Plain Tales from the Raj Oral Archive

Scope and Content

Seventy-five sound recordings of oral history interviews covering the experiences of the British men and women who lived and worked in India during British rule in the Indian subcontinent. The interviews were conducted between 1972 and 1974 for the BBC Radio 4 documentary series 'Plain tales from the Raj' (1974). Interviews were primarily undertaken by the historian Charles Allen, with additional recordings by Prakash Mirchandani and Mark Tully. Full typescript transcripts (including inaccuracies in some cases) exist for the majority, but not all, of the sound recordings.

Interviewees primarily include British civilian and military personnel who resided in India from the late nineteenth century up until the end of British rule in 1947. These include military figures such as Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck, Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army, other senior officers, and a number of low ranking British soldiers. There are also interviews with civil servants and administrators who worked at various levels within the Indian Civil Service (ICS) and Indian Political Service, ranging from private secretaries to the British Viceroy to ICS District Officers. The business and commercial sectors are also represented, including interviews with British tea planters, industrial executives and journalists. The women interviewed include the wives and daughters of British military and civilian personnel, but also include those employed in India as nurses and missionaries. The radio series focused on the experiences of the British in India and, while interviews touch upon the effect of British rule in the Indian subcontinent on its indigenous inhabitants, the collection includes only a small number of interviews with Indians and 'Eurasians' [dual-heritage individuals].

Interviews cover a broad range of subjects including: accommodation and living conditions; daily routine; social life and recreation; health and sanitation; the effects of India postings on family life; relations between the British, other Europeans, Indians and 'Eurasians' in social and work environments; events such as riots and earthquakes; the fauna and landscape of India; and political events, including the Raj and nature of British rule in India, Independence, and the Partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947.

Administrative / Biographical History

'Plain Tales from the Raj' was a radio documentary series, written and produced by Michael Mason, first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 1974. The series explored the history of British rule in the Indian subcontinent though the experiences and daily lives of those British men and women, who lived and worked in India from the early 1900s up until Independence in 1947. The broadcast programme of 'Plain Tales from the Raj' was based upon a series of oral history research interviews conducted with British military and civilian figures, as well as a smaller number of Indian contributors. Interviews were primarily conducted from 1972 to 1974 by the historian Charles Allen, with further interviews undertaken in India by Prakash Mirchandani and Mark Tully.


Administrative files then alphabetical by surname of interviewee - Geoffrey Allen; Joan Allen; Claude Auchinleck; Vere Birdwood; Ed Brown; Olaf Caroe; George Carroll; Thomas Herbert Cashmore; Marjorie Cashmore; Raj Chatterjee; Conrad Corfield; Sylvia Corfield; John Cotton; Mary Cotton; Dorothy Crichton; F. J. Dillon; Edith Dixon; John Dring; Deborah Dring; Irene Edwards; Kathleen Griffiths; Percival Griffiths; R. P. Gupta; E. S. Humphries; Gilbert Laithwaite; Rosamund Lawrence; A. Lee; Lewis P. Le Marchand; Philip Mason; Christopher Masterman; Lakshmi Mazumdar; Spike Milligan; Penderel Moon; John Morris; D. K. Palit; Iris Portal; Edwin B. Pratt; Arfon and Rosalie Roberts; John and Dorothy Rowe; Reginald Savory; Frances Smyth; John Smyth; Ian Melville Stephens; David and Anne Ellen Symington; Nancy Vernede; Raymond Vernede; Dharma Vira; Kenneth Warren; Norman C. Watney; H. T. Wickham; George Neville and Mary Wood; B. H. Zaidi.

Access Information

Currently only transcripts of interviews are available to consult at SOAS Library. Researchers can access copies of the sound recordings at the British Library Listening & Viewing Service [Reference: C1510] For more details see or contact / 020 7412 7418.

Restrictions Apply

Acquisition Information

Donated to SOAS Library by the British Broadcasting Corporation in 1981

Other Finding Aids

Published guide: India Office Library and Records & Imperial War Museum, 'Plain Tales from the Raj: A Catalogue of the BBC Recordings', London: IOLR, 1981 [available in the SOAS Special Collections Reading Room]. More detailed and comprehensive card index available at the Imperial War Museum.

Alternative Form Available

Copies of sound recordings are available at British Library Listening & Viewing Service. Reference: C1510. Copies of transcripts are available at British Library India Office Library & Records. [ref: MSS EUR T1-MSS EUR T75].

Conditions Governing Use

Private study only. For publication or broadcast please refer to Archivist

Copyright held by British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)

Related Material

SOAS Library also holds 'British in India Oral Archive Project' collection [ref. OA2]. The 'British in India Oral Archive Project sought to build upon the recordings conducted for 'Plan Tales from the Raj'. This collection includes 61 additional oral history interviews with British and indigenous inhabitants of India, covering the pre-Independence and post-Independence periods, conducted between 1975 and 1976. Includes interviews with a wide cross-section of people, including key figures such as Earl Mountbatten and B.K. Nehru, as well as civil servants, army officers, and railway clerks.

SOAS Library also holds 'India: A People Partitioned' collection [ref. OA3]. 205 oral history interview recordings conducted for the BBC radio series 'India: A People Partitioned', first broadcast in 1997. The interviews document the social history of the Partition of India and its effect on people across South Asia. Interviewees include prominent political and cultural figures in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, but the majority of the interviews are with 'ordinary' people of Muslim, Sikh and Hindu heritage whose lives were affected by the events surrounding Independence and the Partition of India in 1947.

SOAS Library also holds 'Memories of the British in India' collection [ref. OA4]. Twenty-eight oral history interviews with British individuals who lived in India during British rule, conducted by the British Library; India Office Library & Records division.


'Plain Tales from the Raj', Writ. Michael Mason. Prod. Michael Mason. BBC Radio 4, 1974 Charles Allen (ed.), 'Plain Tales from the Raj', London: Deutsch, 1975.