We have launched a new website and are reviewing this page. Find out more

News from the past: Oral history at the V&A

Linda Sandino
Camberwell College of Arts/V&A Research Fellow


Barbara Morris in her home, Photograph, February, 2009. Photograph by Linda Sandino

Figure 1 - Barbara Morris in her home, February, 2009. Photograph by Linda Sandino

Drawing on a recording undertaken as part of the V&A Oral History project with former Deputy Keeper Barbara Morris, this paper explores oral history as a research methodology that contributes to the meaning and understanding of the V&A through the personal stories of its curators. The paper draws on Morris' account of the discovery, in 1954, of the thefts of Museum Assistant John Nevin. Rather than seeing oral history as a simply a window on the past, the paper suggests how narratives function on several levels: as content, as biography and as thematically-oriented testimony.


At the beginning of January 2009, a number of previously embargoed records of the Metropolitan Police were released under the Freedom of Information Act by the National Archives. Among the papers were those relating to the 'Multiple thefts of properties from the Victoria & Albert Museum by an employee, John Andrew Nevin, between 1930 and 1954. (3) Both 'The Independent' and 'The Daily Telegraph' picked up the release of the papers to report on this astounding theft that had also figured prominently in newspapers of July 1954. Having stolen over two thousand objects over a period of twenty years, the news media focused on the magnitude of Nevin's crimes and the incongruity of a council house almost completely 'embellished' with museums objects. (4) At the time of the discovery of the theft 'The Daily Sketch' headline, 'Museum Swords Smuggled Out in Trouser Leg', gives a flavour of how the newspapers' perceived the bizarre audacity of Nevin's outrage, who was described as either, correctly, a Museum Assistant, or as a 'Museum servant' in the Circulation department. In 'Vision & Accident', Anthony Burton briefly refers to the Nevin affair, calling it 'one of the biggest scandals in [the Museum's] history'. (5)

How can oral history contribute to an understanding of the meanings of past events such as these, apart from simply documenting the role and perspective of witnesses to the events? Drawing specifically on a life history interview with former Deputy Keeper, Barbara Morris (b. 1918-2009) (fig.1 ) for the V&A Oral History project, this essay will examine the creation of meaning in stories told within the context of the interview. (6) What does this story represent when told by a museum curator in an oral history recording? Given its status as a V&A story, a part of its history, as well as its representation in public trial documents, in newspapers, what is the point of eliciting the story from a curator?

Recordings undertaken for the V&A Archive are based on life history personal narratives, or 'experience-centred narrative research'. This approach sees narratives as: sequential and meaningful; definitively human; as 're-presenting' experience (reconstituting it as well as expressing it) and as displaying transformation or change. (7) It is not suggested that interpretations given by participants or researchers are ever conclusive, or that oral history 'data' can yield incontrovertible proofs. Just as every time the story is told, it will be subject to reconfigurations, in the same way every reading will also produce new interpretations. Oral history produces complicated research texts that shift 'between performance-oriented narrative and content-oriented document, between subject-oriented life story and theme-oriented testimony', and cannot be confined to a single genre. (8)

Subject-oriented life stories

The historian Alessandro Portelli summarised the complexity of oral histories, proposing four categories as a means to grasp the unique quality of open-endedness of oral history as a method. At its core is a 'combination of the prevalence of narrative form…and the search for a connection between biography and history, between individual experience and the transformations of society'. (9) Curators' biographies are, therefore, the most appropriate methodological approach not just for documenting museum practice and its changes, but also for understanding the meaning of events. Stories recounted by curators, provide access to the symbolic meanings of the V&A, demonstrating how such meanings are constructed within the narrative as part of the life. Despite being a story that circulated in newspapers, Barbara Morris' oral history of the Nevin affair encapsulates how subjects make meanings out of historical facts. (10)

