What to do with a piece of Derry’s modern history?

What to do with a piece of Derry history? This old BSR made radiogram may need a new home
What to do with a piece of Derry history? This old BSR made radiogram may need a new home

Oh woe, what to do. If, like me you have a certain fondness of oldish things, things that make you sigh and say aah you will understand the dilemma.

There comes a time when an item that you rescued from the dump, sorry recycling facility, becomes too big to keep and this story is about an old radiogram.

Nearly twenty ago my friend was refurbishing her sitting room. Surplus to requirements was an old radiogram and I asked if it might be dumped in my direction. As this music reproduction dinosaur was being loaded into a van a family member indicated that this old piece of kit came out of the BSR. Not being a local I didn’t know much about the BSR but I was aware then that this radiogram was made in Derry and therefore a piece of Derry history. Somewhere in transit the glass at the front of the radiogram was damaged and when I tried to tune it in or play a record it didn’t work. That didn’t matter, the radiogram sat in my living room for years. When sofas got bigger and space was need it was moved to the upstairs landing where it has served as a table, the receptacle for hair brushes and discarded items from bedrooms.

And what about the radiogram itself? This radiogram was bought directly from the BSR factory in Creggan sometime in the late 1950s. It brought news every day for more than thirty years of local, national and international events to a Derry sitting room. It brought news of Kennedy’s presidential election and assassination in 1960 and 1963 respectively. It brought news of the Vietnam War, the Profumo scandal, the earliest Irish peacekeeping troop deployment to Lebanon and Congo. Marilyn Monroe’s death in 1962 was reported as was the appearance of mini-skirts n 1964. It was even tuned into Radio Free Derry in 1969. The dinner time (1pm) and tea time (6pm) Radio Eireann news was preceded by a xylophone rendition of O’Donnell Abu. The record player played music of Perry Como, Joe Loss, Frank Sinatra, Joseph Locke, Glenn Miller, Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Rolling Stones, the Wolfe Tones, ABBA and even an early De Valera speech. And of course Jim Reeves.

It also served as a walking aid to a one year old family member as he learned to walk, and it is he who is responsible for the unpicked fabric at the front of the machine.

This radiogram was made when Derry docks were loud with screeching cranes and chains, lorries and vans driving in and out, and the roaring objections of cattle being loaded onto Glasgow boats.

Vocals were added by dockers and sailors shouting orders, insults and obscenities to each other.

Now every young person’s bedroom is furnished with a miniscule dock, today’s system of music reproduction and competing noise from bedrooms may have a familiar resonance.

This radiogram was a made at a time of music reproduction explosion and employees could buy a player directly from the factory paying a sum out of their wages over a period of time. This radiogram was the Rolls Royce of music systems of its time, equating smart watches of today.

The people who made the radiogram did so with joy, more than 2000 people were employed by the BSR Company in Derry, they had money to spend on fashion and music and they loved the work that they did. Local engineers emerged as the most forward thinking of their day and their expertise was internationally recognized.

The radiogram is still in my house but it has to go, when I looked at it recently I noticed it has a Ferguson logo on the front and a Thorn logo on the back.

A Friday model. The back has never been off so there is probably the accumulation of fifty-five years of dust and dog hair, nothing that a vacuum cleaner and duster won’t fix.

I can’t allow this radiogram to end its days in the recycling graveyard to which many of its compatriots were consigned. So the question is – what to do with this piece of Derry history?