This summer and autumn, there were many events and projects around the 70th anniversaries of Dunkirk, Battle of Britain, the Blitz … I “did my bit” so to speak, by creating Priestley’s Finest Hour, an online series exploring the Postscripts, J.B. Priestley’s 1940 radio broadcasts.
I’ve already published my thoughts on the experience as the postscript to the series, and sent a more detailed, scholarly version to the J.B. Priestley Society Journal. Here I interview myself, to share what I learned with professional colleagues.
What were you trying to achieve with the series?
As the Postscripts were weekly, they were perfect for a matching series of blog posts published on the anniversaries. I didn’t simply reproduce the original talks, for copyright reasons, and because the texts are readily available anyway. Instead, I summarised each talk, and then let it take me on a journey, perhaps exploring another work by Priestley, or finding out more about something he mentioned. The result was a new resource which highlighted the Priestley archive and books in Special Collections and made use of particular features of social media.
I saw this as an opportunity to engage users who can cope with web 1.0 and email but who are repelled by their perception of social media, perceiving it as intrusive, time-wasting, full of txtspeak or abusive comments etc. Many of the Priestley enthusiasts I know fall into this category. To encourage such users to sample these newer media, which I know contain so much they would enjoy, I avoid the word “blog” when talking about Priestley’s Finest Hour. Instead I refer to it as an exhibition, or a series of articles.
Costs – how long, how much?
Priestley said of the Postscripts, “They took about ten minutes to deliver, usually between half an hour and an hour to write”. In the spirit of his work, I did not overthink my pieces, but went with whatever inspired me on re-reading the talks. With one exception, none took me more than an hour to devise and write. But that was because I know the pieces and their context so well. Someone new to Priestley would not have been able to do this. Hence this was not a project I could outsource, even with funding to do so.
A weekly deadline fitted my workload perfectly, daily would have been too much pressure and monthly would lack momentum. The Postscripts ran from June to October, so I knew I could commit to what I had in mind. I had multiple copies of the published broadcasts, so I was able to write the pieces at home, on trains, or in odd moments e.g. tea-break reading room cover.
When to write?
I could have written all the pieces in advance, if I’d had time (which, actually, I didn’t). But this did not seem appropriate anyway when blogging. I wrote in real time, with the odd bit of scheduling to cover holidays etc. This was a great decision. It helped me understand how Priestley produced the originals, with his deadlines clashing with other commitments. It also gave me much more sense of the period, especially the speed with which things happened, and how events piled upon events. I really value the work done by other archives and museums in sharing their collections in real time via tweets and blogs over the summer, which helped immerse me in 1940.
But weren’t the Postscripts sound recordings?
I’m aware that by writing about radio broadcasts from the text I am missing out much of the way Priestley intended the broadcasts to be received, and his listeners experienced them. It was not practical to use audio unfortunately. I have at least heard him reading the Postscripts. In my defence, he did read the talks from typescript, plus of course much of his audience then and later will have experienced or re-experienced the texts in published versions.
How many visitors?
WordPress supply excellent statistics, which enable me to see how many have viewed the series. Several hundred already. I know how they reached the site, and where they went next.
Few comments have been posted, not a great surprise as I didn’t set up the project to be particularly interactive. In retrospect, I should probably have done more to make this possible. I have had feedback directly, all of it good.
“Priestley’s Finest Hour” is an important digital asset and will be maintained and migrated in future. I will make it available as a Word document or hard copy for anyone preferring to use it in this way.
I have some improvements to make and some extra posts to add. I will take the lessons learned into future projects. In particular, I am looking at something interactive following on from PaxCat Project. I also have a longterm inhouse project in mind which will use this model.