Excerpt from audio interview with Barbara Morris part 1

Download: mp3 | ogg View transcript

Excerpt from audio interview with Barbara Morris part 2

Download: mp3 | ogg View transcript


Although broadly chronological, life history narratives are not necessarily linear. Participants make comparisons or connections that disrupt linearity. The life history becomes rather a sequential account, as one thing leads to another. Morris, for instance, establishes her authority, as we shall see below, by interspersing her account with details of Museum procedures and its general history. Although the life history is that of one individual, s/he speaks as 'social subject'. Located as part of a community, individual life histories produce a record of the ways in which certain myths become embedded and sustained, how they circulate, and how they are challenged. Individual oral testimonies, therefore, can be located within an institution's historical discourse while maintaining the integrity of the individual's perspective. Although a personal history, Morris' interview contributes to the V&A's life history and identity, 'by taking up narratives that become…its actual history'. (11)

Performance-oriented narrative

Writing in 1936, Walter Benjamin lamented the decline of story telling, which he believed was initiated by the rise of the novel: 'The storyteller takes what he tells from experience - his own or that reported by others. And he in turn makes it the experience of those who are listening to his tale'. (12) Benjamin makes an important distinction between embodied, collective listening to stories, contrasting them with the isolation of writing. Oral history, despite the injunction to interviewers to remain unobtrusive, is nevertheless a dialogue. The resulting document is a co-constructed narrative of answers to questions, so that the researcher may understand the participant's world-view. A compelling characteristic of the dialogic encounter is a combination of the pace of reflective conversation with the physicality of voices. When we listen to interviews, they seem to be transmitting from some liminal, undefined space. In fact, radio, television, and the internet are still the dominant technological metaphors for our apprehension of the metaphysics of 'presence'. (13)

Oral histories are situated dialogues and the contexts of their production need to be understood in order to explore their meanings: 'who is saying what, to whom, for what purpose, and under what circumstances?' (14) Consequently, they are always in a sense 'performed' narratives, by both interviewee and interviewer. Since participants in the V&A project know that their interviews will be deposited in the Museum's Archive, this knowledge is integral to the formation of the interview. It influences both the kinds of questions that are asked and how they are answered. They might be an occasion to 'set the record straight', but more often they provide the opportunity to reflect in detail on the past. Interviewees' awareness of their accounts as historical records is further enhanced if they are themselves historians, or work in an institution such as a museum. Another factor is that Museum personnel are public servants; when Barbara Morris worked for the V&A, the museum's employees were part of the Civil Service. Taking part in the oral history project, therefore, becomes in effect an aspect of museum 'work', an engagement with and contribution to its 'heritage'.

In a previous, unpublished interview with former V&A colleague, Anthony Burton, Barbara Morris had given an account of the Nevin affair, but since both Burton and Morris already knew what had happened and how it had come about, there was no need to dwell on the details. When the case came to trial, it was no doubt much discussed within the Museum. It was, therefore, a story that had been told before but that does not mean it was always the same story, told in the same way. Each telling will have been specific to its context. Oral history elicits a specific form of story telling, or what Portelli has coined as history-telling, 'a form of verbal art generated by the cultural and personal encounter in the context of fieldwork'. (15) Morris' version presented in the life history is self-consciously as complete and detailed as possible. It contrasts with her account to Burton because it is not a set of reminiscences between colleagues. For the oral history project, the account functions as an archival document in which the participant performs their storytelling authority as 'curator at the V&A' to a researcher to whom events and actions must be explained.

Content-oriented document

In his own version of the Nevin affair, published before the release of the papers in 2009, Burton draws on the newspaper articles of the time, quoting examples of the extent and variety of objects found in the culprit's home as well as the audacious comedy of Nevin allegedly having hidden swords inside his trousers pretending his stiff walk was due to Army training injuries. (16) Barbara Morris' version therefore provided the details of a story that might otherwise never have been told in full. Morris' version is remarkable for its length of twenty-three minutes out of a total recording of approximately seven and half hours. Why does this event play such a major role? It appears in the middle of our second session on 16 February 2009. A previous reference to it had appeared at the end of our first session on 26 January in response to a question about the requirement that museum civil servants sign the Official Secrets Act. (17) Material already in the public domain was not subject to the Act, which Morris explains by stating that, 'At the time of the Nevin thing, of course it was in the papers because he was prosecuted by the police'. At this point, I do not take up the reference to Nevin because Morris is explaining the role of the Board of Survey which was to oversee the disposal (or transfer) of Museum objects. (18) So my next question returns to the workings of the Board of Survey but Morris is unable to tell me more.

