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BBC to broadcast lost Tolkien recordings

Recordings of J.R.R. Tolkien thought to have been lost have been rediscovered in the BBC archives and will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 20.00 on Saturday 6 August.

The recordings survive from an interview Tolkien gave for Tolkien in Oxford, a documentary first broadcast on BBC 2 on 30 March 1968.

Only a small selection was used in the final programme. The rest of the material was thought to have been lost until its producer, Leslie Megahey, found it on a video tape.

Having shared the precious find with Tolkien scholar Dr Stuart Lee, the search began to find the original tape in the BBC archives.

Only a small number of people have seen snippets from the unused material, including attendees of a 2014 symposium at Merton College, Oxford and the Tolkien Society’s 2015 Annual Dinner in Arundel.

Tolkien: The Lost Recordings” is narrated by Joss Ackland and will air on BBC Radio 4 on Saturday 6 August.

BBC press release

Joss Ackland narrates a search through the BBC archives for unheard gems from J. R. R. Tolkien, as Oxford academic Dr Stuart Lee, discovers the unheard offcuts from an interview given by the author.

Tolkien gave the interview for a BBC film in 1968, but only a tiny part of it was used in the broadcast programme. It was one of only a handful of recorded interviews he ever gave, and was also to be his last. Dr Lee’s search for the unbroadcast rushes takes him to the depths of the BBC film archives and back to the making of the original film, Tolkien, in Oxford.

For the director, Leslie Megahey, only 23 at the time, this was his first film, and the one that launched a prestigious career. The programme reunites him with three others: researcher Patrick O’Sullivan, Tolkien fan Michael Hebbert, and critic Valentine Cunningham, who describes how he was brought in to be the voice of dissent – challenging the burgeoning Tolkien cult spreading from America.

What emerges is a picture of a playful academic whose fiction was little respected by adults at the time and looked down on as a lesser form of literature. But he is robustly defended by Professor Tom Shippey and remembered fondly by his colleague Dr Roger Highfield.

Lee presents the results of his search through the archives to Dr Dimitra Fimi, who considers any new words from Tolkien’s mouth as “gold”, while for Lee, the real dragon’s hoard is the privilege of hearing Tolkien in relaxed mode reflecting on his life as never before.

Read the press release in full.

About the Author: Daniel Helen

Daniel is an Officer without Portfolio and Trustee of The Tolkien Society. Elected in 2014, he is mainly responsible for the Society’s digital operations, including this website.

  • MikeM_inMD

    Does anyone know if there is a way to listen to BBC Radio 4 via the internet in the US?

  • Michael Flowers

    Yes. Apparently, if you download the BBC radio iplayer app you are home & dry

  • You don’t need to download an app to listen to the programme, it is available worldwide to listen to via the link in the post,, and will be available once the radio broadcast has finished. The recording is usually available for a month after transmission, but Archive on 4 recordings seem to be available indefinitely.

  • Sadly, having listened to the programme, am very disappointed with the BBC editorial control on the programme.

    I have so far counted only about 5 minutes in an hour long programme, in which we are allowed to hear J.R.R. Tolkien talk, and hear from the Lost Recordings.

    This was a wasted opportunity by the BBC to hear from the Professor. It was great to hear
    the 5 minutes that they did play, and all the academics in the programme
    were great and was very impressed with Tom Shippey’s contribution.

    However the programme does not come over as well as I expected it to have, and should have presented more of the Lost Recordings from Tolkien than just five minutes.

    Joss Ackland’s narration was nauseatingly bad, and again I blame the BBC editors for this.

  • If anyone would like to download this programme as an .mp3 file, the BBC have made it available, right click on the link below to save it your computer (though it claims you can only do this for 30 days)