A West Indian Romance

14 February 2017

By Jessica Scantlebury

The Mass Observation Archive has recently acquired the Dyde-Joseph Letters. The letters in this collection recount an intimate and moving love story, one that reveals what it is like to fall in love in a warm climate! The letters were written by Brian Dyde and Veronica Joseph between 1973 and 1974. The couple met while Dyde, who was a Lieutenant-Commander in the Royal Navy, was participating in some hydrographic surveying work in the Caribbean. Veronica Joseph was a young Antiguan woman who worked in the headquarters of a Caribbean airline.

Brian Dyde and Veronica Joseph

Brian Dyde and Veronica Joseph

Letters between the two are exchanged almost immediately after their first meeting. Although Dyde was already married, it is clear that he was infatuated with Joseph after their first encounter. Almost immediately, the correspondence between the pair is relaxed, comfortable, and not long after their first meeting, the couple fall progressively in love with each other.

Veronica Joseph to Brian Dyde, 10th September 1973
‘All my life, or rather all my adult life, I’ve been looking, searching, seeking for something, someone with whom I could share my life, someone I could love and cherish and who needed me.

From the moment I first saw you that night at Shelia’s, as I’ve said to you before, – to use a West Indian cliché – my spirit and my heart took to you – even though you were of all things, English.’

Because of the nature of Dyde’s job, which leads him to travel to many islands in the Caribbean Sea, the only way the pair could maintain regular contact was through letters and very occasional visits when Dyde’s ship, the HMS Fawn, docked again in Antigua. At times, it is clear that this has advantages for their courtship, as it allows them to speak authentically to one another:

Brian Dyde to Veronica Joseph, London 16th July 1973
‘My real purpose of my writing is because I feel I must tell you how much I enjoyed seeing you and being with you at the weekend. I am very poor at expressing myself verbally, but on paper, I have more time to collect my thoughts and put them in some kind of order. The sight of your little red car bowling along towards the ship on Saturday evening raised my spirts immeasurably and from then on, I felt quite a different sort of person for the rest of the weekend. I am elated to be in your company, and I enjoy to the full everything we do together.’

This collection of letters details a blossoming love, daily life on Antigua and in the Navy. Early on in their courtship, the couple make plans to marry and this is realised in the autumn of 1974, when Joseph moved to the UK to live with Dyde.  This collection would be of interest to anyone researching love and affairs; the Navy; life on Antigua, mixed- race relationships and the 1970s.

Most of the letters are handwritten, although there are a few that have been typed. The letters are all original and some contain illustrations by Brian Dyde.

The collection was donated to the Mass Observation Archive by Brian and Veronica Dyde in 2016.



The many lives of Nina Hibbin

29 November 2016

By Jessica Scantlebury 

The Mass Observation Archive has acquired a new collection which sheds light on the life of one of its diarists and investigators, Nina Hibbin (née Masel).

Nina Hibbin, photographed in 1945

Nina Hibbin, photographed in 1945

In September 1939, the first month of the Second World War, Nina Hibbin (then Masel) sent her diary to the Mass Observation offices in London.  Still at school and living in Romford, Essex, Hibbin had joined Mass Observation as ‘a tiny escape-hole for the dead-end tedium of small-town home and school’ (Hinton, 2013, p.172). Hibbin was delighted when war broke out as she recognised that it would provide her with the chance to abandon her studies (much to the dismay of her parents) and pursue more fulfilling ambitions. She wrote to Tom Harrisson (one of the founders and directors of Mass Observation) and demanded a paid job from him.

At only 17, she joined Mass Observation on £3 a week, at first working as an investigator on a project collecting information about the public’s reaction to wartime posters. After successfully completing this work, Harrisson moved her on to more challenging studies: working in the East End of London reporting on anti-Semitism; taking refuge in public Air-Raid shelters and simultaneously exposing their poor conditions; joining and reporting on the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force; and joining the MO team in Exmoor to research the publication Exmoor Village (1947). Photocopies of some of this work can be found in this new acquisition, while the original documents are held in the main Mass Observation Archive.

