Search the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive collections!

I’m pretty thrilled to say that the new online catalogue for Special Collections & Archives, and where material within the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive has been catalogued, is now available to search and browse. You can find it at http://archive.kent.ac.uk.

You can search for performers, promoters, comedy clubs, or other key words using the simple search option on the homepage, or you can use the advanced search option to search in more detail. For example, you can search or browse by date (searching for 1970s will result in records created in this decade), or by category (for example, browse through all of the audio recordings, or set lists and notes). You can also just browse all of the BSUCA collections using the BSUCA hierarchical tree.

BSUCA hierarchical tree

BSUCA hierarchical tree

Most collections within the BSUCA are catalogued in a hierarchical structure – this is because we follow an international archival cataloguing standard called ISAD(G) – with a top-level collection record (such as this for the Linda Smith Collection) which describes the collection as a whole, followed by levels below (called ‘series’, ‘sub-series’ etc) which cover specific groups of material (such as business records, performance records, audio-visual records). Some individual items are catalogued down to ‘item level’ (such as this audio recording of Tony Allen and Andy de la Tour performing in as part of Alternative Cabaret Collective in 1981) although some items (leaflets, flyers) are catalogued to a folder level (such as this record for flyers and posters for The Santa Claus Science Experiment in Tiernan Douieb’s collection). The way in which a collection has been catalogued reflects as closely as possible the way in which the original creator of the material (in the case of BSUCA, this is often the depositor themselves) had organised the material.

Catalogue record for posters in the Mark Thomas Collection

Catalogue record for posters in the Mark Thomas Collection

The catalogue is a work-in-progress and there are a few collections in the BSUCA which are not yet catalogued or are in the process of being catalogued. We are able to provide a listing for these on request – just email specialcollections@kent.ac.uk.  This online catalogue will also be incorporating, over the course of 2016, Special Collections & Archives material (such as our theatre collections, windmill collections, and personal archives) which are currently available via the web pages or Library Search. If you are looking for material which you think we have, but can’t find, please email us.

Because of copyright restrictions we are not able to provide digital access to much of the material, although we are providing access where we do have permissions. If there is material you discover through the catalogue that you would like to access for research, teaching, or just out of general interest please email us! We are open to everyone although we do need at least two days’ notice in order to retrieve material from the archive store. More information about how to access the collections can be found on the Special Collections & Archives web pages.

So please go, search, explore the stand-up comedy collections!

Spotlight on: John Pidgeon Collection

We were very sad to hear of John Pidgeon’s death on 19 July 2016.

Along with the Linda Smith Collection, John Pidgeon’s deposit of audio interviews, primarily recorded for radio, was one of the foundation collections, and inspiration for, the establishment of the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive in 2013.

John Pidgeon was a successful journalist, author, radio producer and comedy producer.  John started his career in music journalism in the 1970s working for publications such ‘New Musical Express’ (NME) and becoming editor of ‘Let It Rock’ in 1973. In the early 1980s he began writing for radio, initially on music and pop, before making comedy radio programmes in the 1990s through independent production companies John Pidgeon Productions and later Gilmour Productions.

The John Pidgeon Collection archived with the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive includes original audio interviews, on Digital Audio Tapes (DAT), recorded with comedians for the programmes ‘Laughing Matters’ (recorded 1994-1995 and broadcast on British Airways Radio), and ‘Talking Comedy’ (a show broadcast on BBC Radio 2 between 1996 and 2002). Both these programmes were interviews with comedians talking about their comedy heroes and inspiration.  This collection is a fantastic resource, featuring the unedited interviews (often between one and two hours in length) as well as the edited thirty minute programme as broadcast.  Comedians interviewed for ‘Laughing Matters’ and ‘Talking Comedy’ include Eddie Izzard, Alexei Sayle, Harry Hill, Jo Brand, Graham Norton, Al Murray, Phill Jupitus, Josie Lawrence, Ronni Ancona, as well as American comedy legends George Carlin and Joan Rivers.  John’s collection also includes interviews with comedians about Chic Murray (recorded for the BBC Radio 2 programme ‘Chic Murray: the Comic’s Comic’ in 1997; interviews with Barry Murphy, Tommy Tiernan and Jason Byrne about the Irish comedy scene; and even a unique interview with The Rolling Stones recorded in 1994.

