“Genesis at the BBC” - Part Three: In The Archives. Researched and written by Jonathan Dann.

To compliment the first two parts of this series, I thought it would be interesting to see exactly how all the tapes are kept in the Radio One archive at the BBC in London. Archivist, Phil Lawton who has the enviable task of looking after all those tapes, very kindly agreed to show me around the vaults and answer some questions. I started off by asking Phil about how the archive came to exist…

It’s quite a recent innovation for Radio One to have an archive. When was it first set up in its present form?

In it’s present for as a permanent thing it was set up five years ago, in 1989. Before I did this job, I worked in the main BBC Sound Archive and I was asked to come and have a look at the Radio One archive which basically consisted of a room where spare tapes from producer’s offices would end up. I went in there and had a look and thought “wow!” and they said that they would leave me to it! So, for about three months in the summer of 1987 I worked overtime to put the tapes in some sort of rough order and to cut along story short, I was eventually offered the job full-time. I am still attached to the Sound Archive rather than to Radio One.

Obviously, a lot of tapes haven’t survived the ravages of time. Have you had the opportunity to find tapes that were thought lost?

Oh yes, that is what has been so good actually. In the last five years since I have been doing this on a permanent basis, many of the producers have passed tapes on to me. As there wasn’t an archive they were a bit suspicious at first but eventually I got their faith and they started to give me material that was in their cupboards. Quite a few producers have left in the last five years and they have given me a lot of their material, so it has thrown up some tremendous stuff that without the archive would still be in producer’s cupboards.

We are sitting here surrounded by tapes. What material is on them?

What we have here is basically an overflow of tapes from the original archive in the basement. So much stuff has turned up that it’s just impossible to get anything in there, although I am hoping to get some new storage space in the near future. What I have here are all the tapes that I am cataloguing at the moment. Once I have done a load, I take them downstairs and bring another lot up. All the material has to be listened to as you can’t find stuff quickly if it hasn’t been catalogued, so that’s what I do. If someone wants material by an artist, I can look them up on the computer that I have here and find a tape quite quickly.

So, this is an ongoing task?

Oh yes, I think I have got enough work here at the moment for at least another two years solid! What happens is that I am not just cataloguing tapes as the archive doesn’t just sit downstairs and do nothing. I get requests from all over the BBC for material for programmes so that I have to deal with that and it all takes time. Now of course, there are labels issuing some of the sessions and concert tapes such as Strange Fruit and Windsong so I also dub copies for them and the bands themselves to listen to so they can approve what will be released. With so many people leaving in the last year in particular, there has been a huge amount of material to deal with. When someone like Simon Bates left, who did thousands of interviews, I get all the tapes. I tend to keep all the material that I am given, there is very little that gets thrown away.

Do you ever lend the original master tapes out?

No, I never give originals out to anybody unless it’s for a Radio One producer who will get his master back. Otherwise I always dub it off onto DAT. I never let tapes out of the building because when that happens there is always a danger that it could be lost in transit, so I don’t take that risk. The other problem that has been known to occur is when someone wants to use a short extract from a master rather than copying it, they’ve just cut out the bit that they wanted! That’s why all the tapes have warning stickers on the reels saying “Archive tape - do not edit”. Unfortunately when producers are working to programme deadlines with tapes they tend not to be archivally minded. It’s understandable as the last thing on their minds is if the material that they are working with will be valuable in ten years’ time. Having said that, more and more producers are now being more archivally minded as pop has some age to it. Back in the Sixties when Radio One started, Pop was seen as a more transient thing, which was one of the reasons why the tapes weren’t looked after so well. The Musician’s Union had an agreement with the BBC that most things would only have one or two broadcasts and then the tape would be scrapped. Thankfully some of the producers decided that they couldn’t throw tapes out and so they stashed them away in cupboards or at home.


We then set off down to the basement to look at the actual tapes. Once inside the room, you are confronted by row upon row of tape boxes which all have labels. Just reading them off the first row makes the mind boggle at what you are looking at - “Pink Floyd ‘67+’68”, “Jethro Tull ‘69 + ‘70”, “Hendrix Top Gear ‘67” … the tapes just go on and on. This first section we looked at were a set that had been carefully preserved by Radio One producer Tony Wilson. In the late Seventies, he decided that the surviving session tapes should be preserved and so he set about collecting and cataloguing all the tapes he could find. It’s a good thing that he did, as one of the tapes he managed to retrieve is the master for the Night Ride session from 1970! In the same section are the masters for Sounds Of The Seventies session from 1971 as well as some of the In Concert tapes -both Knebworth from 1978 and the Lyceum from 1980 are there as well. There’s also Brand X tapes from 1976 where Mr Collins can be heard rattling the traps.

Phil has arranged the archive into sections, mainly by programme. By far the largest section is that for John Peel’s sessions. Lurking in amongst all those tapes are the original masters for the second session that Genesis did in 1972 on three 5” reels (which have “BBC Property” stamped on them!). Finally there are interview tapes - hundreds and hundreds of them. Amongst them are such delights as John Peel interviewing Phil Collins about A Trick Of The Tail in 1976 as well as many more recent tapes from programmes such as the Saturday Sequence. Any tapes that I haven’t mentioned already are located in the main BBC Sound Archive such as the In Concert from 1972 and The Lamb.. Show at Wembley in 1975.

Selected Genesis tapes held in the Radio One Archive…

Night Ride 22-2-70 (Less Dusk which has been lost)
Sounds Of The Seventies 10-5-71
Sounds Of The Seventies 25-9-72
In Concert at Knebworth 24-6-78 (whole show)
In Concert at The Lyceum 5-6-80 (whole show)
In Concert at Knebworth 30-6-90 (whole show)

And in the main BBC Archive…

In Concert (Paris Studios London) 2-3-72
In Concert (Empire Pool Wembley) 16-4-75
In Concert (Wembley Stadium) 4-7-87

Our thanks to Phil for taking the time out to talk to me and for showing me all those tapes!!