Click here to skip to content

Searching the Sound Archive catalogue for drama and literature

The Sound Archive catalogue provides access to details of nearly three-and-a-half million recordings. The following is a guide to searching for recordings of drama and literature.

The Sound Archive Catalogue holds and displays entries in three linked files: the WORK entry, RECORDING entry and PRODUCT entry.

The WORK entry

The WORK entry: this is single entry relating to a single, authored work, such as a poem or play. For example:

Work title: Betrayal
Author/Composer: Pinter, Harold, 1930- (author)
LIST RECORDINGS: Betrayal/Pinter


The RECORDING entry: you will find one entry per unique recording. There may be only one, or many, of these, depending on how many different performances we hold of, say, a particular poem or play. In the case of Harold Pinter's play Betrayal, we hold four different recordings: audio recordings of stage performances from 1978 and 1998, a BBC Radio 2 broadcast from 1991, and an off-air videotaping of the 1983 film version. You can link to these recordings from the work entry. Here is a typical recording entry:

VIEW WORK DETAILS: Betrayal/Pinter
Performer: Nunn, Trevor, 1940- (director)
Performer: Eno, Roger (music)
Performer: Hodge, Douglas (speaker, male; Jerry)
Performer: Stubbs, Imogen (speaker, female; Emma)
Performer: Calf, Anthony (speaker, male; Robert)
Performer: Venegas, Arturo (speaker, male; Waiter)
Performer: Higgs, Paul (keyboard)
Performer: Kellett, Paul (cello)
Recording date: 1998.11.23
Recording location: Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre (London)


If you wanted to make a listening appointment to hear this recording you would have to quote the call number H11098 BD1 PLAYBACK (or just the number as far as the first space will do).

The PRODUCT entry

The PRODUCT entry represents the physical format . It may be an LP, a reel of tape, or a compact disc, and it may link to one recording entry, or many (in the case of, say, an LP of poetry). This entry will contain technical information, such as date of dubbing, whether it is in stereo etc., and, in the case of commercial products, record company details. Here is the product entry that relates to the recording of Betrayal shown above:

Dubbing of: A3543
Product title: Betrayal
Unpublished series: NSA live theatre recordings
Dubbing contractor: NSA: SC
(P)/Dub/Rec date: 1998.12.20 (dub)/1998.11.23 (rec)
Format: tape 1 VHS cassette mono
Documentation: Programme (shelved at NSA ref. DOC0000176)
Conservator's notes: Archive copy is H11097. Playback copy is H11098
Conservator's notes: Digital clone of original DAT


This is one of the many recordings from our live recording programme to be stored in digital audio on VHS tape. Please note that, unless specifically stated, these are audio-only recordings.

There are various ways to search the catalogue. For beginners, the "Search Everything" function in SIMPLE SEARCH is recommended. This trawls every word of every catalogue entry and is thus the most comprehensive search mode. If it has a drawback it is that it can be unwieldy.

Try searching for: HAROLD PINTER [no need to include AND in the search]

You will find that your search results in more than 200 records, one or two of which may not relate to Harold Pinter the writer but simply happen to contain the words "Harold" and "Pinter" somewhere within their description.

Let's be more specific. One way is to search for the NAME Harold Pinter. But suppose you are searching for recordings of a particular play:


You will find your search brings up five items: the work entry and the four recordings listed above.

As you become more familiar with the way the catalogue works try other kinds of search. Try PLACE = Royal Court Theatre to obtain only those recordings made at or about London's Royal Court Theatre or try linking between different entries by performer name, collection title, or browsing by name or title.

If you feel adventurous or want to be very precise, select ADVANCED SEARCH where you can combine different terms and use additional SEARCH LIMITS, e.g. a date range or literature in a certain language (just type the first two letters of the language). It is even possible to use these SEARCH LIMITS as search terms by themselves, e.g. broad class[ificatio]n = POETRY will list all the entries in the catalogue with this classification.

The catalogue provides access to details of more than 80,000 drama and literature recordings. Not every scrap of data is perfectly typed or spelt - we are aware of this and put a high priority on our ongoing data cleansing operations. It is hoped that the value of access to this unique resource outweighs any rough edges in presentation. Should you notice any serious errors, however, please let us know.

Further information

Sound & Vision Reference Service
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7831
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7691

E-mail: Ask the Sound & Vision Reference Team