Arthur found a lecture subject……..His Master’s choice!
Listen to a recording made in the early days of talking machines and immediately you will be transported back to a pioneering age. Those cracked, sometimes erratic sounds represent the birth of an era the "industry of human happiness" and you can almost feel the excitement of the people who helped develop it.
Arthur George's collection of talking machines was born when he was asked to give his club Rushden's Cine Club a talk about "something different".
He racked his brains and came up with the idea of a talk on the history of sound recording.
He visited the Science Museum, swotted up on the subject, got together a few examples of talking machines and soon had a detailed talk ready. He has been giving the talk ever since to local organisations, but now those few examples have grown into a splendid collection. An old phonograph cylinder or gramophone disc is like an historical docment which talks to you, so it is easy to see why collecting talking machines and early recordings can become a compulsive hobby.
Walking into the room where Mr George has displayed just part of his collection is like stepppng into a field of lillies the horns of the machines poised upwards like so many flowers. Mr George knows his subject inside out and you can spend a very pleasant afternoon with him listening to his many recordings and learning the history of talking machines.
The first talking machine was made by Thomas Alva Edison in 1887. It was a very rough instrument a moving strip of paraffined paper drawn under a stylus attached to the diaphragm of a telephone receiver but it reproduced a bellowed "Hello".
Soon Edison had developed this into the tinfoil phonograph which he demonstrated to the editor of the Scientific American with tradition has it, a redition of "Mary had a little lamb".
Of course others were only too eager to develop Edison’s idea, and in a flurry of patents, the gramophone and then Emile Berliner's gramophone, with flat discs instead of the cylinders used on the phonograph were developed.
Things became really interesting when the manufacturers began to explore the possibilities of using talking machines for home entertainment.
At first, selling to a wide market was impossible because discs and cylinders could not be mass-produced.
A tune had to be played 20 times in front of a battery of 10 recording horns for 200 copies.
Recording a full orchestra was out of the question because it was simply not possible for all the musicians to get close enough to the horn!
In fact the talking machine companies had great difficulty in persuading the well-known singers of the time to use the new medium.
The entertainers were afraid that people wouldn’t bother to go to the theatre or opera any more if they could buy recordings and hear their favourite performers in the comfort of their own homes.
It was a great break through when big names like Caruso and Nellie Melba agreed to record.
For Mr George the fascination of talking machines lies not just in their history and intrinsic beauty.
He is a technically-minded man and over the years he has repaired and given a new lease of life to dozens of machines. He is always on the look-out for additions to his collection, and combs antique shops for new finds.