The national treasure that is the British Library – all done in the best PAASSIBLE taste

A few years after broadcasting genius Kenny Everett died, I remember reading that he left his tape collection to the National Sound Archive. This sounded wonderful, but I didn’t envisage having the time to ever sample these tapes and I imagined that it would involve a trip to a chilly warehouse in Sutton Coldfield.

After a little Googling, I found that the National Sound Archive is part of the British Library. Their large building is just next to St Pancras Station in London, coincidentally just a stone’s throw from where Kenny Everett broadcast much of his work at Capital Radio’s studio in Euston Tower. (The British Library also have a place in Wetherby, West Yorkshire). After negotiating their essential processes, on Monday I proudly held my “Reader’s Ticket” and marched along to the Rare Music Books section of the British Library. There I listened for four hours to the most wondrous collection of Kenny Everett recordings.

He literally left all his tapes to the nation. This includes all his hundreds of jingles, inserts and “fiddly bits” on NAB cassettes. It includes stacks of reel-to-reel tapes. Not only does it include programmes but also tapes of him experimenting with sounds.

There were two highlights for me during my British Library visit:

There’s a recording of when Kenny Everett and Roger Scott went along to Abbey Road studios to record a trailer for a Beatles’ record. They invent ever-more crazy things for Roger Scott to say in his “butch” voice, ending up dissolved in hysterical laughter. It is very funny. (Shelf reference C586/102)

And the real gem was listening to a tape of Kenny Everett recording a multi-part harmony song message for his ansaphone. He used to manipulate two large reel-to-reel tape recorders to build up five-part harmonies. This tape allows you to listen to every stage of the process as he builds up the song. There are a lot of mistakes and the sound of tape recorders being re-wound etc etc. It really is spell-binding. (Shelf reference C723/174 C2)

Many people think of Kenny Everett as a TV performer. (He was, of course, a radio man through-and-through but, extraordinarily, also had a genius for television.) My experience of him was mostly of him on weekend programmes on Capital Radio and Radio Two.

But he had a very extensive experience of daily radio shows on Radio London, Capital and Capital Gold which carried on until his last show in 1994, which is available to listen to at the British Library also. This British Library collection made me appreciate his skill at producing excellent daily radio shows, often with his sidekick Dave Cash, who has recently passed away. If you haven’t heard Everett reading out situations vacant adverts, you haven’t lived!

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is currently taking a break from his role as one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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6 Comments

  • Chris Bertram 10th Feb '17 - 2:39pm

    Wetherby, not Wetherfield, surely, unless Coronation Street is actually a documentary rather than a soap opera?

    And how dare you traduce Sutton Coldfield. I’ll have you know that all warehouses in Sutton are fully central-heated 😉

  • I must be a lot more tribal than you Paul. I never forgive anyone who supported the Conservatives, and Everett’s attack on Michael Foot at the 1983 General Election was particularly unpleasant in my view.

  • @ tonyhill. Agree.

  • David Johnson 12th Feb '17 - 8:42pm

    Thanks for posting this, Paul. As a lifelong Liberal/Liberal Democrat and long-standing British Library employee, I was pleased to read that you enjoyed your visit to the National Sound Archive.

    When people think of libraries, they tend to think of the books, but modern libraries stock much else besides. At the BL we have sound recordings, as you say, a large collection of local and national newspapers, patents, maps and an increasing range of digital material.

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