Now, a news item. I just heard about this today, though it’s possible it’s old news to some of you. At the end of this past October, the BBC released two interesting audio collections: The Spoken Word: British Writers and The Spoken Word: American Writers. Each is a three-disc collection featuring rare recordings of eminent writers from both sides of the Atlantic. You can read more details here, but allow me to spotlight a couple of things.
The British series includes a recording of J.R.R. Tolkien, presumably the 1971 Dennis Gerrolt interview from the BBC Radio 4 program “Now Read On ...” Whether it’s this interview or not, this would be a nice thing to have on CD. But the collection has much more as well, including the only surviving recording of Virginia Woolf, made in 1937; a recording of the late Harold Pinter; Graham Greene (one of my favorite writers) discussing a childhood memory which would find a place in one of his most celebrated short stories; Rudyard Kipling, E.M. Forster, P.G. Wodehouse, Arthur Conan Doyle, and others. There are also a couple of recordings that will be of some interest to Tolkien scholars: Algernon Blackwood and G.K. Chesterton.
The American series looks just as good. It includes recordings of F. Scott Fitzgerald (one of only three surviving recordings; here, he’s reading from Shakespeare’s Othello, of all things, in 1939), Arthur Miller (discussing his marriage to Marilyn Monroe), Gertrude Stein, John Steinbeck, Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams, Eudora Welty, and more.
Each set is £19.50, which seems pretty reasonable to me. You can read the full track-listings and purchase either set by following the link at the top of the post. The other links salted throughout the preceding two paragraphs are to samples of each respective recording, from the website.
Update: Thanks to Andrew Ferguson, I can give you a bit more detail on the Tolkien recording (this, from the information booklet that comes with the CD set):
J.R.R. Tolkien[1892-1973]Thanks, Andrew! I’m not certain that the claim, “longest surviving recording made by J.R.R. Tolkien”, is accurate. Weren’t some of the recordings Tolkien made himself longer? But longest recorded interview is probably what they meant. Also, regarding the spelling of the interviewer’s name, yes, there has been some confusion over that. Varied forms have been recorded, including Denys, Denis, Dennis, and even David for the given name, and Gueroult, Gerrolt, Gerroult for the surname. Which one is correct? No idea!
Born in Bloemfontein, South Africa
The Fellowship of the Ring
Interviewer: Denys Gueroult
Date of recording: 20/01/1965
Venue: Randolph Hotel, Oxford
Duration: 11.44 [extract]
This lengthy interview, nearly 40 minutes in total, is the longest surviving recording made by J.R.R. Tolkien. It was recorded for the BBC Sound Archive and was not transmitted. The interview comprises a detailed discussion about his most celebrated work The Lord of the Rings (1954–5). By the mid 1960s, the time of this recording, the books had attained wide popularity on both sides of the Atlantic. As well as being an author of fantasy novels, Tolkien was professor of Anglo Saxon from 1925 to 1945, and Professor of English Language and Literature from 1945 to 1959, at the University of Oxford.