Tag Archives: BBC

The addictive history of medicine: the curious case of the 7 percent solution

“Which is it to-day,” I asked, “morphine or cocaine?”
He raised his eyes languidly from the old black-letter volume which he had opened.
“It is cocaine,” he said, “a seven-per-cent solution. Would you care to try it?”

The Sign of Four, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, (1890)

Leatherette case for a cocaine syringe, not unlike the one described by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Credit: Science Museum).

Sherlock Holmes is undoubtedly literature’s most famous cocaine user. In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, Holmes uses cocaine in order to stimulate his brain when he wasn’t applying it to a case. The detective famously injected a ‘seven percent solution’ which was most often administered by doctors; not surprising considering Conan Doyle was a doctor himself. In the mid-1880s when the author was publishing such stories as A Scandal in Bohemia (1886), cocaine was believed to be a new wonder drug, able to kill pain and improve mental function.

An advertisement expounds the virtues of cocaine for treating teething children. (Credit: University at Buffalo)

In fact, Sherlock Holmes certainly would not have been alone amongst his contemporaries for his use of cocaine. Since 1856 when cocaine had been isolated from the coca plant, the drug was widely used for its pain-killing properties. The drug found its way into such medicines as children’s tooth-ache remedies and was even prescribed to treat morning sickness.

Although his habit was always condemned by Watson, in later stories Holmes himself referred to his hypodermic syringe as an ‘instrument of evil’. Similarly, the recreational use of cocaine fell off sharply at the end of the 19th century as its dangers became apparent. The drug was eventually banned in the UK in 1920.

Bottle of Tabloid brand 'Voice' tablets containing cocaine for improving speaking and singing abilities, c. 1890-1910 (Credit: Science Museum).

In the modern BBC adaptation of Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch, there is no mention of the ‘morocco case’ of Conan Doyle’s originals. However, in ‘A Study in Pink’, 221B Baker Street is subjected to a drug raid, and references are later made to Sherlock experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Could this be a nod to the sleuth’s original cocaine habit?

 

 

This article was written by Kristin Hussey and Luke Pomeroy, Collections Information Officers

The Closure of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop

This artice was written by Ellie West-Thomas, Research Assistant for Electronic Music  

Fourteen years ago the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, who created innovative music and techniques that made it one of the most significant influences on electronic music today, closed its doors for the last time. Maida Vale Studios, the home to the workshop, was a place once filled by people brimming with ideas that changed the course of Electronic Music.

The Workshop was set up to satisfy the growing demand in the late 1950s for “radiophonic” sounds from a group of producers and studio managers at the BBC, including Daphne Oram.

For some time there had been much interest in producing innovative music and sounds to go with the pioneering programming of the era. Much of The Radiophonic Workshop’s early work was in effects for radio, in particular experimental drama and “radiophonic poems”.

New sounds were created using recordings of everyday sounds such as voices, bells or even gravel as the raw materials for “radiophonic” manipulations. In these manipulations, audio tape could be played back at different speeds (altering a sound’s pitch), reversed, cut and joined, or processed using reverb or equalisation.

Sounds being made at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (Science Museum)

Perhaps the most significant recording in Radiophonic Workshop history came in 1963 when they were approached by composer Ron Grainer to record a theme tune for an upcoming BBC television series called Doctor Who. Presented with the task of “realising” Grainer’s score, complete with its descriptions of “sweeps”, “swoops”, “wind clouds” and “wind bubbles”, it has become one of television’s most recognisable themes. Delia Derbyshire created it by using a plucked string, 12 oscillators and a lot of tape manipulation.

The sound of the TARDIS materialising and dematerialising was made in an even less conventional way. It was created by running keys along the rusty bass strings of a broken piano, with the recording slowed down to make an even lower sound. It may not sound like it but look back at some old Who and see if you can hear those keys. Why not try it yourself – grab your house keys and take them to some rusty strings of a piano.

On display in The Oramics to Electronica Exhibition are some of the objects used by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop to create sounds. Here is an example.

A Lampshade used by Delia Derbyshire (Credit: Science Museum)

This lamp shade was used by Delia Derbyshire as a sound source for ‘Blue Veils & Golden Sands’ in 1967.

For a more contemporary performance, here’s a link to Coldcut who performed classic compositions at the Electric Proms in 2008, in an evening which was devoted to the Workshop .