Meet the volunteers: Rebecca Hutt

Rebecca Hutt reflects on her first few months of volunteering

I started with Unlocking Our Sound Heritage (UOSH) in September 2019, along with a couple of other new volunteers, to help catalogue the BBC Radio Brighton recordings (part of the Royal Pavilion & Museums collections held here at The Keep) for inclusion in the British Library’s Sound and Moving Image Catalogue. Our first morning of induction was very helpful because my starting point was knowing absolutely zero about BBC Radio Brighton. Esther Gill, the UOSH South East Hub Project Manager, took us back to the origins of the station and we learned how significant it was in BBC radio history because it was one of their first local radio stations.

Esther played us some clips to get our first taste of the content. The one that resonated with me was about some parents demonstrating outside their school in a plea to drivers to take more care after their Lollipop Man had been killed by an HGV the week before. Some of us are still campaigning for safer streets. For instance, parents from my son’s school have been asking for a new school-crossing officer. Thankfully ours survived but retired more than a year ago.

Rebecca working on Radio Brighton material held at The Keep

The following week, each volunteer settled down with a laptop and headphones to begin our listening and cataloguing mission. Cataloguing an archive is a new experience for me and I am really intrigued and enjoying every minute of it. Fortunately, I am very familiar with the software that we’re using. Microsoft Excel has been a daily feature in my life as a consulting engineer in the construction industry. It may be a bit clumsy with text formatting but it is reliable and versatile, so I’m very pleased that it’s the way that the British Library want to receive the cataloguing data.

The first thing that struck me, listening to a 1972 edition of Newscast, was how dense the content was. I listen to Radio 4 every day so I’m used to talk-radio, but perhaps it’s because I’m actively listening and trying hard to hear and understand everything that is said, rather than letting it wash over me.

The Newscast programme was dominated by the power cuts due to the coal miners’ pay dispute. It illuminated the reality of living through that period. For instance, as well as the usual weather forecast, there was a bulletin (delivered in a soothing shipping-forecast-like manner) giving the power-shutdown notices for various towns in East and West Sussex. These were for three hours at ‘teatime’ with a further ominous warning that these only represented a 15% power reduction and more cuts might be needed if a 20% reduction was needed. I was born in the mid-1970s and it was very fresh in my parents’ memories when I was growing up, so I have second-hand knowledge of it. One of my Mum’s memories is when the lights went out unexpectedly (a further cut for the 20% reduction, perhaps) whilst she was pouring cheese sauce from the pan so she could no longer tell if it had all made it to the dish successfully!

Radio Brighton tapes in The Keep’s repository

When I’m cooking I tend to rely on television to keep my son entertained, so I’m not sure how we’d manage without electricity at teatime. There would also be the worry of him burning the house down with a candle! In 1972, the other serious concern was racketeering in candle prices. To be honest, it was slightly amusing hearing about candles being 18p or even 30p each, but listening to Newscast made me realise it was a serious issue.

I am surprised how much I’m enjoying listening to radio of 50 years ago and I’ve been given a nice mix of news, politics and arts programmes to listen to. You never know who is going to pop up; it could be Kenneth More, the actor, driving a train on the Volk’s Railway, or Barbara Castle talking about her ‘In Place of Strife’ white paper at The Dome.

Over the past few months at home, I have been transferring my old music formats to digital files and scanning hardcopy reference material (to gain space). Volunteering for UOSH at The Keep has given me the confidence I needed to start cataloguing it effectively.

Volunteer With Us!

Are you interested in taking on something new?

UOSH is looking to recruit some more volunteers to continue the work on the BBC Radio Brighton collection, along with the National Motor Museum Trust’s collection and recordings from the Copper Family.

We are looking for people who are:

  • Interested in working with sound recordings
  • Keen to develop their skills in cataloguing and research
  • Curious listeners with a sharp ear for detail
  • Keen to develop their skills in cataloguing and research

Email us at UOSH@sussex.ac.uk to find out more information.

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