Having always assumed library copies of documentaries and adaptations lay in dusty DVD cases somewhere in the depths of the Billy B, I decided quite early on that I would be more than covered by YouTube, BBC iPlayer, Netflix, and Prime Video during my undergraduate degree. My laptop doesn’t have a DVD drive anyway, and my reliance on the online library led me to believe that some adaptations, so prized by English students such as myself, would be accessible online too.
Since then, I have been shown into the wonderful world of BoB, an on-demand television and radio site for universities. Staff and students can record programmes from more than seventy-five channels and have access to an archive of more than two-million broadcast recordings. And these recordings really do stretch back decades. I remember scrolling past the 1964 adaptation of Hamlet at one point.
It would be near-impossible to name a literary adaptation that the archive does not include, and that is before getting onto the recordings of more recent programmes, or those lost costume dramas which never get repeated anymore. News broadcasts, football games, award ceremonies dating back years, various interviews, radio plays, a considerable number of television-aired films… the list goes on.
Of course, the purpose of this article is to showcase a valuable academic tool and realise its full potential. This potential may, however, be prone to overtake the academic and enter more into the realm of help-me-procrastinate. But not to worry! As long as we keep the all-encompassing spirit of academia in mind (how could we not?) we shouldn’t go far wrong. After all, someone decided it was a worthwhile, academic idea to record countless old episodes of Coronation Street. And with the summer holidays coming up – a time where every good student will want to make use of all the resources at their disposal – what better chance to become well-acquainted with this particular site?
The important thing to note with BoB is that you really have to have an idea of what you want to watch. It isn’t the best for mindless browsing and you will likely have to fast forward through adverts (or you may be someone who enjoys the fever dream which is a 2007 ad break).
You can search for individual episodes or playlists (ideal for if you have a whole series in mind, such as Jane Eyre or Blue Planet). Make sure to include any actors’ names or check the date episodes aired in the results, as they aren’t always numbered. Sometimes a version recorded with a sign language interpreter is available, and nine times out of ten, so are subtitles. Whatever you look up will be searched for within subtitle transcripts. So you may want to listen to an episode of In Our Time, however, those three words appear quite a bit in any decent dialogue. It may well bring up an episode of Law and Order from 2010 instead. The more specific you can be, the better.
Don’t be put off by random requests either. Obscure shows cancelled after one series may well feature, as well as ridiculous reality television throwbacks. There are shows from abroad which they somehow managed to capture like Orphan Black or Emerald City, and shows you may not have access to if you don’t have Netflix, Prime, or even Spotify/BBC Sounds. If it has feasibly been on British telly in the last forty years, you stand a good chance of finding it!
A fan of all things television and a close friend of IMDb, if I find an actor, a writer, or a show that I love, I will subsequently make it my mission to watch everything relating to said actor, writer, or show. BoB is perfect for such a mission. Here’s where I am supposed to say ‘for academic purposes’ again, but it can genuinely be very enlightening to do this.
Watching a series or a talk show that you would never have picked for yourself may just prove thoroughly enjoyable and educational in its own way. Just as an example, I found the costume drama The Forsyte Saga at the start of this year, which I had never heard of before. (The only other way to watch this is to purchase it through Amazon) It is based on a colossal series of books by John Galsworthy, a Nobel-Prize Winner, well ahead of his time, who was fond of a witty social commentary. Loving the saga led to me listening to the audio-book, which is honestly getting me through this exam period. This is my beautiful little BoB success story.
So, if it sounds like this website could be of beneficial use to you too, here is the link:
Simply sign in as you would through the library. Happy (academic) viewing!
Feature image available on Unsplash.