Monday, 6 October 2014

Ted Lewis at the BBC Written Archive

BBC Written Archives Centre - 'bigger on the inside'

You feel the BBC Written Archives Centre ought to have some kind of grand entrance, an archway in the shape of a 1940s wireless, something deco to welcome the visitor with hushed reverence. Then again, a bungalow just off the B481 near Reading is as good as anywhere. What matters are the treasures within. Somewhat ironically, it’s bigger on the inside than it appears from the outside.
Researching and writing a book about Ted Lewis, I’ve long realised there is no complete record of anything, anywhere. It is a process of assembling fragments; holding onto clues and pursuing leads. Verification and connection. A file in the BBC archive is as close as I’ve come to documenting a thread of Lewis’s life in a single place – dates, times, official letters on flimsy corporate memo paper.
And that's the wonder of such a comprehensive archive; as a writer/researcher there is nothing that quite compares to primary source material and new discovery. And this during a period in Lewis’s life where I think his writing for television equalled, if not exceeded, his fiction output for quality and relevance. What I find in the archive certainly wears its badge of truth in some striking ways.
Add to the experience the interest and support from staff who go above and beyond to help – for which many thanks – to locate documents, files and microfilms of scripts. The archivists and researchers are genuinely interested – shortly after a conversation explaining which programmes I was researching and who Ted Lewis was, I hear Roy Budd's Get Carter theme from a distant computer speaker.
The work continues.