The Sound Of The Hound


#20 Simon Blumlein

Season 2, Ep. 11

In a bonus episode to round off Series 2, Dave and James talk to Simon Blumlein about his father Alan Dower Blumlein, the extraordinary man who among others things invented stereo sound.

Alan Dower Blumlein was an electronic engineer and one of the most significant inventors in the first half of the twentieth century, being responsible for 128 patents in his short life. He was invloved in the early days of telephony before joining the Columbia Graphophone Company which in 1931 merged with The Gramophone Company to create EMI.

Whilst at EMI, Alan invented a whole series of technological advances to improve the recording process but perhaps his most well known invention was stereo sound.

Never limited to one area of electronics, Alan was also instrumental in the successful development of television by EMI/Marconi and Simon tells of his father's exploits helping get BBC television off the ground at Alexandra Palance - stories that would make a modern day health and safety representative queasy with apprehension.

He also played a significant though ultimately tragic part in the development of radar during the Second World War. Sadly the plane in which he was condusting trials with the new radar equipment crashed in June 1942 killing all who were on board, including Alan. He left behind a devastated wife and two young sons, Simon and David.

Simon shares some very poignant memories of his father, who he lost when he was six years old, as well as proudly explaining some of the many significant contributions his father made to twentieth century science and electronic technology.

More Episodes


#18 Adelina Patti

Season 2, Ep. 9
Bonkers, basically. The story of opera singer Adelina Patti is one of the most eye-popping of all the tales we explore in this series. The saga starts in Madrid, where Patti was born in 1843, before it takes us to Clapham in South London, moves around the world and ends in a haunted castle in Wales. As well as being in possession of a stunning voice, Patti made an absolute fortune, was friends with Tchaikovsky, was a billiard champion, owned one of the world’s first ice-making machines, and built a theatre in her back garden decorated with images of herself and kitted out with a mechanical auditorium floor. She once threw a party where 450 bottles of Champagne were drunk. Who ever said that opera was boring? If it weren’t for the pandemic, Dave and James were planning to record this episode on location at Patti’s former pile in Wales. Instead, they’re relying on documents and diaries – and their brilliant regular guest Michael Volpe – to tell the story of Patti’s madcap 63-year career. A child prodigy, Patti remains one of the legends of opera. She made her professional debut in 1859 in New York when she was 16, before being invited to sing at Covent Garden two years later. She was a smash so she… bought a house in Clapham. She used it as a base to conquer Europe. Soon she was touring the world, singing for Presidents and royalty. So in demand was Patti, it is said, that she could demand to be paid $5,000 a night IN GOLD in advance. That’s the equivalent of $100,000 a night in today’s money. We don’t want to spoil the story but we can’t wait for you to hear this episode. Patti left her recording until the end of her career, when Fred and colleagues went to her Welsh castle with their gear to capture her voice. Their recollections of what went on there are recounted here in their incredible detail. Although her voice was not in its prime due to her age, the Patti recordings are things of beauty. You can almost hear the stories, and the scars and bumps of a life well lived, in the songs she committed to the gramophone. We hope you enjoy it all.

#17 Nellie Melba

Season 2, Ep. 8
Melba toast. Peach Melba. Melba sauce. Why are we listing foodstuffs (and sounding a bit like Alan Partridge in the process)? Because they are all named after the subject of this episode of The Sound of the Hound, Nellie Melba. The soprano was one of the most famous singers of the era – and it was Fred who captured her voice for us to enjoy over 100 years later. Melba was born in Victoria, Australia, in 1861 and moved to Europe in the mid-1880s in search of a singing career. Nothing really happened in London so she went to Paris and found success there. Curious, romantic and demanding, Melba soon became a household name in opera houses around the world. Although she recorded some phonograph cylinders in New York in 1895, she hated them (a “scratching, screeching” noise, “never again,” she declared). It fell to Fred, his brother Will and their associate Landon Ronald to change her mind. “Melba was more than a prima donna. She was in the diva class, and well she knew it,” Fred wrote. But in early 1904, they captured her voice. The session was not without its problems. The biggest one was that she demanded the recording took place in her Great Cumberland Place flat in London – complete with a full orchestra. She was “dominant” and “harsh” and, despite all the work, refused to let The Gramophone Company release the recordings. It took all of Fred’s guile to persuade her to finally release them. Once out, they sold like hot cakes, increasing her fame. Her recording sessions then became events in themselves. Journalists were invited, and Melba even had her own coloured label on her discs. Indeed, the initially reluctant singer lapped it all up, becoming something of a recording pioneer; she did a live radio broadcast and her last appearance at Covent Garden in 1926 was recorded by His Master’s Voice and broadcast. She became a Dame. So famous was she that another Dame, Kiri Te Kanawa, played her in Downton Abbey. Michael Volpe joins us to discuss this memorable singer, her unique voice and her incredible legacy.

#16 William Barry Owen

Season 2, Ep. 7
With these episodes focusing on the life and work of the mighty Fred Gaisberg, we may have given the impression that he was his own boss. That would be wrong. Working for The Gramophone Company in London, Fred was answerable to a man called William Barry Owen. In this episode we tell Owen’s story. It was his business acumen and vision that saw The Gramophone Company go from a pipe dream to a reality. We look at the Company through the prism of this fascinating man’s stewardship.Despite his Welsh-sounding name, William Barry was actually from Massachusetts. A lawyer, an opportunist and a gambler, he sailed for London in 1897 to raise investment funds for the European arm of The Gramophone Company on behalf of Emile Berliner. He was, in effect, rolling the pitch for the music industry’s arrival on this side of the world. When he arrived in London, William Barry hired one of the most opulent rooms at the Hotel Cecil on the Strand for business meetings, giving the impression that he meant business. It worked. Within a matter of weeks he had assembled a small syndicate of likely investors, chief among them being a London solicitor called Trevor Williams. The group acquired the European rights to Berliner’s gramophone but, in a move that would prove decisive for the future of recorded music, the investors forced William Barry to commit to a strategy of recording European musicians rather than simply import records from America, which was what he was proposing. It was this change in tack that led to the arrival in London from the States of a certain Mr Fred Gaisberg. As Fred was weaving his sonic magic in Maiden Lane, William Barry (Managing Director) and Trevor Williams (Chairman) took care of business. William Barry didn’t always get things right. When the gramophone initially failed to take off, he diversified the company into typewriters, a move that didn’t work. And by the time that the company had moved into larger premises on City Road in 1902, it had already grown too big for the building. But in William Barry, we have one of the original and most often overlooked recording pioneers. So who was this man? What made him tick? And what did he do after he left the company in 1906? Dave and James find out, and play some cracking tunes along the way.