If you recall, last year I spoke about the process through which I created the 1908 section of the London Olympics son et lumiere on the Houses of Parliament.
Part of that piece, created in collaboration with The Projection Studio, was also dedicated to the 1948 Olympics and it is this that I wish to start covering here.
The 1948 section and other related recordings I recreated are indicative of the power of the audio archive, and it is to archives and archivists everywhere that I dedicate this post.
Clement Attlee with future voters, from Sunday Times article
1948 felt like another world after studying 1908. Unlike 1908, more original audio material existed and tracking this down and hearing it formed a core part of my research. 1948 falls into an era before television was embraced by the majority of the population, when cinema newsreel was a key source of news, where radio brought entertainment, music and the opportunity to hear the voice of royalty or of the Prime Minister. We had gained access as a population to the voices of well known figures.
Against our modern daily diet of soundbites and spin, the Home Service broadcast by the Prime Minister Clement Attlee offers a distinct contrast (see bottom of post for link).
He speaks with a certain honesty, the truth about the nation having little to give at that time, about the difficult ravages of war but spoken by someone who had been there experiencing it along with everybody else. And yet with all that, also spoke about how Britain wanted to welcome the Olympic athletes and provide them with everything they could. An enormous challenge, eloquently expressed to the nation, on the day before the Olympics began.
A decimated City of London, January 1942
kindly shared here by the Imperial War Museum
London was not given the Games in 1948 because they had money and facilities to stage the event, but because despite it all, even with rationing and after a war, they were prepared to use and give everything they did have, no matter how small. The Games were nicknamed the Austerity Games as a result. This section of the sound piece then told the story of triumphing against the odds and didn't hide the struggles involved either. It was human will that made the 1948 London Games.
I wanted to hear from those same people directly involved and so used recordings from various sources: interviews with athletes, those who staged the Games, newsreel coverage, even sports commentary from one of Fanny Blankers-Koen's gold medal winning races and that wonderful radio broadcast by Clement Attlee, addressing the nation and the world beyond it.
Musically, I made a deliberate choice to underline their stories with swing music. It is a genre of music distinctly from that era - we are all familiar with its sound. But, when I considered it further, when heard beside those daily lives of difficulty and loss, I felt it revealed something of human resilience that the most popular music at that time was up tempo, up beat music to dance to.
Here is a link to the Clement Attlee Home Service broadcast:
The 1948 Radio Broadcast of Clement Attlee welcoming the athletes to Britain
To provide an wider context to his speech and the character expressed, it is worth noting that it was only 23 days before this broadcast that the NHS was founded by Attlee and his government. This move radicalised health care within the welfare state system. Coincidentally, that system is generally accepted to have begun the same year as the previous London Olympics, in 1908, with the passing of the Old Age Pensions Act under Asquith's Liberal Government.