Oral History is the recording of people's memories and experiences on sound and video tape.
There is an Oral History Society,
c/o Department of Sociology, Essex University, Wivenhoe Park, Colchester C04 35Q
and the Secretary is Robert Perks who can be contacted at:-
National Sound Archive, 29 Exhibition Road, London 5W7 2A5.
The Society publishes a substantial bi-annual magazine and each issue usually has a general theme. The last one for Autumn 1991 (Vol.19, No.2) had as its theme 'Remembering'. There is a column under 'news' concerning Stratford-Upon-Avon in which Neville Usher of Stratford writes about an exhibition held at the Shakespeare Centre in the Summer of 1990 that featured Stratford in the Second World War. Stratford was apparently chosen as the alternative seat of government if bombing made London impossible to work in. This was only revealed to Usher by the exhibition and led to his organising a project in Stratford to record details of the town as it was. 18 tapes have been made with the help of the Director and Trustees of Shakespeare's Birthplace, who not only provided proper recording equipment, tapes and archival paper on which to transcribe the tapes, but also put on a tea party at which the first volunteers could meet and launch the project.
Mr. Cyril Dennis, a professional entertainer and good at putting people at their ease, agreed to help and conducted the interviews. Usher has transcribed eight of the tapes, amounting to 125,121 words.' He comments in the articles that they are planning 'A Day in the Life of' series of inter-views, for if someone 500 years ago had done an oral history project, what a fascinating thing it would be today.
As some will know, I have been recording Alcester residents for some time and some of the tapes are available from Alcester Library. I have several more (some are copies kindly supplied by ADLHS past chairman, Cyril Johnson, which he recorded but none has been edited or yet transcribed on to paper). The last work is quite a task in itself and causes considerable wear and tear on recording equipment as there is much going backwards and forwards on the tape, either to edit out mistakes, coughs, noises off, mannerisms, etc., or to transcribe. If a tape has been recorded on cassette, it has to be transferred to Reel to Reel tape for editing and then the edited copy re-recorded on to another cassette, as the master recording should always be preserved.
Initially, I started to record local people so that I could use their voices on soundtracks accompanying slides but quickly found that oral history recording becomes an interest in itself. Although transcriptions to paper are useful, it is fascinating the way people express themselves, sometimes telling more in sound in the way they speak than the pure written word conveys.
Some will remember the ADLTIS evening of l1th August 1991, when the comments made to slides being, projected were recorded. One item which caused amusement was when Mrs. Greig said that the older children at the National School wrote the following about Mr. Gardner, the Headmaster:
Old Jacky Gardner was a very good man,
He went to church on Sunday
To pray to God to give him strength
To wallop the kids on Mondays.
And when he did, he made them dance,
Out of England, into France;
Out of France and into Spain;
Over the hills and back again.
Spring 1992 Index
© John Ruffell 1992