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  1. the-british-library

    Have you ever wondered what happens to old audio formats? As technology moves forward and changes how we experience our lives spare a thought to technology of yesteryear. I have been lucky to visit the Sound Archives at the British Library and had the pleasure of listening to old radio broadcasts. It was as if I were there living in the memories of another time and place. There are old radio catalogues and equipment dotted around the place as well as the odd royal speech. Set up in 1955 the archive today boasts about 60 thousand hours of audio.

    Delving into the audio past is such a privilege especially as the sound archives are working hard to keep all audio alive for future generations. In a labyrinthine palace, racks filled with white jackets, inside them the hidden treasures from Radio 1. Over there, turning to another shelf, every news script from the BBC. We pulled out an archive and were read an extract of the news a month before the declaration of World War 2. Chilling yet compelling reading of the transcripts of seemingly innocuous everyday news bulletins.

    As we wondered around the shelves, racks and racks of tapes, we were overwhelmed by the size of the collection. Most are on ¼ inch tape as well as BETA Max. The BBC transcripts were originally on hard copy and then began to be put onto microfilm. We padded through the bright white corridors mostly in silence until we couldn’t contain our excitement and effervescently babbled away. Where, what, who, when and how – we wanted to know, everything. We trailed underneath an automated book system that looked like it had come from Heathrow’s terminal 5. Instead of suitcases, books and journals, clattered around our heads rising from the depths to the reading rooms. We delved further into the archives beneath. What would we find and how have they ended up here?

    The early BBC Radio content is contained on acetates and also pressed shellac discs. Down in the sound strong rooms are a lot of audio down there is stored on VHS. By a lot I mean corridors, rooms, floor to ceiling shelves, crates, boxes and enough box sets to keep you busy until….well a rather long time! The VHS tapes all standing to attention patiently waiting to be taken out and played. Anyone else have to scramble to change over the tape while recording?! Thought so! A whole project is underway to get this all digitised, a daunting task but one much needed. Especially since old technology is rapidly giving way to the new. However we walked past many an old technology tape deck. The corridors are littered with machines, patiently awaiting their turn, like a long lost friend, to be turned on again, to hum away happily.

    As we walked down on aisle we found all the entries and audio as well as the entry forms for the Sony Awards from season 2 onwards. And close by The famed AWE Perkins collection. A Vicar whose hobby was to record on a fenograph any and all random audio that he took a fancy to from about 1950/51.

    While tape seemed to have weathered many a storm, many rather well, the acetates are crumbling and cracking steadily. The lacquer is shrinking, pulling the tape away from itself, a confetti of brown in tins. What broadcast beauties would be lost? We may never know!

    What has survived rather well and also stored away neatly are the original metal discs. Heavy plates of solid stuff surviving through decades. A couple of those would need a trolley to wheel them out with! One is held up, almost like an Olympian with a winning discus. It is, the first every original broadcast copy. An amazing sight, the Kings Speech, solid and sturdy. A blast from the past.

    The team that work on maintaining this audio history are working on Save Our Sounds. The aim is to catalogue and digitise culturally interesting audio material. A gargantuan task and if you have any old audio please get in touch with the Sound Archive team at the British Library. They would welcome your audio.

  2. British-accent

    Many people from all corners of the world love the British accent. Some of our favourite actors, singers and sporting heroes have iconic British voices—such as Steven Fry, Sir Sean Connery, Cheryl Cole, or Sir Tom Jones (you can’t deny you didn’t imagine them speaking as you read each of their names!). With so many talented Brits out in the media it’s no wonder the accent is such a hit. But why are they all considered to have a typical ‘British accent’ if they all sound so different?

    With plenty of tongues, twangs and brogues on offer around the isles, here I look at what makes a British accent and why it works so well for voiceovers.

    Just what is a British accent?

    An accent is a certain adaptation or flavouring to your speech that has an effect on the sounds and shapes of your words. These adjustments can either attach to certain vowels or consonants to change how they’re pronounced, or can even include a change in word stress where a relative emphasis is placed on a certain syllable.

    But in reality, there is no such thing as a ‘British accent’ because each part of the UK and Ireland has its own regional accent, which can also vary from person to person. For example, a Birmingham accent is different to say a Yorkshire accent, but then the three historic ridings of Yorkshire all have variations, too. The same goes for London where there is such accents as Cockney, Estuary English and Multicultural London English among many more.

    The evolution of “The Queen’s English”

    Interestingly, when you picture your American friends mimicking the Brits they’ll more often than not turn to the traditional English accent. This is referred to as ‘Received Pronunciation (RP)’ (think The Queen or John Cleese) and was adopted by the BBC to sound professional and authoritative during their first broadcasts from the 1930s.

    This cut-glass accent—the soundtrack to period dramas like Downton Abbey— is also associated with the elites of the late 19th century.  But over the years, as the class system has become more fluid, so too has the linguistic divide. Now, RP is mistakenly labelled as the ‘posh’ accent, when in reality there are various forms. RP associated with the aristocracy is referred to as conservative RP, whereas mainstream RP describes an accent that is more neutral in terms of signals regarding age, occupation or lifestyle.

    Some of the characteristics of more regional southern accents have merged with the sharp tones of the conservative RP to make a more modern form that verges on ‘estuary English’—a mix of Cockney and RP—and what is seen globally as the contemporary RP.

    But what all these forms of RP have in common is that they do not use any pronunciation patterns that allow us to make assumptions about where they are from in the UK. This is one of the main reasons why mainstream RP is particularly adopted for voiceover work, because it can appeal to all demographics.  

    Why it makes for a great voiceover

    To a global audience, the “British accent”— or most often a mainstream, neutral RP— can sound sophisticated and intellectual and may help to instil an authoritative tone to a corporate or training video. According to numerous studies, the British accent conjures stereotypes of high IQs and competence, and can even enhance the sense of drama or transform seemingly mundane concepts.

    Right or wrong, we use the information that accents provide to make judgements, whether that’s assumptions on socioeconomic status, intelligence, or perhaps even personality. Much to this affect, accents can also influence our decision-making, which is why with all its many charming characteristics and qualities, a British accent is often used as a persuasive tool for branding and marketing communications.

    Whenever I start a new project I make sure I work closely with my clients to fully understand the brand, script, tone of the message and, most importantly, the audience. Because although a British accent is wonderfully versatile, it’s important to choose a voiceover whose accent suits the brand or video, so that it strikes a chord and resonates with your target market.