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Oral history: sexuality, reproductive health and prostitution

A number of oral history collections at the British Library Sound Archive offer the opportunity to explore changing attitudes to sex, and sexual and reproductive health. A number of the collections contain interviews with those in worlds rarely documented, such as prostitution, and explore themes such as changing attitudes towards homosexuality and birth control.


  • The Millthorpe Project: Interviews with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans Trade Unionists (catalogue no: C1405) comprises 10 oral history interviews carried out by the Millthorpe Project in 2008 and 2009. The project sought to illustrate how lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans trade unionists have sought to integrate these two key aspects into their personal and political lives. The interviews were carried out with support from the University and College Union (UCU) and the Trades Union Congress (TUC).
  • The Hall-Carpenter Oral History archive (catalogue no: C456) is a major collection of interviews relating to gay and lesbian experience in Britain. The original oral history project was established in 1985 as part of the Hall Carpenter Archives, which had been set up in 1982. After the closure of the Hall Carpenter Archive the written papers were given to the London School of Economics and the oral history collection, including correspondence and some transcripts, was donated to the National Sound Archive in 1989.
  • Before Stonewall: a lesbian, gay and transgender oral history (catalogue no: C1159) is a collection of VHS copies of interviews with members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered communities recalling their experiences from the years before 1969 and the beginning of the Gay Liberation Movement. The Rainbow Television Collection of Gay/Lesbian Videos (catalogue no: C1041) is a collection of videos assembled by independent television company Rainbow Network with a view to re-broadcast, drawn from sources all over the world.
  • The Martyn Taylor collection (catalogue no: C1245) is a collection of six oral history interviews conducted by the late Martyn Taylor relating to the history and experiences of older gay British men, mostly born in the second decade of the twentieth Century.
  • The Tony Dean Gay Commercial Scene interviews (catalogue no: C547) is a collection of interviews about London's gay commercial club scene, in the 1960s to 1980s.
  • The Philip Cox 'Gaywaves' Collection (catalogue no: C586) comprise of mainly off-air recordings made between 1979 and 1990, including recordings made in 1982-1983 for use in production of 'Gaywaves', the first British radio programme produced by and for gay men, broadcast from the pirate radio station 'Our Radio'. The collection includes many programmes relating to HIV and AIDS and gay and lesbian issues.
  • The All Out Production Collection (catalogue no: C1297) comprises recordings produced by All Out Productions between 1993-2000 for BBC Radio. The majority of the collection consists of the complete series of broadcasts 'Out this Week', a weekly, live programme that highlighted gay and lesbian issues and perspectives on the news. 'Out this Week' was broadcast on BBC Radio 5 Live from 1994-1999. Also donated is the two-part documentary 'You can come out now': which explored the history of gay rights in Britain and was broadcast on Radio 4 in May 1998. The collection includes uncut interviews recorded during the production of the documentary.

Reproductive health

  • QMWC: Changes in birth control (catalogue no: C644) is a collection of interviews conducted by a group of women medical students from Queen Mary Westfield College in 1993. The study investigated changing attitudes to contraception in the light of the introduction of the contraceptive pill; the impact the Pill had on women's health and life; and changes in attitudes within the medical profession to contraception.
  • The Lara Marks contraceptive pill interviews (catalogue no: C1241) is a collection of 53 recordings of interviews with (or talks by) scientists, medical practitioners and lay test participants involved in the development of the contraceptive pill, and two off-air recordings of radio broadcasts, recorded by Dr Lara Marks and her research assistants between 1994 and 1997.
  • An interview with Lady Helen Brook, advocate of birth control and founder of the Brook Organization for sexual health advice and services to the under 25's, is included in the National Life Stories project Leaders of National Life (C408).
  • An interview with Dame Josephine Barnes, the first female consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Charing Cross Hospital and the first female President of the British Medical Association, is included in the National Life Stories project Leaders of National Life (C408).


  • An Oral History of Prostitution (catalogue no: C803) is a series of interviews with sex workers and others involved in the sex industry.
  • Male Order: life stories from boys who sell sex (catalogue no: C874) is a collection of taped interviews which gave rise to the publication Male order: life stories from boys who sell sex by Barbara Gibson (London: Cassell, 1995). The subjects are four young men and two transsexuals who are or have been selling sex as a means of survival.

Related recordings

Accessing the collections

To access oral history material:

  • Search for oral history recordings held at the British Library using the online Sound and Moving Image Catalogue (see useful advice on searching the oral history collections).
  • Onsite access to oral history recordings: The Listening and Viewing Service in St Pancras provides free public access to the oral history collections on an appointment basis. Many digital recordings are also available via SoundServer, a computerised listening facility located in the Humanities Reading Rooms.  SoundServer is also available at the British Library’s site in Boston Spa in Yorkshire.
  • Internet access to selected oral history recordings: The British Library Sounds website gives remote access to a selection of interviews from the Library’s oral history collections. Some recordings are currently only licensed to Higher and Further Education users in the UK, others are available for full public access.

Further information

Contact us

Oral History
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

T +44 (0)20 7412 7405 (Rob Perks, Lead Curator, Oral History  / Director of National Life Stories)
T +44 (0)20 7412 7406 (Mary Stewart, Curator, Oral History / Deputy Director of National Life Stories)
T +44 (0)20 7412 7404 (Elspeth Millar, Archivist, Oral History)