Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Academics only - family historians not welcome?

I used to work for the BBC a few years back, but never did I think I would ever need to consult the organisation's archives for my own personal research. It is probably as well - they wouldn't have let me.

My grandfather's first cousin was the Reverend William Paton, Secretary of the International Missionary Society, who I have been doing a considerable amount of research into over the last year. Through several newspaper cuttings and two biographies written about his life I have discovered that just prior to and during the Second World War he made several religious broadcasts on the BBC's radio service. The chances of being able to access a recording of one of these would have been slim even when I did work at the BBC, as the transfer costs and the format would have made life difficult, assuming anything had even survived from those days in the first place.

However, the BBC does have a written archive, and I had hoped to be able to write to them to ask how research could be carried out into which programmes he had worked on, as well as to source any other material on his broadcasting career. Imagine my surprise then when I found this on the BBC website at

The Written Archives are a uniquely invaluable resource if you are an academic in higher education undertaking accredited research, a writer commissioned to write a book or article on BBC history, or undertaking research for a commercial project.


Because of the demand for places, we regret that we are not able to accept researchers pursuing school projects or personal interests.

I should add that this is the same BBC that broadcasts Who Do You Think You Are! Clearly our license fee doesn't allow us to join the party...

The night got better. Bill had several children who did exceedingly well, definitely the achievers in my family! The Reverend David MacDonald Paton became an honorary Canon of Canterbury Cathedral, and the Queen's chaplain from 1972-1983; the Venerable Michael Paton became Archdeacon of Sheffield and Rotherham (and a lovely man I should add, still fighting the good fight in Sheffield!), and Sir William Drummond MacDonald Paton CBE became a Professor of Pharmacology at Oxford, with so many chairs and letters after his name they could construct a classroom for him! So imagine the delight I had when on the British Library Sound Archive website ( I discovered that there was a digitised half hour recording of Sir Bill Paton on the site discussing drug dependency, one of his major areas of study - a chance to hear the great man at last!

Errr, no. Access for academical institutions only. Bugger.

I mentioned also in a recent post that the British Library 19th Century newspaper collection has just had a major update, with 100,000 new pages of content, and a million to be added this spring (see British Library 19th century newspapers update). Except, once again, only for academical institution access.

I'm beginning to sense a conspiracy...!

Scotland's Greatest Story

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