Barbara Morris: I don't know. I can't remember quite how…but I know it had to get Parliamentary or Treasury permission…It was left to the Museum to decide what would happen to it.

Linda Sandino: And would the Director look at the list?

BM: I can't honestly remember. All I know is it all got gathered together in the Circulation department. [Track 04 -06:27, Date 26.01.09] [laughs]

Could the Nevin story have emerged at this point rather than later? My quest was fixed on the Board of Survey and Morris' reply, 'I honestly can't remember', is my cue to move on. There is no story to make. We then go on to talk about the Circulation department's 1961-2 'Finlandia' exhibition on which Morris worked, alongside Keeper Hugh Wakefield. Mindful of the significance of the Nevin business, I take it up half way through the second session. It follows Morris' account of the final closure of the Circulation department (briefly re-named Regional Services) in 1978, following cuts imposed by the government on the Civil Service. (19) Morris is at pains to emphasize the significance of 'Circ' as embodying the founding principles of the Museum, 'which was really instituted in us by Peter Floud, that our job was to serve the public'. (20)

BM: I mean, that's what museums were for: to inform, educate, and generally improve public taste, I mean, going back to what the Museum was founded for in the first instance, …although obviously doing research and scholarship was extremely important, the other side was also of equal importance. [Track 07 - 08:58, Date 16.02.09]

So, following on from this summing up statement, I turn to the Nevin case, deliberately eliciting a story: 'I just wondered whether you could tell that story?' Nevin is also on our minds due to the release of the embargoed papers the month before in January 2009. The papers re-reported Nevin's defence that he couldn't help himself because he 'was attracted by the beauty', an excuse that particularly angered Morris because it brought to the fore the memory of seeing Nevin's destruction of the precious objects when she accompanied Peter Floud to the 'little house on the council estate [in which] even the curtains were fabric from the Museum collection; they were Duncan Grant fabric that had been cut up'.

The twenty-three minutes of Morris' Nevin story is made up of elements of the plot, or sequence of the theft and contextual information about Museum procedures in the post-war period. So for instance, we learn in more detail about the disposal of objects put on the Board of Survey since it was Nevin's job to remove their V&A numbers; it was by discerning the residue of a V&A number that the Keeper of Metalwork, Charles Oman, recognized the origin of the candlestick brought to him by a dealer anxious to verify its provenance. We also learn that it was the wartime disruption to the quinquennial review, 'where every object in the Museum had to be found and located to make sure it was where it was supposed to be', that enabled Nevin to continue his thefts until 1953, in fact until his 'house was crammed with Museum objects'. Morris provides a heartfelt description of the objects in the house, noting especially their damaged state: 'He broke bronzes off their bases. He took coins out of the tops of Scandinavian tankards.'

Once everything was removed to the Chelsea Police Station, the haul took up the station's entire recreation room where Morris spent six weeks identifying the objects as belonging to the V&A. This was an arduous task because Nevin had strategically removed the records pertaining to the stolen objects. With hindsight, Morris confirms that Nevin's behaviour was indeed suspicious. For instance, his colleagues commented on his 'boasting about a new radio or something he'd bought and they wondered how he could afford it on his salary' [Track 08 - 06:27]. At the time of the discovery of the theft, the incident was covered by the Official Secrets Act and Morris relates how she was unable to tell even her husband, Max Morris, why she was late for a dinner engagement: 'It was absolute secrecy until of course the trial and then people knew that it had happened.'  (21) Nor made public at the time were Treasury instructions 'that we were to, so it didn't look too bad, keep the values as low as possible' [Track 08-04:57, Date 16.02.09].

In terms of content, the Nevin account can function as a Museum story, a story about public service, a story about social class, or even, as here, a story about oral history interviewing.(22) The multiplicity of possible interpretations and meanings is what makes oral history documents, especially life histories, so rich and rewarding for research purposes. The stories we collect are never fixed in their interpretations: 'subsequent readings of material we, or others, have gathered invariably bring with them a new layer of understanding. But no interpretation is ever final; our current framework is itself one which will change over time'. (23) For the oral history project, Morris gives an expansive narrative because of her key role in the affair as a first-hand witness. Nevertheless, despite its status as a content-oriented document as I have shown, her narrative is also a testimony to loss. Why, at this point, though, do I hear this as a story of loss?

