From bombs to blockbusters

If RNIB's Talking Books service was born out of the First World War, the Second World War nearly killed off the project when our recording studio (and its temporary replacement) was bombed during the Blitz.

Thankfully we were able to rebuild quickly, with a little help from the American Foundation for the Blind who sent a gift of 500,000 gramophone needles to help us meet demand for the growing book service.

Today, 80 years after the first recording, our studios are at the heart of building the biggest and best service of its kind, with more than 23,000 books in its library and a hand in the development of every major audio innovation of the past century. 

Meet the librarians

In the 1930s, the average talking book would be split over around 10 gramophone records, capable of holding 25 minutes per side. Even that was an amazing feat, but someone had to catalogue them all…

Meet our librarians

 

Talking Books move to tape

Tape adapters

The first talking book tape player arrived in 1960, and tapes were so big that the post office had to start a separate service to deliver them. But recording to tape allowed for greater flexibility than shellac, and thankfully the packages soon got smaller.

 

Famous guests

Roald Dahl was one of a host of famous authors to lend their voice to RNIB’s Talking Book Service. He was known to introduce each of his recordings by saying, “…read by Roald Dahl, that’s me!”

Roald Dahl

 

Talking books studio

 

Watch the levels

 

State of the art recording equipment in our Camden studio, where our engineers work to make every syllable count. 

 

Microphone check

When it comes to capturing voices, nothing can be left to chance. RNIB’s studios use cutting-edge microphone technology to capture every nuance.

Our studio microphone

 

Michael Palin in the studio

Story time with Michael Palin

Michael Palin circumnavigated the Pacific Rim to write his 1997 book “Full Circle”, before arriving at RNIB’s studios to narrate it himself. He poses for a picture here between tales of volcanoes, glaciers and the time he ate maggots in Mexico. 

 

The long haul

There are no cheats or shortcuts for recording talking books. Here, we see the familiar sight of sound engineer and narrator settling in for the long haul.

Studio engineer and narrator

 

Bill Bryson signs a copy of his book

One last thing

The hard work behind him, a smiling Bill Bryson takes some time to sign a copy of his book, The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America.

 

Sign up to our Talking Books service

Related articles