Uncovering censorship in the V and A Theatre and Performance Archives

Archives Hub feature for September 2018

On the 9th July 2018, the V&A Theatre and Performance Department opened a new display in our galleries titled Censored! Stage, Screen, Society at 50The display commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Theatres Act, which abolished state censorship of the British stage. As well as tracing the broader 300-year history of stage censorship, the display also looks at the censorship of music, film and print in the UK.

Uniquely for one of our displays, much of the material is taken from our collection of almost 500 named archives that form the V&A Theatre & Performance Archives. A significant portion of these are catalogued on the Archives Hub website, and all can be consulted by appointment in our Reading Room at Blythe House in London.

Poster for The Arts & Censorship gala at the Royal Festival Hall, 1968.
Poster for The Arts & Censorship gala at the Royal Festival Hall, 1968.                              Image copyright: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London [Museum no. S.2054-1995].
Telling a story of censorship

Censorship is a story shaped by legal documents and correspondence. Its battles were often fought on paper and were won and lost through Parliamentary Acts.

Patent for Theatre Royal Drury Lane, issued by Charles II to Thomas Killigrew, 1662.
Patent for Theatre Royal Drury Lane, issued by Charles II to Thomas Killigrew, 1662. Credit: On loan from the Really Useful Theatres Group. Image copyright: © Victoria and Albert Museum, courtesy of Really Useful Theatres [Museum no. LOAN:USEFUL.1-2000].
This meant that the core of the display had to be taken from the rich resource of company, theatre and individual archives which are comprised of these letters, licenses and administrative records.

Curatorially, we considered the challenges of presenting archives carefully:

  • We wished to avoid overwhelming the visitor with paperwork;
  • To select key documents which could communicate both a specific example and the overarching narrative of censorship;
  • Balance a paper-driven aesthetic with colour and innovative exhibition design

We carried out rigorous research, and found fantastic theatre designs, posters and photographs which equally contributed to the narrative of the display. We were also lucky to work with political cartoonist Gerald Scarfe, who created a special commission for the display, as well as leading graphic designers Barnbrook who conceived the display design concept.

Censored! Stage, Screen, Society at 50 display, Theatre and Performance Galleries, Copyright V&A Images.
Censored! Stage, Screen, Society at 50 display, Theatre and Performance Galleries, Copyright V&A Images.

There were obvious important examples of censorship that we wanted to include, such as the play Saved by Edward Bond. This was performed as a private ‘club performance’ at the Royal Court Theatre after it was banned by the Lord Chamberlain for its violence and profanity.

In the English Stage Company / Royal Court Archive, it was fantastic to find correspondence from Edward Bond to the Lord Chamberlain refusing to make alterations, as well as a handwritten note written by a theatre staff member recording a conversation with a police officer who came to investigate the illicit performances.

Lord Chamberlain’s alterations to Saved by Edward Bond, 1965.
Lord Chamberlain’s alterations to Saved by Edward Bond, 1965.  Image copyright: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London [Archive ref: THM/273].
There were also surprising discoveries within named archives. Joan Littlewood of Theatre Workshop had directed a semi-improvised play You Won’t Always Be On Top in 1958. She was prosecuted for producing a show which did not have a script for inspection by the Lord Chamberlain.

We discovered a letter in the Vivien Leigh Archive which Littlewood had written to the actress to ask for her public support. Leigh and husband Laurence Olivier were vocal supporters of the removal of censorship, and Littlewood was successfully defended in court. As well as this letter, we were also generously allowed to display photographs of the production from the Theatre Royal Stratford East Archive.

Letter from Joan Littlewood to Vivien Leigh, 1958.
Letter from Joan Littlewood to Vivien Leigh, 1958.  Image copyright: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London [Archive ref: THM/433].
The display also features a section on OZ magazine, which was the subject of a notorious obscenity trial in 1971 for the publication of its Schoolkids Issue. This was edited by children and featured a depiction of Rupert the Bear in a sexually explicit scenario. The successful defence of the magazine’s editors was a ground-breaking testament of an increasingly liberalised culture.