Theme-oriented testimony

Staff of the Circulation Department c.1953-55

Figure 2 - Staff of the V&A Circulation Department circa 1953-55 Front row (l-r): Ann George, Barbara Morris, Hugh Wakefield, Peter Floud, Carol Hogben, Ray Smith, Renée Marcousé Middle row (l-r): Ted Lovelock, unknown, Jessie McNab, unknown, unknown, Elizabeth Aslin, Jim Strand, unknown, Ursula Hanson, unknown Back row (l-r): Unknown, John Lowry, Estelle Anver, Betty Jotcham, Shirley Bury, Hazel Cox, Natalie Rothstein, unknown, unknown, Arthur Tate-Blackburn

The Nevin story forms an important function beyond the testimony of Morris' central role in the events. It enables her to signify the theme of loss which marks her recording, dominated by the Circulation department's rescue of the nineteenth century as an area of expertise, and its subsequent closure in 1978: 'It was the sense of loss of something very historic' [Track 07 - 07:37, Date 16.02.09]. A department that 'had been nothing more than a sort of vehicle for sending out loans', was transformed by Floud and his staff (fig. 2 ). (24)

BM: Peter Floud was determined to turn Circulation into a scholarly department that would have a real, scholarly reputation. So he decided that if we became specialists in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, we could be on a level with the other curatorial departments. And we weren't treading on anyone else's toes because they weren't interested. And then he conceived this idea of doing this exhibition of Victorian and Edwardian Art which is now very much regarded as a seminal exhibition which started, you know, the revival of serious interest in Victorian and Edwardian design. I mean it had a great influence not only on collectors like Charles and Lavinia Handley-Read but also on dealers who started, dealing in that subject. We inspired a whole lot, a whole generation of people to do it. Most people now acknowledge that that was sort of the main beginning of the serious interest in the period. I mean, Gibbs-Smith did do, Charles Gibbs-Smith (25) did do an exhibition to commemorate the anniversary of the 1851 exhibition but it was more, it was more sort of a fun thing to do. [Track 07 - 30:15, Date 16.02.09]


Reviewing the aforementioned 1952 exhibition, no less a critic than Reyner Banham praised its 'imposing seriousness' in contrast to the 'tawdriness of the interior decorator's XIX Century fantasy'. (26)

In recollecting the significance of the exhibition, however, Morris' account inevitably includes the other actors especially the key figure of Peter Floud. In her recording Morris praises his inspirational leadership: 'he had this extraordinary ability of bringing out the best in people and encouraging them and…the consensus of opinion was that Peter Floud would have been director - apart from his premature death' [Track 06- 15:33, Date 16.02.09]. Floud, therefore, like others in Morris' life history, are 'lost' figures brought to life by her recollections.

Objects, however, are also important figures of loss in the interview. In her description of the Nevin incident, Morris gives examples of how he could not have been 'seduced' by the beauty of objects since so many pieces had been damaged, as noted above. (27) So in addition to Nevin's thefts, Morris describes how during her research in the Registers for the 'Victorian and Edwardian Decorative Arts' exhibition, she discovered examples of official disposals: 'it was amazing the number of things that we found had gone'.

BM: I remember now being absolutely horrified that put on a Board of Survey were a whole lot of nineteenth century copies of early Limoges enamels which were just smashed up because they were fakes. And also…one rather important table by Henry Eyles of Bath which had been illustrated in God knows how many books of furniture; that was disposed of because it was Victorian…The Gamble piano was only sort of saved, was officially broken up but because of the war somehow it never happened, so you know it was rescued but it was put on a Board of Survey. [Track 04 - 02:46, Date 24.01.09]

It was Peter Floud's determination to rescue the Victorian and Edwardian decorative arts, to secure for Circulation its own area of expertise, which launched the curatorial careers not only of Barbara Morris and others. Among his other inspired appointments were Elizabeth Aslin who became an expert in late-nineteenth century furniture, and Shirley Bury, the nineteenth and twentieth century metalwork and jewellery scholar. From their initial appointments as Museums Assistants in the late forties, they ascended to the keeper grades: Aslin as Assistant Director (Works) in 1968, Bury becoming Keeper of Metalwork in 1982, and Morris herself was appointed Deputy Keeper of Ceramics and Glass in 1976. As the sole survivor of that era, loss is inevitably the trope under which Morris' narrative operates, and it is noticeably absent in the account documenting her time at Sotheby's (and on the BBC Antiques Roadshow programme).

