British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

Selection and Interview Process

Priority Areas

The Women’s Work research project prioritised women in roles where there were few existing archival resources or which had yet to be written into media history.

Recruitment: We placed adverts in trade publications including Prospero (the BBC’s magazine for its retired colleagues) and Stage, Screen and Radio (BECTU’s magazine). Email distribution networks for membership organizations were also used including those of the UK-based Women in Film & Television (WFVT) and BECTU. Word of mouth contacts and personal nominations were also important, especially for film industry personnel.

Editors worked in film, television and the new world of commercials; costume designers worked across television and theatre with occasional work in film.

composite or ‘portfolio’ careers are a recognised feature of the contemporary media labour market but our research reveals the wider historical context to these employment practices

Categorising by media : Our recruitment process very quickly challenged the notion of fixed categories around ‘film’ and ‘television’. The BBC offered long periods of stable employment for some women but many respondents were freelance workers who moved between different media forms. Editors worked in film, television and the new world of commercials; costume designers worked across television and theatre with occasional work in film. Women picked up work on a variety of different genres including feature films, instructional/training films, and children’s films, and several worked as educators/trainers at some point in their careers. These types of composite or ‘portfolio’ careers are a recognised feature of the contemporary media labour market but our research reveals the wider historical context to these employment practices. This blurring of boundaries between film, television and other media forms invites us to reflect on the difference between how those categories are conceptualized in academic scholarship and how they are experienced by workers in the industries.

Life Story interviewing… generates a form of deep biography and situates that within a wider social context

Life Story Interviewing: The recorded interviews are, on average, seven hours long. These have been transcribed following the style used by the British Library Sound Archive. Researchers can listen to the audio recordings which are accompanied by synchronic transcription. We would encourage researchers to treat audio as the primary source material. The synchronic transcription is an invaluable resource – especially where an interviewee is softly-spoken – but it can only approximate the meaning of the spoken word which in the tone, texture and timbre of the voice adds a uniquely rich and multilayered dimension to the narrative.

The Women’s Work research project used the method of Life Story interviewing. This method encourages interviewees to share not only what happened in their lives but how they have understood and made sense of their past, its meanings and interpretations. It generates a form of deep biography and situates that within a wider social context.

Due to the length and wide-ranging focus of these interviews, the recordings will be of interest to media historians but also those working in women’s history, labour studies, twentieth-century social history and narrative identity.

We asked our interviewees about their upbringing, training opportunities for women, promotion and pay, and the interface between home/work.

Topics: We asked our interviewees about their upbringing (family and education), training opportunities for women, promotion and pay, and the interface between home/work. We talked about professional attitudes towards women, industry networks, hierarchies and forms of discrimination including ageism and ‘banter’. The interviews focussed in depth on everyday work experience including tools of the trade, the circulation of information, reporting mechanisms, cross-grade working, the physical environment (including smell, touch and space) and what happened when things went wrong. The results are informative, surprising and touching.

Digital Publishing: In agreeing to participate in the ‘Women’s Work’ project the interviewees generously agreed that their recordings would be made available to future researchers via a digital platform. The interviews cannot be anonymised as it is feasible to identify someone in a professional role on a named film or television programme. As a result, some interviewees edited their interview transcripts. These edits are relatively minor (removing for example reference to a named individual, either a personal or professional contact) and do not impede the broader meaning of a passage. Where edits have been made these are clearly marked in the audio and transcription.

Oral testimony is an essential source of knowledge in this field; it helps us to document experience that is missing from the historical record, and brings meaning and context to written sources.

Oral history as evidence: what is the ‘value’ of oral history as a form of evidence? Some historians have been critical of the method on the grounds that it is subjective and inaccurate because it relies on human memory which is inherently fallible (Hobsbawn, 1997; Marwick, 2001). Written texts and documents have been seen as more robust form of evidence. Those who work with oral history have countered this assessment. An oral history interview consists of factual information and description but it goes beyond this to tell us ‘not just what happened but what people thought happened and how they have internalised and interpreted what happened’ (Grele in Abrams, 2010: 7). The oral history interview is comprised of many different elements and those working with this material draw from theories relating to subjectivity, memory, language use, narrative structures and communication modes (Abrams, p. 7). One of the strengths of oral history is precisely that it allows us access to subjectivity, memory and emotion, it invites us to take those elements seriously, and to consider them as a complementary form of evidence alongside ‘official’ written accounts.

Personal testimony from those with first-hand experience of the industries is an invaluable resource. Many women worked in jobs that left little or no archival trace. The scarcity of archival sources makes it notoriously difficult to research women in ‘below-the-line’ roles, from production assistants to hairdressers, negative cutters to script supervisors. Oral testimony is an essential source of knowledge in this field; it helps us to document experience that is missing from the historical record, and brings meaning and context to written sources. It sheds light on women’s experiences of working in the film and television industries: the opportunities, rewards (both material and symbolic) and penalties; the nature of creative collaboration and professional networks; and the role which work played in the lives of women in the second half of the twentieth-century.’

Those new to oral history will find Lynn Abrams’ Oral History Theory (2010) a useful introductory text.

Page citation: ‘Oral History, Melanie Bell, Women’s Work in British Film and Television, http://bufvc.ac.uk/womensworkinbritishfilmandtelevision…