Category Archives: Beacon Project

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 (

Josie Long’s website ( 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 (, a website founded in June 2010 to promote comedy in the north of England.

Giggle Beats (, 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 (, a comedy club in Crouch End, London founded in 1981.

Website for Downstairs at the Kings Head (, 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

* Luke Toulson, ‘Why free is the future of the fringe…and 7 more ways to improve the festival’,; and Nick Awde, ‘Free shows are ringing the Edinburgh Fringe changes’,


Stand-Up Comedy Archive Collections Autumn update

I wanted to give an update on the collections that we’ve now received into the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive, nine months or so into our Beacon Project to catalogue, digitise, provide access to, and continue to build this archive for stand-up comedy in the UK. Our current collections include material from:

  • Alexei Sayle
  • Attila the Stockbroker
  • BSUCA Events
  • John Pidgeon
  • Linda Smith
  • Monika Bobinska
  • Mark Thomas
  • Nick Toczek
  • Oliver Double
  • Richard Herring
  • Robin Ince
  • Tony Allen
  • What The Frock! Comedy

Some of these we’ve written about before, so I wanted to provide some brief updates on the new collections.

The BSUCA (British Stand-Up Comedy Archive) Events Collection is being created through the events that we are holding ourselves, on campus, and at the 2015 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. We now have recordings of in-conversation events from Richard Herring, Stewart Lee, Mark Thomas, Stephen K. Amos, Jo Brand, Susan Calman, Alexei Sayle, and Nina Conti, recordings of Edinburgh Preview shows from Alfie Brown and Jimmy McGhie, and a recording of our inaugural Linda Smith Lecture, given by Mark Thomas.

Stewart Lee in conversation with Olly Double, 10 June 2015. Photo Matt Wilson

Stewart Lee in conversation with Olly Double, 10 June 2015. Photo Matt Wilson

The Alexei Sayle Collection is one of our most recent deposits, and contains material from the career of alternative comedian Alexei Sayle, including scripts for various TV and radio programmes and films, including his own TV and radio shows (‘Alexei Sayle’s Stuff’, ‘The All New Alexei Sayle Show’, ‘Alexei Sayle’s Merry Go Round’, ‘Lenin and the Rovers’) and others he acted in (‘The Young Ones’, ‘Doctor Who’, ‘Whoops Apocalypse’).

Scripts deposited by Alexei Sayle

Scripts deposited by Alexei Sayle

Material deposited by Robin Ince includes passes and badges for shows, tours and festivals in which Robin Ince performed, flyers and postcards for shows, zines made for Robin Ince’s Book Club and Edinburgh shows, performance notes for shows ‘Robin Ince Is As Dumb As You’ (2005) and ‘Robin Ince Knew This Would Happen’ (2007), and props (including Robin Ince and Josie Long puppets!)

Material received from Robin Ince

Material received from Robin Ince

Our most recent deposit has been from What The Frock! Comedy, a Bristol-based comedy brand which champions female comedy talent. We’ve received a copy of ‘The What The Frock! Book of Funny Women’ (2015), flyers, badges and bookmarks.

Material received from What The Frock! Comedy

Material received from What The Frock! Comedy

Nick Toczek deposited some wonderful flyers and leaflets from his alternative cabaret nights in Bradford, which he ran in the 1980s and 1990s. His collection comprises leaflets and flyers for the alternative cabaret and alternative comedy nights Stereo Graffiti, the Bradford Poetry Live Festival, Tumbling Hill Street Blues, Bradford Alternative Cabaret, Cracker!, and Korks Komedy Klub. Some of Nick’s flyers within the Linda Smith Collection can be viewed on our flickr account.