London Workers' Film Society programme

This archive also provides a window onto Hibbin’s life outside Mass Observation, particularly her work as a film critic for The Daily Worker (now known as The Morning Star).  Hibbin was a committed Communist and these papers demonstrate this. There are a number of programmes and reports for the London Workers’ Film Society (a film society set up in 1929 to screen progressive films to working-class audiences) as well as a conference paper, penned by Hibbin, intended to be presented at the International Film Festival in Moscow and at the Symposium in Repino, Leningrad. Interestingly, Hibbin was also employed as the film reviewer for the decidedly un-socialist publication, The Lady. I can’t help but wonder if she was working for this publication when the photographs of her with the popular 1960s band, The Shadows were taken; these can also be found in Hibbin’s archive.

Some of the most charming documents in this collection can be found in the section which deals with a musical authored by Hibbin. Stand by Your Beds (We Didn’t Join Up for This!) is a light entertainment musical inspired by Hibbin’s time in the WAAF. We haven’t been able to find out if this musical was ever performed, but the collection demonstrates that Hibbin put a great deal of time researching the play and writing treatments, scripts, songs and even composing her own music.  The musical includes original composition:

We didn’t join up for this

We didn’t join up for this

We couldn’t resist

The call to enlist

But we didn’t join up for this

We didn’t join up for this

We didn’t expect the officer class to be quite so snooty

We didn’t join up for this

Even through the medium of a musical, it seems Hibbin was committed to a socialist ideology.

Researchers can view the collection in the Reading Room at The Keep.

Bibliography: Hinton, J (2013) The Mass Observers: A History, 1937-1949

12th May and Mass Observation

9 November 2016

By Jessica Scantlebury

12th May (2)Regular readers of The Keep’s blog will remember reading about the Mass Observation Archive’s project to collect diaries written on the 12th May 2016. Over 1,000 diaries were received and you can now view them in the Reading Room at The Keep.

I have been reading through many of the diaries that were sent to us and made some interesting discoveries about the day, from how much tea was consumed to how many people thought about the forthcoming EU Referendum. You can find out more by clicking on the infographic shown on the right.



Mass Observing the Olympics

2 August 2016

By Jessica Scantlebury

During the Second World War, the social research organisation, Mass Observation, recruited a national panel of volunteer writers to respond to open-ended questionnaires (known as ‘Directives’) on all matters, including sporting events. Golf, football, cricket, wrestling and even pigeon racing are just some of the sports that you will find details of within the papers of the Mass Observation Archive.

With many large sporting events cancelled during the war, the first phase of the Archive is largely free of references to the Olympics. Somewhat curiously, it does not appear that Mass Observation covered the post-war Olympics Games in London. In the months before the Games, the Panel were directed to write about swearing and, in September, the focus of the question was on social mobility. There is no Directive for July or August 1948. This could be because Mass Observation omitted a Directive in the summer months; this became increasingly common as Mass Observation moved towards more commercial activities. Or it could simply be a consequence of the Directive question and responses not surviving in the Mass Observation offices.

There are, however, a few indications about how British people experienced the 1948 London Olympics in the diary sequence. A man from Hertfordshire writes:

Did a little shopping in the morning and in the afternoon took the children to the Franklin’s to see some Olympic sports on the television. We saw some swimming, running relays, high-jump, and nearly some water-polo, which I regret missing. Then we went to the station to meet Win, Gillian’s mother, and home to tea. (Diarist 5216)

Extract from a diary dating from 1948, SxMOA1/4/109


Whilst a woman from Morecambe writes:

The closing day of the Olympic Games. From a purely personal point of view, I’m glad, as I’ve been bored [of] having to listen to the constant radio reports. But I should like to have seen the closing ceremony. (Diarist 5338)

It is perhaps not surprising that the diaries of people who have just witnessed a war only modestly acknowledge the so-called ‘austerity Olympics’. These diaries also represent an era before television sets were common in people’s homes and a time prior to television being broadcast 24 hours a day on multiple channels.