In 1999 John became the head of BBC Radio Entertainment, a post which he held for 6 years, where he supported and produced for acts such as Ross Noble, Little Britain and Flight of the Concords. As well as original recordings from his career in radio production, John gave the Archive a large collection of published cassettes and CDs from the country’s most popular comedians, many of whom he had worked with; we are very lucky to have the personal comedy collection of a collector and comedy enthusiast.

Our thoughts are with John’s family and friends.

Interviews with comedians on DATs (Digital Audio Tapes) from the John Pidgeon Collection

Interviews with comedians on DATs (Digital Audio Tapes) from the John Pidgeon Collection

Adventures in audiovisual digitisation* (part 3)

*Not really digitisation, more digital transfer

Because many of our depositors (comedians, promotors and producers) have worked on television and radio we have been given copies of their contributions to these programmes as part of their collections.  Material has been deposited on CD (both audio cd and CD-R), and on DVDs. This material is usually contributor copies that they were given by the broadcaster or production company, although we do have a few ‘off-air’ recordings. We’ve also received published material, such as recordings of specific shows, tours, or compilations the depositor has appeared on, including in cassette, audio CD and DVD formats.

In this post I will focus on how we are capturing audio and video material deposited on CD and DVD, which Richard Wright nicely describes as ‘digital content not in files’ (page 9). ‘Digital content not in files’ refers to digital recordings which require specific technology and workflows to move the sound/images from their dedicated physical carriers (such as DAT, minidisc, and DV formats, as well as material held on optical media, such as audio CDs, CD-R and DVDs) into digital files (page 3).

CD from the Mark Thomas Collection of a recording from the Sheffield leg of his 2009 'It's the Stupid Economy' tour

CD from the Mark Thomas Collection of a recording from the Sheffield leg of his 2009 ‘It’s the Stupid Economy’ tour

Whilst previously optical media was seen as a preservation medium and storage solution, it is now recognized that optical discs are an ‘at-risk’ format (see ‘An Introduction to Optical Media Presevation’ by Alex Duryee’) and so we have been transferring any material of high priority deposited on optical media (mostly that which is unpublished on re-writable discs) to a digital file.

Our approach to this material has varied depending on the format.  For material on audio CDs and CD-R we have viewed the physical format as a file carrier, as a way to share and transport audio files, and we view the content on the disc as the important thing to capture (rather than the structure on the disc).  However, for DVDs which are more structured (often with a menu) we have created a disc image, which we can then mount in tools such as VLC.

Audio CDs (Compact Disc Digital Audio / CD DA)

Audio CDs hold data in the Compact Disc Digital Audio (CD DA) format. Data is written in the pulse-code modulation stream (PCM), at two channel, 16 bit, and 44.1kHz. When an audio CD is placed in your disc drive the operating system will interpret the data into different files (tracks) with the extension .cda.

After consideration we decided not to extract audio from audio CDs using a disc imaging workflow, but to extract the data and save as a WAVE file. We made this decision based on a number of factors.

  1. Firstly, it was the audio data itself which was important to us, rather than the structure of the disc.
  2. Secondly, because the discs we had were uncomplicated; many of the audio cds contained only two .cda files (one of which was often a radio tone/test track) or were collections of edited tracks from live shows put onto a CD (but not published). Note that we prioritised material deposited on ‘unpublished’ (often re-writable) CDs and DVDs; we have not transferred any material deposited which has been published and is on mass replicated discs.
  3. I think it would also be honest to say that, thirdly, disc imaging audio CDs seemed rather complicated and unnecessary for a relatively small number of discs within our collection.  I’m slightly ashamed to say that this goes against the guidance provided by avpreserve, the open preservation foundation, and the DPC/British Library, and I would gladly be corrected if the digital preservation and archiving community thinks we should change our workflow! I would also be interested to hear from other small archives who are undertaking this sort of work, and whether they have disc imaged their CDs or taken a similar route to us.

Instead of disc imaging we extracted audio data using Adobe Audition (a tool we were using for digitising our sound cassettes and MiniDiscs) and set the read speed to be low in order to provide as accurate results as possible. The data was originally written to the disc as PCM 16 bit/44.1kHz so we extracted the data as this and used the WAVE (.wav) wrapper. The structure of the audio CD disc was maintained using filenames (numbered sequentially by track on the disc) and through metadata which we embedded in BWF format (using the BWF MetaEdit tool).

