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2003 - A gift from the past?


A gift from the past?       

Many visitors to laterlife tell us that choosing gifts becomes more and more of a problem. At a time when the anti-clutter lobby makes people want to get rid of their bits and pieces or hide them away, it can seem like cruelty to offer them more objects of non-desire. So we thought you might like to hear about something with unique gift appeal…  

Which famous poet made a recording in 1889? The answer is Robert Browning , whose voice is featured on one of two new CDs published by the British Library. The CDs present the voices of famous writers and poets - many of whom have never before been heard by people living today.  

The recordings, taken from the Library’s sound archives, include some very big names from the past, reading from their own works or talking about subjects close to their hearts. Writers include Virginia Woolf, Rudyard Kipling, J.R.R. Tolkien and Arthur Conan Doyle. 


All those chosen for inclusion were born before 1900. Some of the recordings originate from the earliest form of recording equipment available – made on wax cylinders. Other items come from private and family recordings and rare radio broadcasts.  

The Spoken Word Writers CD offers only a handful of recordings lasting a few minutes each – but all are of great historical and educational interest.  Here are some of the items:

  • P.G. Wodehouse’s wartime broadcasts from Berlin on German Radio, 1941, which have long been a source of controversy.

  • A private recording of Vita Sackville-West, never published commercially until now, reading from her own manuscript copy of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando , which was dedicated to her.

  • An extract from the sole surviving recording of Woolf’s surprisingly husky and plummy tones on a BBC recording. 

  • J.R.R. Tolkien reading extracts from Lord of the Rings, including a sample of one of the ‘Elvish’ languages invented by him.

  • Conan Doyle, weeks before his death, talking about how he came to write Sherlock Holmes.

  • H.G. Wells complaining about the effects of the motor car on society


The Spoken Word – Poets features the following:

  • Robert Browning speaking in 1889, 12 years after Thomas Edison’s invention of the tinfoil cylinder phonograph.

  • Alfred Tennyson’s own rendition of Charge of the Light Brigade, from 1890.

  • Rudyard Kipling reading an extract from France , the only surviving example of him reading from his own work.

  • Hugh MacDiarmid reading The Watergaw.

  • Robert Graves reading 1805 at London ’s Mermaid Theatre.                     

  • David Jones reads an extract from his epic poem of life in the trenches, In Parenthesis.

  • Robert Frost and E.E. Cummings, Siegfried Sassoon and Laurence Binyon also feature.

The Spoken Word – Writers. Catalogue number: NSACD 12. Price £9.95 inc VAT. ISBN 0-7123-0516-5.

The Spoken Word – Poets. Catalogue number: NSACD 13. Price £9.95 inc VAT. ISBN 0-7123-0517-3. Both published by the British Library and on sale through the British Library Bookshop, through UK bookshops, or online at:

The British Library Sound Archive is one of the largest in the world. It holds over a million discs, 200,000 tapes, and many other sound and video recordings. The collections come from all over the world and cover the entire range of recorded sound from music, drama and literature, to oral history and wildlife sounds. They range from cylinders made in the late 19th century to the latest CD, DVD and minidisc recordings. The archive holds copies of commercial recordings issued in the United Kingdom, together with selected commercial recordings from overseas, radio broadcasts and many privately-made recordings. It also offers public access to a wide range of specialist publications, books, magazines and journals covering every aspect of recorded sound.                                                                                   

J.B. Priestley


22  Radio talk ‘Women and the War’ – an appreciation by J.B. Priestley

Date of broadcast: 22.09.1940

Duration: 3.52 [extract]

NoŽl Coward 


23  Private Lives

Performers: NoŽl Coward, Gertrude Lawrence; orchestra conducted by Ray Noble

Date of recording: 15.09.1930

Duration: 4.40



laterlife interest

The above article is part of the features section of called laterlife interest. laterlife interest contains a variety of articles of interest for visitors to written by a number of experienced and new journalists.

It includes both one off articles and also regular columns of a more specialist nature such as healthwise, reports from the REACH files, and a beauty section called looking good in later life.

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