Official logo of BDAN
Bedford Talking Newspaper
for the Blind (BDAN)
Registered UK charity no. 802814

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The History of B.D.A.N.

Revised: August 2014

The first Talking Newspaper (TN) service for the Bedford area is thought to have begun in the early 1970s when four reporters from the then Bedfordshire Times (now Times and Citizen) recorded articles onto a tape which was taken to local residential homes for the elderly.

Bedford and District Audio News (BDAN) was established in early 1978 by the late Cyril Humphreys and his wife Phyllis. Inspired by a television programme about Talking Newspaper groups, Cyril decided to volunteer. However, he found that no such service existed in the Bedford area. Undeterred, he and his wife vowed to establish a group themselves.

A cutting from the former Bedford on Sunday, showing a letter written by Cyril Humphreys, announcing the new BDAN service - May 1978
A letter from Cyril Humphreys to the then Bedford on Sunday newspaper, 14th May 1978, announcing the start of the BDAN service, christened 'Audio News', and appealing for volunteers and listeners

Image courtesy Bedfordshire on Sunday

After visiting an existing service in nearby Luton, Cyril advertised a meeting at Bedford Central Library in February 1978. This was attended by well over 100 people. 'We were amazed by the response,' Cyril later recalled. 'One or two people who came to the meeting had recording equipment. The only snag was that we had nobody to do the fast copying of the master tapes - with 20 or more cassettes it took long to do them all individually.' Fortunately, Audrey Artus of Renhold joined the group and she had a fast copying machine that could be used.

Other founding members included Janet Cook - Treasurer since BDAN's inception, and the late Noel L'Angellier, who as well as being a regular reader was also involved with Hospital Radio Bedford (HRB). A committee for the new service was formed and a 'Statement of Intent' drafted to formally set out the new service's objectives.

First Edition of Audio News

On Thursday 18th May 1978 the first weekly "Audio News" (BDAN) news tape was recorded on compact cassette with 12 listeners taking the tapes. This figure grew rapidly, helped in no small way by the former Bedfordshire County Council supplying a list of people with sight difficulties. Within six months, over 100 people were receiving the tapes. Kempston Library was by now the recording location, the first of many studio spaces used since, including a local school, religious building and above a local taxi office! Bedfordshire Country Life magazine summed up the problems with the latter venue in a 2001 article: 'The taxi radios constantly interfered with the recordings' (!)

Garry Greenwood, Kathleen Richies, Ann Craddock, Henry Furrer and founding member Cyril Humphreys in the BDAN studio in September 1985

Above: Recording a weekly news tape in September 1985.
Left to right: Technician Garry Greenwood and readers Kathleen Richies, Ann Craddock, Henry Furrer and founding Chairman, Cyril Humphreys

Image courtesy Times and Citizen - photographer: Roy Braybrooks


In 1983 a quarterly magazine tape was begun, with Brenda Mayoh as Editor. The cassette features longer items of general interest, poems, short stories and also humorous pieces. Today, readers are recorded separately on computer and the material is edited before being copied onto USB memory stick or audio cassette.

At the May 1986 AGM, Chairman Cyril Humphreys revealed that the original 1978 target for listeners had been 50. Eight years on, the figure had reached 205. 12 months later, in his final AGM address, Cyril spoke again about listener numbers as well as the advances in recording quality and fundraising accomplished, describing: 'Another great year for Audio News'. "Another great year for Audio News"
Cyril Humphreys, founding Chairman
He also mentioned the great joy he had derived from BDAN work and his personal satisfaction: 'I must say how delighted I am at the way Bedford and District Audio News has developed ...we have certainly come a long way since Phyllis and I decided that Sunday evening nine and a half years ago to attempt to start the Talking Newspaper in Bedford.'

