1996: Marie Slocombe. An Appreciation

“Appreciation [Marie Slocombe, 1912-1995]”

FOLK MUSIC JOURNAL (1996), pp. 272-273

Craig Fees

Marie Slocombe was one of a small group of people within the BBC before and after the war to whom all of us with an interest in traditional British and Irish culture owe a debt whose depth and complexities would take a thesis to describe. In the late 1930s she and Timothy Eckersley, from junior positions in the nascent Recording Service and in the face of apathy and resistance from within the BBC administration, put forward plans for a rudimentary sound archive which fairly rapidly proved its worth to programmers. When she became (in effect) the BBC’s sound archivist in 1941 she presented a radical vision of a BBC sound archive which would not only serve the corporation but become a national sound archive; to seek out and record for posterity a picture in sound of the life of the nation which, she suggested, would be `more vivid and perhaps more reliable … than the written document’. (5)

A member of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, right from the beginning she actively utilized the resources of her Department to record and preserve folk music and custom, and when the Head of the Department proposed a Folk Music and Dialect Recording Scheme in 1951 with Marie Slocombe at the administrative centre of the folk music side, she threw herself into every aspect. This included helping to parlay a two-to-three year project into a five-year recording sweep of the islands (1952-57), successfully negotiating the politics of BBC Central and BBC Regions, universities (establishing cooperation in collecting forays with the School of Scottish Studies), societies, and the performers themselves, whose lives and cultures she approached with an insight and sensitivity which are still rare. She collected, she recorded, she negotiated contracts, listened to recordings, selected for preservation, checked for technical quality, liaised with the engineers and the factories making the pressings. She deployed the fieldworkers, instructed the clerks, edited programmes, wrote and broadcast and did everything she could within a programme-centred organization to ensure that the pragmatic value of the Folk Music and Dialect Scheme and the. collection of folk material generally was seen within the BBC and recognized. She did this in the full knowledge that the BBC was the only organization in the nation with the technical capacity and finances to sustain such a survey, and at a time when it was clear that local culture was changing irrevocably, due to some extent to pressure from the BBC itself

When listening to `Round the Horne’ or a wartime speech by Churchill, or the Goons; or to Harry Cox, Thomas Moran, or Roise M. Ghrianna, or Louisa Hooper from whom Cecil Sharp collected, or William Kimber, or some seven hundred other singers, dancers, musicians, and storytellers collected by the BBC in the 1940s and ’50s, (6) you listen to the vision of an extraordinary woman through whose hands the original recordings passed, and whose generosity for the future ensured they were saved.

Notes

[including notes 1-4 which were provided by CF for an appreciation of Marie Slocombe by Madeau Stewart, immediately preceding that above in the Folk Music Journal]

1. Marie Slocombe was Librarian for the Recorded Programmes Permanent Library, later renamed the Sound Archive.

 

2. The Folk Music and Dialect Recording Scheme (1952-57) collected extensively in Britain and Ireland. Peter Kennedy and Seamus Ennis were the core collectors, but there were a number of others, including Maud Karpeles.

 

3. Marie Slocombe was introduced to Maud Karpeles by Margaret Dean-Smith in autumn 1943. At Karpeles’s request, Marie Slocombe became a member of the International Folk Music Council’s Radio Committee in 1952, subsequently becoming its Secretary.

 

4. There were five series of the programme; Marie Slocombe edited, wrote some scripts and even broadcast them herself.

 

5. BBC Written Archives Centre, R46/221/1, dated 18 August 1941.

 

6. Marie Slocombe, `The BBC Folk Music Collection’, The Folklore and Folk Music Archivist, 7.1 (1964), 2-13.