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Talking Books

Did you know that the talking book was first dreamed up by blind veteran Captain Ian Fraser while listening to a gramophone at St Dunstan's (now known as Blind Veterans UK) early rehabilitation centre?

Talking Books

After being blinded at the Battle of the Somme in July 1916 Ian was supported by our charity, becoming its Chairman at the age of just 24.  During his time at our centre he experimented with the equipment and spent his days working with a recording engineer in a makeshift studio at Blind Veterans UK (then St Dunstan's), as he recited scraps of poetry and speeches.

Sadly, before the 1930s, records were unsuitable for books, since they could play only for a few minutes; the LP was not ready for the commercial market until 1948. Blind people however benefited from the technology more than a decade earlier, because the National Institute of the Blind (now RNIB) and St Dunstan's (now Blind Veterans UK), working with record labels such as the Gramophone Company (later HMV), succeeded in making discs capable of playing at the reduced speed of 24 revolutions per minute (rpm).

In 1934 we launched the talking book service with NIB. Fraser had also learned that the American Foundation for the Blind had begun its own talking book programme. As he told readers of St Dunstan's Review, "I do not want to excite undue hopes, but I think that in the near future it may be possible to establish a Library of Talking Books." Shortly afterward, this Library began at a rudimentary studio in Regent's Park. The studio was described by Fraser as "a hut in my own garden, which I used to use as a workshop". There, Anthony McDonald recorded Britain's first talking book. Anthony later went on to marry Fraser's daughter Jean.

Since that time we have provided support so that veterans have access to talking books and players as they play a vital step in supporting independence and life after sight loss.

With thanks to Matthew Rubery for his help in providing information about this object - for more about the history of talking books see Matthew's article http://www.bookbrunch.co.uk/article_free.asp?pid=from_shell_shock_to_shellac_the_great_war_blindness_and_britains_talking_book_library

To find out how else we support help veterans with severe sight loss click here