GOLD DIGGER: BBC MADNESS
By Mark O'Shaughnessy
Not sure if I mentioned this earlier on but I actually spent most of my adult life in London - went there to study for my degree at U.E.L. in 1986 and lived there until 2007. After which time I left the UK completely to travel around Europe for a year in a camper van then came back and settled in Bath in 2018 - 21 years in Londinium, not an easy feat...Bath is like a different world - waaaay quieter and more genteel - I may as well be living on a different planet.
It seems that lots of other similar 'ex-London' types resettle here in Bath after "big city burn-out" and the close proximity of the BBC studios just a few miles down the road in Bristol also attracts plenty of media types ie wannabee producers / cameramen / stylists / make-up artists etc etc - the whole plethora of job types that the medium of TV utilises - it makes for a fairly rum mix here in the city folks...
So it was that one day in walked one such producer to our central Bath store and came straight up to the counter holding a tatty cardboard box under his arm, he said his name was Phil. We chatted amicably for a few minutes, he told me he was a retired BBC producer and now lived just a couple of miles outside the city centre after a long career @ BBC Bristol. He popped the box onto the counter and we carried on chatting
Then came the inevitable question, the one we field almost every day in the shop "Do you buy these things, then?" pointing at one of the LPs on our Wall of Fame...I gathered myself and said "Yes - every single day" said I. "Oh, he said - so you don't take the little ones then?", meaning 7" singles. Doh!
Now - for those who haven't yet been into our Bath store, we have a floating browser right in the middle of the store which is stuffed full of 7" singles - over 2000 of them - but I guess Phil was fixated on the LPs and couldn't see the wood for the trees. I came from behind the counter and took him to the 7" area...he seemed to take a particular interest in the 60s gear we had in there - Beatles / Stones / Who etc - he was also extra interested in the Reggae and Northern Soul we had out too, intriguing!
After a few minutes browsing, he came back to the counter and picked up his box and opened it up - "Well, I'm not sure you'll want any of these but take a look and let me know, I've got loads more at home"
I reached in and took out a handful and started to flick through, wow...ALL DEMOS - each and every single one - all in the correct company sleeves too - and - interestingly - many had been dinked...(dealer speak meaning that the original middles had been knocked through)
All of the big labels / bands / artists seemed to be well-represented here: EMI / Parlophone / Stateside / Pye / Capitol / CBS etc etc- mainly 60s / 70s stuff which was representative of Phil's age, but creeping into the beginning of the 80s and they all looked to be in pretty good shape too, wow again...one of the first items I saw was a mint Demonstration Copy of T Rex / Children Of The Revolution - non-dinked because it was a solid centre release and looking pretty much unplayed in it's original sleeve, lovely...
Now - I know that Marc Bolan stuff may not get everybody's pulses racing but real / official demos like this are extremely difficult to come by and still highly-prized, I started to get very interested at this point.
Phil and I chatted away happily for a few minutes more before contact details were taken and an agreeable time / date pencilled in to go and look at the rest. Phil picked up his box and headed off - I watched him walk to his car and he proceeded to get into an almost brand new Mercedes estate - he clearly did well out of his time at the Beeb!!
When I arrived at his (ridiculously large) house in nearby leafy Newton St. Loe (he seemed to be living alone, weirdly) he had already made preparations for my arrival. There facing me in one of his many spare rooms was an 8 shelves deep racking system of 7" singles - all in well-organised chronological order, all stored vertically, all looking dry and non-mildewed, wow x3...
Phil went off to make a cuppa and I did what most Pro dealers would do in this situation, started to do a count - I counted row #1 and came to 380, looked up and down and saw that the other 7 shelves were roughly the same amounts- making around 3000 7" singles...a lot of vinyl, people...
Phil came back with the brew and started telling me about the collection and how he came to have it - he told me that his particular Beeb department ("Music and Culture", sic) were on the mailing lists of almost every single major UK record label throughout the 1960s / 1970s and 1980s - they received copies of pretty much every release during this period and it was his job as producer to decide what was used as backing tracks for the myriad TV programmes produced by his department during that period, seems he was an influential figure at the Beeb in his day. This explains why sooo many of the records were Demonstration copies - the labels were so keen to have their music used by the BBC that they literally bombarded these departments with product - records, posters, stickers, mugs etc etc - the whole nine yards...often sending multiple copies too - there were plenty of duplicates in those shelves, let me tell you. They sent the Beeb demos so that the Producers would get an early feel for what was actually going to be later released to the wider general public - such Demos can be extremely rare and valuable.
We chatted on for an age - such an interesting guy. I actually stopped looking through the records after shelf #1 because I knew that these records would be coming away with me that day, whatever the price, so I just stopped looking. Hey - not ALL of the records were amazing, lots of absolute duffers in there too - as there always is in such archives / collections - but - believe me when I tell you that there were Beatles Apple Demos in there and Rolling Stones Decca Promos too - just stunning to even find records like these in a sleepy village on the outskirts of Bath, people...
It seems that sometime during the early-90s, the head honchos at the Beeb had decreed that vinyl was finished and ordered each BBC department to hire skips and literally bin all of their Vinyl Libraries - the onset of the digital era caused similar madness across many other such institutions: University radio stations, Professional recording studios, Public libraries - millions and millions of valuable records just dumped straight into landfill - totally tragedy.
Phil said that his particular responsibility had been for the 7"s (he said that the LPs were literally just binned, they got in a forklift truck to move them from the basement straight into skips - imagine what went into those skips.......) so he had some affinity with 'the little ones'...
He managed (with permission) to salvage some of the 7"s and they had since been sat in storage in his house for nearly 30 years - now was the time to reclaim the space, he said.
A price was agreed and the 7" were loaded into my van. I still have the occasional nightmare about what went into those skips on that fateful day - what I saw was just the tip of a vinyl iceberg, apparently
I hope one day that somebody walks in with a similar collection of BBC LPs, now that REALLY would be something, eh?
Till next time, MarkO"