We have also received CD data discs containing mp3 files. Although mp3 is not an archival format the sound files are already compressed and saving them as wav files will only increase the file size, but not the quality of the file. MP3 is a format widely used it is unlikely to become obsolete in the immediate future and so poses no preservation risk. We have also been capturing MP3s through audio editing software, either Adobe Audition or Audacity. We are exporting through software, rather than copying straight from the disc, as the software you use will have an error correction element and help prevent any errors during the export/copy.

DVDs

With rewritable media accessioned into the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive collections (such as hard drives, floppy drives), or media which has inbuilt menu functionality (i.e. DVDs), we thought that here it was important to create a disc image, a sector-by-sector copy, as part of the process of digitally preserving the original accession. Our aim was to:

  • Ensure that the disc/drives are free from viruses
  • Capture an ‘image’ of the disc/drive, showing the structure of the files (including folder structure) on the original disc as it was when deposited with BSUCA.
  • Secure the contents of the disc/drive (i.e. the documents/files on the disc itself)

We have used the free version of ISOBuster to image DVDs and using this tool created an .iso file and a .cue file.  A complete disk image (.iso file) serves as the preservation master, and from the iso file we have then created an access copy as an mp4 (h.264) file, using VLC, for use in our reading room.

Creating disc images of DVDs using ISOBuster

Creating disc images of DVDs using ISOBuster

Next time… how we have been digitising VHS and transferring material on DVCam and MiniDV.

Further reading and helpful links

‘Preserving Moving Pictures and Sound’, Richard Wright, DPC [Digital Preservation Coalition] Technology Watch Report 12-01 March 2012, http://dx.doi.org/10.7207/twr12-01

‘An Introduction to Optical Media Presevation’, Alex Duryee, AVPreserve, http://www.avpreserve.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/OpticalMediaPreservation.pdf

‘Developing a Robust Migration Workflow for Preserving and Curating Hand-held Media’, Angela Dappert, Andrew Jackson, Akiko Kimura http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1309/1309.4932.pdf

‘Establishing a Workflow Model for Audio CD Preservation’, Tonisant, Open Preservation Foundation blog, http://openpreservation.org/blog/2013/11/19/establishing-workflow-model-audio-cd-preservation/

Linda Smith Lecture 2016: Andy Hamilton

Matt Hoss, a University of Kent MA Stand-Up Comedy student, reviews the second Linda Smith Lecture, this year given by Andy Hamilton.

Returning for its second year, The Linda Smith Lecture came back in full glory on the 3rd May 2016 at Canterbury’s Gulbenkian Theatre. Any act would have a hard time following Mark Thomas from last year’s event, but Andy Hamilton was able to deliver.

The show had highly comical moments created by Hamilton, as he picked upon his vast wealth anecdotes which he leisurely perused at his disposal. For example he talked about throwing up regularly at Green Park, swearing as a six-year old around a campfire and calling a producer’s bluff about his “Grannie in Dundee”, as he discusses his comedy career.

Hamilton’s performance also had rather touching moments encapsulated within his lecture. In particular his moments reflecting Linda Smith were particularly poignant and well-suited for the environment and tone of the evening.

Hamilton really raised some interesting points within the world of television, offence and comedy. He talked about how television producers shy away from genre splicing, but Hamilton states that this is an alien concept as life does not separate comedy from the tragedy.

Andy Hamilton, presenting the 2016 Linda Smith Lecture, 3 May 2016, Gulbenkian Theatre, University of Kent

Andy Hamilton, presenting the 2016 Linda Smith Lecture, 3 May 2016, Gulbenkian Theatre, University of Kent

The crown jewel within Hamilton’s lecture is his main argument about how he believes that comedy is important, but it is more important to not be offended. Hamilton claims “Comedy licenses us to be subversive and transgressive about the things we fear the most. But we will no longer be able to do that if we keep on increasing the subjects that are out-of-bounds”. He backed up these moments of honesty and truthfulness with more hilarious stories, creating an explicably engaging speech.

Overall Hamilton’s lecture was thoughtful and highly comical and left the audience with glee. Certainly next year’s speaker will have an even higher expectation to perform to after Hamilton’s remarkable performance.

 

Spotlight on: The Josie Long Collection

On the 25th January 2016 we were lucky enough to have to opportunity to visit comedian Josie Long at her Arts Emergency Office in Hackney*. Josie had gathered together a collection of gems from throughout her career, ranging from some her first tours to her drawings & zines, to material from her monthly ‘The Lost Treasures of the Black Heart’ comedy club.

One of the earliest items from the collection is a notebook created by Josie when she was performing live in 1998 which contains listings, photographs and annotations.

