Hudd Music Hall Archive (September 2011 to September 2013)

Summary

The project was directed by Suffolk New College and led by Suffolk-based heritage consultants Oakmere Solutions Ltd with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The project involved working closely with the Suffolk and Norfolk Record Offices and the East Anglian Film Archive.

The project was designed to investigate, catalogue and make accessible the Music Hall and Variety archive collected over 50 years by the writer, actor and comedian Roy Hudd. The archive comprises song sheets, posters, monologues, programmes, photographs and ephemera that tells the story of Music Hall and Variety in the United Kingdom from around 1850 to the 1970s. 

Challenges

  • Securing professional advice and support to assess the condition of the archive and immediate actions to safeguard it
  • Recruiting and sourcing appropriate training for volunteers, for example in safe handling documents
  • Developing a suitable database for the catalogue
  • Presenting the archive both through exhibition and online
  • Gathering memories of Music Hall and Variety and making these available

Responding to the challenges

  • Professional advice and support was sought and provided by The National Archives and the Suffolk Records Office
  • Appropriate training in the handling, storage and use of archive materials was provided by the Suffolk Record Office
  • A database which could be integrated in future into a professional catalogue was developed following advice from the Suffolk Record Office and informed by HLF guidance
  • Wide-ranging networking with heritage organisations provided examples of good practice which informed the design and content of exhibition and online material
  • Volunteers were recruited through local theatre volunteer groups, Museum Friends and Record Office volunteers. The pool of volunteers brought an expertise, experience, knowledge and passion that provided an invaluable core set of competencies to support the project and address challenges

Opportunities

  • Accessing and making available a unique and extensive archive of material and the stories and social histories it tells
  • Actively engaging volunteers in research, performance, and the management of the project and design of the project web presence and exhibition; working with young people to explore the contemporary relevance of the archive material

Responding to the opportunities

  • The project volunteers not only undertook cataloguing work but also supported and lead on research, exhibition design and performance
  • Work with young people included encouraging a greater awareness of the importance of Music Hall and its legacy to contemporary popular culture and an identification with place given the project focus on local Music Hall venues in Norfolk and Suffolk
  • An exhibition blog, updated daily in the exhibition space, enabled visitors to share their memories, finding answers to questions and prompting further donations to the archive 

Outcomes

  • Roy Hudd allowed access to the archive and Suffolk New College provided a large serviced office space that allowed plenty of room for cataloguing, repair and associated research
  • The project team recruited and trained 19 volunteers who catalogued in excess of 20,000 song sheets, 900 theatrical posters and a wide collection of diaries, scrapbooks and other memorabilia. Over 2,000 hours of volunteer time was given to this activity
  • During the cataloguing process damaged items were repaired and the collection organised using archive quality folders and materials, and 300 song sheets and posters were scanned at high resolution and made available to support learning and research - 140 of these are included in an online image gallery on the project web pages. The catalogue was subsequently uploaded to a searchable database and made accessible online
  • In addition, an exhibition was held at Ipswich Town Hall in August 2013 and was visited by 3,000 people. Key elements of the exhibition tour were displayed at Lowestoft, Bury St Edmunds, Norwich and to Ipswich Record Offices during autumn 2013
  • A one hour documentary 'Song and Supper' was produced and broadcast by BBC Radio Suffolk featuring the archive and including newly performed versions of a number of songs located in the archive.

What went well? What didn't go quite as well?

  • Working with volunteers brings new expertise and enthusiasm. The project team recruited volunteers through existing networks linked to the project topic and invested time in helping them to 'own' the project. Top tips: plan activity dates in advance and don't change them, this will enable each volunteer to contribute as much and when they want. Include regular social events and establish an 'exit strategy' as a successful volunteer team will need end of project support to 'withdraw' 
  • Creating an exhibition is very time consuming, creating, reviewing and revising content and losing time scanning images in unsuitable low definition. Top Tips: get as much feedback on mock up exhibition panels as possible and work closely early on with designers and printers to ensure images are saved in appropriate formats
  • Cataloguing a large number of items is a challenge. Cataloguing fields changed as the project progressed. Each song sheet had a unique identifier, alphabetically and sequentially A through Z. This worked well until additional song sheets had to be inserted. Using separate identifier sequences for each letter might have worked better. Top Tips: do some pilot cataloguing and testing. Do some 'what ifs' - how will additional items be added, how will multiple copies be catalogued?

Developing the work

  • An essential element of the project was to create a 'living archive' that can effectively 'tell its stories' through performance, engagement and research and which retains the integrity of the archive as a whole. The sustainability plan for the archive reflects Roy Hudd's willingness to donate it to an organisation able to:
  • retain the totality and integrity of the archive recognising that it reflects the collector and his passion for the Music Hall
  • safeguard the archive and make the material available so that it can be used by and inspire future generations
  • accept the archive on a planned basis possibly starting with an early donation of the posters and certain other items with the substantial collection of song sheets following on an agreed timescale.
  • Given the public profile of Roy Hudd and the current prominence of the archive it is anticipated that additions to the collection will be achieved through donations and bequests
  • Combined these would ensure the sustainability, development and future use of the archive and as such 'bring it to life' in ways consistent with the owner's wish to leave a 'living archive'
  • Initial discussions with potential receiving organisations have been held and these will be further developed post-project

The catalogue and on-line exhibition and blog developed through the project is available at  http://www.suffolk.ac.uk/hudd_music_hall_archive.