BM: I was so pleased to be approached by Sotheby's to work for them because it meant I had no real break in career, and it was a new challenge to take up, to do something different, though I had lectured before and had this brief teaching experience. I mean it was an entirely different thing to do, to start something from scratch and design a whole course. [Track 13 - 01:46, Date 4.03.09]

So Sotheby's must be seen in the context of Morris' reluctant acceptance of the retirement regulations: 'obviously I didn't want to [retire] but realized that there was no possible alternative. I mean that was rule and it didn't matter what grade you were, what department you were in, whether you were male or female, that was the rigid Civil Service rule' [Track 13 - 00:38, Date 4.03.09]. Ejection from the V&A might also figure here as 'loss'.


Portelli's categories provide a means to unpack the 'in-betweeness' of oral history as a genre. As I hope the above has demonstrated, oral history can provide access to different registers of meaning; it can be mined for information, for an understanding of broader pictures of past events, as well enabling tales of experience. It enables to ask questions about being a curator as an activity and as a form of office. It enables us to ask how do her reflections and stories connect her life to her times, as a woman, as a collector, a writer, a teacher, an historian? While it can be argued that I have selected extracts to emphasize the theme of loss, the last story I now turn to, demonstrates the intersection of Portelli's categories, and how 'oral history is less about events than about meaning'. (28)

In a story that might be titled 'Plastics: Lost and Regained', Morris explains how Circulation department objects were stored by material in accordance with the V&A's departmental divisions. Some objects, however, did not fit the established Museum categories but were rather 'miscellaneous things'.

BM: One of the rather sad things, one of the last exhibitions I'd hoped to do in the Museum was one of objects which were souvenirs of the Great Exhibition of 1851. And through Charles Gibbs-Smith who was the Public Relations Officer, a very good collection [of 1851 souvenirs] was given to the Museum but because again at that time it was all Victorian objects, the main departments didn't want them and we accepted them for Circulation and were going to probably buy some more things so that it would have made a very interesting commemorative exhibition along with framed…images of the Great Exhibition too, illustrations of it. But the [Circulation] department closed and that was it. And unfortunately all the objects in it just sort of were dispersed…so a ceramic went to ceramics and so on. So I don't know what's happened to it. I mean they must be somewhere in the Museum. I mean the whole interest in it was that it was a collection devoted to one subject which as a whole made sense. And the same problem happened when the Museum at last decided to collect plastics because, you know, one began to realize that plastics was (I mean this wasn't really until I joined Sotheby's after I'd left the Museum), I realized that plastics was an up and coming subject. The auction houses were already beginning to sell them. And when I started the course at Sotheby's I decided it was a subject I ought to include. [Track 10 - 20:27, Date 4.03.09]

Morris continues by paying tribute to John Jesse, 'probably one of the first people to make a serious collection of plastics', who offered his collection to the V&A sometime in the 1980s, but 'the Museum refused to buy it and instead he sold it to the Science Museum'. By the time the Museum decided to collect plastics, they 'were becoming more and more expensive and difficult to get' but the main problem, as Morris points out, was the constraint of the V&A's material specific departmental classifications.