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Page from Josie’s 1998 notebook. BSUCA/JL/1/1/1

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Page from Josie’s 1998 notebook. BSUCA/JL/1/1/1

A significant part of Josie’s collection is a vast amount of material from her various tours, from Kindness & Exuberance in 2006/2007 to her Cara Josephine show performed from 2014-2016. Within these series’ are items related to tour preparations such as beautiful mind-maps of ideas for shows, to the sketch pads and props used in the shows themselves!

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Mind-map used by Josie Long to brainstorm ideas for her ‘The Future is Another Place’ show 2011-2012 BSUCA/JL/1/8/1

 

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Cardboard cut-outs used for ‘An Audience with Dan Nightingale and Josie Long’ shows, 2005. BSUCA/JL/1/3/2

Another amazing part of Josie’s collection is the audience contributions made at her live shows. It has been wonderful to see how  involved and enthusiastic comedy audiences can be. For example in her Kindness and Exuberance tour, audience members were encouraged to write down their ‘favourite small thing’. After the tour Josie created a zine from these contributions.

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Audience contributions from Josie Long’s Kindness and Exuberance tour in which she asked the audience to write down their favourite small thing BSUCA/JL/1/4/8

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Favourite Small Things Zine created by Josie Long compiling audience contributions, who were asked at her Kindness and Exuberance tour to write down their favourite small things. BSUCA/JL/1/4/5

As part of  Josie ‘All of the Planets Wonders’ tour, she encouraged audience members to send her objects so that she could create a museum of All the Planets Wonders objects which attracted a variety object including books, badges and even food.

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Objects collected from the audiences of the ‘All of the Planets Wonders’ tour. This picture shows a Teddy bear someone found when they moved into a new house, a badge from Edinburgh Zoo and an orange thrown by Josie to and audience member at a previous show. BSUCA/JL/1/6/7

It is brilliant to also have a range of materials from Josie’s life outside of her solo performances. Her collection stretches to material from her ‘The Lost Treasures of the Black Heart’ comedy club which includes club notes & records books and  also audience artwork created during the shows.

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Felt artworks created by the audience at a Lost Treasures of the Black Heart club show BSUCA/JL/2/6

Finally, a mention has to be made to Josie’s great comic creations. From August 2011 Josie has been drawing for the Guardian, creating a comic called ‘Josie Long’s Another Planet’, a collection of which is now in the archive. Also from 2005 Josie has created her own ‘Drawing Moustaches in Magazines Monthly‘ Magazine, issues 1-7 of which are now held by BSUCA.

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Josie Long’s Another Planet: What if we did pull out of Europe? [published 2nd February 2013] BSUCA/JL/2/4/9

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First Issue of ‘Drawing Moustaches in Magazines Monthly’ Magazine, April 20th- June 19th 2005 BSUCA/JL/2/3

The Josie Long collection has now been catalogued and will soon be discoverable via the University of Kent Library catalogue and accessible to view on request at the Special Collections Reading Room.

*Arts Emergency is an organisation created by Josie Long and Neil Griffiths, working with young people in higher education from diverse backgrounds, helping them to effectively access higher education in the Arts or Humanities. They create events to share this information and also to raise money for the work that they do.

Adventures in audiovisual digitisation (part 2)

Following on from my last post I thought I would provide some information on the equipment that we are using for the digitisation (or capture) of audio held on various audio formats. As stated before, we have had to compromise in various areas:

  • We have purchased second-hand equipment as that way it is possible to use semi-professional equipment. There were no newer models, within our budget, for semi-professional use, only those created for domestic purposes (which didn’t have XLR connectors or noise reduction settings for example).
  • We have borrowed or been given equipment from other departments around the University, no longer used by that department due to its obsolescence, but perfect for the requirements of our project.
  • And we have had to outsource some digitisation (so far of DAT and U-Matic).

