Here’s an intriguing mystery. I have been writing in another context about the ITV company Granada and the benevolent despot who ran it in the 1950s and 1960s, Sidney Bernstein. Bernstein owned a chain of cinemas as well as heading an entertainment conglomerate that, by the mid-’60s, encompassed a television rental business and motorway service stations. Often described as a ‘Socialist millionaire’, Bernstein was a major art collector who eventually gave a significant collection of mostly modern masterpieces to Manchester Art Gallery (above). On 14 February 1959, the New Statesman ran a largely admiring profile of Bernstein (without a byline, as was the custom then) which included the information that, thanks to Granada,
visitors to art galleries, in Manchester and elsewhere, will shortly be able to hire for half-a-crown a gadget with earphones, through which they will hear interpretative commentaries on the pictures they are looking at.
Which I find extraordinary. This is early 1959, remember, and Granada is involved in the development of audioguides for museums. I had previously assumed such guides were only introduced, at the earliest, in the 1980s. In fact, it’s tricky trying to research the history of audioguides – I can find next-to-nothing online and one of the most scholarly papers concerned with the topic – ‘Four steps in the history of museum technologies and visitors’ digital participation’ by Jorgen Riber Christensen in MedieKulter, 2011; available as a free download) – contains nothing about their history.
All of which leads me to ask, does anyone know anything about this Granada-backed audioguide? Was it actually prototyped and tested? Does anyone remember using one? And, inevitably, is there a collector of historical media artefacts who actually owns one? All information, including about the early history of audioguides, gratefully received.