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80th Anniversary of Talking Books for the Blind

6th November 2015

2015 marks the 80th anniversary of the first Talking Books for the blind, including The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

On 7th November 80 years ago, the first Talking Books were released by the Royal National Institute for Blind People. Among the first three available? Agatha Christie’s classic murder mystery The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

The motivation for the development of new audio technology for Talking Books came out of the atrocities experienced during the First World War, when eye injuries from shellfire were common. Recording the stories was a time-consuming and expensive undertaking, and therefore choosing the first titles for release required a Talking Book Selection Committee, who carefully considered suggestions from numerous sources, including lists of classics and recent best-sellers. They agreed that at least 75% of their collection should be of ‘permanent value’, with a further 25% catering to popular tastes of the time. A balance needed to be found between the more ‘austere’ tastes of the classicists, and ‘those weaker brethren who “prefer a good murder” to Elizabethan verse’.

Agatha Christie was by this time well established as a writer of popular fiction, with her books providing entertainment and escapism to a wide tranche of readers, including those confined to their beds through illness. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was therefore a natural choice for one of the first three books to be distributed by the Sound Recording Committee in 1935, alongside Joseph Conrad’s Typhoon and The Gospel According to John. Christie was delighted that her work would be made accessible to a broader audience.

Royal Shakespeare Company actor Laidman Browne, a familiar voice on radio at the time, was chosen to read the story. Listen to the extract here, reproduced with permission from the RNIB.

LISTEN TO AN EXTRACT FROM THE RECORDING

For more information, visit the Insight Radio's podcast on Talking Books

Information supplied by the RNIB, Dr Anna Farthing, Matthew Rubery and Hannah Lee.

The RNIB will be celebrating the anniversary with a celebratory event on 10th November in London, following on from the gala performance during the International Agatha Christie Festival in September.