Audio cassettes

  • Cassette Deck: We are using the Denon DN 790-R. After lots of research I chose this as an it was affordable option for a semi-professional cassette deck, and it was a deck that I could actually find for sale at the time I was looking (we paid about £300 for one off of Ebay). I was looking for a deck which had XLR connectors and a variety of dolby noise reduction settings. Best practice (for example see Sound Directions, page 20 or Digitising Speech Recordings for Archival Purposes, page 8) would dictate that you find a cassette deck with XLR connectors as these are important for achieving a balanced signal. Noise reduction is also important, and if the original cassette was recorded with a noise reduction applied, then this should also be applied during digitisation. If the cassettes were recorded in the 1980s/1990s Dolby B (in particular) might have been applied. From experience within the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive, cassettes which were recorded professionally seem to have been recorded with a noise reduction applied (and sometimes this is even noted on the cassette which is really helpful!) but those more ‘home made’ recordings often don’t have any noise reduction; in these cases it is best to transfer without any noise reduction.
  • Audio capture card: We’re using a Roland UA-55 Quad-Capture audio capture card, again as this was quite an affordable option (c.£150). This is, in effect, an external sound card; the alternative would be to use an internal sound card with XLR connectors (which you’d have to install). We did actually purchase a good video capture card to use for both our audio and video digitisation work, but this had compatibility issues with our PC and so I sought an affordable capture card so we could start digitizing audio (we are using this video card in a mac tower for our VHS work though). An easy alternative (but which would not result in the best quality capture, especially if you are digitising for preservation) would be to use the PC’s existing internal sound card if you were digitising using stereo phono connectors (not recommened for preservation work).
  • Cables: two XLR connectors to connect the deck to the capture card; a usb cable connects the capture card to the PC (this would probably come with your audio capture card).
  • Software: we’re using Adobe Audition as it is part of the Adobe Creative Cloud package. As we are using some other Adobe CC programmes for image digitisation and embedding metadata (such as Bridge and Photoshop) this seemed the best option for us.  A free and good option is Audacity (http://audacityteam.org/). When capturing audio it is best practice to capture to at least 24 bit 48kHz (fine for spoken word, although for music it is recommended to captured 24 bit 96kHz). More information on this can be found on the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives website and ‘guidelines for the production and preservation of digital audio objects
Cassette and MiniDisc Deck used for BSUCA digitisation / transfer

Cassette and MiniDisc Deck used for BSUCA digitisation / transfer

MiniDisc

MiniDisc capture has been a bit more of a compromise, in terms of our equipment:

  • MiniDisc Deck: We are using the Sony MiniDisc MD5-JE530 as this is a deck that was already available to us from within Campus Support here at the University of Kent (so free. We have also since been donated another MiniDisc deck by the School of Engineering and Digital Arts – thanks EDA!)
  • Audio capture card: Roland UA-55 Quad-Capture USB Audio/midi interface (price as above). The MD5-JE530 has an optical digital connection, whereas the UA-55 has a coaxial digital connection only. We didn’t want to purchase an additional audio capture card just for MiniDiscs so we purchased…
  • …the Pro-Signal PSG08095 Optical to Coaxial Adaptor (under £10) and a…
  • ….Digital Audio Coaxial Cable (1m) (about £2)
  • Software: Adobe Audition (as above). MiniDiscs used the ATRAC (Adaptive Transform Acoustic Coding) compression which sampled at 16 bit 44.1kHz and so when transferring MiniDiscs we capture at this rate (capturing at a higher bit rate and sampling frequency will only increase the file size but not the quality).

I aim to provide more updates soon, looking at how we are transferring digital files held on other physical media (such as audio CD and DVD), and in time we will also report on our VHS digitisation.

 

Reading list:

  • Jisc Digital Media, ‘Equipping an Audio Digitisation System’, http://www.jiscdigitalmedia.ac.uk/guide/equipping-an-audio-digitisation-system/show-hidden
  • Dietrich Schüller, Audio and video carriers: Recording principles, storage and handling, maintenance of equipment, format and equipment obsolescence, http://www.tape-online.net/docs/audio_and_video_carriers.pdf
  • Mike Casey and Bruce Gordon, Sound Directions: Best Practices for Audio Preservation, http://www.dlib.indiana.edu/projects/sounddirections/papersPresent/sd_bp_07.pdf
  • International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives, IASA-TC 03 The Safeguarding of the Audio Heritage: Ethics, Principles and Preservation Strategy, version 3 December 2005, http://www.iasa-web.org/sites/default/files/downloads/publications/TC03_English.pdf
  • Bartek Plichta and Mark Kornbluh, Digitizing Speech Recordings for Archival Purposes, http://www.historicalvoices.org/papers/audio_digitization.pdf

 

Adventures in audiovisual digitisation (part 1)

Part of the mission of the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive (BSUCA) Beacon project has been to establish standards, workflows, and policies with regards to digitisation and digital preservation, with the aim to inform the future collecting and preservation activities of the University’s Special Collections & Archives department.  Partly we wanted to see what digitisation work we could do in-house, if any, or if we would need to outsource the digitisation. Digitising audio-visual material is not easy, which is why few archives undertake AV digitisation in-house, or at all, and perhaps why there are few accessible resources for those trying to find out how to digitise in-house:

  1. There are problems of the degradation of various AV formats. This is one of the reasons why we need to digitise material on formats that are likely to degrade (otherwise we may lose the recording). This degradation can cause problems in your workflow; for example having the knowledge to spot mould, sticky shed, and then what to do about this, or how to splice a broken tape or reel (see point 3).
  2. There are also problems of technical obsolescence. This is another reasons for digitisation; the format may be stable (reel-to-reel tapes can be fairly stable) but the equipment to replay them (and therefore digitise them) are increasingly becoming obsolete; if we don’t digitise the material soon, whilst there is still affordable equipment, we may lose the opportunity for the material to be preserved and made accessible. For the formats within the BSUCA this is common when you consider the date of much of our material, which ranges from 1973 through to 2016. We currently have AV recordings on: audio cassette, reel-to-reel, MiniDisc, DAT, audio CD, VHS, Betacam, DVCam, DVCam mini, MiniDV, U-Matic, DVD, as well as digital originals (wav and mp3 files). Many of these formats were market-driven (MiniDisc for example) and were hailed as the next great format before being usurped by newer formats which were more affordable or more accessible. Another connected issue is that equipment may be available, but it is more likely than not to be second hand, and in need of servicing or maintenance: you do not want your equipment to compromise your digitisation work.
  3. Finally, a major issue when digitising AV for preservation and access is that of quality control. Much AV digitisation is carried out by trained audio engineers (who are able to spot and solve the issues identified in points 1 and 2).

It was an important part of this project to see whether we could digitise material in-house, with limited equipment and expertise. This is because we recognise that we are going to receive an increasing amount of audiovisual material within the BSUCA collections, due to the nature of the Archive, but also that we are likely to receive more AV material generally as part of Special Collections & Archives as we collect more material from the mid- and late- twentieth century. Outsourcing digitisation can be expensive; you obviously benefit hugely from the expertise of trained audiovisual engineers, but if AV material is a large part of your collections, outsourcing all of it is not feasible due to budgetary constraints.

Audio from the Andy de la Tour Collection

Audio from the Andy de la Tour Collection

The situation we have found ourselves in with regards equipment and expertise has definitely been one of compromises. For example:

  • We have settled with purchasing second-hand equipment as that way it is possible to use semi-professional equipment; there are no newer models, within our budget, for semi-professional use, only those created for domestic purposes.
  • We have also borrowed (or been given) equipment from other departments around the University, no longer used by that department due to its obsolescence, but perfect for the requirements of our project.
  • And we have sometimes settled on outsourcing the digitisation (so far DAT and U-Matic).

When we started the BSUCA project in January last year (2015) I found it quite difficult to find easily accessible information about what hardware and software we’d need for digitising audio-visual material, where to find equipment for sale, as well as workflows for how to actually start digitising material. The resources from Jisc Digital Media on digitising audio and video were really helpful, as were the Guidelines for the preservation of sound recordings guide from the Endangered Archives Programme at the British Library. However, I found that the equipment recommended was no longer widely available, so I did a lot of extra research on particular models which would be affordable but also meet the standards we require. In case other archivists, curators, interested people, are thinking about digitising audio-visual material in house, I thought in my next post I’d list the equipment we have been using (starting with audio cassettes and MiniDiscs), and why (I’m not endorsing any particular models, other makes/models are available!) and later I’ll aim to share our workflows.

Interviews with comedians on DATs (Digital Audio Tapes) from the John Pidgeon Collection

Interviews with comedians on DATs (Digital Audio Tapes) from the John Pidgeon Collection

Some resources:

Archiving stand-up comedy on the Web

One of the things I was keen to do when I was appointed as Archivist for the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive in January 2015 was to ensure that websites and social media relating to stand-up comedy were being captured and archived. So much of how comedians promote and publicise themselves today, and interact with their audience, is done through social media and websites, and I’ve already noticed that websites referenced in material in the BSUCA collections have already disappeared. I approached the UK Web Archive team at the British Library to see whether I could actively contribute to their mission, and I was delighted that they were happy for me to curate a new Special Collection, to be called the ‘British Stand-Up Comedy Archive’ collection.

Although the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive is based at the University of Kent I’m really pleased that we are working with other organisations and individuals to ensure that material relating to stand-up comedy is (beginning) to be archived for current and future researchers (and others) interested in stand-up comedy. Stand-up comedy has a huge presence on the Web, more so than I can nominate, so I have take two approaches so far.

Approach 1: filling the gaps

One focus has been on nominating websites for inclusion which relate to collections that we already have within the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive. For example, I have been nominating the websites and social media accounts of those whose work we have been physically and digitally archiving at the University, such as Attila the Stockbroker’s website and twitter account.  I have also been nominating sites which complement the collections we have. For example, within The Mark Thomas Collection we have copies of articles he has written, but only those which he collected himself. In fact there are many more which he has written which are only available online. The idea behind this approach is that we can ‘fill the gaps’ for researchers interested in those whose archives we have, by ensuring that other material relevant to that comedian/performer is being archived. These websites are provided in sub-categories with the name of the collection they relate to (i.e. Linda Smith Collection, Mark Thomas Collection).

Josie Long's website (http://www.josielong.com/)

Josie Long’s website (http://www.josielong.com/). Josie Long deposited physical material with the BSUCA in January 2016, and her website has also now been archived within the UK Web Archive at the British Library.

 

Approach 2: providing an overview of stand-up comedy in the UK today

As we are trying to collect material related to stand-up comedy in the UK I think that it is really important to try to capture as much information as possible about current comedians and the current comedy scene, nationally and locally. So my second focus has been on nominating websites which provide an overview of stand-up comedy in the UK today. Rather than initially focussing on nominating the websites of individual comedians (which would be an enormous task!) I have instead been nominating websites which are dedicated to comedy in the UK, both at a national level, such as Chortle and Beyond the Joke, and those at a regional level such as Giggle Beats (for comedy in the north of England) and London is Funny. I’ve also nominated the comedy sections in national news outlets like the Guardian and The Huffington Post (UK), as well as in regional news outlets such as The Skinny (Scotland and the north west of England), The Manchester Evening News, and The York Press. These websites include news, interviews with comedians and others involved in comedy, as well as reviews and listings of upcoming shows. The idea was that capturing these sorts of websites would help to demonstrate which comedians were performing, where they were performing, and perhaps some of the themes discussed by comedians in their shows. These websites have been categorised into the sub-category ‘Stand-up news, listings and reviews’.

Giggle Beats (www.gigglegeats.co.uk), a website founded in June 2010 to promote comedy in the north of England.

Giggle Beats (www.gigglegeats.co.uk), a website founded in June 2010 to promote comedy in the north of England.

I’ve also been focusing on the websites of comedy venues in order to document the variety of comedy clubs there are, to provide an overview of the comedians who are performing, as well as to document other issues like the cost of attending a comedy club night.  Many of the clubs whose websites have been nominated are quite longstanding venues, such as Downstairs at the Kings Head (founded in 1981), the Banana Cabaret Club in Balham (established 1983), and The Stand Comedy Club (established in Edinburgh in 1995). And of course I’ve also been focusing on comedy festivals around the UK. Much material relating to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe had already been included in the UK Web Archive but websites for Free Fringe events (which many see as important for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe*), such as the Free Festival and PBH’s Free Fringe, have now been nominated. I’ve also been nominating websites for comedy festivals around the UK, ranging from large established festivals such has the (Dave) Leicester Comedy Festival and the Machynlleth Comedy Festival, to smaller festivals such as the Croydon Comedy Festival and Argcomfest (Actually Rather Good Comedy Festival). The sub-category of ‘Venues and festivals’ is by far the largest sub-category so far!

Website for Downstairs at the Kings Head (http://www.downstairsatthekingshead.com/), a comedy club in Crouch End, London founded in 1981.

Website for Downstairs at the Kings Head (http://www.downstairsatthekingshead.com/), a comedy club in Crouch End, London, founded in 1981.

Other features of current stand-up comedy that have been captured include organisations such as the Comedy Support Act (a charity funded by benefit shows which aims to provide emergency funds and assistance to professional comedians who find themselves in financial hardship through serious illness or accident) and organisations and events which celebrate and promote women in comedy such as What The Frock!, Funny Women, Laughing Cows Comedy, and the Women in Comedy Festival.

 

Next steps:

There are so many more websites that I haven’t yet been able to nominate, particularly those of individual comedians or performers. However, the UK Web Archive is open to all (as long as the website is part of the UK web domain), so if there are websites relating to UK stand-up comedy that you want to be archived in the UK Web Archive please nominate them here http://www.webarchive.org.uk/ukwa/info/nominate.