The acquisition of the Felix Dennis / OZ magazine archive in 2017, with the assistance of the Art Fund, provided with us with fascinating material for display. Not only tracing the creative process, including paste-up boards by Martin Sharp, the archive also contains a wealth of material relating to the trial and the magazine editors’ supporters, including flyers for benefit concerts, badges and a fundraising record by John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

‘God Save Oz’ charity record by Apple Records, 1971.
‘God Save Oz’ charity record by Apple Records, 1971.  Image copyright: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London [Archive ref: THM/497].
As well as these examples, we also drew material from our core collection of Production Files, and images from our extensive photographic collections, including the Douglas Jeffery Archive. The Arts Council of Great Britain Archive also provided valuable documents relating to recent productions that had been the target of protest or loss of funding.

Production photograph of The Romans in Britain, National Theatre, 1980.
Production photograph of The Romans in Britain, National Theatre, 1980.            Credit: Douglas Jeffery. Image copyright: © Victoria and Albert Museum [Archive ref: THM/374/1/2283/5].
This a small selection of the fascinating stories uncovered in the archives and now on display. Visit in person to listen to a playlist of banned songs, hear interviews from leading practitioners and cultural critics, and contribute towards the debate ‘what is censorship?’.

Censored! Stage, Screen, Society at 50 is open until 27th January 2019.

Harriet Reed, Assistant Curator
V&A Theatre and Performance Department
Victoria & Albert Museum

Browse all V&A Theatre and Performance Archives collections on the Archives Hub.

Previous features by V&A Theatre and Performance Archives:

The D’Oyly Carte Archive, October 2016

Curtain up! The Theatre and Performance Collections at the V&A, 2011

All images copyright the Victoria and Albert Museum and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.

Making your digital collections easier to discover – Jisc workshops in November

Jisc is offering two one-day workshops to help you increase the reach of your digital collections, optimise them for discovery and evaluate their impact.

‘Exploiting digital collections in learning, teaching and research’ will be held on Tuesday 15 November.

‘Making google work for your digital collections’ will be held on Tuesday 22 November.

If your organisation has digital collections, or plans to develop them, our workshops will help you maximize the reach of those collections online, demonstrate the impact of their usage, and help you build for future sustainability. They will equip you with the knowledge and skills to:

• Increase the visibility of your digital collections for use in learning, teaching and research
• Encourage collaboration between curators and users of digital collections
• Strategically promote your digital collections in appropriate contexts, for a range of audiences
• Optimise your collection for discovery via Google and other search tools
• Use web analytics to track and monitor access and usage of your digital collections
• Evaluate impact and realise the benefits of investment in your digital collection

Who should attend?

Anyone working in education and research, who manages, supports and/or promotes digital collections for teaching, learning and research. Those working in similar roles in libraries, archives and museums would also benefit.

Both workshops will be held at Jisc office, Brettenham House, London and will offer a mix of discussion, practical activities and post-workshop resources to support online resource discovery activities.

For more information and to book your place please visit http://www.jisc.ac.uk/advice/training/making-your-digital-collections-easier-to-discover.

We’re supporting EXPLORE YOUR ARCHIVE

Logo, Explore Your Archives campaign
Explore Your Archive, http://www.exploreyourarchive.org, developed by The Archives and Records Association (UK and Ireland) and The National Archives, is the biggest ever public awareness campaign by the archives sector of the UK and Ireland.

From 16 November there will be hundreds of events and activities taking place in all kinds of archives. Those who work in archives will also be sharing some of their wonderful stories and amazing treasures. The public are being encouraged not just to visit an archive or explore archival collections online, but to understand more of the vital role which archives play in education, business, transparency and identity.

How the Hub fits in

The Archives Hub is a gateway to archives held at over 220 institutions and organisations across the UK.

Explore…

Using our map to discover archives close to you:
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/contributorsmap/.

Search….

Using the Hub search at http://archiveshub.ac.uk/search.html to uncover other collections.

Discover…

Image: Ballerina advert.
© TSB savings advert, c. 1950. Lloyds Banking Group Archives.

