2013 at the British Library: 20th century state propaganda, the newly-acquired archive of Sir Alec Guinness and an exhibition exploring what the Georgians did for us

2013 promises to be a fantastic year for culture at the British Library. Today we’re releasing a sneak preview of what we have coming up, including newly-acquired archives, major exhibitions and thought-provoking events.

From safe sex to dictatorships, from the iconic to the everyday, Propaganda: Power and Persuasion (17 May-17 Sept) is a major exhibition exploring how different states have used propaganda during the 20th and 21st centuries, in peace-time and in war.

Today we reveal a selection of propaganda leaflets dropped on occupied territories by the Allied powers during WWII. Acquired by the British Library from the Foreign Office during the war, these leaflets will be displayed in public for the very first time during this exhibition. Despite being dropped in large numbers across occupied territories, the World War II leaflets were treated as secret documents in Britain at the start of the war. Each leaflet revealed today, dropped on France, Germany and Italy during the war, contains its own often inventive message encouraging civilian resistance and urging armed forces to surrender. Leaflet-dropping is a simple but effective propaganda tool used in military conflicts throughout the 20th century right up to the present day.

  • Announced today: the British Library acquires the personal archive of Sir Alec Guinness

The British Library has acquired the personal archive of Oscar-winning actor Sir Alec Guinness. The archive, which charts Guinness’s career from the late 1930s to his death in 2000, includes more than 900 of his letters to family and friends and over 100 volumes of diaries, and was purchased with generous support from The Friends of the British Library. Guinness’s papers join those of Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson to complete the Library’s collection of archives of the great 20th century theatrical knights. Cataloguing is due to take place over the next year and the Library anticipates that the archive will be open for research in 2014.

These papers, which will be publicly available for the first time, offer an intimate account of Alec Guinness’s life, detailing his wartime responsibilities and his conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1956, as well as his successful career on stage and screen. Highlights include a letter to his wife written during the opening night of the 1938 Old Vic season which made his reputation, a diary entry following the death of Laurence Olivier in which Guinness reflects on Olivier’s acting technique and contribution to the stage, and Guinness’s account of his premonition of death the day before his boat went down in a freak storm during World War II.

  • The Georgians - first details of the British Library’s major autumn exhibition released

Drawing on the British Library’s exceptionally rich collections from the period, including highly illustrated books and ephemera, The Georgians exhibition will examine the legacy of the Georgian period and its enormous influence on 21st-century Britain. The Georgians (Nov 2013-Mar 2014) will mark the 300th anniversary of George I’s accession to the throne, and celebrate the age that gave us pantomimes, the ballet, the pleasures of shopping and even our first taste of celebrity culture.

  • Announcement of Sisterhood & After, the first national Women’s Liberation oral history archive

From Spare Rib to Greenham Common, the Southall Black Sisters to the Northern Ireland Women's Rights Movement, the generation of women who powered the women’s liberation movement laid the foundations for many of the social freedoms we enjoy today. The Sisterhood & After project brings together oral history interviews with 60 key feminist activists from the time, including Una Kroll, 87 year old campaigner for women's right to be priests, Susie Orbach, author of the 1978 polemic Fat is a Feminist Issue, and many others who fought for women’s rights on issues including equal pay, equal rights, contraception, domestic violence and education.

With over 350 hours of audio and video plus a learning website to be launched on International Women’s Day in March this year, this archive will capture the generation who challenged and changed women's and men's lives forever.

  • The Charleston Bulletin: Virginia Woolf’s last unpublished work is revealed in a new British Library publication

In the summer of 1923 Virginia Woolf’s nephews, Quentin and Julian Bell, founded a family newspaper, The Charleston Bulletin. Quentin decided to ask his aunt Virginia for a contribution: ‘it seemed stupid to have a real author so close at hand and not have her contribute.’ Woolf and Quentin created a series of Supplements to the daily newspaper between 1923 and 1927. Written or dictated by Woolf and illustrated by Quentin, these booklets of stories and drawings present a unique collaboration between Woolf and her nephew produced during her most prolific years.

The Charleston Bulletin Supplements will be published for the first time by the British Library on 13 June 2013. Describing the escapades of family members, household servants and associates of the Bloomsbury Group, no-one escapes the sharp wit and teasing by aunt and nephew, and Woolf’s humour and mischievous nature are brought to the fore in this new publication by one of the 20th century’s greatest authors.

The Library’s smaller exhibition space, The Folio Society Gallery, is free to the public and is home to three temporary exhibitions every year. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Benjamin Britten’s birth, from May-September 2013 we’ll be exhibiting items from his archive, including the draft score of one of his most famous compositions, ‘The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra’, which was acquired by the Library last year. In October the Folio Society Gallery will be home to an exhibition on Children’s Illustrated Literature, which will run until January 2014.

The British Library’s Spring Festival is a five day celebration of fashion, design and film, which runs from 1-5 March this year.

Inspiring Science (11-24 March), the Library’s first ever science season, will encourage people to experiment with ideas and explore the link between art, philosophy, creativity and science.

For more information on any of these activities, contact the press office on 0207 412 7110.

Click on the following links to see available images for Propaganda: Power and Persuasian, The Georgians, the archive of Sir Alec Guinness, Sisterhood & After and The Charleston Bulletin.

To watch the a film previewing the British Library’s 2013 cultural highlights, go to www.youtube.com/britishlibrary.

For more information contact:


The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world's greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world's largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library's collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation and includes books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, photographs, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Up to 10 million people visit the British Library website - www.bl.uk - every year where they can view up to 4 million digitised collection items and over 40 million pages.  



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