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BBC to put one million hours of its past online

What a time to be an amateur archivist.  No, not an amateur anarchist…No, not an amateur activist.  An archivist, you know a collector, a preservationist.  It looks like the BBC is opening it’s vaults and sharing the wealth of broadcasts freely.  Information wants to be free, as the librarians say.  Well it looks like the BBC is opening up the enclosures.

Hopefully, those of us in the United States can hear the riches that the BBC archives hold as well.  It seems that there will be a wealth of Beatle material that is included.  Ahh, it will be an archivist’s delight!  We can’t wait to see what’s lurking in the BBC’s attic.

Here’s what we’ve read.   

Thousands of hours of broadcasting history are to be made available to the public online as part of a plan to open up the BBC’s entire archive to licence-fee payers free of charge.

The radio and TV material, some of which has never been repeated, includes an interview with Martin Luther King filmed shortly before he was assassinated, and another with John Lennon and Yoko Ono in which the former Beatle talks candidly about the impact their relationship had on the band.

Other programmes include a 1956 episode of the nature series Zoo Quest in which a young David Attenborough captures the komodo dragon on film for the first time. The episode has never been repeated but could soon be available online as part of the ambitious project, headed by the BBC’s director of future media and technology, Ashley Highfield.

The BBC wants to put nearly one million hours of material on the internet for viewers to watch, listen to and download and has already begun the long process of retrieving and transferring programmes. A trial involving 20,000 users will begin next month, and the service could be available nationally in a year’s time. Highfield will announce details of the scheme in a speech this week.

Other shows the BBC hopes to make available include a 1981 performance of Othello, starring Anthony Hopkins in the title role and Bob Hoskins as Iago.

A 1968 Woman’s Hour radio programme marking the 50th anniversary of women gaining the vote features interviews with suffragettes who campaigned alongside the Pankhursts.

Other material includes a dramatic government appeal, transmitted in May 1940, asking for volunteers to sail to Dunkirk to help rescue the 330,000 French and British troops stranded there.

Most of the programmes have never been repeated because the BBC does not own the rights to part of the material used in each broadcast.

The corporation is currently trying to clear the material so it can place it online, although the negotiations are proving more complicated than expected.

Although it owns the copyright to most shows, it does not have the right to repeat many of them. Actors, agents, composers and presenters have to be contacted and the process is proving time-consuming.

Ultimately, however, it wants to make every programme available, no matter how trivial or obscure. ‘Lots of it might not be of wider interest, but if your mum was on a daytime quiz show, it will still be of interest to you,’ Highfield says.

The BBC also plans to make a huge amount of supporting material available, including scripts, programme notes and letters relating to shows. If it can secure permission to use them, they will make up a huge database of documents that viewers can search easily and quickly.

Paperwork the BBC hopes to place online includes a signed expenses form Attenborough sent when he was filming in Indonesia: dated 10 August 1954, it requests tropical clothing.

The BBC also has letters from Attenborough, sent care of the British embassy in Jakarta, telling BBC bosses about his first impressions of the country.

The corporation has been planning to exploit its valuable archive for some time. New technology means it is far cheaper to store and distribute video and audio streams, and the growth of broadband has boosted demand for high-quality content.

The BBC is also searching for more ways to make money after receiving a below-inflation licence fee settlement last year. If the pilot scheme is a success, it could charge overseas users to access the programmes.

Although the archive would be free in the UK, it may carry advertising, which would prove controversial.

The plan will have to be approved by the BBC Trust, which replaced the Board of Governors at the start of the year.

Caught on tape

· Doubts and Certainties: Martin Luther King

In a poignant interview, broadcast on the day he was assassinated in April 1968, the civil rights leader says: ‘The important thing isn’t how long you live, but how well you live.’

· The Lennon Tapes

John Lennon and Yoko Ono talked to Andy Peebles in an interview transmitted in January 1981, two days before the ex-Beatle was killed, and never repeated. They talk candidly about the motivation for their famous ‘bed-in’ protests.

· Zoo Quest: Dragons of Komodo

David Attenborough travels to Indonesia to capture images of the komodo dragon for the first time, in an early film that delighted BBC viewers, according to ‘audience reaction’ notes also unearthed by the BBC.

· Woman’s Hour: Militant Suffragettes

Antonia Raeburn talks to Grace Roe and Eleanor Higginson, two suffragettes from the Pankhurst era, about their campaign to win the vote. Roe explains how she dealt with police raids, and avoided arrest for a year.

Source: Guardian UK


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