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BECTU History Project appeals to FAUK for new partners

The BECTU History Project                             

BECTU is the Broadcast and Entertainment Crafts Trades Union, which emerged in 1991 from several predecessor unions.  The BECTU website explains: https://www.bectu.org.uk/about/bectu-history.

The BECTU History project was started by members of one of the predecessor unions, what was then ACT, the Association of Cine-Technicians, with the first interviews being undertaken in 1987.  Since then, the total number of interviews has reached 666 though they are not confined to members of any of the unions and include people from all entertainment disciplines.

The Project is entirely run by volunteers, with an Executive Committee drawn from a Steering Group which meets monthly and is open to anyone who would like to contribute to the Project.

The HP receives no direct funding, though it has occasional small grants as well as help in kind from BECTU, which facilitates meetings and so on, and has also provided a page on its website to host a portion of the Project database.  Most other funding comes from the (occasional) sale of material from the interviews but, while it is of immense historical and educational importance, there is little real commercial value in the collection.  Sales have been primarily to television programme-makers and also to the BFI’s Screenonline project which made considerable use of our material.  Additionally, a few years ago we obtained a grant from the Kraszna-Krausz Foundation to pay for transcription of a number of interviews),

The interviews are (inevitably) weighted towards middle-aged and elderly white men.  There are currently interviews with only 120 women (less than a quarter of the total) and there are fewer than a dozen non-white interviewees.  We want to ensure that the collection no only grows but expands into a broader range of content.  We need to interview more women and more minority ethnic participants to ensure that their experiences are fully recorded.

The first interviews were recorded on audio cassette.  These gave way to VHS and to digital tapes; virtually everything now is recorded onto cards.  There is a programme of digitisation of the earlier materials but, as there is no money to pay for this, it has so far been done through the good will of the British Film Institute.

Master copies are held in the BFI National Archive with second masters in the care of the Project at BECTU’s Clapham headquarters.  Access copies are held at BECTU and other copies at the BFI Reuben Library which facilitates actual access to researchers.

We collaborate with similar projects such as Elstree Screen Heritage which preserves and shares information on the history of Elstree and Borehamwood studios (see http://elstreescreenheritage.org/author/bob_redman/). 

A number of universities and similar bodies – De Montfort, East Anglia, Goldsmiths, Greenwich, and Newcastle – have worked with interviews in our collection and have been instrumental in helping with transcriptions.

Transcription is an essential part of our future plans but this is a slow process – to date, only 162 interviews have been transcribed.  Information in the interviews is needed to help populate fields in the database and to facilitate searches.  Transcriptions are of crucial value to anyone wishing to research the collection: a transcription should tell you if what you’re looking for is actually in the interview – this saves time for everyone as well as eliminating the need to listen to an interview “just in case”.  

In addition to expanding the range of interviews, we are also anxious to ensure greater visibility and greater use of the collection by a wider group of people and organisations.  One example of the way we have worked recently is with MACE who had acquired a collection of films from nonagenarian Joyce Skinner.  One of our volunteers viewed some of her films and interviewed her for the Project about her life and work.  A copy of the resulting interview is now with MACE.

We see members of FAUK as possible partners in growing our Project as you have knowledge about, and access to people in your areas, whether they made films locally or were part of the industry in some other way.  For example, we are particularly interested in talking to members of the former Workshops and to people involved with regional television companies.  Perhaps you could participate by suggesting people to be interviewed and by undertaking interviews with us.  If there are already interviews with people who have some relation to your collections, perhaps you’d like to transcribe them.  We have camera and sound equipment; we can train people in its use.  We provide written guidelines on how to conduct an interview and we can send someone from the Steering Group to help with the interview itself. 

We look forward to hearing from you.

 Elaine Burrows – Elaine_burrows@hotmail.com 

Sue Malden –  sue.malden@btopenworld.com

BECTU History Project, July 2015.