People often ask me what the first talking books were to be recorded in Britain. The National Institute for the Blind and St. Dunstan’s didn’t have a very large budget when they started the talking book library in 1935. They could only afford to record one title per month since the average novel took up 8 discs with about a half-an-hour’s narration on each side. The Book Selection Committee decided that 75% of the first year’s catalog should be of permanent value and 25% set aside for popular taste. Choices were made on the basis of committee member recommendations; suggestions from correspondents; and lists of popular classics as well as best-sellers.
Here’s the list of books chosen for the first year’s program:
The Gospel According to St John
William Thackeray, Henry Esmond
Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Joseph Conrad, Typhoon
Stanley Weyman, Under the Red Robe
Denis Mackail, Greenery Street
Agatha Christie, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
Anthology including Cyril McNeile (“Sapper”), HG Wells, Edgar Allan Poe, and others.
HV Morton, In the Steps of the Master
Anthology including Shakespeare and other famous poets
BIOGRAPHY AND AUTOBIOGRAPHY:
James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson
Axel Munthe, The Story of San Michele
Winston Churchill, The World Crisis, 1911-18
William Gore, Death in the Churchyard
Anthony Hope, The Prisoner of Zenda
There’s a photo of the original list at the top of this post. The list is held in the archives of the Royal National Institute for Blind People (RNIB) and Blind Veterans UK.
And here’s another photo confirming the list from an article in the National Institute for the Blind’s Annual Report for 1935-36: