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BBC History Research Blog


  • Stravinsky & the BBC: Exploring a unique relationship

    Dr Joe Schultz

    BBC Music Library

    6 April 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Igor Stravinsky, probably the most important and influential composer of the twentieth century. Stravinsky was highly regarded for his innovative use of rhythm and orchestration, as well as for a gradually developing musical style, which progressed from a lush, colourful Russian period, through a neoclassical period combining modern musical language with older musical forms, to a late period which picked up and developed the atonal and serial techniques of composers such as Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern.

    Because of Stravinsky’s immense status it’s not surprising that his music frequently featured on BBC concert programmes, especially those of the world-renowned BBC Symphony Orchestra (BBC SO). The entire range of Stravinsky’s eclectic body of works has been performed in BBC SO concerts over the past ninety years—right from the orchestra’s founding in 1930—conducted by a wide range of famous musical figures including Colin Davis, Pierre Boulez, and Nadia Boulanger.

    Stravinsky as collaborator

    Less well-known, however, is that Stravinsky on occasion worked directly with the BBC to bring such projects to fruition. The BBC Music…

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  • Pogles' Wood: vinyl squeakers or nite-lites?

    Dr Chris Pallant

    Reader in Screen Culture, Canterbury University

    Radio Times, 7 April 1966

    Dr Chris Pallant explores Peter Firmin’s commercialisation of The Pogles

    On 7 April 1966, as part of the BBC’s ‘Watch with Mother’ programming, the second series of Pogles-themed animation made its debut. Created by Smallfilms, the Kent-based studio ran by Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin, Pogles' Wood marked a departure from the more linear, self-contained, and at times terrifying narrative world of The Pogles (1965). Although less well-known than other Smallfilms productions such as Bagpuss, Clangers, Ivor the Engine, and Noggin the Nog, the three series of Pogles woodland happenings that were broadcast in the 1960s still left a lasting impression on audiences of the show. So much so that social media fan pages dedicated to the show are a source of busy activity and vintage Pogles merchandise regularly changes hands on eBay.

    In the archives

    The BBC’s Written Archives reveal a number of behind-the-scenes Pogles-related discussions. Across files R120/39/1, R120/40/1, and WW8/528/1 we…

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  • Elizabeth Poston: A recently rediscovered, single-minded musician

    Dr John S Alabaster

    Retired environmental scientist and amateur musician

    Elizabeth Poston, Dec 1951

    Those who have listened to Elizabeth Poston’s Jesus Christ the Apple Tree, sung at Christmas by the choir of Kings College Chapel, may not have realised the scope of her work, though much of it was commissioned and broadcast by the BBC. This is mainly because many of her compositions remained unpublished after performance and also it is only recently that a catalogue of all her known work has become available[1].

    Now, hitherto lost manuscript music, like the Concertino da Camerata for ancient instruments, once described as ‘new wine poured into old bottles’, have been discovered, published and recorded. Others, newly found, like the choral Festal Te Deum Laudamus, are now added to the collection at the British Library. In addition, hitherto unknown locations and details of works have become known, like the Book of Jonah, recently brought to light at the BBC Library.

    Altogether we can account for nearly a thousand compositions. These are mainly song arrangements and choral works with…

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  • Harold Pinter's A Night Out (1960): Exploring Different Media

    Dr Pim Verhulst

    Post-doc researcher, University of Antwerp

    Rejection letters received by Harold Pinter

    After several rejections and substantial revisions on the radio script of A Slight Ache (1959) before it was accepted by the BBC, Harold Pinter finally landed a direct hit with his new play A Night Out. It was first broadcast by the Third Programme on 1 March 1960, produced by the legendary Donald McWhinnie, with two repeats (24 March, 12 September) as well as an airing on the Home Service (8…

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  • Julius Burger’s Themes of London: An Émigré’s legacy at the BBC

    Ryan Hugh Ross

    PhD student, Parkes Institute, Southampton University

    Julius Burger, 1 March 1937

    Themes of London premiered 83 years ago on 8 December 1937, on the BBC National Service. This hour-long work was the creation of Viennese composer Julius Burger (Bürger), whose life and works were left in obscurity until recently. Burger pioneered a new genre for the BBC in the 1930s which he called ‘Radio Potpourri’. On the surface, these popular collage works provided entertainment to the…

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  • Keep Calm and Carry on Cataloguing: the new WAC Catalogue debuts on the Archives Hub

    Matthew Chipping

    Archive Collections Manager, BBC

    In November 2020, the BBC Written Archives Centre turns 50, but thanks to Covid-19 it’s not the celebratory year we would have wished: our reading room has been closed to researchers and we’ve had limited staff access to the office and stores. Despite the challenges 2020 has thrown our way, we have reached one of the most significant milestones in our half-century: for the first time, you can begin to explore the Written Archives online. Yes. Online. And about time too, you may say, and we can only agree! But before you dive in, let me tell you more.

    The BBC Written Archives Centre has joined…

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  • Close Encounters at the BBC Written Archives

    Ian Greaves

    Writer and editor

    The BBC Written Archives (WAC) in the 1970s

    I suppose by now I must count as an old-timer at the BBC Written Archives. At seventeen years, a veteran of that unassuming building tucked away on a leafy road in Caversham. I don’t need to pause for too long to recall the chaotic sound of bustle and laughter from the nearby school playground wafting through to the reading room, nor the bracing walk back to the station. The moment you step out…

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  • Life in the Animal World: a revolution in wildlife TV

    Jean-Baptiste Gouyon

    Associate Professor, University College London

    On set of Life in the Animal World, 1965

    On 14 November 1965 at 21.10, the first episode of Life in The Animal World aired on BBC2, beginning a revolution in wildlife television. The inaugural episode of this new fortnightly programme, whose title quickly got shortened to Life, looked at dogs and cats – a topic likely to appeal to British audiences, a nation of pet keepers. The line-up included such international figures from the…

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  • The BBC Symphony Orchestra at 90: the first European tour

    Chris Williams

    Music Librarian, BBC Sheet Music Library

    On October 22, the BBC Symphony Orchestra celebrates its 90th birthday with a programme that pays homage to the orchestra’s 1956 Scandinavian tour, the first undertaken by plane. That tour was not, however, the first time the orchestra had played abroad. In Brussels in 1935, the stakes were much higher for the barely 5 year-old orchestra, with greater possible risks and eventual rewards. In fact, the orchestra’s relationship ‘to Europe’ (and beyond) was crucial in the origins of the orchestra and international touring remains an important feature of the now nonagenarian orchestra’s work today…

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  • Elisabeth Welch at the BBC

    Stephen Bourne

    Writer and Hon Fellow of South Bank University

    Elisabeth Welch was an American singer of mixed heritage who made London her home in 1933. She immediately established herself as a popular star of intimate West End cabaret, BBC radio and theatre. Beautiful and glamorous, she captivated British audiences with her elegance and soft, lovely voice. Elisabeth made her BBC radio debut on 14 October 1933 in C. B. Cochran Presents. Her appearance marked the beginning of an association with the BBC that lasted for over sixty years. She was a sophisticated, stylish interpreter of popular songs and as such, in 1934-35, she was the featured singer in…

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