Other mentions of the Olympics are interspersed throughout the Archive; a Directive in 1949 reflects on the increasing prestige of sport, and a diary written in 1972 covers the Munich Olympics.

The absence of the Olympics within the Archive is something that we have been able to address through the Mass Observation Project (MOP). The MOP is a writing project which was launched in 1981 with the aim of recording everyday life in Britain. Since 1981, almost 4,000 people have taken part and have responded to Directives on topics ranging from the European Referendum to the countryside.

In 2008, the MOP issued a Directive about the Olympic Games in China. 211 responses to this Directive were received. Many writers reflect on their personal enjoyment of the Olympics, whilst others offer comment on the political situation in China. The majority of the responses contemplate the impending London Olympics, which was covered with a Directive in 2012.

A poster combining archive material and photographs taken at the 2012 Olympics

A poster combining archive material from 1948 and photographs taken at the 2012 Olympics

This Directive solicited 173 responses and researchers using the replies will discover a diverse reaction to the Olympics and to sport in general:

What I wonder about is why those who have previously had little time for sport should suddenly be mad for it; I don’t like the feeling of being swept away into mass enthusiasms. As with all big sporting competitions, it suddenly became an appropriate use of your time at work to be constantly on the Internet monitoring the progress of British athletes you had scarcely heard of a week previously. (B3227)

Other respondents marvelled at the spectacle of the Games and Team GB’s increasing medal tally:

About three days in I was on the telephone to a health care professional that I have had several meetings with regarding a family member, so this was a daytime call from their office. I had one eye on the rowing at Eton Dorney and two British female rowers were leading the race. I couldn’t help but interrupt the call to say I thought we were about to get our first gold medal, and ended up cheering them on loudly and yelling the result down the phone! She was very pleased too, and was able to share the news with her colleagues, before we got back to business. (D4736)

Whilst the Paralympic Games inspired others:

Whilst I thought the Paralympics might be a bit of an anti-climax after the main Olympics – this wasn’t the case. Many of the events were as exciting as the main games – some even more so. I was watching sportsmen and women performing at the highest level. Thankfully, television coverage was not the least bit patronising (C3603)

The Directive also encouraged some writers to share complex thoughts about British identity, the state of the nation’s finances and comment on Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony. Whilst we can’t make up for opportunities lost (to chronicle the 1948 London Games) in the past, we can hope that the responses we collected in 2008 and 2012 provide a colourful and illuminating insight into the modern Olympics and Paralympics for years to come.







12 May 2016: Capture this day for the Mass Observation Archive

12 May 2016

By Jessica Scantlebury, Senior Archive Assistant for the Mass Observation Archive

On the 12th May 1937, the newly founded social research organisation, Mass Observation, famously requested day diaries written by the public from across Britain. This date was chosen to capture the public’s mood on the day of the Coronation of George VI: an event thought to be worthy of study by the organisation following the public’s and press’s reaction to the so-called ‘Abdication Crisis’. This year, on Thursday 12th May 2016, the Mass Observation Archive is repeating this call for people from across the country to submit an account of their day to the Archive.

