment, are standing in the south porch ...

I'm Di Langford and I am the audio describer for the tour. I did a dry run with one of my colleagues from VocalEyes who came round with me and it's always useful to have someone else with you because they can pick out things that you might have missed or that suggest ways of describing things that you may not have thought of. It's quite difficult to start with because you think I know nothing about architecture where am I going to look. So I came several times and went around with one of the tour guides and took a lot of notes and then I went to the Victoria and Albert Museum because the Victoria and Albert Museum was designed by one of the royal engineers who built the Royal Albert Hall - Sir Francis Fowke.

Audio description by Di Langford
We wanted you to come into the auditorium just to get the feel of the size of this amazing building. It's a huge one with seats rising in tiers around an open space. From the arena floor to the roof is 131 feet. And across the width of the auditorium it's also a 131 feet. And it's a rich deep crimson - the seats, the curtains, everything - embellished with gold decoration. And there are plaster swags and ribbons and roses with gold. But it's a completely flexible space.


And there's an oval arena in front of us. That's 102 feet by 68 feet. One way of describing it is somebody said it's shaped like a toilet seat. Now you imagine that you're sitting on the - we're on the long side - we're facing it - and on our right is the hinged end of the toilet seat, so you get the idea of the shape of it. The stage can be extended or contracted or it can be taken away completely. And when the Proms are on you'll have the audience standing in the arena - there will be 900 people standing there. I don't think there'll be much room for promenading but that's where they'll be.


I'm Abby and I'm a musician. I've heard of VocalEyes before but this is the first tour of theirs that I've done. I think it was more the number of places we sat in for a while - we were in the auditorium to start with then we went into the royal box and had an idea of that and then the gallery as well and all three had totally different acoustics. And I suppose it's just sort of thinking about how you'd project to all those kind of areas of the hall. Having a chance to - this might sound a bit crazy - but going up the stairs to the gallery to get an idea of just exactly how high it was.

Audio description
Welcome to this introduction to VocalEyes audio described architecture tours for the London Festival of Architecture 2008.

The Royal Albert Hall is an impressive Grade I listed building designed by Captain Francis Fowke and ...

Everyone who comes on one of the VocalEyes tours gets sent to them an audio CD giving them background information about the place they're visiting. Toby Davy is deputy director of VocalEyes, how much of a trend is live audio description becoming these days?

Live audio description is really good because it's an experience, it's a live experience, it's an interactive experience. There's certain things you can get from an audio guide - you can listen to something sat in your own room at home but you don't get the sense of ambience, the sense of different spaces, sense of warmth, a sense of echo-yness in a different space coming to something live, it's just such a fantastic experience to get all those senses.

Diane was very, very good at describing various things to people who can't see.

A certain amount is scripted because with a huge building like this you need to have measurements - you want to give an idea of how large everything is and you don't want to be inaccurate. But of course you can look up from the page and you never know we went in a different order today from the one that we had planned and you never know what people are going to ask and what people are going to want to see and what questions are they going to want answered so we have to improvise quite a bit.

Audio description from Di Langford
Now we're in the Queen's box, I'm standing directly underneath this enormous crown and I can also see one of the lights - the shade of the light, it's like a silver shell and most of the shells face inwards on the boxes but this one faces outwards and it's got a red bulb in it. And when that light goes on the conductor knows that the Queen is about to come in to the Queen's box and so he starts the National Anthem.

National Anthem

And our reporter at the Royal Albert Hall was Mani Djazmi. And the eagle eared amongst you will have spotted Smetana's Ma Vlast and Vltave played by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Jiri Belohlavek. And you can hear the Vltave during Prom 28 on Radio 3 on August 7th.

And that's it for today, you can call us with your views, indeed we'd like you to, on anything you've heard on 0800 044 044 or you can e-mail us via the website. And there'll be a podcast of today's programme from tomorrow. From me Peter White, welcome back to my returned producer Cheryl Gabriel and from the rest of the team goodbye.

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