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Seven Lives from Mass Observation by James Hinton


Seven Lives from Mass Observation by James Hinton has been published by the Oxford University Press. 

This book, a successor to Hinton’s acclaimed publication about the wartime, Mass Observers: Nine Wartime Lives, investigates what it is like to live in Britain during the second half of the twentieth century. At the core of the book are seven ‘biographical essays’: intimate portraits of individual Mass Observation Project writers’ lives set in the context of the shift towards the more lenient and permissive society of the 1960s to the rise of Thatcherism and neo-liberalism.

The Mass Observers depicted in the book demonstrate that a diversity of voices that can be found within the Mass Observation Project collection. Four women and three men are featured- wife of a small businessman, teacher, social worker, RAF wife, mechanic, lorry driver, City banker. All are lively characters with strong opinions and lives, not always without struggles or drama. The honesty and frankness of their writing allows Hinton to explore how people make sense of their lives in rapidly changing times.

Seven Lives from Mass Observation is published by the Oxford University Press. The RRP is £22.

The View From the Corner Shop: The Diary of a Yorkshire Shop Assistant in Wartime

51xialCnQLThe View from the Corner Shop: The Diary of a Yorkshire Wartime Shop Assistant, Kathleen Hey (Simon & Schuster, April 2016, £7.99), edited by Patricia and Robert Malcolmson.

The MO diary of Kathleen Hey gives a rare insider’s view of everyday life in wartime Yorkshire. As a shop assistant in a working-class district of Dewsbury, Kathleen wrote vividly of the stresses and complex exchanges in a grocery shop – from both sides of the counter. She wrote of her regular customers (and close neighbours) and their quirks – she often saw them almost daily – and the shop conversations that she overheard or took part in. Supplies were unpredictable, rationing rules were confusing to some customers, bending the rules became rooted in daily life, and grumbles were commonplace.

While shop-work and food are at the heart of her diary, Kathleen also wrote about leisure, popular culture, local events, family tensions (she worked for her brother-in-law), and her personal pleasures and private hopes for the future. Hers is an observant, wide-ranging and sometimes amusing account of wartime social life.

Patricia and Robert Malcolmson have edited three volumes of Nella Last’s diary plus half a dozen MO diaries for various record societies (including London, Surrey, Dorset, and Bedfordshire). They are also authors of Women at the Ready: The Remarkable Story of the Women’s Voluntary Services on the Home Front (Abacus paperback, 2014).

Find The View From the Corner Shop on Amazon.


Asa Briggs, Lord Briggs of Lewes, 07 May 1921 – 15 March 2016

Prof Asa Briggs 2Patron of the Mass Observation Archive, Lord Asa Briggs, passed away in March this year. The eminent historian and academic was the University of Sussex’s Vice-Chancellor (1967–76). As Vice-Chancellor, Lord Briggs offered a home to the Mass Observation collection. Dorothy Sheridan, who worked as the Mass Observation archivist, has written some words about Lord Briggs and his relationship with the Archive.

I was an undergraduate during Asa's time as VC at Sussex, and indeed I chose to come to study at the University because my friends and advisers in Yorkshire (who had known him when he was at Leeds) spoke so highly of him. It is, however, his extraordinarily prescient role in bringing the Mass Observation Archive to Sussex that most endears him to me. He was instrumental in building all of Sussex's special collections (including the Woolf archives and the Kipling archive) when the University was still very young. This has ensured that Sussex will always be a key destination for nineteenth and twentieth century literary scholars. Offering a home to the Mass Observation papers, and their irascible co-creator, Tom Harrisson, was inspired. This was Asa's gift to the social historians among us - a collection of materials about contemporary everyday life in the UK, much of autobiographical, all of it original. At that time, in the late 1960s, no one else was interested in the MO collection so without Asa's interest and support, the papers could easily have been lost. Soon after I arrived to work with Tom Harrisson at the Archive in 1974, it was established as a charitable trust and Asa became a leading Trustee. He remained concerned with the fortunes of the Archive ever after and was so pleased, I know, to see it flourish and develop over the years.

Dorothy Sheridan (Trustee of the Mass Observation Archive and former Head of Special Collections)

Mass Observation Archive Annual Report, 2015-2016

The 2015 - 2016 Mass Observation Archive Annual Report has been published. Please download it here

Giddy Brighton

giddyThe Mass Observation Archive is delighted to be supporting the Giddy Brighton project. The project is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and aims to collect unusual, hidden and giddy oral histories of people who were aged 14 between 21 in the 40s 50s and 60s in Brighton and Hove.

