The BBC Archives are collections documenting the BBC's broadcasting history, including copies of television and radio broadcasts, internal documents, photographs, online content, sheet music, commercially available music, press cuttings and historic equipment. The original copies of these collections are permanently retained but are now in the process of being digitised, estimated to take until approximately 2015. Some collections are now being uploaded onto the BBC Archives website on BBC Online for viewers to see. The archive is one of the largest broadcast archives in the world with over 12 million items.
The BBC Archives encompass numerous different archives containing different materials produced or acquired by the BBC. The earliest material dates back to 1890 and now consists of 1 million hours of playable material, in addition to documents, photographs and equipment. The archives contain 12 million items on 66 miles of shelving spread over several sites. The stock is managed using a bar code system, which help to locate material on the shelves and also track material that has been lent out. The BBC says that the budget for managing, protecting and digitising the archive accounts for only a small part of the BBC's overall spend.
The BBC is engaging in an ongoing project to digitise archived programme material, converting recordings made on older analogue formats such as audio tape, videotape and film to electronic formats which are compatible with modern computer systems. Much of the audio-visual material was originally recorded on formats which are now obsolete and incompatible with modern broadcast equipment due to the fact that the machines used to reproduce many formats are no longer being manufactured. Additionally, some film and audio formats are slowly disintegrating, and digitisation also serves as a digital preservation programme. As of summer 2010 BBC Archive staff have spent approximately ten years digitising half of the media content and due to improving work practices expect to complete the other half in five years. Current estimates suggest the digitised archive would comprise approximately 52 petabytes of information, with one programme minute of video requiring 1.4 gigabytes of storage. The BBC uses the Material Exchange Format (MXF) which is an uncompressed, non-proprietary format which the BBC has been publicising to mitigate the threat of the format becoming obsolete (as digital formats can and do).
The Archive digitisation a key part of the BBC's programme to engineer a fully digital and tapeless production workflow across the entire Corporation. It was closely tied in with the ill-fated Digital Media Initiative (DMI), a scheme which ran from 2008 to 2013 and attempted to create a unified online archive search and programme production system. After spiralling development costs and project delays, the problems with DMI came to public attention during coverage of the death and funeral of Margaret Thatcher in April 2013, when it was reported that the lack of digital ingest facilities provided for BBC News staff meant that tapes had to be sent by taxi from the Perivale centre to be digitised by independent companies in central London. DMI was cancelled in 2013.
The BBC Archive website was relaunched online in 2008 and has provided newly released historical material regularly since then. The BBC works in partnership with the British Film Institute (BFI), The National Archives and other partners in working with and using the materials. A related project called "Genome" is expected to complete in 2011 and will make programme listings dating back to 1923, sourced from The Radio Times, available to search online.
In July 2008, Roly Keating was appointed Director of Archive Content, with responsibility for increasing public access to the BBC’s archives. In October 2008, Keating appointed Tony Ageh Controller of Archive Development with "specific responsibility for developing ways of making the archive easily understandable and accessible to users".
In 2012, BBC Archive Development produced a book - primarily aimed as BBC staff - titled 'BBC Archive Collections: What's In The Archive And How To Use Them'. This book describes the BBC's archive collections and offers guidance around on how items from the collections can be reused online. The book's references to 'Fabric', a system due to be delivered by the Digital Media Initiative are no longer accurate as the project was cancelled.
From 1968 to 2010 the BBC Archive was housed at the Archive centre in Windmill Road, Brentford, in West London. The condition of the building deteriorated over the years and suffered occasional flooding incidents, and eventually the Archive was relocated to a new centre at Perivale Park, Perivale, three miles north of the old site. The new BBC Archive Centre was opened in Summer 2010 and all material was successfully moved by March 2011. The cost of the refurbishment and of the move was approximately £16.6 million.
Material is stored in thirteen vaults, controlled to match the best climate for the material inside them, and named after a different BBC personality depending on the content contained in them. In addition to the vaults, new editing and workrooms have been added so that the material can easily be transferred between formats as well as viewed and restored. The building has also been fitted with fire suppression systems to protect the archive in the event of an incident at the centre, so the total loss of the archive is avoided.
The BBC Television Archive contains over 600,000 hours of television broadcast material located on 650,000 film reels and 2.4 million videotapes. The archive itself holds extensive material from approximately the mid-1970s onwards, when important recordings at the broadcaster were retained for the future.
Recordings from before this date are less comprehensively preserved; the process of telerecording was originally invented in 1947 while videotape recording was gradually introduced from the late 1950s onwards, but due to the expense of the tapes, recording was seen for production use only with recordings subsequently being wiped. or telerecordings being junked. The exceptions in the early years were usually occasions of great importance, such as the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. In addition, numerous programmes at the time were broadcast 'live' and so utilised no recording procedure in the production process. The earliest item in the collection is from 1936.
Today, the majority of programmes are kept, including news, entertainment, drama and a selection of other long-running programmes such as quiz shows. The remaining material from the television archive is offered to the British Film Institute prior to being disposed of.