In 1937, hundreds of Coronation diaries from people of all walks of life, albeit a greater number from the left leaning middle classes, were sent to Mass Observation’s headquarters in London. may12thDiarists wrote about everything, from waking in the morning to going to sleep at night. Some wrote about standing on The Mall and summarised the mood of the crowds who had gathered to watch the Coronation; many wrote about celebrations in their local area, whereas for others it was just an ordinary day. The diarist worked as “meteorological stations” which Mass Observation hoped would enable them, and other social scientists, to compile a “weather map of popular feeling.” (Mass-Observation, 1937, p30)

“6.30 a.m. was woken by phone. Felt particularly sleepy, and disagreeably aware that I had to attend on duty, in charge of boys from my school. As I got up I thought how nervous the King and Queen must be. My wife and I supposed that the young princesses must be nearly off their head with excitement. I decide to wear my old socks with a hole in the heel, rather than change them.” (man, 27, schoolmaster, London, ‘inactive Left’) (May 12th, 1987, p119)

Recent 12th Mays, compared to that of 1937, have been on relatively ordinary days, apart from the first call in 2010 which, by coincidence, happened to be the day that the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government was formed. As a result of this, many of the diarist behave like rolling news citizen-journalists ruminating on the new cabinet in real time as it was announced.

At 12.20 it is lunchtime. For the first time since starting at this school, in February, I decide that I want to go for a cigarette. I walk down the school drive, away from the school, and into the nearby Cemetery. I can’t help but think about the recent death of a friend. I sit on a bench and smoke a cigarette. I wish it didn’t- but it helps. Text message from J about the appointment of Theresa May as Minister of Women and Equality: “Theresa May!! The gays are gonna’ get it. Urgh”. (MT/2010/94, PGCE student, woman, aged 27)


Since 2011 we have worked with different groups in order to promote the 12th May to a wider audience. The most successful one of these has been our work with UK men’s prisons. The Archive has collected almost 300 diaries, from male prisoners, in varying institutions from youth offending and open prisons to Category B security institutions. In these diaries the writers detail their daily routine, frustrations at their life and the prison system as well as hopes and fears for the future. The diary collection acted as a springboard for further activities, including several writing workshops at Lewes Prison, three anthologies of the writing, and a research project led by the University of Sussex.


“It’s nearly tea time, Monday’s teas are alright because we get our packet of shorty biscuits, one packet to last a week. Also, we get Association for 1hr 10min I think I’m going to clean my cell out and get a shower. Being clean means the world to me because theres a lot of people in here who don’t care to shower or keep clean.” (Man, aged 31, Lewes prison)


This year, we are continuing our work with prisons, schools and community groups and would welcome any proposals of new groups to publicise the project to. In particular, we welcome suggestions of ways to encourage participation from members of the LGBTQ community. These diaries would complement the material collected by the National Lesbian and Gay Survey (NLGS) between 1986 and 2004. During the week of the 12th May (starting daily on 9th May), this collection is the subject of a BBC Radio 4 drama, written by the performer Christopher Green, called ‘The Experience of Love’. The timing of the broadcast is a happy coincidence, which we hope will help solicit a greater response.

The resulting diaries will be stored at The Keep archive centre just outside of Brighton. They will be used by a wide range of groups for both research and teaching and will also be used to engage new and older learners in school and community outreach sessions. Details of how to take part in the project can be found on the Mass Observation Archive’s website.

A version of this blog post appeared on the History Workshop  Online blog.


LGBT History Month: Coded Lives in the Archive – The National Lesbian and Gay Survey

a Lesbian Looks Like: Writings by Lesbians on Their Lives and Lifestyles' (Routledge, 1992)18th February 2015

By Jessica Scantlebury, Mass Observation Archive 

The theme of this year’s LGBT History Month, ‘coded lives’, is easily applied to the context of an archive. Codes are everywhere at The Keep; much of the work we do involves numbering documents, barcoding boxes, creating reference numbers and cataloguing and listing materials. The purpose of these codes is to allow researchers to discover documents, uncover histories and make sense of the person who the document originally belonged to. Essentially, codes in an archive are used to promote access. However, for the LGBT community, codes have routinely been used to enable illicit loves and identities to go undetected, and to signal to like-minded individuals that they are in friendly company.

