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kottke.org posts about BBC

The history of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop

posted by Tim Carmody   Jul 20, 2018

BBC Radiophonic Workshop.jpg

I am a sucker for high-tech analog art: magnetic tape, early wireless, punch cards, film and vinyl, the telephone, telegraph, and typewriter, and electricity before the transformation of digital technology. Consequently, and unsurprisingly, I love the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, and was delighted to read an article on its history from The Guardian.

Radiophonics owes everything to the invention of the tape recorder. Once you could capture sound, using a workable material, you could play with it: slow it down until it thundered, feed it back on itself until it shrieked and echoed, or simply slice bits out. However extreme these experiments became, there was always something eerily familiar to the ear, because they were made from real objects or events.

The term “radiophonic” came about because these mutated everyday sounds were put to the service of radio. “It is a new sound,” said the BBC, “suggestive of emotion, sensation, mood, rather than the literal moaning of the wind or the opening of a door.” Such things are now so easily achieved with digital technology that it’s hard to grasp how laborious - and groundbreaking - this all was.

The piece, riffing on a new book by does a nice job of eschewing undue nostalgia while digging into some of the Workshop’s most famous work — Doctor Who, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — while also pointing out that most of the work was on simple education programs (which nevertheless introduced whole generations to new sonic possibilities). It restores the place of the many women who came through the workshop, including the inventive Delia Derbyshire, who played a huge role even as they often couldn’t get jobs at record studios or elsewhere in the recording industry.

My only complaint: it’s too darn short. I gotta read a book or something.

How Many Really?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2011

New from BERG and the BBC: How Many Really?. Background here.

You can probably guess what it does from the URL — it compares the numbers of people who experienced an event with a number you can relate to: the size of your social network.

Examples: How many of your Twitter friends would have been eligible to vote in Classical Athens? How many of your Facebook friends would have sunk with the Titanic? How many of your friends would have returned from WWI?

Stephen Fry and The Machine That Made Us

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 18, 2008

All six parts of a BBC documentary called The Machine That Made Us are on YouTube: part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, part six (60 minutes total). (BTW, if you’re in the UK, you can watch it on the BBC’s iPlayer.) The film stars Stephen Fry and tells the history of the Gutenberg Press.

Stephen’s investigation combines historical detective work and a hands-on challenge. He travels to France and Germany on the trail of Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of the printing press and early media entrepreneur. Along the way he discovers the lengths Gutenberg went to keep his project secret, explores the role of avaricious investors and unscrupulous competitors, and discovers why printing mattered so much in medieval Europe.

But to really understand the man and his machine, Stephen gets his hands dirty - assembling a team of craftsmen and helping them build a working replica of Gutenberg’s original press. He learns how to make paper the 15th-century way and works as an apprentice in a metal foundry in preparation for the experiment to put the replica press through its paces. Can Stephen’s modern-day team match the achievement of Gutenberg’s medieval craftsmen?

Here’s part one to get you started:

I haven’t had a chance to watch it yet, but it’s supposed to be really good. Oh, and if you’re thinking “who does this Fry bloke think he is going on about technology like he knows something about it”, you should check out his blog…he’s a top-notch tech blogger. (thx, dean)

The BBC is planning to produce Shakespeare’s

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 21, 2007

The BBC is planning to produce Shakespeare’s entire canon for TV…all 37 plays.

(via crazymonk)

Nice to be mentioned on BBC News,

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2006

Nice to be mentioned on BBC News, but what’s up with the disparaging “peppered with annoying links”? Especially when Boing Boing is mentioned as “cool” in the same sentence…their links are at least as annoying as mine. And in May, four of those “annoying links” went to the BBC News site. Up yours, BBC!

Some of the onscreen special effects on

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 30, 2006

Some of the onscreen special effects on Doctor Who were generated by a home computer called the BBC Micro. “A brief sequence during this program actually showed the BBC Basic and assembler code used to create the console display”

BBC Magazine has compiled a list of “100

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 03, 2006

BBC Magazine has compiled a list of “100 things we didn’t know this time last year”, including this copyright tidbit: “musical instrument shops must pay an annual royalty to cover shoppers who perform a recognisable riff before they buy, thereby making a ‘public performance’”. Here’s last year’s list.

Tom Coates fills us in on the

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 04, 2005

Tom Coates fills us in on the Annotatable Audio project he worked on at the BBC. Basically, you select a timed section of an audio file (music, newscast, etc.) and then you write a little something about it, Wikipedia-style.

Adult spin-off of Doctor Who being developed

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2005

Adult spin-off of Doctor Who being developed by the Beeb will have sex and swearing. Does this mean I can throw away my photo collection of Jo Grant posing nude with a Dalek? (second link NSFW)

Tom Coates moves on from the BBC

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 17, 2005

Tom Coates moves on from the BBC for a job at Yahoo! It’s now official…everyone I know works at Yahoo!

Final four Beethoven symphonies in mp3 format

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 28, 2005

Final four Beethoven symphonies in mp3 format available for download on the BBC site this week.

Stats on the BBC’s Beethoven downloads

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 16, 2005

Stats on the BBC’s Beethoven downloads. “Live performances of Beethoven’s first five symphonies, broadcast as part of The Beethoven Experience on BBC Radio 3, have amassed an incredible 657,399 download requests during a week long trial.”

The first five mp3s of Beethoven’s

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 08, 2005

The first five mp3s of Beethoven’s symphonies are available for download on the BBC site. The site is really slow though…does anyone have a mirror or a BitTorrent available?

BBC Radio will be offering mp3s

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 03, 2005

BBC Radio will be offering mp3s of all nine of Beethoven’s symphonies. “All the symphonies are performed by BBC Philharmonic, conducted by Gianandrea Noseda.”