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National Life Stories: Tesco: An Oral History

Tesco: An Oral History comprises 39 in-depth interviews from checkout to Chairman, an unparalleled collection of first-hand witness accounts from those working within a major British retailer.

The collection charts the transformation of the business from a barrow in Hackney, East London in 1919 to the multi-national giant it is today. The recordings are life stories, with special emphasis on working life, and the speakers were selected by National Life Stories in collaboration with Tesco. 

The earliest recollections of Tesco's founder, Jack Cohen, are those of his daughter, Shirley, remembering trips to Petticoat Lane with him in the 1930s; whilst CEO Terry Leahy's recording carries the firm's history into the 21st century with his account of the decision to open stores in the USA. 

The project examines different functions across the business, including distribution, information technology, personnel, buying and support roles as well as retailing. Many interviewees spent their working life with Tesco and chart not only the changes affecting the business but also aspects that remained the same. In these two clips, Joe Doody talks about his surprise promotion to store manager in the 1970s, and Andy Dewhurst remembers selling exotic produce in the 1980s.

Partners and sponsors

  • Tesco plc

Accessing the collection

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)