A rich variety of content: The breadth of content on the Hub highlights how archives are integral to historical and cultural awareness. Our contributors include Universities, business archives, charities, local government, libraries, museums and cathedrals.

Here are just a few of the collections you can find:

From the Ancient…

Canterbury Cathedral: Records of the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury Cathedral, c800 to present. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb054-cca/dcc

The collection of records of Canterbury Cathedral includes material dating from the early Middle Ages right up to the present day. The material relates to the Cathedral’s estates and reflects the activities of the Dean and Chapter and its staff.

… to the Contemporary

Archive of the National Theatre of Scotland, 2006 to present.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb247-stants

Launched in February 2006 and billing itself as a ‘theatre without walls’, the National Theatre of Scotland has no building of its own and operates within the existing infrastructure of Scottish theatre. Material is held at Glasgow University Library and includes programmes, press-cuttings, reviews and scripts.

From the Large…

Royal Greenwich Observatory: Records and Papers, 1675-1998.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb012-ms.rgo

With around one kilometre of material, the records consist of all the surviving historical paper records of the Royal Observatory. Collections include: papers of the Astronomers Royal and telescope construction projects, management and observations, including the William Herschel Telescope and Radcliffe Observatory.

… to the Small

Gaelic Manuscripts, c. 1732-c. 1869. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb752-gm

One reel of microfilm comprising images of 23 original Gaelic manuscripts, relating to Ireland and to the activities of Irishmen at home and abroad, held at Queen’s University Belfast. It consists largely of fragments of both religious and secular verse, topographical poems and other tracts and tales dating mainly from the 18th and 19th centuries.

From the Young…

Children’s Society, 18th century – 21st century.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb2180-tcs

The Children’s Society Archive comprises the records created and managed by The Children’s Society (titled The Waifs and Strays Society from 1881 to 1946). The majority of the collections date from the organisation’s founding in 1881. This includes a large quantity of visual material in the form of photographs and publicity material, as well as some audio-visual material.

… to the Older generation

Scrapbooks of Barking and Dagenham Branch of Age Concern, 2002-2008.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb0350-bd58

This collection comprises six scrapbooks, containing newspaper cuttings on the Barking and Dagenham Branch of Age Concern, relating to events, as well as issues affecting elderly people in the borough.

From Northern Scotland…

Thomas S Muir, Architectural notes on churches on Scottish islands, 1850-1872. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb227-msbr783.m9

Thomas S Muir (1802-1888) worked for most of his life as a book-keeper in Edinburgh. All his spare time was devoted to his passion for early Scottish churches, visiting all the locations where ruins were to be found, including even the most inaccessible islands. The volume, ‘Ecclesiological notes on some of the islands of Scotland’, comprises detailed architectural descriptions, with line drawings, of features of churches and other ecclesiastical remains.

… to the Southerly Channel Islands

Image: Jersey Archive.
Image: Jersey Archive.

Archive of the States of Jersey, 1603 – 2010.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1539-c

The States of Jersey collection includes the minutes, correspondence, reports and acts of the States of Jersey. Also, the minutes of the different Committee’s of the States including Agriculture, Education, Defence, Housing, Social Security, Finance, Harbours and Airports, Health and Social Services, Tourism, Home Affairs, Planning and Environment, Economic Development and Policy and Resources.

From the Frozen Antarctic…

British Australian New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition, 1929-1934. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb015-banzare

The collection comprises of press cuttings relating to the British Australian New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition, 1929-1931.

…to the Heat of Africa

Africa 95, c. 1957-1996. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb102-africa95

Africa 95 was founded in 1992 to initiate and organise a nationwide season of the arts of Africa to be held in the UK in the last quarter of 1995. Printed material, photographs, and slides of the work of artists from Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, Uganda,Tanzania, Tunisia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and the USA.

From the Fire brigade…

Fire Brigades Union, 1919-1997. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb152-mss.346

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) was founded in 1918 as the Firemen’s Trade Union. The union began its life as a body very much based around the London area but soon expanded to include provincial brigades. The collection includes: Executive Council minutes, annual accounts, subject files (including Sizewell Public Inquiry, 1980s) and the national strike, 1977.

