Histcompod – Episode 6 ‘Jim Barclay’s letter of complaint’

Episode 6 of ‘A History of Comedy in Several Objects’ is now available on iTunes and acast. In this episode we look at strongly-worded letter written to that legend of early alternative comedy, Jim Barclay. This angry missive was provoked by a riotous show by Alternative Cabaret at Goldsmiths College Students’ Union in 1979. Expect deviance, titillation and Keith Allen. We also have excerpts from an exclusive interview with Jim Barclay himself!

Don’t forget to get involved! You can contact us via standup@kent.ac.uk or tweet us at @histcompod. You can search the online catalogue for more information about the holdings of  the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive at http://archive.kent.ac.uk.

Images of some objects featured on the podcast can be found on our flickr site in the ‘History of Comedy in Several Objects‘ album.

Histcompod – Episode 5 ‘Mark Thomas’ Absurd Object’

In the fifth episode of A History Of Comedy In Several Objects, now out on the iTunes store, we talk to legendary political comedian, Mark Thomas. We look at his particularly absurd object (a squeezy hand grenade! You’ll have to listen to find out more information…) which leads us to discuss big topics as whether comedy can create change and what is the role of a stand-up comedian? Join Olly and Elspeth to explore Mark’s unique engagement in the world stand-up comedy and the world in general.

Squeezy stress grenade (Mark Thomas Collection). Photo Matt Wilson

Squeezy stress grenade (Mark Thomas Collection). Photo Matt Wilson

Don’t forget to get involved! You can contact us via standup@kent.ac.uk or tweet us at @histcompod. You can search the online catalogue for more information about the holdings of  the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive at http://archive.kent.ac.uk.

Images of some objects featured on the podcast can be found on our flickr site in the ‘History of Comedy in Several Objects‘ album.

 

Linda Smith Lecture 2017: Susan Calman

We are delighted that the brilliant comedian Susan Calman has agreed to give the 2017 Linda Smith Lecture. Susan is known to Radio 4 listeners as a regular panellist on The News Quiz, and for her two series, Susan Calman is Convicted and Keep Calman Carry On. On television she has appeared on QI and in the sitcoms Fresh Meat and Dead Boss. She is also known for her superb stand-up act, and her first DVD Lady Like is available from Go Faster Stripe.

Susan Calman, photographed by Steve Ullathorne

Susan Calman, photographed by Steve Ullathorne

The deposit of Linda Smith’s personal archive with the University of Kent in 2013 provided the inspiration for the formation of the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive, which is now growing into a substantial collection, for use by comedians and for those researching stand-up comedy and associated performance arts. The Linda Smith Lecture was established in 2015 to be an annual event to celebrate Linda’s life and work, her interest in comedy and its use in and for political and social commentary, and to promote the work of the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive.

You can get your tickets for the Lecture via the Gulbenkian box office, online or in person.

HistComPod – Episode 4 ‘Robin Ince’s Postcards’

In the fourth episode of A History Of Comedy In Several Objects, now out on the iTunes store, we get to grips with comedians’ set lists, whilst exploring how scripts and prompts are used in stand-up. We see some archived materials from influential comedians, including Josie Long’s spider diagrams, Linda Smith’s notes, Andy de la Tour’s scripts and, the main feature of this episode, Robin Ince’s postcard set-lists written for one of his ‘Robin Ince is as Dumb as You‘ 2005 shows. We also feature exclusive audio clips from Andy de la Tour and Linda Smith performing life stand-up comedy.

Don’t forget to get involved! You can contact us via standup@kent.ac.uk or tweet us at @histcompod. You can search the online catalogue for more information about the holdings of  the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive at http://archive.kent.ac.uk.

Images of some objects featured on the podcast can be found on our flickr site in the ‘History of Comedy in Several Objects‘ album.

Robin Ince set list (Robin Ince is as Dumb as You)

HistComPod – Episode 3 ‘Comedy Trade Union’

The third episode of A History Of Comedy In Several Objects (or HistComPod for short) is now available via iTunes.

Join Olly and Elspeth for another week spelunking in the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive as they look at an attempt to establish a Comedy Trade Union in 1983, and go through a list of all the key acts in the alternative comedy scene of the day, where future stars like French and Saunders rubbed shoulders with long forgotten performers whose gags are now lost in the mists of time.

The specific focus of this episode is a letter written in 1983 by Andy de la Tour and Lee Cornes to others involved in the alternative cabaret scene at the time about the formation of a ‘union’ for performers, looking particularly at pay from specific venues. This letter is from the Andy de la Tour Collection (within this folder of material).

Olly also talks about a new group, the UK Comedy Guild; the article discussed (‘Gagging rights: British comedians set up UK Comedy Guild trade union’ by Paul Fleckney) can be found on The Guardian website.

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If you want to get involved you can contact us via standup@kent.ac.uk or tweet us at @histcompod.

You can search the online catalogue for more information about the holdings of  the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive at http://archive.kent.ac.uk.

HistComPod – Episode 2 ‘Alternative Cabaret Flyer’

In the second episode of ‘A History of Comedy in Several Objects’ (now available on iTunes), Olly and Elspeth discuss a promotional flyer for Alternative Cabaret which was deposited by Andy de la Tour (the flyer is within this folder of material). Alternative Cabaret were one of the key groups in the early alternative comedy scene. Olly and Elspeth talk about the formation of the group, find out what became of its key members and discover who designed the flyer.

Also featured in this episode is an exclusive audio clip of Olly interviewing Alexei Sayle at Edinburgh Fringe in 2015 (you can access the full interview in the Special Collections & Archives reading room) – don’t say we never treat you!

Flyer advertising the Alternative Cabaret collective

If you want to get involved you can contact us via standup@kent.ac.uk or tweet us at @histcompod.

You can search the online catalogue for more information about the holdings of  the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive at http://archive.kent.ac.uk.

HistComPod – Episode 1 ‘Foodstuff’

The first ever episode of ‘A History Of Comedy In Several Objects’, alternatively known as ‘HistComPod’ is now available on the iTunes podcast store.

The podcast, devised and presented by Dr Oliver Double (Director of the Comedy & Popular Performance Research Centre and previously a professional comedian) and Elspeth Millar (Archivist in the University’s Special Collections & Archives), aims to illustrate the history of stand-up comedy through objects found within the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive. Each episode features a particular item/object/record from the archive, which Olly and Elspeth discuss to show what it reveals about the art and craft of stand-up and the recent history of the form.

In the jam-packed inaugural episode, Olly and Elspeth discuss the origins of the archive, the project of the podcast and whether it’s possible to archive a performance. The articles that we reference are:

The main feature of this first episode is an orange from the Josie Long Collection. The orange was originally from one of Josie’s ‘Trying is Good’ shows, but was returned to Josie as part of ‘All the Planet’s Wonders’ (check out Josie’s call for ‘Edinburgh Ephemera’ here). Olly and Elspeth engage with the decomposing citrus fruit and the significance it has, whilst touching upon Elspeth’s “archivist’s guilt”.

An orange in a box donated to Josie Long as part of her ‘All of the Planets Wonders’ tour. Image: Matt Wilson, University of Kent

 

If you want to get involved you can contact us via standup@kent.ac.uk or tweet us at @histcompod. You can search the online catalogue for more information about the holdings of  the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive at http://archive.kent.ac.uk.

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/