Yellow-coloured front cover of the BDAN recipe book featuring a cartoon chef design (drawn by Tich Herald) with the caption: 'The Talking Newspaper Cookbook'
The mid-late 1980s saw a great deal of fundraising activities - strawberry cream teas, an al fresco lunch, autumn fair, Christmas meals, barn dances, street collections, a very successful sponsored swim, quotation calendar and card sales, quiz games, and for a while a 100 Club.

A 35-page BDAN recipe book was also specially produced and this was sold in aid of the charity.

Cyril was succeeded by Vice Chairman the late Alan Charge, and in 1988 by the late Roy Purser who served in the post until 1997. New and long-standing committee members alike continued to make sure the service prospered, dealing then, as today, with a variety of issues, making sure the service was well publicised, and seeking donations, listeners and volunteers alike. Longer-serving members included Jack Stevens, David Mitchell, Joan Stuart and the late Geoff Guy.

Fundraising and generous donations (notably money from the Harpur Trust) allowed for new equipment to be purchased and maintained, as well as covering some of the costs of moving studios.

Happy Birthday B-D-A-N!

In 1988 BDAN's 10th anniversary was reached, and in the 1987-88 year, fundraising activities included a barn dance, street collection, a stall in Bedford Park (during its centenary celebrations), a sponsored walk and Christmas card & calendar sales.

Photo of a group of volunteers with sandwich boards and assorted items, ready to collect at the Bedford River Festival

Decorated in local newspaper cuttings, BDAN volunteers raise money at the Bedford River Festival

Charity Status

1990 (3rd May) saw BDAN attain UK charity status - a key requirement for this being the new Constitution approved at the 1988 AGM.

Listener numbers increased - 223 by 1988, rising to 240 in 1992, 280 in 1993, and 316 in 1995. And there were new volunteer readers, sorters and helpers replacing those who had retired or moved from the area. Ian and Sue Birch, Judy Knudsen, Ray Alston, Elsie Slack, Jeanette Hanling and Eira Grewer (Chairman 1997-2004) were among newer members involved during and / or from the 1990s.

Due to circumstances beyond its control, the charity had to move studio location three times during the period 1991-2000. A costly operation each time and the committee had to seek and furnish alternative accommodation, whilst maintaining the weekly and magazine tapes and of course raising funds.

Fundraising and Publicity

As well as flag days and collections, talks have also been given to local groups and societies. These have included, amongst many others, school and church organisations and the Womens' Institute. In addition, volunteers have promoted the charity at local events.

BDAN was also proud to host a 1997 regional Talking Newspaper conference, which was a very successful event. That same year, the weekly Bedford and District Audio News cassette celebrated its one thousandth edition, and just a few months later in 1998, its twentieth year of operation.

The late Dennis Craddock promoting Bedford and District Audio News at the Clapham village show.  Photo shows Dennis standing behind a table, with display boards to the left

Publicity Officer, Dennis Craddock, with the BDAN stand at a local event in 2006

BDAN Website

A new decade and century dawned and, with the growth in internet use, BDAN felt it was time to consider a website - to increase awareness about the service and, as ever, to continue to seek new volunteers, donors and listeners.

In December 2004 - following committee approval - this site was launched, giving the Bedford Talking Newspaper for the Blind an official place on the World Wide Web for the very first time. In April 2011, the website notched up its six thousandth hit*, and the seven thousandth at the end of February 2012. The pages were written, developed (and are maintained) 'in-house' by BDAN but at no cost to the charity. In addition, hosting and a domain name (the URL) is also kindly provided for free by the company

* For the BDAN site, a hit is one unique visitor per day. If someone refreshes their page or visits later, the counter still registers just one hit for that user

Newspaper cutting describing the BDAN website launch - headline 'Talking News Hits the Worldwide Web', with a photograph of Delia Partridge leaning on a computer monitor with cassettes in her hand, December 2004

The Bedfordshire Times and Citizen reports the charity's new internet website. The then Chairman, Delia Partridge, was pictured and told the paper: 'It is an exciting development for us, and we hope it will prove popular'

Image courtesy Times and Citizen

The website was designed - and continues to be managed - 'in-house', and as well as pages about the charity and its history, short sample audio clips from the charity's tapes were made available online.

