Transcript of censorship video

Transcript of Jan Usher's filmed talk about censorship.

Hello, my name is Jan Usher. I'm the Head of the Official Publications Unit in the National Library of Scotland. We have over two million items that are Government related.

Censorship is very much bound up with Government interference, political interference and government legislation to ban or challenge books which it sees as a threat either to national security or to the morals of its people, and is also closely tied to religion, when state and religion were indivisible.

Now, Hamish Henderson, as you know, was the famous folklorist. He was also a political activist and internationalist.

'Ballads of World War II' was privately published by the so-called 'Lilly Marlene Club' of Glasgow, particularly to avoid censorship — because it's political and quite bawdy, and because it's songs sung by soldiers, so you can imagine there's a lot of strong language in it. But it praises Stalin — who, of course, was our ally in World War Two — so it was seen as quite subversive.

Hamish Henderson's obituary said that this book in particular earned Hamish the self-righteous wrath of the Director General — Lord Reith — and associates at the BBC.

Hamish was a great champion of Scottish folklore and song and is very well-known. A lot of his friends and associates wondered why he was kept off the BBC, and there is a feeling that, under George Orwell's definition of censorship, that there was a behind-the-scenes thing about not wanting this ranting, red revolutionary on the BBC.

Now, that can't really be proven because there is no government act banning such speech. There isn't any correspondence from the BBC to prove that, but this is a feeling that perhaps this is one of Orwell's tacit understandings that this would just 'not do'.

As a librarian — especially in a library like the National Library of Scotland where you're a copyright library, so you get a copy of everything — you see a lot of material that other people might not see. And it just makes you think about why that might be contentious or why not, and what's acceptable to people now and, of course, you're making these accessible to the population.

You want people to come in and look at your collections and that makes you think 'What can we show them? Will it offend them? Will it inform them? Will it stimulate debate?' So it's an interesting place to be.

Libraries contain the thoughts of people from millennia. It's all here.

 

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