The First Talking Books in Britain

First Talking Books Britain

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 SCRIPTURES:

The Gospel According to St John

FICTION:

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

SHORT STORIES:

Anthology including Cyril McNeile (“Sapper”), HG Wells, Edgar Allan Poe, and others.

TRAVEL:

HV Morton, In the Steps of the Master

POETRY:

Anthology including Shakespeare and other famous poets

BIOGRAPHY AND AUTOBIOGRAPHY:

James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson

Axel Munthe, The Story of San Michele

HISTORY:

Winston Churchill, The World Crisis, 1911-18

ALTERNATIVE FICTION:

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:

List of first books recorded for Britain's talking book program.

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