Sunday 12 July 2015

BBC Monitoring and BBC Written Archives visit, 29 June 2015

Our visit to the BBC Written Archives and BBC Monitoring was an incredibly popular event with a long waiting list. Thankfully for those of us who were unable to attend, Kirsty Morrison has written an excellent summary of the visit, so thanks to Kirsty for the following:

Our visit to the BBC Monitoring and Written Archives took place on a beautiful sunny day, so we slightly regretted our decision to walk the two and a half miles from the train station up a massive hill!

We had an introduction to the Written Archives which outlined the remit of their work. Their collection consists of files, scripts and documents from a range of departments at the BBC, which provide a valuable insight into the works of this unique institution from its inception in 1922 through to the 1980s. This collection covers older programmes and the history of broadcasting, as well as containing correspondence, memoranda, contracts, scripts and publications.
They provide reference support for researchers and academics, who are also eligible to use the reading room by appointment. We saw some of the highlights of the collection, including censorship correspondence regarding the broadcast of Dylan Thomas' 'Under Milk Wood', papers from the state opening of the BBC and the first television broadcast, Lord Reith's diaries and scrapbooks, a project file for 'The Flowerpot Men' containing some unexpected complaints, and letters to the BBC from a young Vanessa Redgrave and Keith Richards.
The majority of the physical collection is housed in rolling stacks with a series of archive boxes relating to people and programmes of note to the BBC. We had a tour of this facility (which was lovely and cool due to the temperature control!). We were shown the files relating to Sylvia Plath's dealings with the BBC, and the Doctor Who nerds among us were excited to spot a drawer labelled 'Dalek diagram'.
We took a stroll through the picturesque grounds of Caversham Park to the stately home which houses BBC Monitoring. Staff took us through the colourful history of the property (as mentioned in the Domesday Book!). BBC Monitoring was established in 1939 to monitor the media of the world and provide intelligence to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Cabinet Office, GCHQ and other government departments as required.
Their role has adapted over the years to tie in with changes to the Charter, meaning that their funding now comes from the license fee rather than from core stakeholders. Consequently BBC Monitoring have had to adopt a more commercial mindset when promoting their services. Their main customers are now government departments, BBC newsrooms, Parliament, commerce and academic institutions.
They are able to rely on the expertise of staff arranged by geographical region (e.g. the Middle East or Western Europe). Core monitoring staff are comprised of translators and journalists who transcribe and analyse the output of their designated region.  Their operations span the globe so they are able to provide a 24 hour service.
Monitoring products can be extremely reactive and flexible, focusing on major world issues in a very timely way. BBC correspondents receive briefings from BBC Monitoring each morning for example, which keeps them up to date prior to delivering reports.
It was useful to hear about the innovative ways BBC Monitoring have had to change their strategy in order to promote their work, which is highly relevant to many library and information professionals in the current economic climate.
We ended the visit looking out on the stunning vista at the back of the house, including the pond, lake, cricket pavilion and views of the surrounding countryside. Definitely worth a visit!

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