As the 2000s progressed, BDAN saw new volunteers, supporters and readers join the service, with others retiring, moving or sadly passing away.

Annual Lunch and Raffle

In June 2004, BDAN held a very successful fundraising lunch and raffle at Biddenham village hall. It became an annual event, and an excellent way for listeners, volunteers, supporters and members of the public to meet in a relaxed settting. In 2005 the date moved to the autumn, and in 2008 the venue was Putnoe Heights Methodist Church, Bedford.

The mid-2000s saw BDAN featured across a range of local media, including: local arts forum journal Article, North Bedfordshire's Ouse Valley Living, the Biddenham Bulletin parish news, Phonebox Magazine in Olney, and Bedford News - the Borough Council's former newspaper, which profiled BDAN's 30th anniversary in February 2008.

Postal Strike and Snow Hit BDAN

On 4th October 2007, a Royal Mail postal strike meant that for on week BDAN was unable to produce a news tape. This attracted press interest with then Chairman, Delia Partridge again interviewed by the Times and Citizen, and also for The Royal National Institute for the Blind's Insight Radio.

It was bad weather that affected BDAN on Thursday 5th February 2009, as heavy snowfall led to cancellation of the reading session on safety grounds.

Ampthill & Flitwick TN Service Closure

At the end of 2008, the much smaller neighbouring Ampthill and Flitwick Talking Newspaper (AFTN) (under the Chairmanship of Keith Wilson) sadly closed after 13 years of service. Listener and volunteer numbers had declined, and after a special Extraordinary General Meeting, the charity produced one final Christmas tape. Sadness at this news was mixed with grateful thanks as AFTN's financial assets and equipment passed to BDAN.

On 26th January 2009, the recording and duplication machines and other items were brought from Ampthill to be integrated into the Bedford operation. Before this, the opportunity had been taken to empty, clean, tidy and rearrange the BDAN studio.

The homemade wooden studio recording desk that had served the charity for at least 20 years, was replaced with a newer table from Ampthill, and former AFTN curtains were later hung to reduce studio echo.
A team of four pictured after a weekly tape recording with the new desk, and curtains hung behind
The new set-up, pictured in Feburary 2009

Around 14 former AFTN listeners now joined BDAN. The towns of Ampthill and Flitwick were actually already covered by BDAN, but the former organisation's cassettes also included text from various parish magazines and other general interest articles, not to mention some specially performed Christmas pantomimes too!

After six years at the helm, Delia Partridge stepped down as Chairman at the 2010 AGM, handing over to Tom Owens. However, due to family commitments Tom resigned in December 2010. At a committee meeting on 3rd January 2011, David Mitchell, a listener representative, was nominated and accepted the role of Chairman, becoming the seventh person to lead the charity.

The Start of Digital Recordings / USB Sticks

Early summer 2010 saw the formation of a digital sub-group to research the need and options for, a possible new digital recording and distribution system. The group recommended that if the charity chose to "go digital" it should adopt USB sticks (also known as pen, thumb, flash or memory drives or discs) as a method for delivering BDAN recordings, alongside cassette tapes. USB sticks can be inserted into many modern easy-to-use, relatively inexpensive players - often integrated with a CD and radio - and can be played on a computer too.

Compact discs were ruled out early on - using the Rewritable (RW) type opens the issue of compatibility at the playback stage, and the Recordable (R) would be once-only and create around 200 discs per week that, after use, would simply have to be disposed of or recycled.

Testing commenced in autumn 2010, with weekly recordings made using a computer but transferred electronically to the cassette copiers. An e-audio file was also made available on this website for the first time.

A group of interested listeners was canvassed for a 'field trial' of USB sticks, and production of the first weekly news tape using sticks, alongside cassettes, was made on Thursday 10th February 2011.