BM: [T]here was no central collection of plastics. If, if they reckoned it was something like a melamine cup and saucer that would have normally have been made of ceramics, it went to the ceramics department. If it was something that was imitating ivory, it went to Architecture and Sculpture because ivory came under Architecture and Sculpture. And then if it was something that would normally have been made of metalwork like gutta percha baskets and things which were made copying the design of silver-plated baskets and things, it went to Metalwork. The same with plastic jewellery: went to Metalwork…Later the Museum did do a big collection of historic plastics… And of course they did start buying Italian plastic furniture particularly people like Ettore Sottsass…of course a lot of the best of the plastics is now in the modern gallery, the twentieth century Gallery. But you know, it was late in the day that it happened at the V&A. [Track 10 - 24:02, Date 4.03.09]

News from the Present

Barbara Morris died on the 15th July, 2009. How much has her death contributed to my hearing the theme of loss in her recording? Were she still alive would I have interpreted her stories differently? In the future, no doubt, I will hear other themes emerging from the recording. Just as the opening up of the Nevin papers precipitated Morris' account and its meaning for her, my paper is situated at a particular moment too. I am not interpreting the past, but the past represented in the present. The unique, special situation of the oral history interview allows a participant to make sense of their life and experiences; it is a qualitative research method that 'seeks to understand the changing experiences and outlooks of individuals in their daily lives, what they see as important, and how to provide interpretations of the accounts they give of their past, present and future'. (29) The philosopher Søren Kierkegaard put it succinctly in his journal:

Philosophy is perfectly right in saying that life must be understood backwards. But then one forgets the other clause - that it must be lived forwards. The more one thinks through this clause, the more one concludes that life in temporality never becomes properly understandable, simply because never at any time does one get perfect repose to take a stance: Backwards. (30)

The V&A oral history project is the occasion for such 'perfect repose' allowing its participants to make sense of their life, times, and so contribute to the history and meaning of the Museum, and what it means to be a V&A curator.


(1) This paper is dedicated to the memory of Barbara Morris (1918-2009), former Deputy Keeper of Ceramics and Glass, who joined the V&A Circulation department in 1947. On retirement from the Museum in 1978 she was invited to set up Sotheby's Decorative Arts course. Among her publications are English Embroidery (1961); Victorian Table Glass and Ornaments (1978); Inspiration for Design: The Influence of the Victoria & Albert Museum (1986); William Morris and the South Kensington Museum (1987); and Liberty Design, 1874-1914 (1989).

(2) Portelli, A.. Oral History as Genre, The Battle of the Valle Guilia: Oral History and the Art of Dialogue. Madison WI, 1997.

(3) National Archives: MEPO 2/9640 - NA 230/54/128

(4) 'Stealing Beauty - the curator who took priceless piece after priceless piece'. The Independent, March 3, 2009; 'How a modest council house was furnished with thousands of items from the V&A'. The Daily Telegraph, March, 3, 2009. Contemporary accounts, see cuttings in Burton, A. Vision & Accident: The Story of the Victoria & Albert Museum. London, 1999: 210; The Daily Express, the Daily Sketch, and the Darlington's Northern Echo ('His flat was a 'museum annexe'). The Independent provides the most comprehensive coverage of the case, quoting the police record: 'Practically everything in Nevin's small three-bedroom house with the exception of the bed linen and items of clothing, was found to be property stolen from the museum, so that at the end of the search the rooms were practically bare'.

(5) Burton, A. Vision & Accident: The Story of the Victoria & Albert Museum. London, 1999: 210.

(6) The audio recordings with their content summaries, as well as any related documentation will be deposited with the V&A Archive in accordance with participants Consent and Deposit Instructions. Barbara Morris was interviewed over four sessions between January and March 2009. The recording consists of eighteen tracks [Track 01-18] totalling approximately seven and a half hours.

(7) Squire, C. 'Experience-centred and Culturally-oriented Approaches to Narrative'. In Doing Narrative Research, edited by M. Andrews, C. Squire, and M. Tamboukou. London and Thousand Oaks: CA, 2008: 42.

(8) Portelli, A.. Oral History as Genre, The Battle of the Valle Guilia: Oral History and the Art of Dialogue. Madison WI, 1997: 6

(9) Portelli, A.. Oral History as Genre, The Battle of the Valle Guilia: Oral History and the Art of Dialogue. Madison WI, 1997: 6

(10) Barbara Morris' recording took place over four sessions in 2009: 26 January, 16 February, 4 March, and 25 March. Once Consent and Deposit Instructions have been cleared, all recordings undertaken for the V&A oral history project will be deposited in the V&A Archive.