 “It’s funny, but I think my first feeling about homosexuality and sexual arousal was a strong urge to keep it secret forever. I definitely knew the name for it. I was twelve. My parents tuned into a wonderful radio show called “Round the Horne” every week. I adored Kenneth Williams as Sandy with his ‘friend’ Julian, obviously a gay couple. I loved the camp sense of humour, it sort of felt part of me.”  – NLGS respondent

This dual use of codes can be seen in the National Lesbian and Gay Survey (NLGS), which was deposited with the Mass Observation Archive in 2004 and is available to view in The Keep Reading Room. The NLGS was launched in 1986 by Kenneth Barrow who, inspired by his membership of the writing panel for the Mass Observation Project, sought to collect autobiographical reports from gay men and women.  As part of the administration of this survey, each individual was given a code to use so that they could write anonymously, and candidly, without disclosing their name to the reader, or even to the administrators of the Survey. In a time where LGBT identities were often stigmatised, this was a necessity. We have used these codes to catalogue the collection, which has given then the dual functionality of protecting identities and providing access to researchers.

“As a child I was very tomboyish and a rather George-like figure (George, of the Famous Five books) desperately unhappy about being a woman. I began to lead a double life, spending the weekends wandering around record shops with a crew cut and a leather jacket, assuming the identity of a boy.” NLGS respondent

Between 1986 and 2004, 725 people took part in the NLGS, answering questions on varied subjects from first sexual experiences to the Gulf War. Many of the subjects covered are arguably particular to the gay community: coming out; cottaging; images of gay people on television, while others cover topics that were relevant to British society as a whole: the death of Princess Diana; Christmas Day and the General Election.  Responses to the Survey could be used to study how British society has changed, not just between 1986 and 2004, but further back, through the memories of older writers, to a pre-Wolfenden report era when homosexual acts between consenting adults were illegal.

“I found [a psychiatrist] through my GP at college and went for ‘the cure’. This consisted of various methods of aversion therapy… In those days before decriminalisation, homosexuality was generally perceived as a problem, as a curse everyone would want to have removed. How many young men and women must have gone through with that sickening and degrading process?” NLGS respondent

The responses to the Directives could also be used to chart the development of LGBT identity politics in late-twentieth and early-twenty-first century Britain. The Survey name itself comes under discussion, with Survey participants being asked if they would have signed up for the NLGS had it been known as the ‘Queer Survey’, foreshadowing the embracement of the word queer as code for a proliferation of identities in in early-twenty-first century. Opinion is divided, although most writers do recognise that there is power in reclaiming the words that have been used to hurt or belittle communities.

“First, let me say that I hate labels. I think that’s the problem with most things, putting people in little boxes, like straitjackets, and nailing the lids shut.” NLGS respondent

The collection would be useful for anyone researching LGBT history, and those researching late 1980s and 1990s history and culture in general.  Two books on the Survey were published in the early 1990s: ‘What a Lesbian Looks Like: Writings by Lesbians on Their Lives and Lifestyles’ (Routledge, 1992) and ‘Proust, Cole Porter, Michelangelo, Marc Almond and Me: Writings by Gay Men on Their Lives and Lifestyles’ (Routledge, 1993) can be viewed along with the original papers of the NLGS at The Keep.

Our next blog post for LGBT history month will explore the archives and collections available at The Keep created by the LGBT community in Brighton.



The Keep News: Mass Observation Theatre Jukebox

18th September 2014

By Jessica Scantlebury, Mass Observation Archive

The Mass Observation Theatre Jukebox is now at The Keep. The Theatre Jukebox is an interactive arcade-style cabinet that tells the story of Mass Observation through photographs, audio and moving images. It has been created by the  design and theatre collective, ‘Stand + Stare’ (www.standandstare.com/about) who have also made Jukeboxes for the Royal Shakespeare Company and BBC Bristol.

The Mass Observation Theatre Jukebox is on display at The Keep as part of the Mass Education Project (funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund)  throughout September until early January 2014. Next time you visit The Keep please remember to have a play on the Jukebox!