The importance of The Listener for researchers is its range and it quickly developed from a broadcast magazine into a cultural journal, becoming a focus of British literary and intellectual life. Researchers and students can find a wealth of transcripts, interviews and reviews in subjects as diverse as: 

BBCEconomicsHumourInternational Affairs
Politics & SocietyPopular CultureRoyaltyScience & Technology

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BBC - Anniversary features

As a record of the history of the BBC - the largest broadcasting corporation in the world- the archive offers researchers a tool for understanding the history of media and the growth of broadcasting in the 20th century. Special issues and features marked  important milestones in the BBC's history (eg. 25th anniversary issue) offering a gallery of  the BBC's past programmes and activities, outlining its present projects and future plans.

"From the Battle of Britain to the Battle of Germany the war in the air has been described in most of its aspects. BBC correspondents were on the cliffs of Dover in 1940, in the streets of the blitzed cities during the Luftwaffe's offensive, in Malta, in North Africa, in Sicily and Italy."

Extract from The BBC's 21st Birthday, November 11 1943

                                                                                                    Read more about the history of the corporation on the BBC website
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ECONOMICS - 1930s depression

The archive's multi-disciplinary reach extended to leading experts' analysis of the rise and fall of the world's major economies.  Researchers can read back over economist's predictions, assess how right or wrong they got it and explore the inter-dependence of economies in developed and developing worlds.

"Banking crises similar in all fundamental respects to the present one have been experienced in America before - in 1857, in 1873, in 1893, and in 1907. Hoarding, bank failures, the issue of various forms of emergency currency, together with the virtual suspension of cash payments are nothing new in American banking history."

Extract from The Financial Crisis in America, by Prof T.E. Gregory, March 22, 1933

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HUMOUR - Stephen Fry

The Listener built a reputation over the years for its wit and humour playing host to a number of talents including Stephen Fry and Ian Hislop. Humour and satire in the paper's  columns provide today's researchers with a way of measuring popular opinon.

"Frankly my body is my own and I will not be told what to do with it. Fitness means suitability, and I find my body very well suited to sitting down on its bottom alot and to lifting coffee-cups and pressing lift buttons."

Extract from Smoke Now, Burn Later by Stephen Fry, May 26, 1988

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INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS -  Middle East revolutions and political scandals

Although a British publication, The Listener's outlook - and  the BBC's - was always international. As the world’s leading international broadcaster, BBC's reporters and specialist correspondents brought impartial news reports, documentaries and analysis from every region of the world.

    "...if the old brigade of Egyptian pashas carries on in its old way much longer, frustration may drive the middle class to extremes and the peasants to an ultimate revolt."

Extract from Egypt - On and Below the Surface by Lord Kinross, August 23, 1951 before the Egyptian Revolution and the rise of Colonel Nasser.


"(The Watergate scandal) was a failure of men, as I see it. The Presidency, as I interpret it, is finally the impress of a man's character and personality. You can adjust the money, the campaign contributions. We ought to make reforms in that. But the basic problem lies in the hearts and the souls of men."

Quote by Hugh Sidey, the Time correspondent from Watergate and the Editors, August 30 1973

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LITERATURE - E.M. Forster, George Orwell and Virginia Woolf

The Listener occupied a central place in the literary life of the 20th century, often the first national weekly publication to publish a new poem by a major modern writer. The magazine built a reputation for discovering new literary talent and, under the editorship of J.R. Ackerley (editor from 1935-59), provided a platform for major 20th century writers. For literature researchers, transcripts of  writers’ broadcasts and interviews help capture the ‘writer’s voice’ and chart the relationship between writers and the medium of broadcasting.                                                                           

"I have been so conceited about myself as a novelist that I had better add that I am quite sure I am not a great novelist. Because I have only got down on to paper really three types of people: the person I think I am, the people who irritate me, and the people I would like to be. When you get to the really great writers, like Tolstoy, you find they can get hold of all types. "  

Extract from E.M. Forster on his Life and his Books, interview with David Jones, January 1 1959

Watch the original television interview on the BBC Archive site

"It reminded us that propoganda in some form or other lurks in every book, that every work of art has a meaning and a purpose - a political, social and religious purpose - and that our aesthetic judgements are always coloured by our prejudices and beliefs. It debunked art for art's sake."