(11) My perspective on oral history narratives is indebted to the work of philosopher Paul Ricoeur, especially Time and Narrative, 3 vols, Chicago: 1984, 1985, 1988; Oneself As Another. Chicago, 1992; Memory and Forgetting. Chicago, 2004.

(12) Benjamin, W. 'The Storyteller: Reflections on the works of Nikolai Leskov'. In Illuminations, trans. H. Zohn, edited by H. Arendt. London, 1992: 84.

(13) See Peters, J.D. Speaking Into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communication. Chicago IL, 1991; Sterne, J. The Audible Past: the Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction. Durham NC, 2002; Sandino, L. "'Listen to Yourself!" Technology, Voice and the Self'. Hearing Voice in Oral History, 2009, Oral History Society conference, 3-4 July 2009.

(14) Scholes, L. '"What is Oral History?". Making Sense of Evidence', History Matters: the US Survey. http://historymatters.gmu.edu

(15) Portelli, A. There's Gonna Always Be a Line: History-Telling as a Multivocal Art. Madison WI, 1997: 24.

(16) Burton, A. Vision & Accident: The Story of the Victoria & Albert Museum. London, 1999: 210

(17) The Act had been drawn up in 1911, amended in 1920. Until its devolvement from the Civil Service in 1984 when the Museum became a Trustee museum, staff continued to sign the Official Secrets Act Declaration.

(18) The Board of Survey was appointed by the Director and would typically include senior Museum staff. Recommendations for disposal would be submitted to the Department of Education and forwarded to the Treasury.

(19) For a full review of the Circulation (Regional Services) Department at its closure, see V&A Museum Review, 1974-1978. London, 1981: 39-44, 123-126. See also Wilk, C. 'Collecting the Twentieth Century'. In A Grand Design: The Art of the Victoria & Albert Museum, edited by M. Baker and B. Richardson. New York and Baltimore, 1999; The V&A Museum Circulation Department. Its History and Scope. London, 1950.

(20) Peter Floud was Keeper of the Circulation Department from 1947 until his untimely death in 1960. His obituary can be read at https://www.vam.ac.uk/content/people-pages/obituary-peter-floud/

(21) Max Morris went on to become an influential left-wing President of the National Union of Teachers. Dave Bowman, President of the National Union of Railwaymen, was Barbara's second husband.

(22) For an overview of the debates about story as what-is-told and discourse as how-it-is -told, see McQuillan M., ed. The Narrative Reader. London and New York, 2000: 4-10.

(23) Andrews, M. 'Never the Last Word: Revisiting Data'. Doing Narrative Research, edited by M. Andrews et al. London and Thousand Oaks, CA, 2008: 90.

(24) Floud's Deputy Keeper, Hugh Wakefield, pioneered interest in contemporary studio pottery. Examples of other curators who began their careers in this pioneering department include Betty Elzea (formerly O'Looney), Mark Haworth-Booth, Carol Hogben, Charles Newton, Jennifer Hawkins Opie, and Nathalie Rothstein, though not all were contemporaries.

(25) Charles Gibbs- Smith was the Museum's Public Relations Officer during the directorship of Leigh Ashton. For a brief but colourful portrait of 'Gibbo', see Burton, A. Vision & Accident: The Story of the Victoria & Albert Museum. London, 1999: 202.

(26) Quoted in Burton, A. Vision & Accident: The Story of the Victoria & Albert Museum. London, 1999: 207.

(27) See Morris' inventory 'List of objects found at 9 Nightingale Close, W4', MA/15/1 Parts 2 - 3, V&A Archive, Blythe House. The type and number of objects are listed in detail and include:

  • Metalwork, Ceramics and Woodwork etc. 1-1231
  • Historic Textiles 1-193
  • Prints and Drawings 1-318
  • Books 1-192
  • Contemporary Textiles 1-90, of which only 26 were undamaged

(28) Portelli, A. 'On Methodology'. The Death of Luigi Trastulli and Other Stories: Form and Meaning in Oral History. New York, 1991: 50.

(29) Roberts, B. Biographical Research. Buckingham and Philadelphia, 2002: 6.

(30) Quoted in Conway D., K. E. Gover, Søren Kierkegaard. Critical Assessments of Leading Philosophers. London and New York, 2002: 21.