The project is led by young people from Longhill High School and aims to create a number of digital outputs, including an interactive map and a website that will store oral histories, images and film.

For more information about the project, visit the Giddy Facebook page or read about what happened when students from Longhill visited the Mass Observation Archive

Cringe with Mass Observation

Cringe event

Last week, as part of the Being Human Festival of Humanities, the Mass Observation Archive hosted an event to celebrate teenage diary writing. The event was held in partnership with Cringe, UKCringe, UK who host regular events in London where people read from their teenage diaries. In this blog post, the organiser of Cringe, UK, Ana McLaughlin, reports on the event.

When Mass Observation first got in touch about a potential event, I was thrilled. Cringe nights have been running in the UK since 2009, having been imported by the founder of New York Cringe Sarah Brown. She had found re-reading her own teenage diaries hilarious and realised here was an enormous untapped reservoir of very funny material that was worth sharing, so she established open mic nights where people could read diaries, rock band lyrics, lists of things they hated about their parents and just about anything they had scrawled during their teenage years. In the six years Cringe has been running in London we’ve been treated to the darkest, most secret thoughts of adolescents writing in the 1990s, 80s, 70s and even the 50s – and we have learned that although cultural reference points and attitudes change, much about puberty is universal: obsessions with fashion and appearance; passions for bands and favourite television shows; sibling rivalry; bucking against parental restrictions; unrequited love. The event with Mass Observation gave us the opportunity to take the show on the road to Brighton and entertain a new audience, hear new readers and most importantly to have academics from the University of Sussex examine the phenomenon of teenage diaries as part of the Being Human festival of the Humanities, which was absolutely fascinating.

It’s always been interesting to note how readers address their diaries. They name them – Yoda, darling Janet, in several cases Kitty (when the writer has just read The Diary of Anne Frank and considers that their own musings on being allowed to watch X-Men and revising for GCSEs will probably have similar historical impact to her diary.) They apologise for not writing enough and ask questions of their diaries; often, they lie to their diaries either unconsciously (claiming they don’t fancy someone they clearly do) or consciously (the boy who implied he might have been ‘blown’ on the French Exchange and, while reading, freely admitted he definitely had not.)
This relationship between diary and writer was fascinating to have the academics examine – Dr Lucy Robinson talked about the confusion of voices she detected in her own diaries. Adolescence is a time when you’re trying on different identities for size, which includes experimenting with your physical look as many diaries intricately detail, but also with your own emerging social and political outlook. (I’m reminded of the reader who solemnly wrote: “Today, we invaded Iraq,” and followed it up immediately with, “My new pens are cool, huh?”)

Many teenage diary writers consider it likely their words will be published when they grow up and do the great things they consider themselves capable of – delusions of grandeur are a common theme – and this was even picked up in one of the readings from a Mass Observation diary written in the 1920s by a girl who wrote, “I want to do great things, to be great.” For all the restrictions placed on teenagers by school rules and parental guidance, it is emotionally often a time when possibilities seem limitless, and this sense that your diaries might one day be pored over as the juvenilia of a statesman, author or rock star (common teenage employment fantasies) can sometimes be seen in the tone – designed to impress, riddled with half-understood long words. The gap between delusion and reality is, in retrospect, what makes adolescent diaries so extremely funny – as the plan for thrashing out world peace in the Middle East is interrupted by a rant on the pettiness of a sister who won’t let the writer borrow their lipstick. Teenage dreams are big, but their actual horizons are necessarily small.

Something else that was apparent from the event was the value of diaries to social historians. Nobody engages more passionately with popular culture than teens, who are tribal about their tastes in fashion, music and literature. Jane Harvell, reading at the event, noted the fluctuating fortunes of Depeche Mode in the singles chart in astonishing detail. Often it’s the cultural reference points that really date the audience – dumping someone in pink Comic Sans font on MSN got an enormous laugh from twenty-somethings at Cringe, and references to the Body Shop’s Dewberry range tickled thirty-something women in the crowd. Teenagers are the ideal filter through which to see exactly what’s going on culturally, and diaries are the place where this incidental detail finds a natural home.

We’ve long enjoyed hearing people read from their secret diaries because it’s hilarious, and partnering with Mass Observation – as well as making for a very funny evening – gave us a new insight into what we’d been hearing all these years. Thank you for having us!

