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Wednesday, September 8, 1999 Published at 16:43 GMT 17:43 UK


BBC launches story of the century

More than 6,000 people are set to go down in history with the launch of the BBC's millennium archive, which tells the personal stories behind the major events of the 20th century.

Contributors from all across the UK, from five to 107 years old, have recorded their life experiences for the unique local radio project, The Century Speaks.

Each of the BBC's 40 local and national radio stations have interviewed a cross-section of 150 local people, whose stories will be broadcast in a series of 16 programmes - 640 in all.

The programmes focus on different themes, including crime, belief and travel. Each includes personal recollections of major events such as World Wars I and II, and the General Strike.

The aim is to show how communities throughout the UK have changed over the past 100 years.

'Nation remembers itself'

The 1.3m project is thought to be the largest oral history project in Europe, with more than 10,000 hours of interviews, and will form a permanent archive to be given to the nation.

Interview will be filed on digital mini-disc in the British Library as part of the National Sound Archive.

"I am enormously proud that this idea has developed into one of the cornerstones of our millennium celebrations," said BBC Broadcast chief executive Will Wyatt.

"It is something that the BBC is uniquely placed to do - to touch people's lives and chronicle the diverse individual stories of our society and our history.

"It is truly the nation remembering to itself and to our descendants."

Project director Michael Green said: "Many people wanted to talk and to put things on the record. Some people went on for three or four hours - producers couldn't get away."

'Pen to computer'

The oldest contributor at the London launch of the project was Frank Wilkes, 95, a former clerk in the Worcester County Surveyors Office.

"The average person doesn't understand the conditions in which people lived," he said.

"When I started, my salary was 12 - a year - and that was a good wage."

"I have gone from the quill pen to the computer," he said.

But it is not just the elderly who have been interviewed. Andrew Ellis, 12, from Romford, Essex, describes his ambitions to be an architect, and how being mugged by older boys has left him wary about going out.

"I have made my mark on history," he said.

A documentary The Century Speaks will be shown on BBC Two's History Zone on 18 September.

Clips of many of the interviews can be heard on the BBC's The Century Speaks Website.

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