– notes, frequently asked questions and useful links from the archivist and curator of manuscripts at Balliol College, University of Oxford. Opinions expressed are the author's own.

Unlocking Archives MT 2015

Lunchtime talk: Unlocking Archives

a seminar series about research in Balliol College’s special collections

‘Harold Nicolson, John Reith, and censorship at the BBC in 1931’

Charlie Dawkins, Merton College, Oxford

Friday 4 December 2015, 1-2pm

Balliol Historic Collections Centre

St Cross Church, Manor Road [directions]

* all welcome *

In 1931, diplomat, critic and journalist Harold Nicolson set out to broadcast twelve radio talks on modern literature at the BBC. Radio talks of this nature were very much part of Director-General John Reith’s attempt to educate the nation. But when Nicolson attempted to talk about James Joyce’s banned novel Ulysses, the BBC took issue and Nicolson’s talk was seemingly censored. Behind this very public controversy, Nicolson’s diaries and the BBC’s internal records document an intriguing debate: how did John Reith’s cultural programme develop at the microphone, and just what could one say on the radio in 1931?

Charlie Dawkins is writing his doctoral thesis on modernism in mainstream British literary magazines.

Feel free to bring your lunch. The talk will last about half an hour, to allow time for questions and discussion afterwards, and a closer look at some of the Balliol special collections material discussed.

Questions? archivist@balliol.ox.ac.uk 

In addition to a key page from the diary for 29 June 1931, detailing Nicolson’s impressions of Reith, also on display supporting the talk were:

  • Photographs (facsimile) from July 1906 – Nicolson’s visit to Francis Urquhart’s ‘Chalet des anglais’ near Chamonix
  • Photographs (facsimile) from August 1908 – Nicolson’s visit to Chartres with Francis Urquhart
  • Diary entry for 1910 – typical brief manuscript note form for the early diaries, already setting a recognisable pattern for the fuller and more detailed later volumes, noting e.g. whom he met for which meals and where they ate, travel arrangements and personal reading
  • Diary entry (original) for June 1916 – noting the day his father was elevated to the peerage (Arthur Nicolson, 1st Baron Carnock)
  • Diary entry for November 1963 – among the last of many BBC meetings

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