Ana McLaughlin

Dr Lucy Robinson (University of Sussex) has also written about the event. You can read her blog post here

A Notable Woman: The Romantic Journals of Jean Lucey Pratt

Virginia Woolf meets Caitlin Moran: the extraordinary journals chronicling one ordinary woman's life.

Notable Woman‘Perhaps in some future generation, when I am dead, they may read these words I am now writing. Reader, please be kind to me! I am only 16 at present, and just realizing life and beginning to think for myself. It's all very thrilling in its strange newness.’

“What makes Jean’s journals special is the intimacy and frankness of her account of a life seen from the inside, and the way she draws the reader into a relationship with her: you want to protect her, and simultaneously to slap her and cheer her on. It’s very funny, occasionally sobering, and shot through with acute insights. Timeless, funny and utterly absorbing.” – HILARY MANTEL

The diaries of a Mass Observer, Jean Lucey Pratt have been edited by Simon Garfield and published by Canongate as A Notable Woman:The Romantic Journals of Jean Lucey Pratt. Those familiar with MO publications may remember Pratt from the edited collections of wartime MO diaries: Our Hidden Lives; We Are At War, and Private Battles (also edited by Garfield), which Pratt appears in under the pseudonym of Maggie Joy Blunt. This new publication brings together her MO diaries with her private journals.

Jean wrote about anything that amused, inspired or troubled her, laying bare every aspect of her life with aching honesty and infectious humour. She recorded her yearnings and her disappointments in love, from schoolgirl crushes to disastrous adult affairs.

“What a find! Jean’s voice sings across the decades, fresh, vivid and desperate for love - a woman with so much to offer, who kicks against the stuffy society in which she finds herself. I grew to love her sharp observation, her vulnerability and her passion” – DEBORAH MOGGACH

Hacking the Archives - Mass Observation

As part of this year's Bloomsbury Festival data 'hacked' from the Mass Observation Archive will be projected onto Senate House. London on 23rd October 2015. 

Senate House is famous the former home of the WWII Ministry of Information, and as inspiration for George Orwell’s 1984. For the Bloomsbury Festival 2015 watch the building light up in celebration of that history. Using data ‘hacked’ from the Mass Observation Archive and collections relating to the Ministry of Information, ‘Hacking the Archives’ presents digital artwork that explores everything from mass-surveillance to ornithology, wartime diaries to bee keeping records. At dusk on Friday 23rd, this work will be projected onto the façade of one of the most iconic buildings in London!

Hacking the Archives is funded by the Arts Council England and sponsored by Adam Matthew Digital. It features work by artists Dan Brown, D-Fuse, Jaime Jackson, Ned James, Nat Pitt, Sally Payen and Cathy Wade. All commissioned to hack the archives.

Presented by the School of Advanced Study. Find out more here

Invisible Woman - play inspired by the Mass Observation Archive

invisble womanFollowing performances at the Edinburgh Festival, on 18th October a new play that was inspired by the Mass Observation Archive will be performed at the Otherplace in Brighton


Invisible Woman

A thrilling tale of derring-do in WWII.

Repressed housewife, Mrs Bishop, is just the person to help the Resistance – but who is this mysterious lady and will her true identity be revealed?

Kate Cook plays everyone from 15 year old Cecily, the swing dancing dreamer to sadistic Herr Von Schnerkel, a General of Hitler's Gestapo and many other crackpot characters.

A story telling tour de force – Invisible Woman is a funny, touching portrayal of one woman’s journey into freedom and adventure.

"Nothing short of genius!" ★★★★ (Edfringe Review)

Invisible Woman

G.B Edwards biography now published

genius friendGenius Friend: G.B Edwards and The Book of Ebenezer Le Page has now been published by Blue Ormer publishing.
The book is the biography of G.B Edwards who’s first and only novel, The Book of Ebenezer Le Page, was published in 1981 to continual critical acclaim. Despite the books success, little was known about Edwards until this biography. In this publication the biographer, Edward Chaney, uses archival sources to piece together this reclusive author’s life, which includes contributing to Middle Murry’s Adelphi magazine and working for Mass Observation in Bolton as part of the Worktown project.
Find out more about the publication here

The Bolton/Worktown corpus

pub worktownA new website by Dr Ivor Timmis explores using material collected by Mass Observation in Bolton in the late 1930s for linguistic analysis and offers free access to the corpus used for analysis. The corpus is conversations by working class Boltonians recorded verbatim by the Mass Observation investigators. Corpus files and transcription notes can be downloaded from the website here.