Collections Assistant Liev Cherry gives us an overview of her work making the South Bank Show Archive accessible.

The South Bank Show Production Archive is a nationally valuable audio-visual collection, comprising almost 8,500 film reels, video and audio tapes from the show’s 32 year run. Acquired by the university in 2015, staff in Special Collections have been working hard to sort, catalogue and digitise parts of this unique archive.

The South Bank Show often followed an interview format, with major figures from every branch of the arts in conversation with host Melvyn Bragg. As with any production, only a fraction of the material filmed for the show made it into the finished episode. It is this source material that is held by Special Collections, which means we hold hours of interview, documentary, B-reel and older archive footage that has never been broadcast.

The archive contains many different formats that could become inaccessible.  The project aims to preserve this valuable resource and make it accessible to researchers in years to come. So far we have been able to digitise over 600 items relating to 47 different episodes of the programme – a small proportion of the archive, but a fascinating glimpse into its potential for teaching and research.

Since March, my job has been to upload the digitised material to VideoLeeds so that staff and students can view it online.  The videos are to be listed under the title of the transmitted programme for which they were recorded or stored. For instance, there are 51 videos for the show on poet Carol Ann Duffy, 22 for Leeds’ own Caryl Phillips, and over 70 videos related to the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Users with time to browse the channel might be rewarded with some unexpected gems. Listed under the Carol Ann Duffy programme for example, are some great recordings of the Liverpool Poets performing their work; while the Ruth Rendell and PD James episode archives contain some fascinating vintage crime reports.

Recently I’ve been working on describing the content of the videos which will help users navigate the collection.  Soon you’ll be able to use the catalogue to find musical performances and theatre productions, interview content, and scenic footage, as well as being able to search by show title or interviewee.

Finally, we’re in the process of digitising another batch of film reel, which will allow us to upload content from programmes on subjects from Gilbert and George to Harold Pinter.  Watch this space for updates!

South Bank Show in stack 2
Various multimedia from the South Bank Show Archive in storage