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One of our leading resources for recent diplomatic history, the British Diplomatic Oral History Programme (BDOHP for short) is 20 this year, and is bounding ahead into its third decade, having just notched up its 158th interview.
To celebrate, this week Churchill Archives Centre hosted a workshop for some of the BDOHP’s faithful volunteers (who quarter the country, recording the reminiscences of retired diplomats, and capturing the interesting bits of their careers which never make it into the official record). David Reynolds, Professor of International History at Cambridge, and Dr Richard Carr, Senior Lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University, were on hand to explain the uses and pitfalls of oral history (never let a subject over-prepare, as this can take all the spontaneity and interest from the interview), while recent BDOHP subjects Lord Ricketts and Sir Stephen Wright talked about being on the other side of the microphone (fortunately it seems to have been quite a pleasant experience). We also heard from the FCO’s Sensitivity Reviewer, who has the task of vetting all the interviews before they are let loose, the archivist who catalogues them, and finally the experiences and problems of the volunteers (from which you won’t be surprised to hear that transcribing four or five hours of interview is pretty hard going, so if there are any purveyors of good transcription software out there, the BDOHP would be delighted to hear from you!).
And to demonstrate what the BDOHP is all about, here is an interview with Michael Jay (Lord Jay of Ewelme) which went live today, describing his time as Ambassador to Paris, 1996-2001, including dealing with the extremely distressing and difficult aftermath of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.
—Katharine Thomson, Archivist
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