Digital Recordings
- Better sound quality
- Greater reliablilty
- Content available via website
- USB stick technology easy to use
- BDAN offers information / help to listeners wishing to try USB sticks
- Price of small basic players comparable to similar tape machines
- More flexible than tape, USB stick tracks can be paused or skipped and a particular item is easy to find.

Audio Cassettes
- Familiar format but gradually being phased out by industry / retailers
- Tapes still available to existing BDAN listeners

Guidance on use of the USB sticks was provided to the listeners and feedback sought.

A male recordist, wearing headphones, operates the mixer and CD player whilst looking at a computer monitor.  Image taken from behind his shoulder Above: a technician records using the new digital computer process in 2011 The weekly tape USB stick field trial ended in May 2011 but the news continues to be recorded digitally, with fast transfer to analogue tape afterwards.

The current weekly recording is available on this site.

The last wholly analogue weekly tape recordings were made on 23rd December 2010 and then 28th April 2011.

After a three-month break, USB stick production restarted on Thursday 25th August 2011. A week later, on 1st September, the first stereo recording of a BDAN weekly tape was produced. Two weeks later, and the option of taking USB sticks was opened up to the membership at large.

Recording of the quarterly Magazine, transferred to laptop computer in 2010, and from August 2010 has been available on USB sticks and cassette.

With the extra expense of 'going digital' it was fortunate that the second half of 2011 saw a very successful period of fundraising, including:

- 'tin shakes' at Sainsbury's and Tesco

- and a fundraising day staged by the Bedford and County Golf Club, Clapham

Janet Cook with a large-size cheque

Left: Treasurer, Janet Cook, with the very generous donation from a fundraising event at the Bedford and County Golf Club, September 2011

BDAN makes the news ...once again!

On 24th November 2011, the charity was very fortunate to be featured in a double-page Bedfordshire Times and Citizen newspaper article.

Photograph of David Mitchell and reporter, Sam Lewis The text profiled BDAN and its history, mentioning how valuable listeners find the service, and the news that the charity is now producing its output on memory sticks as well as tapes.

Bedfordshire Times and Citizen reporter, Samantha Lewis, and photographer, June Essex, had kindly visited BDAN the week before.

Photographer, June Essex, takes a picture of David Mitchell and Steve Eaton, who are sitting talking by the recording desk

Above: Chairman, David Mitchell, interviewed by correspondent, Sam Lewis, in the BDAN studio

Left: June Essex photographs Chairman, David Mitchell and studio engineer, Steve Eaton. A range of pictures were taken by June. In the final printed article, an archive photo from 1985 was also included

A BDAN volunteer reads the Times and Citizen article about the charity, with three readers looking on.  The back of a recordist is shown in the foreground

Photograph of the T&C article about BDAN
Above: Proudly reading the T&C's text about BDAN on the weekly news programme!

Right: The finished article.
Around 86,000 copies of the paper are printed each week! The feature was also available in electronic form on the Times and Citizen's website

Image of the newspaper used with kind permission of Bedfordshire Times and Citizen

Extra news for stick listeners - August 2012

Unlike the traditional 30-minute per side cassette tapes, USB sticks offer much greater flexibility time-wise. With many news stories left unused after each session, a first trial bonus 15 minutes of news was recorded for stick and website listeners at the weekly session on Thursday 2nd August 2012.

Newspaper titles may have changed, and there are many different volunteers and listeners, but now over three decades since BDAN's first edition, audio material is still recorded and dispatched weekly and quarterly, providing a news and information service to blind, partially sighted and physically disabled people across north Bedfordshire and beyond.

How is a weekly tape put together?
Find out more by looking at the About page

Are you a former member of BDAN? If so, please see the How To Get Involved and Contact page for a special message

Looking to interview someone from BDAN, or book a speaker for your event? See the Get Involved page

Please mention this website if you get in touch!

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