…to the Water board

Records relating to Derwent Valley Water Board, 1899-1974.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb159-dvw

The collection comprises a full series of indexed bound minute books (1899-1974) containing annual statements of accounts, and other specific reports. Also, maps and plans relate to specific elements of intended works such as the building of Ladybower Reservoir in Derbyshire.

From the Arts…

D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930) Collection, 1865-1999.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb159-la

The Lawrence Collection contains extensive materials by and about D.H. Lawrence, ranging in date from his childhood and including original manuscripts and his correspondence.

… to Science

Clifford Hiley Mortimer Collection, 1937-1980.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb986-morc

This collection contains river and lake data in rivers in Britain, and correspondence regarding flows, inflows, chemical analyses and chemical stratification. It also includes mud samples!

From War…

Image: Poppy, World War One
© Image is in the public domain: papaver in High Wood, [tinelot@pobox.com Tinelot Wittermans]
Daniel Dougal First World War Diaries, 1914-1918.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb133-ddd

Diaries of Daniel Dougal, which detail his service as an army doctor on the Western Front during the First World War. Dougal rose to become Deputy Assistant Director of Medical Services, 34th Division of the British Army, and his diaries provide important information on the operation of Army medical services.

… to Peace

Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), 1958-2008.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb097-campaignfornucleardisarmament

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) is a non party-political British organisation advocating the abolition of nuclear weapons worldwide. Includes papers relating to the CND’s constitution, minutes of National Council, National Executive Committee annual conference papers and papers relating to Aldermaston marches and other demonstrations.

These are selected descriptions: there’s much more to discover by exploring the Hub! And we’re adding more descriptions every week. If you’d like to add your descriptions to the Hub, now’s a great time! See Be part of something bigger for information on how we can help you expose your collections to a worldwide audience.

Also of interest:

Work in an archive and want to be involved in the Explore Your Archive campaign?

It’s not too late to take part, visit: www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/yourtoolkit.

More on Collections

Image of Guardian staff
Guardian billing room staff, 1921. From the Guardian News and Media Archive. Copyright: Guardian.

Browse our Features pages to learn about the breadth of material described on the Hub: http://archiveshub.ac.uk/features/

UKAD Forum

The National Archives
The National Archives (used under a CC licence from http://www.flickr.com/photos/that_james/2693236972/)

Weds 2nd March was the inaugural event of the UK Archives Discovery Network – better known as UKAD.  Held at the National Archives, the UKAD Forum was a chance for archive practitioners to get together, share ideas, and hear about interesting new projects.

The day was organised into 3 tracks: A key themes for information discovery; B standards and crowdsourcing; and C demonstrating sites and systems.  Plenary sessions came from John Sheridan of TNA, Richard Wallis of Talis, David Flanders of Jisc, and Teresa Doherty of the Women’s Library.

I would normally have been tweeting away, but unfortunately although I could connect to the wifi, I couldn’t get any further!  So here are my edited highlights of the day (also known as ‘tweets I wish I could have sent’).

Richard Sheridan kicked off the proceedings by talking about open data.  The government’s Coalition Agreement contains a commitment to open data, which obviously affects The National Archives, as repository for government data.  They are using light-weight existing Linked Data vocabularies, and then specialising them for their needs. I was particularly interested to hear about the particular challenges posed by legislation.gov.uk, explained by John as ‘A changes B when C says so’: new legislation may alter existing legislation, and these changes might come into force at a time specified by a third piece of legislation…

Richard Wallis carried on the open data theme, by talking about Linked Data and Linked Open Data. His big prediction? That the impact of Linked Data will be greater than the impact of the World Wide Web it builds on. A potentially controversial statement, delivered with a very nice slide deck.

Off to the tracks, and I headed for track B to hear Victoria Peters from Strathclyde talk about ICA-AtoM.  This is open source, web based archival  description software, aimed at archivists and institutions with limited financial and technical resources.  It looks rather nifty, and supports EAD and EAC import and export, as well as digital objects.  If you want to try it out, you can download a demo from the ICA-AtoM website, or have a look at Strathclyde’s installation.

