Book Reviews

In Their Own Words – The National Archives – Review

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In Their Own Words – The National Archives – Review by Pat V.

Written communication has changed completely in the last thirty years. With Facebook, emails, texts, and tweets, how many of us these days can remember the last hand-written letter we received? Covering centuries of protest, scandal, cultural revolution and technological innovation, Audible has released a collection of letters from the National Archives at Kew that give audiences an intimate window into the past, documenting momentous events through personal letters from well-known figures and ordinary citizens alike. Bringing together some of the world’s most shocking, funny and poignant writing, the collection spans some 500 years.

Many of the letters give us a contemporary view of important moments in history. We have a letter from Winston Churchill to President Roosevelt requesting US support against Hitler, from Clement Atlee to Harry S Truman following Hiroshima, a despatch on the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, a letter from Josef Kramer, the commandant of Bergen Belsen to his wife, the farewell letter from Padraig Pearse to his mother on the eve of his execution.

Others are of a more general interest: an anonymous writer purporting to be Jack the Ripper, letters from the Wright brothers trying to get the War Office to fund their aeronautical research, the anonymous letter that framed the Kray Twins, messages sent to the Home Office urging for the decriminalization of homosexuality in the 1960s, even letters lamenting ‘class antagonism’ aboard the Titanic after its fateful maiden voyage.

However there are many letters in a lighter vein. We have messages about Christine Keeler’s notorious Russian/British love triangle that led to the Profumo affair in the 1960s, adulterous love notes from Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife and a letter that must have caused great amusement at the time, from a clairvoyant, offering her services to the Home Office to help them identify Russian spies.

The readers include some of Britain’s best loved performers. The versatile Miriam Margolyes is at her comic best reading the letter from the clairvoyant and Martin Shaw gives an impressive performance with his delivery of the Churchill letter. Also featured are Indira Varma (Game Of Thrones), Daniel Mays (Mrs Biggs), David Haig (Four Weddings & A Funeral) and Robert Bathurst (Downton Abbey) among others.

Covering a wide range of moods and topics, there is something here for everyone. It is an interesting and impressive collection and works well as an audiobook. It is available from audible.co.uk and lasts 7h 21mins.

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