Flyers for alternative cabaret nights from Nick Toczek

Flyers for alternative cabaret nights from Nick Toczek

Richard Herring did a wonderful ‘in conversation’ event with us back in March (some sound bites are available on our SoundCloud channel), and he deposited material from his career performing theatre and comedy since his time at the University of Oxford until the present. The Richard Herring Collection contains scripts for radio, television and plays; promotional material for stand-up comedy performances, plus published material by Richard Herring (including books and DVDs). The Collection includes original material on paper (scripts, reviews, tour flyers and brochures), published material (books, pamphlets, and a DVD), born-digital material (documents and files saved to 3.5″ floppy disks) and 179 tiff image files from Richard’s ‘Comedy and Drama in Oxford notebook’ (loaned to and scanned by the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive).

These collections are all being catalogued, and will shortly be discoverable via the University of Kent Library catalogues.  But if you are interested to know more about the content of the collections, or to view and consult material please let us know via We’ve also got some really exciting new deposits and partnerships for the archive coming up this autumn so do check back in with us for more information!



British Stand-Up Comedy Archive spring update

Elspeth Millar writes:

It’s been quite a while since we blogged, so we thought we’d provide a quick update on how the project is progressing, and our other activities over these first few months of the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive Beacon project.

We’ve been in contact with a number of potential donors involved in comedy (from comedians to comedy promoters) regarding further deposits – we should be able to announce more details soon! In the meantime, we’ve been sorting, listing and beginning to catalogue our four main collections: Linda Smith, Mark Thomas, Tony Allen, and John Pidgeon.

We’ve also been working with the UK Web Archive to establish a ‘British Stand-Up Comedy Archive’ special collection, to capture websites relating to the material that we physically/digitally hold, but also (by capturing websites with comedy listings, news and reviews) to capture a snapshot of the UK comedy scene for future researchers.


Unfortunately we had to cancel our first ‘in conversation’ event with Alexei Sayle in February as Oliver Double broke his hip! Olly will soon be back on campus and our (now) first ‘in conversation’ event is with Richard Herring on 8th April at the Gulbenkian. Further information can be found on The Gulbenkian’s website. The event will be filmed and added to the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive collections.


Format explorations for digitisation
One aspect of the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive Beacon project, the one-year funded project as part of the University of Kent’s 50th anniversary celebrations, is to investigate the choice of formats for capturing material in a digital form for long-term preservation.  There are a number of factors to consider such as:

  • Sustainability (how ‘open’ is the format? What is the quality i.e. uncompressed, lossless compression, lossy compression? Does the format have good metadata support?),
  • Implementation (how hard technically is it to implement the format? Is there a wide availability of tools for implementation?)
  • And cost (what are the storage and network costs? What are the required software and hardware costs?)

I’ve been spending quite a bit of time researching our options and making decisions on which formats we will use.

We have begun our digitisation activities by digitising paper items (posters, flyers, scripts and notes) and photographs (prints and negatives).  We have chosen to capture these as uncompressed TIFF files, although we haven’t ruled out JPEG 2000 as an option for future digitisation. JPEG 2000 has a number of advantages, including smaller file sizes meaning lower storage and network costs, but disadvantages in that compression is used (either lossless or lossy) and there is less available, affordable, software for compression and decompression. Indeed, one of the reasons we haven’t started by using JPEG 2000 is due to this ‘implementation’ factor discussed above (at the moment we don’t have the right tools to create and view images as JPEG 2000 ).

Preview article for Linda Smith Stand-up in Bradford, 1987

Preview article for Linda Smith Stand-up in Bradford, 1987

Poster advertising Linda Smith Stand-Up Show at the Riverside Studios on March 25th as part of 'Shelter presents the Full House Club'.

Poster advertising Linda Smith Stand-Up Show at the Riverside Studios on March 25th as part of ‘Shelter presents the Full House Club’.










This week we will begin digitising audio-visual material, beginning with audio cassette tapes.  We will be capturing these as LPCM wav files, the format recommended as the archival master for reformatting audio, and provide access using mp3 files.

