The BBC is to make hundreds of hours of recordings of its Reith Lectures available in a new online archive.
The archive will include 240 recordings made over the past 60 years and a transcript of every lecture since 1948, when the series began. The lectures were named after Lord Reith, the BBC’s first director general, who created them as a “stimulus to thought and contribution to knowledge”.
Notable lecturers over the years have included philosopher Bertrand Russell, who gave the inaugural Reith Lecture in 1948, Dame Margery Perham, fellow of Nuffield College, Oxford, who became the first female lecturer in 1961, and Robert Gardiner in 1965, executive secretary of the United Nation’s European Commission for Africa, who became the first black Reith Lecturer in 1965.
Other famous speakers include American atomic energy scientist and Manhattan project chief J Robert Oppenheimer, and Israeli pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim.
This year’s Reith Lecturers will be Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and former director-general of MI5 Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller.
While trying to assemble the archive, the BBC discovered that some of the audio recordings from the first 30 years of the lectures are missing, and the broadcaster has appealed to members of the public to send in any recordings they have.
Andrew Caspari, BBC head of Speech Radio and Classical Music Interactive, said: “This is a unique collection of stunning intellectual significance. Making our great programmes of the past available permanently is a vital role for Radio 4’s digital offer.”
Aung San Suu Kyi’s lectures will be broadcast on Radio 4 at 9am on June 28 and July 5. Eliza Manningham-Buller’s Reith Lectures will be broadcast at 9am on September 6, 13, and 20.