Archivist unearths wealth of lost and forgotten interviews

By Ben Carey on 30 May, 2024

A Swindon archiver and former broadcaster has dedicated the past six months to digitising a rare collection of radio broadcasting material.

Julian Watson, who has worked in professional broadcasting for over 40 years including commercial and BBC radio, was visiting a former colleague at his home in Wiltshire when he was shown the extensive archive stored in the back of bedroom wardrobes and cupboards.

Julian describes the findings as if it was a scene from the Chronicles of Narnia, stumbling into a hidden world among the racks of coats and clothing.

He explained, “I was discussing with my good friend broadcaster and podcaster Graham Seaman that I was interested in archiving sound and video recordings and saving them for future generations. So often, many of us keep tape recordings but do not realise that over the decades they are corroding quite quickly. Occasionally the technology used to record the material is no longer easily available and therefore playback is a real problem.

“Graham mentioned that he had heard that a mutual colleague and former broadcaster, Dave Latham, was interested in digitalising his radio recordings and personal video from camcorders. So, we both went round for coffee with him. At one point Dave opened up several wardrobes chock full of cassette tapes, digital tapes, reel to reel tapes and VHS. I was absolutely staggered by what I found!”

Dave Latham’s interest in radio began during his schooldays at Kingsdown in Stratton St Margaret in the late 1970s. He would regularly write school reports and comedy sketches for Swindon Viewpoint, a television and sound-only service owned and operated by Thorn EMI.

He also went on to do a lot of work with Hospital Radio Swindon and recorded numerous interviews with hospital patients on the casualty wards.

The collection included his radio shows as well as interviews with leading showbiz stars, sports people, prominent politicians and celebrities.

Julian has also been in touch with some of the interviewees and museums to gauge interest in the collection.

He continued, “There were hundreds of cassettes of conversations and radio programmes Dave had produced. A very large percentage of these recordings will have been used once or twice and consigned to the back of a cupboard and practically forgotten.  

“I was delighted that he allowed me unlimited access to his collection which also features interviews and radio programmes from his time at BBC Wiltshire Sound (now BBC Wiltshire). I have been able to digitise the content and get everything on to a hard drive before the original recordings are lost forever.”

Some of the tapes were over 45 years old and Julian estimates over a thousand hours of work has gone into archiving the collection, with over 600 interviews to transfer, repair, restore and catalogue.

He added, “These tapes fascinated me – but some of them needed a lot of special treatment to remove mould and decay which can so easily degrade the valuable contents. There were some cassettes I needed to wind by hand to iron out any sticky patches and a few also needed reattaching and editing as the tape had snapped last time they were played, which could have been decades ago.

“Dave travelled far and wide to interview all sorts of famous and fascinating people and now we are hearing rare footage from the 1970s onwards thanks to committing his work to digital formats. There are more announcements to follow about the finds.

“Many people do not have the resources, time or inclination to save recorded material from yesteryear and I think there is a growing demand to discover and restore treasured moments. It’s amazing what you can find at the back of a cupboard!”