Bringing Chess to Visually Impaired People

The Gazette - August 2021

Edited by Julie Leonard
The views expressed in the Gazette do not necessarily reflect the policies or views of the BCA, nor those of the editor.

BCA Audio Library: A Brief History - Part 1

The BCA Tape Library, as it was originally known, was formed around the late 1950's or early 1960's. The evidence suggests the joint architects were the late Hans Cohn and the late Jack Horrocks. Around the same time, Hans Cohn set up a service of readings of Chess Columns from the press. In this service, voluntary readers selected various chess columns from a selection of newspapers and read them onto reel to reel tapes. Hans had sturdy cardboard boxes constructed in which, copied tapes were sent to members. These boxes had four fold in flaps onto which the addresses of four members were written. This enabled the boxes to be circulated around four members in rotation. At its height, these tapes were being received by more than 40 members each month.

Around the same time, Hans Cohn and Jack Horrocks began recruiting volunteers to read full chess books and shorter chess articles onto tape. These recordings formed a library from which members could borrow recordings free.

In 1963, the Phillips company launched the ‘audio cassette’, also known as the ‘compact cassette’ or ‘tape cassette’, onto the market. This more convenient format was an immediate success, and cassette tape recorders were soon readily available. Voluntary readers started reading content onto cassette tapes, and the task of transferring the existing recordings from reel to reel to cassettes began. The bulk of this work was carried out by Frank Oliver, who had taken over the library from Jack, and by Ted Williams, who became librarian after Frank.

A considerable boost to the library occurred, when Mike Basman, the founder of ‘Audio Chess’, allowed BCA to buy recordings to add to its library. The excellently produced Basman tapes contained a wide variety of material, much of it being the original work of leading players, including: Raymond Keene, Jim Plaskett, Andrew Martin and many others.

During the 1960's, 1970's and 1980's chess study material, accessible to blind players, was extremely limited. The BCA Tape Library was a very significant addition to the material available.

The BCA Tape/Cassette/Audio Library, could not have been formed or grown, as it did, without many hundreds of hours generously given by dozens of amazingly generous voluntary readers. Some produced so many recordings that their voices were welcome friends in the homes of many of our members.

By the time Stan Lovell became Librarian, the name had moved with the times and the library was now the ‘BCA Cassette Library’. The next Librarian was Shirley Watkins, who handed it on to the current custodian, Mark Kirkham.

The library is now known as the ‘BCA Audio Library’, reflecting the broadening of formats now available to Audio Books and advanced technology.

Stan Lovell, April 2021

Editor’s Note: In Part 2 (next issue), Mark Kirkham will tell us how the library has evolved in the 21st century!