Extract from The Frontiers of Art and Propaganda, by George Orwell, May 29, 1941

Read the collection of documents amassed during Orwell's time at the BBC

"Let us then simplify and assert that since the only test of truth is length of life, and since words survive the chops and changes of time longer than any other substance, therefore they are the truest. Buidlings fall; even the earth perishes. What was yesterday a cornfield is today a bungalow. But words, if properly used, seem able to live forever."

Extract from Craftsmanship by Virginia Woolf, May 5, 1937

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POLITICS & SOCIETY - Thatcher's Britain & The Welfare State

While the BBC asserted its independence from government the organisation maintained close dealings with it. The Listener reflects the BBC’s proximity to power, acting as an eyewitness to the major issues of the day, providing researchers with an informed critique of the 20th century as it happened.

"The wedding was a triumph and the honeymoon has been prolonged. But even prolonged honeymoons are sometimes followed by divorce; and the question which has been hanging over this week's Conservative Party conference is: what happens to the marriage when the going gets rough?"

Extract from The Tories Taste Power, by David Marquand, October 11, 1979

"Tomorrow there will come into operation the most comprehensive system of social security ever introduced into any country. We may be proud that Britain, which has given the lead in so many things to the world, is still in the forefront of social advance."

Extract from The New Social Services and the Citizen by Prime Minister Atlee, July 8, 1948


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The archive offers researchers  an online library of primary sources - interviews, reviews, essays and articles - that document the rise of popular culture in the 20th century - particularly in the post-1945 years. Popular films, music and books receive the same in-depth treatment in The Listener's pages as 'highbrow' forms of culture - opera, ballet, classical music and exhibitions.

"The Beatles are no more. What are we left with? If little else, there is now a possibility of seeing their output as a whole, of judging the curve of their development...for me the line of development from Rubber Soul to Revolver, to Sergeant Pepper, to Magical Mystery Tour, to The Beatles, to Let it be, to Abbey Road was a more or less constantly rising one, cut off in mid-air by circumstance."

Extract from The Beatles in their Prime by Tim Souster, April 15, 1971

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ROYALTY - George VI speech & Abdication of Edward VIII (as featured in the film The King's Speech)

The Listener chronicles British monarchy in the modern era and documents the relationship between the monarchy and the media and how the two became interlinked.

"In this grave hour, perhaps the most fateful in history, I send to every household of my peoples, both at home and overseas, the message, spoken with the same depth of feeling for each one of you as if I were able to cross your threshold and speak to you myself. For the second time in the lives of most of us, we are at war".

Extract from The King's Message to His Peoples (George VI speech at the outbreak of WWII) September 17, 1939

Listen to the original recording from the BBC Archive collection

"You all know the reasons which have impelled me to renounce the Throne. But I want you to understand that in making up my mind I did not forget the country or the Empire which as Prince of Wales, and lately as King, I have for twenty-five years tried to serve. But you must believe me when I tell you that I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love."

Extract from Prince Edward's Farewell,  (Edward VIII's Abdication Speech), December 16, 1936

Listen to the original recording from the BBC Archive collection

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SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY - Science brodcasting

One of  the great pioneers of science broadcasting, the BBC captured the curiosity of the public with such long running series as Horizon, The Sky at Night and David Attenborough's Life on Earth.   Sir Patrick Moore earned a place as the longest serving television presenter with 50 years (and 700 episodes) of The Sky at Night and a regular column in The Listener. Moore interviewed many of the world's leading astronomers including Harlow Shapley, who first measured the size of the Milky Way galaxy, Carl Sagan, of Cosmos fame, Jocelyn Bell-Burnell, discover of pulsars  and also the astronauts, headed by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

"The Earth is quite beautiful from space and from the Moon. It looks quite small and quite remote; but it's very blue, and covered with the white lace of the clouds."

An extract from the broadcast The Sky at Night - Patrick Moore asks Neil Armstrong about the view from the Moon, December 24, 1970

Read  about the Sky at Night's coverage of the  Apollo moon missions on the BBC Archive site

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