Voices in the Crowd

BBC Radio Manchester began broadcasting almost 50 years ago and at that time it was the biggest local radio station in the country. One of their programmes in the early 1970s was called Voice in the Crowd which featured interviews with a wide variety of different people with interesting jobs, hobbies and lives. As part of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project, broadcasts from this programme are being digitised so that they can be enjoyed more easily.

There are over a hundred interviews with people ranging from a witch to a pirate, a taxi driver to a nurse, a suffragette to a Hell’s Angel. Most of the recordings start and finish with the sound of a crowd of people which emphasises that the individuals being interviewed, who are generally anonymous, are part of society and that everyone has a story to tell that is worth hearing. These short interviews give a snapshot of life in the 1970s including funny stories, memories and insights into what attitudes were like in the past.

You can also get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into experiences not many people ever have. One of my favourite recordings is an interview with a man who lived at Belle Vue when there was a zoo there. He talks about how his wife liked feeding the animals and having to walk past the lion enclosure every day on his way to the office!

Jason the lion gets stuck up a tree (RMAN/1152 © BBC Radio Manchester)

Many of the people interviewed in these recordings were chosen because what they did was unusual. Some of these, like a sword-swallower, we would still think of as unusual while others, such as a vegetarian, are characteristics that are much more common now. It is particularly inspiring to listen to the voices of people who pushed boundaries in different fields and to hear them describe in their own words why they chose to do those things.

There are several themes that run through the collection around different aspects of life so you can get a proper feel for what life used to be like and the jobs people used to do. You can also find glimpses of Manchester’s past and how different areas and buildings in the city have changed. A visiting American is interviewed who spent some of his childhood in Manchester in the early 1900s and he describes how the city has changed in that time. He is very complimentary about Mancunians who show true local hospitality and give him directions when he gets lost!

An American finding his way around Manchester after many years away (RMAN/1114 © BBC Radio Manchester)

The interviews allows us to take a long view of history by seeing it through other eyes. The older people in these interviews were a generation apart from the younger ones, who are themselves a generation separate from the present. Many interviewees talk about generational differences and how the changes that have happened in their lifetime mean that younger people have different attitudes to them. Its just like how the papers today complain about millenials!

In one interview, a man from Stockport who was in his 70s talks about changes in the standard of life and the difference it makes to have an old age pension, which his grandparents never had. He also describes the the games he used to play as a child and here he talks about how children didn’t ride bicycles when he was young.

Change in learning to ride bicycles (RMAN/1126 © BBC Radio Manchester)
Original sound reel and description (RMAN/1126 © BBC Radio Manchester)

The interviewees also offer advice from their own life experiences about how to get into a similar career and whether they would recommend it, but also on more personal matters. For instance, a man who has been married for 72 years shares with us the secret of a happy marriage.

The secret of a happy marriage (RMAN/1129 © BBC Radio Manchester)

This blog post was written by Naomi Hall, an MA Library and Information Management student at Manchester Metropolitan University, who is currently on a work placement with Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.

You can find out more about the national Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project at the British Library’s website. Unlocking Our Sound Heritage is supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

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