We are still deliberating over the format that we use for capture and storage of moving image material, primarily held on VHS in our current collections. Unlike with audio and images there is no agreed archival standard (nor one codec/wrapper combination that is being used by many archives); indeed many large archives around the world use different formats.  I’m grateful that we have been able to seek advice from colleagues at The National Archives, the British Library, and the Austrian Mediathek, on their choice of format, and we should make a decision on this (taking into consideration the issues discussed above) within the next month.

I’ve also been spending time investigating tools we could use as part of digital preservation and digital asset management, including tools for ensuring data integrity (checksum tools) and for embedding metadata into files, including BWF Metaedit, which was created by the Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative (FADGI) and AV Preserve.

This is just an overview, and I aim to provide more detailed updates about our choices, and the tools we are using, over the coming months.  In the meantime, here are some of the links/reading that I’ve found useful between January and March!





Tools we’ve been trying:

  • BWF Metaedit – for embedding metadata into wave files
  • DROID – The National Archives’ tool for profiling file types and creating hash sums (checksums)
  • Blackbush – a checksum tool generating MD5 hash files developed for the British Library’s Sound Archive

Politics and Humour Conference

Tory Gillespie writes:

Nick Hiley and Olly Double at the launch of the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive.

Nick Hiley and Olly Double at the launch of the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive.

Exciting news! The official launch of the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive took place on Friday 16th January 2015, as part of the Politics and Humour conference held at the University of Kent. What an appropriate setting in which to launch a collection that houses so much fantastic work from politically-minded comedians such as Linda Smith and Mark Thomas. The Glorious Launch (which was really just us saying interesting things and having a few drinks, but we did have fun) was held at the Gulbenkian Theatre, who have been incredibly supportive to this new venture. The conference itself was a star-studded affair, in academic terms. Keynote speaker Dr Sharon Lockyer (Brunel) shared her research on disability and stand-up comedy and our internationally-renowned guest speakers, including Kent’s own Dr Oliver Double, shared interesting and diverse research from the broad field of comedy. In the evening we were entertained by two of the most prominant new political comedians – Grainne Maguire (The Now Show, Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle) and Liam Williams (Russell Howard’s Good News) – who we hope at some point in the future will donate some materials to the archive.

The rest of the conference was highly entertaining, with topics ranging from satirical political organisations in Northern Ireland to the practice of evil clowning. It was a great weekend and a fantastic way to launch the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive.


Our new British Stand-Up Comedy Archive blog

Elspeth Millar, Project Archivist, writes:

Welcome to the blog for the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive and the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive ‘Beacon’ Project, which will be active throughout 2015.

The British Stand-Up Comedy Archive at the University of Kent was established in 2013 to celebrate, preserve, and provide access to the archives and records of British stand-up comedy and stand-up comedians. You can find more information on the archive itself and the Beacon project on the ‘about’ page of this blog, and through our blog postings as the project develops.

The 2015 Beacon Project aspect of the BSUCA will organise the public launch of the archive; catalogue, preserve, digitise, and make accessible the existing collections; publicise the collections and their use; and identify new collections for deposit in the archive. We also have a number of public events planned, including the inaugural Linda Smith lecture, a series of ‘in conversation’ events with Olly Double, and a conference in January 2016.  Further information can be found on the events page of this blog.

In addition to the purposes and aims listed above, within this project we also aim to ask and answer questions and challenges that may arise from an archive of Stand-Up Comedy, such as…

  • What archives do comedians collect and keep? What should we encourage them to keep?
  • Who will use the collections, and how should we encourage and facilitate their use? How will issues of copyright, ownership, and data protection affect this use?
  • How should we store and provide access to the material that we are preserving?
  • What archives/records are within scope?

We hope that the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive and this blog of the project will appeal to stand-up comedians, historians of performance, people who like stand-up comedy, journalists and broadcasters, as well as those interested in the archival and digital preservation issues that we will come across through the project.

Please do send us your thoughts by email ( or tweet us (@unikentstandup).