Recording Robert Hardy

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Article by Mary Powell and republished from the Good Taste magazine.
Picture – Robert Hardy and Professor David Sleight in the Lincoln Sound Theatre.

2015 is going to be very special. Anniversaries abound, particularly the sealing of Magna Carta in 1215, the Castle restoration will be complete and a series of Magna Carta events are planned throughout the 800th anniversary year. We are also planning Lincolnshire’s Great Exhibition 2015 where the most exciting and rarely seen works of art will be displayed in The Collection, Usher Gallery and Wren Library.

However, exciting moments are already happening as I head over to the University of Lincoln to sit in on an unusual sound recording. Lord Cormack, Chairman of the Historic Lincoln Trust has invited the actor Robert Hardy to record the full text of Magna Carta and he has very kindly agreed. The School of Media undoubtedly have some of the best facilities for students and they have volunteered their sound theatre and expertise.

Before I meet the man, I recognise one of the most familiar voices booming towards us down the corridor, memories of Siegfried Farnon in All Creatures Great and Small and Cornelius Fudge in the Harry Potter films flood back. He has played Winston Churchill on five occasions and he tells us that he has just come from Dover Castle where he has been filming the Churchill speeches for ITV.

Magna Carta is on a single membrane of parchment and consists of 54 lines of closely written abbreviated Latin. Translated into English by the British Library, the text covers 18 sheets of A.4 paper! We are all ready to go, when the fire alarm goes and it’s for real, builders having cut through a cable. The last thing we wanted for our 87 year old guest was to walk down from the second floor but as we flee the building I have the forethought to grab a chair so at least he can sit down while we wait.

Eventually recording does begin. He clears his throat and he’s off. Some of the sentences are extraordinarily long, a particularly challenging one has 54 words, but Robert Hardy’s technique and experience shines through. Clause 37 is full of tongue twisters: ‘fee-farm’, ‘socage’ and ‘burgage’ repeated several times, and from the sound booth we hear a murmured “this one’s difficult” and a bit later “I like the short clauses best”! Occasionally he pauses for a quick discussion over pronunciation, but essentially does the whole thing in one take. He reads the opening and closing paragraphs in both English and Latin and it sounds splendid, described by Lord Cormack as “wonderfully atmospheric”.

David Sleight, Dean of Public Engagement who previously worked at the BBC for 17 years, is positively euphoric at how well it has gone and we are all agreed that this beautifully reading has brought it to life. Robert Hardy looks tired and after a quick photograph at Lincoln Castle we say our grateful farewells. A truly memorable day and a great addition to our Castle interpretation, however I really must find out what ‘socage’ and ‘burgage’ are!

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About David McSherry

Senior Lecturer in Audio Production