Friday May 31 2019

Visitors to the Britten-Pears Foundation Archive can view, in the foyer display case, an acquisition selected from those received during April. The display centres around the first performances of Britten’s Noye’s Fludde during the 1958 Aldeburgh Festival.

In April the Archive was pleased to receive for its collections a copy of the 1958 Festival programme book signed by Noye’s Fludde producer Colin Graham, conductor Charles Mackerras and members of the cast including Michael Crawford as Jaffet. This book belonged to one of the four property men listed in the programme, all pupils from Framlingham College, just one of the many Suffolk schools taking part in the first production.

A telegram from Colin Graham to the property men, thanking them for their hard work, was deposited with the book.

Telegram sent by Graham to the property men, July 1958.

These are fun and colourful items to add to the archive. They reflect the large number of local children taking part in the first performances of Noye’s Fludde – as animals, musicians and stage hands – as well as Britten’s desire to compose for children and the community.

This telegram is just one of many hundreds found in our archive as our collections date from a time when it was popular and commonplace to send telegram messages on special occasions. Consequently we hold hundreds of telegrams received by Britten – sending birthday greetings, congratulations on an award, best wishes for a first performance or even kind thoughts when he was ill. Singer Joan Cross’ papers have recently been catalogued and amongst these we found a large number of telegrams sent to her – usually wishing her success for a performance or congratulating her afterwards.

Joan Cross’s scrapbook with telegrams received in January 1951 congratulating her on a CBE in the New Year Honours, showing the evolving form of telegrams.

From our collections one can trace the history of telegrams and their evolving design in the 20th century. In its heyday a message sent by telegram could be delivered faster than mail. The sender had to go to a Post Office, where the staff telegraphed the message to the Post Office nearest the recipient; it was then either rewritten out by hand, or, as technology improved, printed out on paper strip or directly onto the paper telegram form. A delivery boy then cycled to the destination address to deliver it; in the case of telegrams wishing Joan Cross success this was most often backstage at an opera house or concert hall.

Telegram sent to Joan Cross from Eric Crozier, with a design reflecting the type of occasion when telegrams were typically sent – engagements, weddings and births.

As mail delivery became quicker and telephones common, the number of telegrams sent decreased, but they still remained popular for sending wishes on special occasions. Colourful designs were introduced – some by well-known artists, some reflecting national celebrations.

Telegram sent to Joan Cross wishing her success as Queen Elizabeth I in the Gloriana premiere with a design, by Lynton Lamb, celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation 5 days previously.

Cross received over 100 telegrams from well-wishers on the occasion of the premiere of Gloriana reflecting the popularity of this means of communication as well as Cross’s own popularity.

Telegram sent to Britten in March 1965 congratulating him on his Order of Merit, designed by Clifford Bayly.

Telegram sent to Britten for his 1974 birthday, designed by Edward Ardizzone.

Our correspondence collection reflects the forms of communication common in Britten and Pears’ time – handwritten letters, typed letters and typescript copies, postcards and telegrams. Telegrams were the emails or text messages of their day, and, as they were charged by the word, messages were abbreviated in ‘telegram style’ in order to send information in the fewest number of words, the equivalent of textspeak today!