Daily Express

Candid camera… video life stories saved for posterity

From the widow saved from grief to the prison sex counsellor, how people are preserving their memories for future generation­s


for word, right down to Terry’s wrongly placed apostrophe. The local choir turned it into a song and performed it for Mary’s video.

Another life story the company has captured for posterity is that of Helen Knox, who grew up in a rural idyll on an Essex farm. Now in her early 60s, she still has the rosycheeke­d look of a farmer’s wife and is in good health.

So it’s something of a shock to hear her tell how she spent most of her life working as a counsellor in tough inner-city estates in west London, giving sex education and family planning advice to prison inmates, the poor and people living in homeless shelters. “One in 262 women was HIV positive in that area,” she said. Some of the prisoners she helped were armed robbers and one was a murderer, but Helen says: “I had a nofear attitude.”

The only time she was ever embarrasse­d was when she read one of the four books she has written on contracept­ion to her elderly mother Margaret, now deceased.

“My mum wasn’t able to read too well by then,” she said.

Helen considered leaving out the section on orgasms but eventually read the whole chapter aloud. When she reached the end her mother told her: “That was very interestin­g. I learned a lot, again.” Helen has never married. “I’m an auntie and godmother,” she says. “I intend to live to a grand old age but tomorrow is never promised. Doing the video memory box was a lovely experience. I highly recommend it.”

Anne believes life stories must also be educationa­l tools, otherwise “lessons are not learned”.

Basic packages start from £1,250, and she has already completed five or six films with a similar number in production. Other firms providing the service are taking off in the UK and overseas.

BRITISH-BASED LifeBook, which creates written autobiogra­phies using ghost writers, says 7,000 people now have one of its e-books and expect to see that figure rise to 50,000 over the next three years.

“We have seen a great increase in the number of ordinary people who have realised they are extraordin­ary and they do have a story to tell,” its founder Roy Moëd says.

Life stories can also act as a therapeuti­c tool. Recording the memories of the dying is becoming popular in hospices, leaving a treasured audio memory box for relatives and helping those with limited time left regain some form of control. The

Hospice Biographer­s, a charity set up in May 2017, has a growing network of volunteers to fulfil its aim of facilitati­ng life story recordings at all 200 UK hospices.

Former TV producer Barbara Altounyan had the idea after documentin­g her dying father’s life. Two years later, 130 life stories have been delivered by trained volunteer “biographer­s”.

Jag Bhandal from The Hospice Biographer­s says: “For many it is part of the process of acceptance, giving their life meaning almost when faced with that prospect that your life is very nearly at an end.”

Biographer­s are encouraged to get to know people before filming. Unlike DocYouTV, recordings are kept private on USB sticks for the patient and a nominated person.

Life stories may still be a fairly new concept but it is catching on.

“Digital technologi­es are allowing people to capture their everyday lives in ways that were never considered a couple of decades ago,” explains Dr Amy ToothMurph­y, lecturer in oral history at Royal Holloway University.

She says history has been “democratis­ed”, thanks largely to oral historians who set out to reclaim the “hidden histories” of women, the working class and ethnic minority groups in the 1960s and 1970s.

“School pupils can now learn about the histories of the everyday or of oppressed people but that was not the case of the grandparen­ts of today. They learnt about top-down history, the kind of questions you get asked in Trivial Pursuit.”

She believes it’s a recent developmen­t engineered through TV shows such as Who Do You Think You Are? and ancestry websites.

The BBC and the British Library are looking at everyday lives as a social history resource. In the UK, about 2,000 intimate conversati­ons have been recorded since 2012 for their Listening Project.

The aim is to capture “little snippets of what is happening in two people’s lives as if you were hearing them at a bus stop or bar”, British Library digital cataloguer Holly Gilbert explains.

Subjects covered so far include Asperger’s disease, the Omagh IRA bombing, changing attitudes to sexuality, adoption and bullying. Participan­ts have ranged in age from four to 100.

Holly, who stores full-length recordings lasting more than an hour in batches of 100, says researcher­s are increasing­ly interested in the content.

“In this age of social media, people overshare on Twitter and Facebook,” she said. The project records a richer, more descriptiv­e version of people’s lives, where they’re uninterrup­ted and tell us what they want to and what they want to leave behind.”

 ??  ?? MEMORIES: Mary with photo of Terry and, inset, the day they were engaged in 1973
MEMORIES: Mary with photo of Terry and, inset, the day they were engaged in 1973
 ??  ?? NEVER MARRIED: Helen Knox today, left, as a teenager, above, and, right, in her nurse’s uniform
NEVER MARRIED: Helen Knox today, left, as a teenager, above, and, right, in her nurse’s uniform

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