The BBC Sound Archive contains the archived output from the BBC's radio output. Widespread recordings exist in the archive from the mid-1930s, when recording of programmes and speeches were kept for rebroadcast; the catalyst for this was the launch of the BBC Empire Service in 1932 and the subsequent rebroadcast of speeches from political leaders at a time convenient in the different time zones. Prior to this, the broadcast of recordings was seen as being false to the listener and was avoided. Any recordings made were frequently disposed of and it was the efforts of Marie Slocombe, who founded the Sound Archive in 1937 when she retained recordings of prominent figures in the country, that the archive became into being officially when she was appointed the Sounds Recording Librarian in 1941. Today, all of the BBC's radio output is recorded for re-use, with approximately 66% of output being preserved in the Archives; programmes involving guests or live performances from artists are kept whereas programmes in which the DJ plays commercially available music are only sampled and not kept entirely. Prior to any material being disposed of, the material is offered to the British Library Sound Archive.
The archive consists of a number of different formats including 200 wax cylinders, numerous gramophone records made from both shellac and vinyl as well as numerous more recordings on tape, CD and on digital audio tape (DAT). The difficulty of these different formats is the availability of the machines required to play them; some of the vinyl records in the archive are 16 inches in size and require large phonograph units to play, while the players for the wax cylinders and DATs are no longer in production.
The oldest item is a wax cylinder containing a recording made by Florence Nightingale, recorded on 30 July 1890. Another unique item is the gramophone record from Queen Mary's doll house, which is approximately an inch in size and had the national anthem on it.
The BBC Written Archive contains all the internal written documents and communications from the corporation from the launch in 1922 to the present day. Its collections shed light into the behind the scenes workings of the corporation and also elaborate on the difficulties of getting a television or radio programme to or off the air as the case may be. The archive guidelines state that access to files post-1980 is restricted due to the current nature of the files; the general exception to this rule are documents such as scripts and Programme as Broadcast records.
The Written Archives are located at the BBC Written Archive Centre in Caversham, Berkshire, near Reading. The centre houses the archive on four and a half miles of shelving along with reading rooms. The centre is different from the other BBC Archives in that the centre opens for writers and academic researchers in higher education.
The BBC Photographic Library is responsible for approximately 10 million images, dating back to 1922, created for publicity purposes and subsequently kept for future use. In addition to programme promotion, a large number of images are of historic events which are often incorporate into the daily news bulletins; as a result, half the photographic library team work specifically with these images. The images themselves are kept as originals in the archive, with digitisation only utilised when a specific image is required for use, when the image is sent in a digital format. Copies of images are also used in case any images are damaged, notable due to vinegar syndrome. The BBC Photographic library itself is based within BBC Television Centre, London.
The most popular images from the Archive include Colin Firth in Pride and Prejudice, Michael Parkinson interviewing Muhammad Ali, Jimmy Savile presenting the first Top of the Pops, Martin Bashir interviewing Diana, Princess of Wales and a picture of Delia Derbyshire at work in the Radiophonic workshop at the BBC.
The BBC Heritage Collection is the newest of the BBC Archives and holds a variety of historic broadcast technology, art, props and merchandise. The collection was created out of personal collections and bequeaths by former staff members, as the BBC had no formal policy on the heritage collection until c.2003.
The collection includes, amongst other items, the BBC One Noddy Globe and clock, a BBC-Marconi Type A microphone, an early crystal radio made by the British Broadcasting Company, a Marconi/EMI camera used in the early BBC Television experiments, a BBC Micro computer and a selection of items used to create Foley. In addition to all the broadcast technology, art is also kept, namely the portraits of all the BBC Director Generals, as well as props including an original TARDIS from Doctor Who and the children's television puppet Gordon the Gopher.
The heritage collection itself has no one permanent home, as the majority of objects are on display, either around BBC properties or on loan to museums or other collections; the most notable museum housing the collection is the National Media Museum in Bradford.
At the turn of the millennium, the BBC launched the BBC Archive Treasure Hunt, a public appeal to recover pre-1980s lost BBC radio and television productions. Original material, featuring several popular programmes were lost due to the practice of wiping, because of copyright issues and for technological reasons.
The resolution of this appeal was that over one hundred productions were recovered including The Men from the Ministry, Something To Shout About, Man and Superman, The Doctor's Dilemma, I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again, Hancock's Half Hour, I'm Sorry, I Haven't A Clue and The Ronnie Corbett Thing in addition to recording sessions with Elton John, Ringo Starr and Paul Simon. Also, the Peter Sellers Estate Collection donated numerous recordings featuring Peter Sellers.
The BBC together with the British Film Institute, the Open University, Channel 4 and Teachers' TV formed a collaboration, named the Creative Archive Licence Group, to create a copyright licence for the re-release of archived material.
The Licence was a trial, launched in 2005, and notable for the re-release of part of the BBC News' archive and programmes made by the BBC Natural History Unit for creative use by the public. While artists and teachers are encouraged to use the content to create works of their own, the terms of the licence are restrictive compared to copyleft licences. Use of Creative Archive content for commercial, "endorsement, campaigning, defamatory or derogatory purposes" is forbidden, any derivative works must be released under the same licence, and content may only be used within the UK. The trial ended in 2006 following a review by the BBC Trust and works released under the license were withdrawn.
Voices from the Archives is a former BBC project, launched in partnership with BBC Four that provided free access to audio interviews with various notable people and professions from a variety of political, religious and social backgrounds. The website ceased to be updated in June 2005, and the concept was instead adopted by BBC Radio 4 as a collection of film interviews from various programmes.
The BBC Genome Project is a digitised searchable database of back issues of the Radio Times from 1923-2009. The information in the database will be linked up with the video and audio files that the BBC have archived and from this the BBC will be able to work out what is still missing from the archive.