May 2017

When thinking about archives, most people picture shelf after shelf of books and bundles of paper but this is not the whole story. Through our monthly blogs – 'Archive News' and 'Document of the Month' – we try to uncover some of the more unusual records that we hold.

This month we have been busy preparing for the 'British Motoring Treasures' exhibition which, as you might have guessed from the name, will showcase objects which are not usually on display. One of the 50 objects specifically chosen for the exhibition is the sheet music for the Austin Unity Song.

The Austin Unity Song was written by Vivian Ellis (a popular musical comedy composer) with lyrics by Collie Knox (an author and journalist). It was first performed in 1930 at a dinner for Austin Dealers.

The song was created to boost morale and inspire a community spirit in the workers at the Longbridge factory. It has an upbeat rhythm, a catchy melody and talks about unity of purpose in its lyrics, along with loyalty, co-operation and brotherhood. It was first performed in October 1930 at a dinner for Austin Agents and Dealers held in the Connaught Rooms, London. The band leader that night was Arthur Crudge who led the British Imperial Orchestra. The band was normally studio-based, often performing ragtime pieces, but sometimes they accepted engagements for important dinners such as this.

Following on from the live performance, the song was recorded for posterity, this time by Ray Noble and the New Mayfair Dance Orchestra. Ray Noble was another popular conductor who wrote music and lyrics for many famous tunes of the British dance-band era including 'Goodnight, Sweetheart'. He was destined for great things and after moving to America in 1934, he worked and performed with Glenn Miller.

'His Masters Voice' – became a famous trademark for sound recordings. The name was derived from the title of a painting depicting a dog called Nipper listening to a wind-up gramophone. This image was incorporated into the label.

The New Mayfair Dance Orchestra was the studio band for the record label 'His Masters Voice' (HMV). Because of HMV’s extensive influence, their orchestra included musicians and singers who also played for many of the top hotels. The Austin Unity Song was cut onto a twelve inch LP (Long Playing record). Neither the band nor singer were credited, the record label simply attributed the track to 'Austin Motor Company, Longbridge, Birmingham'.

We don’t have an original LP of the Austin Unity song but we do have a copy on cassette which has been digitised so it can be played in the ‘British Motoring Treasures’ exhibition. We do, however, have quite an eclectic LP collection which includes many titles recorded for HMV. These discs originally belonged to the Nuffield Cine Department which made promotional films for many of the companies which were part of the Nuffield Organisation – including Morris, Wolseley, Riley and MG. The unit was part of the publicity department, founded in 1924 by William Morris, Lord Nuffield, who pioneered the use of photographs and film to advertise his latest models. In the early days, Lord Nuffield and his publicity manager, Miles Thomas, often appeared in the films personally.

The Nuffield Cine Unit produced a huge range of adverts for the company's products and by 1931 sound was becoming an important ingredient. At first the films they made were shown to the public at special evening events arranged by car dealers and distributors for their customers, but after the first television advert was aired in 1955, the demand for their services suddenly began to grow. Sound was a key aspect of any advertisement, both before and after the advent of television commercials, and this is how the BMIHT Archive comes to have a set of sound recordings, collected by the Cine Department to provide 'incidental' or 'background' music for their productions.

This picture was taken in 1961 showing the brand new fleet of Morris Minor vans provided for the important 'Nuffield Organisation Central Publicity Department Cine and Photo Unit'. From a single photographer back in the 1920s, the Unit had grown to a team of four with all the latest camera equipment and a fleet of vans to take them on location.

They bought their music primarily from HMV which had a wide range available with interestingly vague titles such as 'General Rejoicing' and 'Patriotic Music'. Each track was on average no longer than five minutes long and the compositions were intended to create a specific mood or atmosphere, while at the same time not detracting from the main action in front of the camera. This music was generally performed by HMV’s in-house orchestra which, in some early cases, was the same band that originally performed the Austin Unity song, the New Mayfair Dance Orchestra.

A selection of the records and tapes which were used over the years to provide a sound track for Nuffield, BMC and BL films.

As time progressed LPs were replaced by cassettes and we have a number of these too, with similar themes. Now termed ‘non-copyright mood music’, titles include ‘Warpath’ and ‘You’re the Champion’. As time went on the style expanded from just orchestral to include electronic and pop.

While it is not a large part of our collection, these different formats and labels are certainly an interesting insight into how music played a part in the automotive world, advertising and selling the industry’s products to its customers long before the slick TV car adverts we are now used to.