* Luke Toulson, ‘Why free is the future of the fringe…and 7 more ways to improve the festival’, http://www.chortle.co.uk/correspondents/2013/08/04/18425/why_free_is_the_future_of_the_fringe; and Nick Awde, ‘Free shows are ringing the Edinburgh Fringe changes’, https://www.thestage.co.uk/opinion/2015/setting-theatre-free-edinburgh/

 

Steve Bell and Arnold Brown in conversation

As part of the ‘Comedy on stage & page: satirical cartoons & stand-up’ conference on Thursday 14th and Friday 15th January, we are pleased that one of the main events (open to all, not just those registered for the conference) will be cartoonist Steve Bell and comedian Arnold Brown, in conversation. Steve Bell and Arnold Brown will be talking with Olly Double (Senior Lecturer in Drama and Theatre) and Nick Hiley (Head of the British Cartoon Archive) about their work, and the place of satire in cartooning and stand-up comedy.

This event will be held in the Templeman Library Lecture Theatre (Ground Floor, Templeman West) and is free and open to all. For more information about the conference, and how to register, visit our conference page on this blog.

 

Poster advertising Steve Bell &Arnold Brown in conversation

Poster advertising Steve Bell &Arnold Brown in conversation

Interesting facts about the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive

1. The British Stand-Up Comedy Archive contains 22 collections; we have been collecting material since 2013.

BSUCA collections on our Calm cataloguing system

BSUCA collections on our Calm cataloguing system

2. We have material dating from 1970 to the present day, documenting the rise of alternative comedy and stand-up comedy. We are keen to collect material from relevant areas of performance including alternative cabaret, performance poetry and working men’s club comedy.

3. We have collected a range of material in a variety of formats (including photographs, scripts, diaries, audiovisual recording, posters, contracts) and for a variety of purposes (promotion, academic research, for broadcast).

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4. Throughout 2015 we have been developing new workflows to ensure that the recordings in the archive held on legacy audiovisual formats (such as cassette tapes, MiniDisc and DAT) are digitised and accessible for researchers today and in the future.

5. The digitisation of both printed and audiovisual material means that we can provide samples of representative content from the archive on platforms such as Flickr and Soundcloud as well as on our blog.

6. We have worked to ensure a range of content from the comedy world has been collected and we have been keen to engage with comedy promoters and venues. Monika Bobinska donated a large collection of material from the Meccano Club (1985-1995) and Peter Grahame has given material from Downstairs at the Kings Head (established in 1981). We also have material from more recent clubs and promoters, including The Folkestone Comedy Club and What The Frock! Comedy.

Meccano Club Bookings Book.

Meccano Club Bookings Book. February-March 1995. Featuring acts including Tracy Brothers, Al Murray, Nick Wilty and Dylan Moran. (c) Monika Bobinska

7. One strength of the BSUCA collections is the number of unique, unedited interviews with comedians, recorded for purposes including academic research and publication (Oliver Double Collection), and radio broadcast (John Pidgeon Collection, Andrew Sherlock Radio Collection).

Interviews with comedians on DATs (Digital Audio Tapes) from the John Pidgeon Collection

Interviews with comedians on DATs (Digital Audio Tapes) from the John Pidgeon Collection

8. We’ve had some incredible events this year, with performers such as Mark Thomas, Attila the Stockbroker, Richard Herring, Stewart Lee, and Phill Jupitus (at the University of Kent), and Jo Brand, Susan Calman, and Stephen K. Amos (at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe). These events were all recorded and can be accessed in our reading room at the Templeman Library, University of Kent.

Phill Jupitus talking about a Red Wedge Comedy leaflet which cartooned for (as Porky the Poet). Photo Matt Wilson

Phill Jupitus talking about a Red Wedge Comedy leaflet which cartooned for (as Porky the Poet) during an in-conversation event with Oliver Double in September 2015. Photo Matt Wilson

 

9. We are holding a joint conference with the British Cartoon Archive ‘Comedy On Stage and Page: satirical cartoons and stand-up‘ (14-15th January 2016), which will explore issues including the relationship between the audience and the comedian, writing shows, the comedy industry, censorship, and women in comedy, and also highlight the Stand-Up Comedy Archive collections.

10. Alongside the conference we will be hosting a joint exhibition with the British Cartoon Archive, providing access to material from the archive and explaining more about its establishment, development and collections in the new Templeman Library gallery area.