Bill Stockting from the BL gave us an update on EAD and EAC-CPF.  I’m just starting to learn about EAC-CPF, so it was interesting to hear the plans for it.  One of Bill’s main points was that they’re trying to move beyond purely archival concerns, and are hoping that EAC-CPF can be used in other domains, such as MARC.  This is an interesting development, and I hope to hear more about it in the future!  Bill also mentioned SNAC, the Social Networks and Archival Context project, which is looking at using EAC-CPF with a number of tools (including VIAF) to ‘to “unlock” descriptions of people from finding aids and link them together in exciting new ways’.

David Flanders’ post-lunch plenary provided absolutely my favourite moment of the day: David said ‘Technology will fail if not supported by the users’… and then, with perfect timing, the projector turned off.  One of David’s key points was that ‘you are not your users’.  You can’t be both expert and user, and you will never know exactly how what users want from your systems, and how they will use them unless you actually ask them! Get users involved in your projects and bids, and you’re likely to be much more successful.

Alexandra Eveleigh spoke in track B about ‘crowds and communities: user participation in the archives’.  I especially liked her distinction between ‘crowds’ and ‘communities’ – crowds are likely to be larger, and quickly dip in and out, while communities are likely to be smaller overall, but dedicate more time and effort.  She also pointed out that getting users involved isn’t a new thing – there’s always been a place in archives for those pursuing ‘serious leisure’, and bringing their own specialist knowledge and experience.  A point Alexandra made that I found particularly interesting was that of being fair to your users – don’t ask them to participate and help you, if you’re not going to listen to their opinions!

I have to admit that I’d never really heard of Historypin before I saw them on the conference programme.  Don’t click on that link if you have anything you need to get done today!  Historypin takes old photographs, and ‘pins’ them to their exact geographic location using Google maps.  You can see them in streetview, overlaid on the modern background, and it is absolutely fascinating.  Photos can be contributed by anyone, and anyone can add stories or more information to photos on the site.  One of the developments on the way is the ability to ‘pin’ video and audio clips in the same way.

CEO Nick Stanhope was keen to point out that Historypin is a not-for-profit – they’re in partnership with Google, but not owned by them, and they don’t ask for any rights to any of the material posted on Historypin.  They’re keen to work with archives to add their photographic collections, and have a couple of things they hope to soon be able to offer archives in return (as well as increased exposure!):  they’ll be allowing any archive to have an instance of Historypin embedded on the archive’s site for free.  They’re also developing a smartphone app, and will be offering any archive their own branded version of the app – for free!  These developments sound really exciting, and I hope we hear more from them soon.

Teresa Doherty’s closing plenary was on the re-launch of the Genesis project.  As Teresa said ‘many of you will be sitting there thinking ‘this isn’t plenary material! what’s going on?”, but Teresa definitely made it a plenary worth attending.  Genesis is a project which allows users to cross-search women’s studies resources from museums, libraries and archives in the UK, and Teresa made the persuasive point that while the project itself might not be revolutionary, how they’ve done it is.  Genesis has had no funding since 200 – everything they’ve done since then, including the relaunch, has been done with only the in-house resources they have available.  They’ve used SRU to search the Archives Hub, and managed to put together a valuable service with minimal resources.

As a librarian and a new professional, I found Teresa’s insights into the history of archival cataloguing particularly fascinating.  I knew that ISAD(G) was released in 1996, but I hadn’t had any real understanding of what that meant: that before 1996, there were no standards or guidelines for archival cataloguing. Each institution would catalogue in entirely their way – a revelation to me, and completely alien to my entirely standards-based professional background!  And I now have a new mantra, learned from one of Teresa’s old managers back in the early 90s:

‘We may not have a database now, but if we have structured data then one day we will have a database to put it in!’

I don’t think I’ve ever heard a better definition of the interoperability mindset.

After the day officially ended, it was off the the pub for a swift pint and wind-down. An excellent, instructive, and fun day.

Slides from the day are available on SlideShare – tag ukad.